Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Human extinction? Not so much.

The case against going extinct soon due to extreme climate change & human impacts. Science journalist Scott K. Johnson and counter-culture podcaster KMO. Radio Ecoshock 140917

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Last week, Dr. Guy McPherson predicted humans will go extinct by 2030. Now science journalist Scott K Johnson and counter-culture podcaster KMO explain why they disagree. It's bad, but not that bad.


In last week's Radio Ecoshock show, Dr. Guy McPherson explained his scientific reasons why he thinks humans will become extinct before the year 2040. He outlined a combined ecological collapse, already on-going in the extinction of other species, a dying ocean, the prospect of abandoned or failing nuclear plants, and the over-riding shift of Earth's climate.

McPherson is a Professer Emeritus in natural science from the University of Arizona. He has collected masses of scientific papers, news articles, and statements to show the worst of all worlds developing.

Our next guest says Guy McPherson is wrong. Scott K. Johnson describes himself as "a geoscience educator, hydrologist, and freelance science writer contributing at Ars Technica." His personal blog is at An article there has become a focal point for people questioning McPherson and the whole idea of near-term human extinction. It's title is "How Guy McPherson gets it wrong".

Scott K. Johnson

I begin by clearing on thing up. Some supporters of McPherson seem to think that anyone who disagrees with him is a climate denier. Scott Johnson is not. He thinks climate change is a clear and present danger to us all.

Although not strictly speaking a scientist, Johnson has plenty of academic training, with a specialty in hydrology. He is a teacher, and as he says, a science journalist.

But Johnson does see a strange parallel between Guy McPherson's approach to facts, and the way climate deniers tend to use them. Scott says it involves cherry-picking some parts of a paper or report, without consider the rest of it, or even the conclusions reached by the author(s). Johnson notes that McPherson is caught in a double-bind. On the one hand, he presents his array of reasons why we will go extinct as based on science. On the other, he dismisses scientists who don't agree with his bleak prognosis as being too afraid to talk about the awful truth they know.

I point out to Scott that I have talked with scientists, often after an interview, who will say privately they are more worried than they admit publicly. That does happen. But that doesn't mean that all scientists are afraid. We have plenty of outspoken scientists, and I haven't found any that publish peer-reviewed papers who say we will become extinct in the next 25 years.

We discuss the central role played in Guy's dating scheme, the time of our extinction, by a single "paper" (which turns out to be just a blog post) by Malcolm Light of the Arctic News. I've written extensively about the unreliable nature of Malcolm Light's pretty wild prediction, including the very month and year all humans will be gone from the Northern Hemisphere.

In what looks like a scientific paper, complete with complex graphs and charts, we find this stunning announcement: "The absolute mean extinction time for the northern hemisphere is 2031.8 and for the southern hemisphere 2047.6 with a final mean extinction time for 3/4 of the earth's surface of 2039.6."

Well that's pretty precise isn't it? In August 2031, say goodbye for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. There is a lot in this article. I won't call it a scientific "paper" until I can find evidence it was peer-reviewed or published in an official journal.

This reminds me more of religion than science. If you haven't already read that piece, please check it out here. I won't go over all that again, except to say it's a very weak spot in Guy argument, and he's sticking to it.

One thing alarmed me talking with Scott. He's had emails from spouses or relatives of people who made major life changes - quit their jobs, their relationships, or sold off their possessions. They seem fixated only on everything about our up-coming demise as a species. It seems like a kind of parallel to religious conversion, or maybe the most extreme preppers.

Guy is also aware of the mental health risks of considering our extinction. He told us last week it's been hard on him personally. His blog "Nature's Bat's Last" has had a warning, right on top, "Contemplating Suicide? Please Read This". As I say to KMO, I sometimes worry about the negative impacts of Radio Ecoshock as well. I try to balance the really bad news, at least a little, with some more positive lifestyle changes that can help us personally, and help the planet too. As you will know by the end of this program, I am not ready to grieve for the future, and in fact, I will never give up.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview with Scott K. Johnson in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Another key part of Guy McPherson's case for our near-term extinction is the long list of positive feed-back loops (37 by his last count). I've said to Guy and to others, I think he's performing a service to us all by repeatedly bringing these to our attention. Guy also points out these feed-back loops can interact with each other, making climate change worse and faster. True enough, I think.

But a retired research scientist from the University of Texas has looked at all these positive feed-back loops, and say they cannot possibly amount to human extinction in the 2030's. They are bad, but not that bad.

Michael Tobis blogs at He's active in the Global Warming Fact of the Day Facebook group. His detailed examination of the extinction-level possibilities of feedback loops is found here.

First of all, once again, Tobis is not a person who downplays the developing impact of climate change. He's obviously deeply worried about it, and follows the science closely. It's just that he sees nothing scientific in the claim that positive feed-back loops add up to our extinction, much less our extinction in the next few decades.

One place I'm not sure about Tobis' argument is the way he seems to discount the interaction between feedback loops. He says they are "additive" rather than "multiplicative" the way McPherson claims, and makes a big deal about that. Maybe. But if one feedback loop, like Arctic fires, feeds another, like darkening snow on Greenland, I don't have much trouble seeing the result could be larger than the sum of it's parts. You need to check this out for yourself.

One thing for sure, as I point out in this radio interview: Guy McPherson does not give us the whole picture when he fails to tell us about negative feedback loops. These are the "brakes" in the natural system which can limit runaway climate change (so far). I've run into one recently, which you'll hear about in an upcoming show. That is the way Boreal forests, once burned, are less likely to burn again within a few decades, even if they regrow. There is a limiting factor at work, a negative feedback loop. Our picture of science is not complete without these, and we need to hunt for them as hard as we do positive feedback loops. Otherwise we are just in the business of frightening ourselves.


I've just realized I said Malcolm Light's essay about flaming death and our extinction is posted on the web site of AMEG the Arctic Methane Emergency Group. Actually it is found on the Arctic News blog. Bloggers Sam Carana and Malcolm Light were part of AMEG, but left over a year ago. AMEG and Arctic News are separate.

I was also puzzled last week to hear Guy McPherson say University of Ottawa climate scientist Paul Beckwith predicts we will see warming by as much as 16 degrees Centigrade in the next couple of decades.

The exact quote from Guy McPherson on the Radio Ecoshock show last week:

"The likes of Paul Beckwith, for example, that we are headed for the abyss. Although Paul would not use those words, and perhaps doesn't even believe that we are headed for our own extinction, even though he predicts up to 16 C temperature rise within a couple of decades, and that prediction was made more than year ago.... "

I checked this out with Paul Beckwith, and here is what he told me in an email, quote:

"During the past, around 30,000 to 40,000 years ago the Earth periodically cycled between cold glacial conditions and much warmer temperatures in so-called Dansgaard-Oeschger Oscillations (DO oscillations). Typically the temperature rise was 5 to 6 degrees C over one or two decades. The temperature would stay high for a century to millennia and then drop down again. However there was one case where the temperature rise was 16 degrees C over a few decades. This data was obtained from the Greenland Ice core records. Thus, the climate of the Earth has undergone very rapid temperature swings in the past, and is therefore capable of such changes again. I have also said that I think we are presently in early stages of abrupt climate change, and could see temperature rises of 5 to 6 degrees in a decade or two."

That the end of a quote from scientist Paul Beckwith. You can see the difference from what Guy McPherson told us. Guy was careful to say UP to 16 degrees, but we are left thinking Paul predict that WILL happen. He says it has happened in the geological record, and we are on the brink of some kind of jump in global mean temperatures, perhaps 5 or 6 degrees in a decade or two. That's far more than most scientists are willing to suggest, but I think Guy took some liberties to say Beckwith absolutely "predicts" anything like 16 degrees will happen. The picture we get is different from what the original scientists said in full, leaving us with in incorrect impression. That's why we have to be careful with Guy's communication of what the science says.

In a post on this Radio Ecoshock blog for last week's show, Guy then wrote this:

"Beckwith incorrectly believes (1) the U.S. will employ its military to cool the Arctic when the situation becomes obviously severe, and (2) humans will survive a 16 C rise in temperature. Believe his fantasies if you like. I prefer reality."

The U.S. military may well act to cool the Arctic. They just sent troops to fight Ebola in Liberia, so it's not inconceivable that after a climate panic, the Pentagon will be called to fight climate change.

The second part of that statement, that Beckwith believes humans will survive a 16 C rise in temperature is just ridiculous. Again, I checked with Paul Beckwith. He did not say that, and does not believe that. Frankly, I find it strange that Guy McPherson makes such statements, that can easily be checked and found out. Who is believing in fantasies, and who in reality?

KMO - host of the C-Realm Podcast

In my opinion, you haven't tasted alternative media until you've tuned into the c-realm podcast. Host KMO holds in-depth conversations with an amazing roster of serious guests, some of them very well known. And by the way, "c" stands for consciousness.

Maybe it's serendipity, maybe it's a strong movement in the counter-culture. But completely independently, KMO and I were both preparing shows on the growing number of our listeners asking whether we humans are about to go extinct. That's mostly in response to presentations and speeches by Dr. Guy McPherson, formerly a Professor of natural sciences at the University of Arizona.

KMO is one of the pioneers of podcasting, starting out around the same time I did, in 2006. He's now at almost 500 podcasts. I've listened to dozens of them, as KMO goes in-depth with some really great minds. KMO was early into Peak Oil, and now into climate change as well. He's interviewed all kinds of doomers - but he thinks McPherson has gone too far. He contacted me, after reading my criticism of using Malcolm Light as a credible source. Our discussion will be jointly broadcast on Radio Ecoshock and on the C-Realm Podcast. Members of the C-Realm podcast can also hear another hour of our chat, on a wide range of topics, in the members-only "Vault".

KMO knows Guy McPherson more personally than I do. He first met Guy when McPherson was pretty certain Peak Oil was going to bring down civilization as we know it, really soon. That may have been one of the reasons McPherson chose to leave the University of Arizona and develop his self-sufficient homestead. When the oil-based civilization kept going, KMO saw Guy McPherson switch to climate change as the reason the evil empire was going to fall.

Incidentally, KMO offers some real wisdom here, when he says if you are waiting for, and expecting, the rest of the world to admit they were wrong, and you were right all along.... don't. It's never going to happen. I agree.

We have a spirited conversation about what the whole near-term extinction movement means. Does it fit within our culture, rather than being the end of all culture? How does this end-of-days group compare to others, like the early Christians, of the Seventh Day Aventists (who had to keep moving the final date forward, when it didn't happen as predicted..)?

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


Well there you go, first a program making the case that we will go extinct, and now two voices who disagree. Of course, you will make up your own mind.

At this point, it's impossible to prove who is right. As you can tell, in my untrained opinion, which isn't worth any more than yours, our problem is not that we risk near-term extinction, but that we will have to struggle on for generations, through a terrible shift in our climate, a growing shortage of energy and materials we now take for granted, and the general degradation of the natural world, including the extinction many species. That is bad enough.

There is no way to prove Guy McPherson wrong, except waiting until 2030. It comes down to who you want to believe. And whether he is "right" or "wrong" I think Guy deserves to be heard. It is worthwhile chasing down his references, so long as you remember there are other valid points of view.

It's also my hope this debate will stick mainly with the science, rather than personal attacks, and whether we "like" Guy McPherson (or Alex Smith) or not. We are all under a lot of stress. I've heard some climate scientists act badly from time to time. So do politicians, lawyers, teachers... all humans. Let's stick to the arguments and facts, as well as we can.

I can't explain why I believe humans will continue, and even find pockets of happiness in the decades and centuries to come. Maybe I should just cite this blog entry as though it were science? (Smith, 2014)

I can't even explain why, in the face of scary news all around, I feel happy most days.

It's harvest time, and our kitchen and canning pots are flooded with food. I get to phone up some of the brightest minds in the world, and talk with them, on your behalf. Computers let me write the music I've always dreamed of. My family is doing well. Maybe I'm a simpleton?

Some people say I should be grieving, but I feel joy. Others say we should give up, and right from my core, I say "Never!"

I'm Alex Smith. Thanks for listening, and thank you for caring about our world.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Near-Term Human Extincton: Making the Case

SUMMARY: Retired ecology Professor Guy McPherson says extreme climate change will wipe out humans before 2050. Psychologist Carolyn Baker says grieve now for lost future. Environmental Horticulturist Kim Eierman on eco-beneficial home planting. Radio Ecoshock 140910

LISTENER WARNING: If you are feeling depressed or even considering suicide, this is not the program for you. People suffering from PTSD may want to think twice. The subject matter is very depressing. However, in next week's show I will attempt to counter the argument made by our guests, with at least some bleak optimism, and why we may not be doomed.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality or Lo-Fi. And here is a short link you can use to share this interview via Facebook or Twitter:

OR... you can listen to it right now, and share it, via Soundcloud.


Let me ask you: Do you have days when you feel we are doomed as a species? That's every day, for our next guest.

When a successful Professor of Natural Resources, Ecology, and Evolutionary Biology left the University of Arizona, for his mud hut retreat, he probably didn't intend to stir up the world. But that's just what Guy McPherson has done. He's becoming a voice for the worst fears of many people.

In fact, McPherson says climate change has gone so far, so fast, humans will become extinct before 2050. Dr. McPherson makes his case, and offers ways to cope with the ultimate bad news, in a new book co-authored with psychologist Carolyn Baker. It's called "Extinction Dialogs: Living with Death in Mind". That's coming out this Fall.

Eventual human extinction may not be as impossible as it sounds. In addition to James Lovelock, two of the world's top scientists, Professor John Schullnhuber in Germany, and Dr. James Hansen, formerly of NASA, have worried we'll blow past any survivable limits to climate change. In a speech to the "4 Degrees of More" conference in Australia, Schullnhuber suggested that if we reach 4 degrees, the whole thing could easily slide to 8 degrees, which most of us would agree is beyond human tolerance. Hansen wondered if we might blow off the atmosphere altogether, as apparently happened on Mars. That possibility has since been discounted by other scientists.

Most of the big name scientists, other than James Lovelock, hedge their warnings with the idea that we could still save ourselves IF we mount a huge campaign to switch energy to renewable sources, and stop our carbon-wasting ways. Guy says it's too late for all that. We have already committed the Earth to a severe shift in climate, beyond the survival limits of not just our civilization, but of our species.

Let's find out why Guy McPherson thinks we are finished.

I ask Guy what he means by extinction. Does he mean most humans die, but there would be a few left in caves or around the Arctic ocean, as Dr. James Lovelock once suggested? His exact reply was: "I'm a conservation biologist, and when I say extinct I mean every member of the species is gone."

McPherson has woven the risk of nuclear power into his story of our end times. He's right to say that if the global electric grid goes down, for any reason, whether due to a massive collapse, or a solar flare or big nuclear war - then up to 400 nuclear reactors could melt down like Fukushima.

However, we don't know for sure that even those events would bring all electricity down, all over the world. So we may add a lot of radiation, leading to millions or even a billion cases of cancer, but that's not enough to depopulate the world, much less cause our extinction. That's my opinion, and I'm dead-set against nuclear power. I think they should all be shut down as soon as possible.

Guy says the oceans are dying. Anyone who lives near the ocean, as I did for 25 years, knows that isn't true - yet. A growing chorus of the best oceanographers do say ocean acidification from our carbon pollution can change the whole food chain in the seas, hugely reducing an essential source of human food. The oceans may fill up with acid tolerant plants and animals, lots of jellyfish. But I haven't found one ocean scientist that says the ocean is dying right now.

It's a serious worry though. Up to 96% of all ocean life did die off in the planet's greatest mass extinction event, the Permian, known as "The Great Dying." That was about 248 million years ago, and may have been due to global warming. But we think it took a long time, perhaps happening over a couple of million years. Certainly it didn't happen in a couple of decades.


We talk about the threat of methane erupting in large quantities from shallow sea beds, and the melting permafrost. The sea-bed methane is frozen in a watery cage - the technical name for them is "clathrates". Some scientists have suggested that previous mass extinction events occurred when clathrates melt in such quantities that a methane burst destablized the climate into a rapid heating. Methane is at least 20 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Some scientists say for short durations (a few years) methane may be hundreds of time worse than CO2.

This extinction-level emission of frozen methane is called "the clathrate gun". Guy McPherson says the clathrate gun has already fired. He talks about recent explorations into the Arctic measuring methane, and maps released by the Arctic News blog, showing very high levels of methane around the northern polar region. Other scientists, such as climate scientists David Archer, and Gavin Schmidt - both previous Ecoshock guests, disagree, saying the amount of methane released so far in the Arctic is not signficant, compared to our CO2 emissions. David Archer interview here. They also note that methane emissions being discoverd in the Arctic may not be new, but may have been venting for a long time. We don't know all that yet.


Nevertheless, Guy McPherson insists the clathrate release has begun, meaning it is too late to do anything about climate change. Our fate is sealed.

I ask Guy how he arrived at the date of 2030 as the time when humans would be extinct. Guy said he had not calculated the date himself. He relied on outside sources. The only other person he pointed to making that prediction was Malcolm Light, who posts on the Arctic News blog. The exact date humans will go extinct, according to Malcolm Light, is found in this blog posting.

I've broadcast and blogged about the serious problems with accepting Malcolm Light's predictions as science. His blog posts are just that - not papers that have been published in a peer-reviewed journal. His methods are suspect, as I outlined in detail in this blog posting last year.

In this interview, Guy gave us a scenario which leads to extinction. It involves:

* a dying ocean

* extreme weather killing off plants, and with them, agriculture

* a burst of heating due to methane

* a list of 37 positive feedback loops which ratchet up the speed of warming

* emissions of radiation from the world's 400 nuclear plants, when the world's power grids fail (partly due to climate chaos)

That isn't a very good summary. You need to listen to the interview to get Guy's explanation properly.

We also touched on the difficulty of facing this end-time, and the recent suicide of the iconic figure of the collapse movement, Michael C. Ruppert. In his last months, Ruppert accepted near-term extinction as a reality, and had Guy McPherson on his Lifeboat Hour radio show. Most of Mike friends though, say he had discussed suicide many time in the past, long before discovering near-term extinction. His closest associates think Mike's own personal problems overcame him. Still, I think human extinction is not a discussion for unstable or stressed out people.

I wanted to give Guy (and Carolyn Baker) a full opportunity to explain their case, without my interrupting with objections. That's the purpose of this show. I've reserved my reservations for next week's program.

You can download or listen to Guy McPherson's interview here in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

If you are tracking the development of various streams of our future and deep climate thought, this is going to be an interview of record and importance. Its' a hard interview to hear if you love life. Don't sell your possessions or make that good-bye video just yet. Be sure and tune in next week when my guests and I try to make the case that humans won't go extinct any time soon. Think deeply about what Guy McPherson says, but don't miss next week's show.


There were a couple of points where I asked Guy to send me his sources. That happened quickly, as Guy appears to keep an exhaustive database of his sources - something he's had to do for his new book.

1. First I asked for the title and author of paper in Geophysical Letters published March 2013 showing warming has accelerated. Here it is:

Magdalena A. Balmaseda, Kevin E. Trenberth, and Erland Källén, 2013, Distinctive climate signals in reanalysis of global ocean heat content, Geophysical Research Letters 40(9):1754-1759. (viewed 5 September 2014,

2. I wanted the title, date, and link to the analysis by Sam Carana on the effects of exponential release of Arctic methane.

Sam Carana's analysis from 1 April 2013: 3. What is the journal article mentioned, where the author suggests we could lose all of the ocean's phytoplankton?

Stephanie L. Hinder, Mike B. Gravenor, Martin Edwards, Clare Ostle, Owen G. Bodger, Patricia L. M. Lee, Antony W. Walne, and Graeme C. Hays, 2013, Multi-decadal range changes vs. thermal adaptation for north east Atlantic oceanic copepods in the face of climate change, Global Change Biology 20(1):140-146. (viewed 4 September 2014,

4. Guy mentioned "David" Jaczko, former NRC Chairman. He meant Gregory Jaczko. While I found news articles with Jaczko saying the Indian Point reactor should be shut down, I didn't find one where Jaczko suggests it could take 60 years to do it. Guy tells me that time estimate by Jaczko is "within this clip, shot by citizen journalist and filmmaker Pauline Schneider: "

You can follow Guy McPherson and a large debate about near-term human extinction at his blog "Nature Bats Last" ( He has a Facebook page here.

There is also a members-only Facebook page devoted to near-term extinction. Find that here.


I've been in contact with Carolyn Baker for years. We've talked in private and on the air about collapse, transition, the incredible flash-floods around Bolder Colorado where she lives, and the psychology behind our ability to deny many big changes are happening. Carolyn also sends me daily news links, from her news service. Some of the stories I've received through Carolyn led me to Radio Ecoshock interviews.

So when Carolyn Baker agrees with Guy McPherson, and co-authors a discussion about how to handle their realization that we are too far gone to hope for a way out, I have to pay attention.

Carolyn is less willing to put any date on when human extinction might occur. She's more concentrated on how people can handle this ultimate knowledge. Her solutions include offering life counselling, and leading workshops on how the hospice movement applies now in the last days of the human race. Hospice, if you don't know, is defined in Wikipedia as "a type of care and philosophy of care that focuses on the palliation of a chronically ill, terminally ill or seriously ill patient's pain and symptoms, and attending to their emotional and spiritual needs."

Human civilization is, Baker contends, terminally ill. Most of us just don't know it yet.

With that position in mind, Baker says we should start caring for one another. Her starting point, it seems to me, is to help people experience the grieving process. What are we grieving for? Everything that will be lost from a formerly bountiful planet. All the plants, the birds, the bees, the animals, the landscapes, and then finally humans, which will go extinct as our ecology spins out of control.

Once we grieve, then there is the work of living in a caring and meaningful way. Then even joy is possible, in our golden years, so to speak. Although Baker knows they will be difficult years.

Personally, I'm starting to think that Baker's process is probably worthwhile, even if we don't go as far as believing humans will become extinct. It is certain that gorgeous creatures are already going extinct, maybe daily. As things are going we are likely to lose iconic animals, like lions and elephants, but also countless species we don't even know about. We are already losing landscapes like the glaciers in Glacier National Park, and maybe soon a lot of the Amazon and Congolese rainforests, with all those species therein.

If we keep polluting at our current rate, it's also possible our descendants will be buffeted by outrageous storms, failing agriculture, rising seas, and many other things. So we may grieve in advance for them as well. Our recent guest from the Australian Psychological Society, Susie Burke, agreed that grieving is appropriate at this time. But she says "don't stop there" and turn that grief into activism. Find that S. Burke interview here.

Carolyn and I have a thoughtful conversation that might stir up a few people. You can listen to or download this interview as a separate item here, but I think it's better as part of the whole program, with Guy McPherson as well.

Carolyn Baker interview in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

Carolyn Baker is a one-woman whirl-wind. She produces a daily news service with the bleakest headlines from around the world - plus some tips for more positive living. She's the author of several books, including "Sacred Demise", "Navigating the Coming Chaos, A Handbook for Inner Transition" and "Collapsing Consciously, Transformative Truths for Turbulent Times". She's been a leader in the Transition movement. Following the untimely death of Michael C. Ruppert, Carolyn is the host of the popular Lifeboat Hour radio show, every Sunday night on PRN.

Follow Carolyn Baker at her "Speaking Truth to Power" web site here.

Her latest book with Dr. Guy McPherson is "Extinction Dialogs, How to Live with Death in Mind". You can pre-order the book at


Leaping from such a tall building as extinction, at the close of this program we land in our own backyards with environmental horticulturist Kim Eierman. She tells us how to live with nature, instead of creating the "green desert" of lawn-culture.

Sometimes big changes come one yard at a time. You know we need to move from lifeless lawn culture toward letting nature - yes messy nature - occupy our landscapes and our lives.

That's why I've called up Kim Eierman, the eco-beneficial gardener. Kim teaches at the New York and Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, and gives talks and workshops across America. She's an award-winning Environmental Horticulturist and Master Gardener. It was a relief to here this level-headed person cram so many useful down-to-earth tips into such a short interview.

We are going to have to call Kim back, because I sense a wealth of information in her. Meanwhile you should check out her web site.

You can download or listen to this short interview with Kim Eierman here.


I hope you can tell I respect both Guy McPherson and Carolyn Baker. But at a gut level, and in my brain, I object and disagree with their conclusions. In next week's Radio Ecoshock show, we'll take a look at the other side of this argument, - whether the impacts of climate change will move that fast, and how worth-while human lives could continue into the long future.

Find all our past programs at the web site My Facebook page is here, and I tweet out a notice about each new show - follow @ecoshock A growing number of people access the show from this Soundcloud page.

Listener donations make this show possible. If you feel like giving, and can afford it (don't go into debt for me!) - please click on the donate button on this page, or go to our donor information page at our web site, which has more options, including my address. My thanks to everyone who contributed over the past couple of weeks. You don't know it, but you helped launch yet another season of Radio Ecoshock.

Meanwhile, I have two pots of home-grown tomatoes stewing on the stove, and a big box of ripe pears waiting in the basement. I have to can them tonight, or they will go bad by morning.

The first frost is threatening to strike here, and I have about 20 tomato plants with lots more green fruit still waiting to ripen. I guess I'll be out there by tonight's bright moon, hanging old sheets over my plants. It's busy, busy time around the harvest.

As one of next week's guests would say: "stay well".


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The High Arctic and Eco-Anxiety

SUMMARY: Disturbing climate news from high Arctic with Paul Beckwith. Handling eco-anxiety with Susie Burke of Australian Psychological Society. Radio Ecoshock 140903 kicks off new fall season.

A hearty welcome back to another season of Radio Ecoshock. I'm your tour-guide, Alex Smith.

In this program you'll get a review of some of the disturbing climate news in the high Arctic, trends which pretty well guarantees a hotter and less stable climate for all of us. The knowledgeable climate scientist Paul Beckwith is our guide. He's just back from the glaciers of Alaska.

If you've been experiencing a growing anxiety about our future climate, you'll appreciate an interview crammed with helpful tips from a senior psychologist in Australia. Our guest will be Susie Burke from the Australian Psychology Society. She specializes in mental prepping for disasters, and ways to cope with eco-anxiety.

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

You can also listen to this show right now on Soundcloud.

HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER...(remember those back to school essays?)

On a personal note, I've been back in nature, tubing down the river, soaking in the heat in a remarkably dry summer in British Columbia Canada.

I've also been following my own advice to get local food, and save money by capturing crops during the harvest, with a garden at home and another in the local community garden. In the community-owned canning kitchen, we canned dozens of bottles of plums and peaches, dried more dozens of pounds of cherries, and apricots, while cooking up tomato sauce and freezing our own beans for the winter.

As you know I've been learning to create home-grown music for Radio Ecoshock. This summer I had an opportunity to write pieces for a film score. The Pakistan-produced psychological thriller "Hotal" from Outfield Productions will premier in the New Delhi International Film Festival this coming December. There will be a music credit to Alex Smith, and no doubt I'll squeeze in a few samples for that. You can read a review about this film's big ambitions here. And here is a Vimeo trailer for the new film.

While stretching my music to the sitar, sarod, and tabla, I've also been thinking about the need to expand Radio Ecoshock to cover even more voices and issues from India, which is poised to become the world's most populous country in the coming decades. India's entry to the industrial revolution is powered almost entirely by coal.

At the end of the show, you'll hear a short interview I did over the summer, a kind of introduction for new listeners, with some news about a major mining disaster in Canada.

Plus - many thanks to those whose continuing donations helped pay the bills during the summer! We got a surprising number of downloads of recent and past programs as more people become aware of the program and the issues we cover.

I also appreciate those who ReTweet notice of the new Radio Ecoshock season, including @johnlundin @bluesuezoo @Pcamachobotero @PltBRos @TheEarthNetwork @JTToronto @philrandal @nicorajohns @ecodissident @ArcticBoundCom and more. The program doesn't have a publicity department - so I count on listeners to get the word out by social media. Get news of new programs from my own Twitter feed @ecoshock - and please forward those Tweets to your own lists of friends and followers!

If you'd like to Tweet about this program, here is a handy short URL for it, to save those precious characters:


Before we get started, here are the two super sources Paul Beckwith recommends at the end of our interview. Both are loaded with real-time or very recent maps and charts showing climate change in action:

Be sure and check them out!


So much climate change is taking place in the Arctic, and those giant events could soon sweep the world into a hotter age. There are a few good blogs, like Arctic News and Robert Scribbler, but really we need a full-time Arctic TV news station. Until that comes, let's get some of this summer's top climate stories in the north, from Paul Beckwith. He's the University of Ottawa climate undergrad, with two Masters degrees already to his credit. As it happens, Paul has just returned from a visit to Alaska.

Here are some of the big stories out of the Arctic we talk about. One that got a lot of eyeballs was that crater that blew up in Siberia. Apparently it was caused by a methane explosion - another sign that the melting tundra is removing the frozen cap from methane created millions of years ago. It's not a climate-changer in itself, but the start of something unpleasantly big.

We think the largest and worst amount of methane is similarly sequestered under the shallow Arctic sea of East Siberia. A multi-country research ship went up there this July, and found many methane vents bubbling up to the surface. The Arctic News blog is reporting methane from the ocean went up even further, after that research vessel left. I've also been reading some reports about much warmer ocean temperatures in the Arctic, another reason sea-bed methane could be released.

The well-known ice scientist Jason Box used the F-word in a Tweet, to describe our situation if Arctic methane gets released in quantity. Scientists are really worried about this, while the public has barely heard about it.

There have been heat waves again in the Arctic this year of 2014. Planetary warming may only be around 1 degree on average, but around the North Pole it's up to 8 degrees above normal. That reduces the amount of thermal tension between the Pole and the tropics, which many scientists think has slowed the Jet Stream. Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University has led research into this theory, with new support from a scientific paper released this summer by the Potsdam Institute.

A Jet Stream with less power tends to meander and stall, like a river in a big delta. The weather experienced in the Northern Hemisphere is greatly influenced by that. Jet Stream bends and weather blockage resulted in a generally cooler, wetter summer in the Eastern part of North America, with a hot dry summer in the West. That means soggy floods in the Mid-West and New England, and forest fires and drought from California north.

We had a week or two of forest fire smoke where I live in British Columbia, and a listener from Montana says it was even worse there. I know Washington State experienced its largest wildfire EVER this summer. Perhaps you've seen coverage of the continuing fires in California. Everybody has been warned food prices will go up, due to the drought there. Photos comparing reservoir levels in Northern California to past years are shocking.

There were huge fires in the Arctic this year, including some fires reported burning in the Tundra, where there are not even any trees. Smoke from those fires went around the world, but the soot particles falling on ice, especially in Greenland are a big concern. The darker surface helps the ice melt faster. Some scientists estimate up to half of the rapid ice melt of glaciers in Greenland are due to soot from industry and forest fires make the snow darker.

Arctic fires are fast becoming a positive feedback loop for global warming. More fires lead to a faster snow melt, extending the fire season, leading to more fires. The darker snow and ice lowers reflection of the Sun's energy into space (the planetary "albedo") leading to more heating, leading to more fires. I'd love to see the science that quantifies this feedback effect, now that runaway Arctic fires are common every year, from Alaska through Canada, and especially in Siberia.

Meanwhile in Canada, home of the Tar Sands, our Prime Minister Harper is giving photo-ops on board a military ship searching for the Franklin Expedition, lost in the 1800's. If the explorers had set out today, they probably would never have been trapped in the ice. They might have sailed right through the newly melted Northwest Passage! Prime Minister Harper doesn't see the irony of pushing more oil drilling in the Arctic, now that fossil fuels have melted the sea ice. Maybe he should spend that money re-hiring the climate scientists he's fired...

As always, Paul Beckwith has lots of stories and insight into developing climate change, especially in the Arctic.

You can listen to/download his 24 minute interview here in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

If you want to pass on a link to Paul's interview in social media, here is a tiny URL to save precious space in a Twitter or Facebook post:

Keep track of Paul's many blog postings, videos and You tube videos on his Facebook page here.


Has knowing about climate change hurt your mental health?

Susie Burke is with the Australian Pyschological Society. She's made a specialty of studying the impacts of climate change on mental health. Susie has a lot of useful tips for keeping our own sanity, despite knowing the serious troubles we face in the future.

SUSIE BURKE, Australian Psychological Society

I first found Susie in an article titled "A Climate of Despair" in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. It begins with an environmental scientist with a developing depression about the future. I would think climate scientists are on the front lines, possibly encountering a kind of "pre-traumatic stress disorder." Are psychologists finding more people having difficulty imagining a positive future?

Think about leading climate scientists like Kevin Anderson in the UK, or the German expert John Schellnhuber, who spoke at the "Four Degrees or More" conference in Australia in 2011. I wonder how can they can cope knowing the extreme threats we face? Kevin Anderson has talked about this, and he finds it difficult. Former NASA lead scientist James Hansen is so concerned for the future of his grandchildren, he was forced to become an activist, including an arrest to oppose mountain-top removal coal mining.

What should we call a fear and sadness about wrecking the future for our descendants? Some call it "eco-anxiety". The Australian environmental Philosopher (at the University of Newcastle) Glenn A. Albrecht invented a new word for this condition: "solastalgia"

Here is his official explanation for the term:

"Solastalgia is the pain or sickness caused by the loss or lack of solace and the sense of desolation connected to the present state of one’s home and territory. It is the 'lived experience' of negative environmental change. It is the homesickness you have when you are still at home. It is that feeling you have when your sense of place is under attack. While I claim responsibility for creating the concept of solastalgia and its meaning, I am aware that that the existential experience underlying it is not new ... only that it is newly defined in English (but possibly represented in many other languages). The experience of solastalgia might well be ancient and ubiquitous and under the impact of relentless environmental change, ecosystem distress and climate chaos, it may well become much more common. It is my sincere hope that the negative experience of solastalgia can be overcome by the restoration of ecosystem and human health via every form of creative enterprise at our disposal."

Our radio guest Susie Burke recently gave a presentation at the Climate Reality Project hosted in Australia by former US vice-president Al Gore.

If someone comes to a psychologist or psychiatrist saying climate change is going to wipe out our future, and they are really down about that, would they likely be diagnosed with a mental problem and a drug prescription? Susie doesn't think so. It's more likely a person would get counselling to help them handle their feeling "down" and then get pointed into activism to get going again.

That seems to be the three point method:

1. Allow yourself to experience your real emotions, which may be painful once you admit them. These may include fear, a sense of mourning for what we have lost in nature, or even grief. More about that next week.

2. Find others who feel the same, and share what you are feeling.

3. Then turn outward into activism, in whatever way you can find, preferably with others.

In Australia, the Psychological Society has already had to deal with climate-related disaster victims. There have been extreme fires, including the deadly Black Saturday bush fires where 173 people died. The Murray-Darling River Basin experienced such a horrible long-term drought that many farmers killed themselves, as other Australian farmers have done due to drought. Australians also endured some of the freakiest of freaky flash floods.

You don't have to live in Australia, or wherever climate-driven disasters strike, to feel the pain. I talk to Suzie about "vicarious" climate anxiety. We'll all be feeling that watching TV news as this decade unfolds.

The Psychological Society prepared a pre-disaster planning guide. The main point is that we can think through what may happen, which helps us keep our cool during the actual event. Otherwise people tend to panic, and make bad decisions that endangers lives.

You can find their disaster guide on the Society web site, here.

Here is a link to their .pdf booklet on Psychological First Aid, An Australian guide ot supporting people affected by disaster.

This is where you can find the Psychological Society tips sheets on being mentally prepared - metnal "preppers"!

Next week, I'll talk with American psychologist Carolyn Baker. She's been counselling people to experience the grief of climate loss now. I ask Susie Burke about that - and find she endorses that idea, so long as people don't stop with climate grieving, but go on to climate action.

We also discuss the sad state of Australian climate denial, where the current government is disbanding previous efforts to combat climate change, including study institutes and the carbon tax. Burke reports that surveys show most Australians know climate change is real, and think something should be done about it.

You can download or listen to this interview with Susie Burke here in CD Quality or Lo-Fi. I think it's going to become one of my favorites.

Is it possible the whole world might enter not an economic depression, but an unexpected viral mental depression, as we see the climate deteriorate, with things like repeated extreme weather, countless storm incursions on coastal cities, and so on? I wonder how often people can rebuild their homes and their lives without becoming angry about life, or their leaders.


During the year you will hear little about me, and lots from the scientists, authors and experts that define Radio Ecoshock. In this 2014 kick-off show, I added one short piece with a bit about myself as host, and the vision behind this program.

This is part of an interview I did for the EcoCentric show for community radio in Nelson British Columbia. It followed the Mount Polley mine disaster in that Canadian Province. On August 4th, a giant tailings pond burst, wiping out wide swaths as it raced toward pristine Quesnel Lake. It's one of those mega-mining disasters that keep happening all around the world, in our quest for cheap metals and big profits. Here is that chat during August, hosted by Bruce Edson of Kootenay Co-op Radio. The program is called "EcoCentric".

As always, we've ran out of time, almost before we began. There is lots more to come in the coming year of new Radio Ecoshock shows.


Next week we'll ask the big question: can humans survive the big climate shift we are creating? Dr. Guy McPherson says "no". His co-author in the coming book "Extinction Dialogs", Carolyn Baker, tells us how to keep on living, despite knowing the worst is yet to come.

Then I'll be finding more answers for you, as we try hard to avoid wrecking the world we were born in. Expect strong voices and tough choices, right here on Radio Ecoshock.

I'm Alex Smith. Thank you so much for listening.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

I Have A Confession to Make (Replay)

This week is another "best of Radio Ecoshock" replay, while Alex is on vacation.This week is another "best of Radio Ecoshock" replay, while Alex is on vacation.

The show "I Have A Confession to Make" was first broadcast on October 16, 2013. Find the blog for that program here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Desperately Seeking Solutions

This is a Radio Ecoshock replay, from October 30th, 2013. I've picked some of my best shows, so if you haven't heard it, check it out please.

SUMMARY: A medley of ways. From New Zealand, green alternative economy with Laurence Boomert. Dr. Sharon Gourdji, U of Fla. on crops & climate. Josh Fox (Gasland) riff on fracking. Pacific growing expert Lorene Edwards Forkner.

QUICK WRAP: Laurence Boomert green business and politics in New Zealand. After founding a biz network, he now runs the Bank of Solutions. Terrific ideas for all of us.

Dr. Sharon Gourdji, Stanford University, researches the impacts of climate heating on crops - especially during the critical period when they flower. We talk the case study of her recent trips to Nicaragua.

At Powershift 2013, the Director of the movie "Gasland" wowed the crowd with his anti-fracking speech/rant. France banned it, the Netherlands is next, and fracking protests explode in the U.S. & Canada. Australia and UK take note!

Lorene Edwards Forkner is editor of Pacific Horticulture Magazine, and a home-grower extraordinaire. Tips for grow-it-yourself and local production. This interview was recorded in June 2013 at the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup Washington.

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock Show 131030 in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Or you can listen to it right now (or download) here on Soundcloud.


Almost every week Radio Ecoshock details our head-long flight into a complex series of environmental, economic, and social disasters. But where are the solutions?

There are many answers out there. What we need is a collection place to gather the things we need to know. Enter Laurence Boomert and the "Bank of Real Solutions".

Boomert is a long-time New Zealand activist who founded the successful Environmental Business Network in the 1990's. Along with a group called "Living Economies", Laurence co-published and wrote for the book "Fleeing Vesuvius: Responding to the effects of economic and environmental collapse”.

Laurence Boomert is currently on a tour of North America with our previous guest Nicole Foss.

Download/listen to this 18 minute Radio Ecoshock interview with Laurence Boomert in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Most of the doomers I track, picture New Zealand as the place to run, after Fukushima or the economy blows up. At least New Zealand could feed itself. Is it all a green garden party there down-under?

Laurence says New Zealand has a lot going for it, but the current political climate is anti-green. In fact the Prime Minister formerly worked for a big investment house, Merrill Lynch. Previous green legislation is being dismantled, just like in Australia.

We talk about the political party Laurence co-founded, (the New Economics Party) - but more about his web site The Bank of Real Solutions. Currently it is a collection of things that really work to change the world in New Zealand. Take a look, you will get some great ideas for your own area.

Laurence is just now taking it global, working on founding The World Bank of Real Solutions. Watch for that.

Laurence Boomert, in You tube videos and writing, says cities could be sustainable. Looking at cities designed entirely around automobiles and fossil fuels, I'm not so sure. Can mega-cities really transition?

We also talk about collapse. It can happen quickly, Boomert says. Just look at Argentina in 2001. Or Ireland trying to recover right now.

In the United States, we are seeing shadows of collapse already. Detroit went bankrupt. The federal government shut down. Food stamps stopped working for a few hours, leading to mini-riots. Is there still time to organize and launch local economies? Boomert says yes, if we can get going now.

He offers some terrific examples from New Zealand, like community currency, and time banking that even helps the needy. Ten percent of his own small community operates on local currency.

Boomert suggests you visit this web site from South Africa for a look at more solutions being tried around the world: The full name is Community Exchange.

Laurence also has an ebook - a $3 manual on local currency "Get A Handle on Hands." More info about that here. Or buy it here.

This interview is full of useful tips. Like this organization "Living Economies".

Oh, by the way, Laurence also adapted an Irish idea, helping to organize and publish the solutions book called “Fleeing Vesuvius: Responding to the effects of economic and environmental collapse.” That book is hard to find at the moment. Look here.

In this You tube video, Boomert says the financial system is "horrifically ruined" and fragile. He claims we have a corrupt parasytical system build on fraud. Then he outlines how you and I can bypass that system to create our own.

Part 2 of that You tube video is here.

Contact Laurence Boomert by email:


Since gaining her PHD in Environmental Engineering, and moving to Stanford University, Sharon Gourdji has specialized in the impacts of climate change and food production around the world.

Her latest co-authored paper was published in Environmental Research letters in June 2013. It's title tells us something important for everyone who eats: "Global crop exposure to critical high temperatures in the reproductive period: historical trends and future projections."

Here is the official citation: Environmental Research Letters, Vol. 8 no. 2, page(s) doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/2 June 14, 2013

Your can read the abstract, and the full paper online here.

Download or listen to this interview with Sharon Gourdji in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

I was introduced to this subject by an unlikely source. A hippie You-tuber from Texas complained his garden flowered but set no fruit - because night-time temperatures stayed too high at a critical time. So it's not just that it's hotter, but WHEN it's hotter that counts for agriculture - and gardens.

That full video from "humptydumptytribe" is worth a watch.

But in this show we head for the real science. Sharon Gourdji has just finished a year-long Fulbright Nexus program focused on climate change and adaptation strategies in the Western Hemisphere.

I'm going to quote a communication from Sharon here to explain some of her other work:

"Prior to the extreme heat study, I published a paper looking at gains in breeding wheat for heat-tolerance by the world's preeminent wheat breeding organization CIMMYT (or International Center for the Improvement of Maize and Wheat in Spanish, based in Mexico, primarily responsible for developing the germplasm behind the Green Revolution in Latin America and Asia). The results were that most of the gains in breeding wheat for high yield potential have come in optimal environments with high radiation, cool temperatures and irrigation."

On a down-to-earth level, Sharon has just returned from Nicaragua, where she visited farming regions to determine how climate has affected the bean crop.

Apparently the red beans so loved by Nicaraguans are stressed by excess heat and the yields are declining. Black beans do better in the new growing conditions, but Nicaraguan farmers grow them mainly for export at this time. Folks in Columbia, where Gourdji also did research, like the black beans as a staple.

Complicating all this: Nicaragua has lost at least one third of it's forest cover since 1980. This changes microclimates, rainfall, and soil erosion. Deforestation and climate change can play off against one another.

Lester Brown from the Earth-Policy Institute has stressed some major crops, including rice, are already near their temperature limits. I've covered that on Radio Ecoshock. We discuss these important limits with Sharon.

It's hard to imagine a more important subject for scientific study! How will we feed the world's increasing population if climate change harms the growing cycle at critical times? Gourdji is fairly optimistic. She says farmers have always had to adapt to changes in weather - and there are international organizations working to breed plants better able to produce - even without Genetic Modification (GMO's).

Here is Sharon's professional page.


In previous Radio Ecoshock shows we've had young people testifying about their drive to save the climate and find eco-justice - partly through the Powershift 2013 program in Pittsburg in October.

This week I run an 8 minute riff from Josh Fox, the Director of the anti-fracking expose "Gasland".

You can see the Powershift video here. (It will take a couple of minutes to load to the Josh Fox clip I've selected. Hang in, it's worth it).

France has banned fracking. The Netherlands is about to. People all over the world question why we need to blow up the underground, poisoning it with super toxic chemicals, just to get more dangerous fossil fuels.

Josh's follow-up to Gasland is now playing on HBO.


When I was at the Mother Earth News Fair last June, I had the pleasure of talking with Lorene Forkner.

Her blog is called "Planted at Home".

Lorene is the editor of Pacific Horiculture Magazine, and author of several books. Her latest is "Handmade Garden Projects: Step-by-Step Instructions for Creative Garden Features, Containers, Lighting & More".

She's the co-author of 3 previous titles published by Sasquatch Books including: "Growing Your Own Vegetables: An Encyclopedia of Country Living Guide" and "Canning and Preserving Your Own Harvest: An Encyclopedia of Country Living Guide".

With all that going for her, you can bet we have a great conversation about growing food - from California right up to Washington State. People around the world can learn from Lorene Forkner. I did.

Download or listen to this interview with Lorene Edwards Forkner in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


That was a packed show. I hope you pass it around.

I'm Alex Smith. Help support Radio Ecoshock and get free downloads at the web site

Welcome to all our new listeners, and thank you for listening - and caring about your world.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


The cultural taboo against talking about global warming - George Marshall. Report on world fires and global smoke July 2014. Review of movie "Snowpiercer" by Gerri Williams. New song: Time of Trials by Alex Smith.

In just a few minutes, we're going to talk about the unspeakable. Why do humans shy away from talking about climate change. In the work place, at family dinners, all around, we instinctively sense the unfolding tragedy of global warming isn't a welcome topic of conversation.

Lifetime environmental activist and human rights campaigner George Marshall will join us from Wales in the UK. His new book is titled "Don't Even Think About It - Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change." That's going to be a fascinating ride, from the Texas Tea Party to why we lie to ourselves. Don't miss it.

But first, I know Radio Ecoshock is one place we CAN talk about climate change. There is huge news coming from fires in the United States, Canada, and Russia. Fires so many and so large this spring and summer of 2014 may be the largest fire season ever. They create their own local weather systems, and have rapidly become a chain-reaction of carbon that could trigger changes to world weather we've barely imagined.

Listen to/download this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Or listen/download right now on Soundcloud


Right about now, in the middle of July 2014, much of the Northern Hemisphere is covered with a blanket of smoke. It's smoky in the valley outside my door, from the forest fires in British Columbia and Eastern Washington State. The runaway fire in Washington is the largest ever in that State's history. We are rapidly approaching the age of superfires, where humans have no hope of controlling them.

There's been a smoke haze over Edmonton and western Canada from all the fires further north. In fact, those smoke particles have blown 5,000 miles further east, reaching the Great Lakes and cities like Toronto.

It's not just Canada. Over at the Weather Underground, Jeff Masters and his crew have posted a video showing a blackened haze pouring from numerous fires in hot, drought-striken western states all the way to the Great lakes, into Ohio. According to a NASA map released July 18th, the smoke has even reached Maryland, West Virginia, and Tennessee. All this is a danger to people's health, especially to the millions of new cases of asthma springing up across America, and around the world.

Last week there was even a thick black arm of smoke running up to the Arctic, to Hudson's Bay and Baffin Island. It's starting to reach Greenland.

That isn't the worst of it. More gigantic fires are racing uncontrolled across the Canadian Tundra in the Yukon. These are beasts that reach from the tree tops to the deep peat below the soil surface. These are the most powerful fires seen in decades in the North. The smoke clouds look like volcanoes have erupted. Thirty one new fires popped up a single day, with at least 2500 fires this year, and almost 3 million acres burned so far. Canadian authorities report the area burning is six times greater than the 25 year average.

The dean of Canadian wildfire experts is Dr. Mike Flannigan, a professor of Wildland Fire in the University of Alberta’s renewable resources department. I've recorded and played you his talk at the American Academy for the Advancement of Science conference in Vancouver in 2012, and broadcast it April 18th of that year. I've interviewed him directly for this program. Then, and now to the media, he emphasizes, quote:

What we are seeing in the Northwest Territories this year is an indicator of what to expect with climate change.” “Expect more fires, larger fires, more intense fires.

Some of those fires are so hot they sterilize the ground. In some places, Flannigan says, the slow-growing Boreal forest may not return, especially after multiple burns.

In just a minute, I'm going to explain why this growing trend to a burning sub-Arctic, and especially this year, is a danger to us all, wherever you live on the planet.

But first, let's escape the North American news lens to get the other part of this story. Siberia is burning, again.

The year 2012 was a terror for forest fires in the Russian sub-Arctic. The Russian authorities admit 548 wildfires that year, with a loss of 22,500 hectares, over 50,000 acres. The reality may have been much greater.

As of July 10th, 2014, the Itar-Tass news agency reports 13,500 hectares burned. It's so dangerous, local authorities in Siberia have banned residents, or anyone, from going into the woods. NASA reported the Siberian smoke had curled round the world to reach the west coast of America.

According to the Moscow Times, on July 18th, the size of fires in the Buryatia region doubled overnight. The Siberian Irkutsk region already declared a state of emergency in May as fires raged there.

Once again, the particles from these fires will rotate around the upper northern hemisphere, around the world.

So let's review some basic facts. Due to our carbon emissions, and increasing methane emissions in the Arctic, heating in the polar and sub-polar regions is the fastest on Earth. It was tens of degrees warmer in Alaska last winter, and tens of degrees warmer than the average around 1950, for the whole Canadian sub-Arctic, and for much of Siberia. The Yukon has seen temperatures you might expect in a Colorado summer. Like the American West, it's been abnormally dry in the Canadian north-west, as the slower Jet Stream seems to freeze into a constant weather blocking pattern.

Being the Arctic, there are collisions with colder air masses, and from that, lots of thunder storms. Lightening sets the tinder below ablaze.

As Mike Flannigan told us on Radio Ecoshock, the thinner sub-Arctic soils dry out amazingly quickly. Just three days after a rain-storm, the soils can be tinder dry, in hot weather. And they are getting plenty of hot weather.

Read more about it here, or download the 13 minute Radio Ecoshock interview with Mike Flannigan here.

There are so many reasons why these fires are really a global climate emergency. You know Boreal forests were carbon sinks, soaking up a lot of our excess carbon, and storing that CO2 in the woody fibre of the trees. But when they burn like this, boreal forests reverse that process, releasing CO2, loading the atmosphere. Add methane coming from both melting permafrost on land, and shallow sea beds in the Arctic Sea, and we get localized warming. That's the positive feed-back effect - the way the Arctic climate is spiralling out of control into warming never known during the time of humans on this planet.

That extra heat melts more sea ice, which exposes more dark ocean to the summer sun's 24 hour rays, making the ocean hotter, eating away at the edges of glaciers, speeding up ice loss. And so it goes.


There is another even more serious threat here. Some scientists have reported that up to half of all melting of glaciers and snow in places like Greenland, comes from the deposition of black particles, falling out of the atmosphere. Some of that is just our urban pollution wafting north, captured by the winds circling toward the cooler poles. They call it "dark snow". The darker color, even if just a shade of gray, attracts much more heat from the sun than a pure white snow. This soot, from all sources (fires, ships, cities) is causing significant ice melt, and then rising seas. Other science indicates up to 18% of all global warming comes from soot and other air pollution.

The same effect has been measured by scientists in the Rocky Mountains. Black particles, mostly from Asian coal burning, turn snow a grayer color, resulting in earlier spring melts, a longer fire season, and more forest fires in North America. Carbon soot bounces around the world, creating more warming, creating more carbon soot...

With that extra heat in the Arctic, more ice melts, which will speed up sea level rise around the world. You may be on a low-lying delta in Bangladesh or coastal Australia, and get the extra sea rising due to these far-away sub-polar fires.

Underlying much of this, says one of my favorite bloggers Robert Scribbler, is the change in the Polar Jet Stream.

Read this from Robert's blog posted July 17, 2014:

"Potential Amplifying Feedbacks in Context

During recent years, scientists have been concerned by what appears to be an increased waviness and northward retreat of the northern hemisphere Jet Stream. This retreat and proliferation of ridge and trough patterns is thought to be a result of a combined loss of snow and sea ice coverage over the past century and increasing over the past few decades. In 2012, sea ice coverage fell to as low as 55% below 1979 levels with volume dropping as low as 80% below previous values. Over the past seven years, not one day has seen sea ice at average levels for the late 20th Century in the north.

Meanwhile, northern polar temperatures have risen very rapidly under the rapidly rising human greenhouse gas heat forcing, increasing by 0.5 C per decade or about double the global average. It is this combination of conditions that set the stage for fixed ridges over both Russia and Canada creating extreme risk for extraordinary fires.

Should both the current sets of fires continue to rage under anomalous high amplitude jet stream waves setting off extreme heat in these Arctic regions, it is possible that large clouds of heat absorbing black carbon could ring the Arctic in a kind of hot halo. The dark smoke particles in the atmosphere would trap more heat locally even as they rained down to cover both sea ice and ice sheets. With the Canadian fires, deposition and snow darkening are a likely result, especially along the western regions of the Greenland Ice Sheet — zones that have already seen a multiplication of melt ponds and increasing glacial destabilization over recent years.....

And though climate models are in general agreement that the frequency of fires in tundra regions will increase, doubling or more by the end of this century, it is uncertain how extensive and explosive such an increase would be given the high volume of fuel available. Direct and large-scale burning of these stores, which in tundra alone house about 1,500 gigatons of carbon, could provide a major climate and Earth System response to the already powerful human heat forcing....

Read that whole post in Robert's blog here.

Robert Scribbler adds this as an update:

"Atmospheric black carbon and methane loading (more in a new post) likely contributed to temperatures in the range of 95 degrees F (35 C) near the shores of the Arctic Ocean’s Laptev Sea yesterday as recorded in the following screen capture from Earth Nullschool/GFS..."

When the high Arctic is 95 degrees, 6 degrees hotter than the same day in Richmond, Virginia - we can truly say the roof of the world is on fire. We are in it now. Global warming is feeding itself, with multiple feed-backs, and the big action is thousands of miles away from you, far from the big city news cameras, from all the trash filling our air-waves and our minds. As climate disasters continue to unfold, most of us are not even paying attention.

Although, here is a good article about the multiple feed-backs of forest fires in Mother Jones.

Radio Ecoshock listeners are, and it's up to us to spread the word, starting those difficult conversations that nobody wants to talk about. Stay tuned as George Marshall tells us why its hard, and how to do it.


Scientists warn we are headed into catastrophic climate change never before seen during human existence on this planet. Yet the most alarming facts hardly touch the lives of most people. Author George Marshall found out why. He says our minds are programmed to ignore climate change.

George is an old-school environmentalist, having worked as a senior campaigner for both Greenpeace in America, and the Rainforest Foundation. In 2004 he co-founded a charity based in Oxford UK, called the Climate Outreach and Information Network. They specialize in reaching all sorts of organizations, from churches to service clubs, scouts, trade unions and governments.

Now he's written a new book "Don't Even Think About It - Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change." From Wales, George Marshall joins us.

Author and activist George Marshall

This interview is quickly becoming one of my favorites. George explains how people most anxious about climate change can turn to denial as a way to avoid that unpleasant/horrifying feeling. Polls taken in places where climate change has added to a disaster, like Hurricane Sandy, find that people who were inclined to deny climate change become even more convinced "it's just natural weather" or "God's Will", rather than our carbon pollution.

Perhaps this explains why Australians, very hard hit by drought, floods, and fires, could elect a climate denier as Prime Minister. Or why people in the American south (also hit by droughts, floods, and extreme heat) elect Tea Party members of Congress who swear climate change is an elaborate hoax.

George Marshall has met with Texan Tea Partyers, and tries to tell them that ignoring developing climate change will lead to the their worst nightmare. In the near future, desperate people may demand a climate dictator, taking away the rights and freedoms cherished by the Tea Party and Libertarians.

In fact, discouraged by seeing the same old faces at every climate rally, George and the Climate Outreach and Information Network are making special efforts to reach out to conservatives, to explain their most basic values are threatened by this problem.

Climate change is not an environmental issue, Marshall says, and it's been a mistake to label it that. It's a threat to all people, and all people need to become involved. He even found some Evangelical church leaders who raise climate change as a threat to the unborn. You may feel differently about abortion and women's rights, but we have to agree global warming is certainly a threat to the unborn.

We also have an fascinating chat about the work of Eviatar Zerubavel, Prof Sociology, Rutgers University. Eviatar has specialized in those possible topics of conversation that are somehow sidelined, and seldom talked about. You know, the silences we all agree on.

When I was growing up, the Holocaust was such a silence. I learned about it by accident from a book on my Grandfather's bookshelf. No parent, teacher, or anyone living told me about it, and it was never mentioned in any conversation. Now climate change is like that.

Perhaps you disagree, as Radio Ecoshock listeners are among the few to really talk about climate change. But polls in many countries consistently show, Marshall says, that one third of people have NEVER had a conversation about climate change. Even climate-aware people always over-estimate the actual number of conversations they have about it. The topic is forbidden at most dinner parties, or gatherings of any kind. Younger women with children are the least likely to talk about it, or tolerate talk about it. Even though this threatens their childrens' future more than anything else! We have to find a way to break through the social silence.

I ask George how to speak to a family member, work-mate, or associate who is very strongly denying climate change. You should listen to his helpful answer, but in a nutshell, don't try to tell them how wrong they are. That doesn't work. You can start out with respect for their willingness to take a position, and then explain how YOU came to your decision, without pushing it on them. George explains all that better than I can.

We get into the psychology of why the human brain did not evolve to understand or respond to a long and slow threat like climate change. This is key stuff. Give it a listen.

Climate Outreach and Information Network, or COIN, also helped broadcast "Climate Radio" with Phil England, a host I admire and learned from. The archives for that program are at Phil is doing occasional climate broadcast these days, sometimes for Resonance FM in London, which also broadcasts Radio Ecoshock.

Now we are seeing melting Arctic ice, extreme rains and flooding, especially in the UK, or massive droughts and fires in the sub-arctic of Canada, Alaska, and Russia. Many of us hope the public will finally get on board for climate action,. Is it possible many people will harden their resistance to the truth instead? How nutty will this get?

I'd like to point listeners to a another really useful video on George's site. It's from a 2009 lecture Marshall gave at the University of West England. That is called "The Ingenious Ways We Avoid Believing in Climate Change".

Or watch it on You tube here.

George's web site is

There you have it. I've worried we don't have the mental capacity to face the climate challenge. Now activist George Marshall has done the homework, and published an essential new book "Don't Even Think About It - Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change." Find the book it the usual places. It's available in Europe now, and will come out in North America in August 2014.


If you were thinking of seeing the new climate-aware action film "Snowpiercer" - our own Gerri Williams has a cautionary review for you. Gerri is an independent radio journalist who also reports for Radio Ecoshock.

Essentially while Gerri was pleased to see a popular format action pic with ANY connection to climate change, this one isn't what she was waiting for. It's got the violence and all that, but doesn't really capture climate change, but rather the opposite, a freezing world after geoengineering efforts to stop climate change have gone horribly wrong. Despite the awful cold winter in central and Eastern North America last year, cold is not our problem. We've just had the hottest April, the hottest May, and the hottest June ever recorded.

You can be sure climate-driven media of all kinds will grow as our predicament deepens. There is a very busy Facebook page for cli-fi media now. The Collins dictionary is recognizing the word cli-fi, and major authors are already endorsing it. Gerri's right, given how hard it's been trying to get the real science of climate change out to the public, climate fiction, films, drama, and art of all kinds may be our last best hope.

I'm sticking with radio. You can download all our past programs as free mp3 files, perfect for your phone, IPOD, or computer, from our web site at Or try things out on our Soundcloud page.


We'll go out with another of my attempts to create a new wave of electronic music, so popular with the younger generation who will live with continuous climate challenges. Like the cli-fi authors, I'd love to see music carry more of the message, both of climate despair and the hope of a response worthy of intelligent creatures.

I'm Alex Smith. Thank you for listening to Radio Ecoshock and please join us again next week. This is my new song, "Time of Trials". Download it from Soundcloud.