Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Relapse and Recovery

A fresh update on Japan after the tsunami and nuclear accident with Warren Karlenzig. Is it a chance to build new green cities, or a vision of what we all face as the oil runs out? Then a quick interview with anti-nuclear campaigner Helen Caldicott, and Marsha Coleman-Adebayo at the Occupy the EPA protest in Washington. We conclude with an invitation by Susanne Moser to "get real" about our difficult future as we destabilize the climate.


Download this 24 minute interview... in CD Quality or faster download in Lo-Fi.

Do you worry about an energy shortage, a nuclear accident, or a severe economic hit? Welcome to Japan, which is dealing with all three, following the deadly Tsunami and nuclear accident in March 2011. PCI Fellow Warren Karlenzig just returned from the damage zone, with this radio report.

We have a new report from Warren Karlenzig, who just toured Japan with a United Nations group. As the founder of Common Current, Warren advises city and national governments on sustainability. He's a Fellow of the Post Carbon Institute. In 2009, Radio Ecoshock broadcast Warren's speech at a Vancouver panel on building green cities.

We can't get to the impact of the nuclear accident, or Japan's exciting prospects for green energy, without first giving respect to the people who live with the tragic loss of more than 20,000 lives, of whole towns, and a large part of the country. Warren gives us some insight on how are people in Japan are handling unimaginable stress.

Are there immediate lessons we can learn about surviving a large-scale disaster? How much help comes from government, and how much from self-organization by the citizens?

One of the hot button issues in Japan is the national government's plan to redistribute tsunami wreckage, including material contaminated with radioactive waste, all over the country.

With almost all nuclear reactors out of service, how are the Japanese dealing with the lack of energy? Fifty two out of fifty four reactors were out of service when Karlenzig toured Japan, and the 53rd was shutting down the day of our interview.

The Japanese are scrambling to import more LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) - and burning more coal - but there is still a massive energy short-fall.

It turns out their response could be very close to our future as oil becomes too expensive for most uses, if we can get oil at all.

The Japanese generally were either not heating buildings, or just keeping the pipes from bursting, while wearing winter coats inside. For a special meeting, a kerosene heater was brought in. Only the most necessary energy was used.

Karlenzig says the sudden failure of the Japanese energy supplies is comparable to a peak oil shock.

There an opportunity in Japan to rebuild new green cities and towns. Two cities have proposed "smart growth" models. One is pursuing ideas for renewable energy, and zero emissions. Find the details, and photos from the tour of Japan, in Warren's blog article here.

This reminds me of the astounding Japanese recovery after World War Two. Most cities were flattened, and energy was in short supply. Yet Japan rebounded with new factories, new technologies, and more efficient production.

But there are still major roadblocks to recovery in the region hit by both a tsunami and a triple nuclear melt-down. For one thing, young people were already leaving the central East coast region, which was known mainly for tourism, fishing, and agriculture. Young people were going to larger cities, seeking more modern employment, in computing for example.

This disaster has made the youth drain much more serious. With no work, hardly a place to live, and few prospects, many of the young people needed for rebuilding have left.

Warren raises another challenge. Japanese society tends to organize with male administrators. Women, and the elderly, did not attend most planning meetings, and appear not to be consulted about the new vision for a future. Karlenzig says experience shows real planning has to involve everyone, with meetings, questions, and working through the process. That is not happening in Japan, yet.

I was surprised to learn that after one year reconstruction has not yet begun! One reason is shocking: the land has not yet settled enough to rebuild. Many parts of the Eastern coast are still sinking. Land is sinking anywhere from a few inches, to several feet. With continuing aftershocks, in fact with a continuing wave of serious earthquakes ranging over 6.0, still happening, things are not yet settled for rebuilding.

One personal note: Warren Karlenzig was offered home-made meals with organic food. But should he eat things grown in a radioactive area? All the tour members were concerned. One official told Karlenzig the local mushrooms were much more radioactive than Tokyo was admitting. There are also reports that rice, the staple of Japanese food, is also contaminated.

The simple act of eating can feel threatening, after a nuclear accident.

Be sure and listen to this interview with sustainable cities expert Warren Karlenzig. Keep track of Warren at


On March 30th, various groups united to march on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They were protesting the lack of regulations and enforcement to protect the environment, and people's health.

One of the co-organizers was a former EPA employee, and whistleblower, Marsha Coleman-Adebayo. You can hear our previous Radio Ecoshock interview with Marsha here.

This time our Washington D.C. correspondent was on the scene for the march. She interviewed Coleman-Adebayo. We only had time to run this short selection.


Gerri Williams: "I'm speaking with Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, one of the co-organizers of the Occupy EPA march that is going to be taking place. Doctor could you tell me about your motivation for this march, the reason behind it, and what you hope to accomplish."

Marsha Coleman-Adebayo: “I think it's incumbent upon our entire community to really start fighting for an environment that's healthy. And not an environment, and particularly not an EPA [Environmental Protection Agency], that's not controlled by corporations. One of the problems that we have in our community is that the EPA is not taking care of its business.

It's important for African Americans and people of color to become involved with the environmental movement. We are really the first victims of environmental injustice. Our homes are sited closer to environmental facilities than any other homes. Our children are more likely to have lead poisoning or neurotoxic levels of lead in their brains. Our children are more likely to have learning disabilities. Breast cancers in African American women tend to be a bit more stubborn than in Caucasian women. So we are really the first victims of environmental injustice, and it is so important that we become involved.

Recently a report was issued by Deloitte consulting firm that said it takes EPA 15 years - 15 years! - to handle a Title Six complaint.

Now a Title Six complaint, it's a complaint by a community about a facility in their community. Fifteen years is a lifetime in the history of a family. Which means that the agency has turned its back on communities of color that are suffering under the weight of industrialization.

So we have decided to say 'Enough is enough'. We are going to fight for our families and for our communities, and fight for our health. And as far as we are concerned this Administration has really not heard yet the voice of the people on this issue.


An important guest speaker at the Occupy EPA rally was the famous anti-nuclear activist Dr. Helen Caldicott. She never fails to warn us that the two headed nuclear dragon still waits to attack us, much worse than terrorism.

Vast nuclear weapons systems are still on hair-trigger alert in many countries. New nations are still joining the nuclear club.

This weapons complex is married to nuclear power - one supports the other. Here is a short transcript, just part of the seven minute interview with Dr. Caldicott speaking to Gerri Williams of Radio Ecoshock.


"I don't think people are accepting it [nuclear power] now after Fukushima. In fact I saw a poll yesterday in the New York Times that said that about 60% of Americans now are cautious and wary and concerned about nuclear power. That's post-Fukushima, which shows that the nuclear industry have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the past few years, saying that they are the answer to global warming - even though they cause global warming in their own right because they are undergirded by huge industrial infrastructure, mining, milling, enriching uranium and building reactors - that produce a huge amount of CO2 and global warming gases.

They advertise in Scientific American, on NPR [National Public Radio] all over the place. Which was really wicked. I rang NPR and said 'Why are you taking these ads from the nuclear energy industry?' And they couldn't really answer me. Money. 'Underwriting' they call it but it's advertising.

But now the Fukushima accident I predict will lead to the end of nuclear power, not just in Japan, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, which have all said 'No'. But China, America... and also when you have a meltdown, and I tell you when you have Americans dying either of acute radiation illness and leukemia - that's it. So it hasn't hit you yet. Do you have to wait until it hits you until you develop some common sense, and do the right thing?


"The new reactors are much, much more dangerous, by orders of magnitude that the present light water reactors. Because they are fueled with Plutonium, where one millionth of a gram is a carcinogen. They are cooled by liquid sodium which explodes when exposed to air. So if you get a hole in a pipe you get a meltdown. And five kilos or ten pounds of is critical mass [the level required for a nuclear explosion]. So if you've got a hundred tons of plutonium in a nuclear reactor, and you lose the coolant, and there's a meltdown, and you get ten pounds of plutonium together, and you get critical mass, and a massive nuclear explosion scattering tons and tons of plutonium to the four winds. It's the most ghastly, hideous machine I could ever imagine. They are the new 'safe' reactors."

There is more. Download this 7 minute interview with Dr. Helen Caldicott in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.


Let’s get real about our situation.

As David Orr put it: "This is not the time for illusion or evasion; it is time for transformation".

In our Radio Ecoshock interview we talk about an article, part of an upcoming book. The title is: "GETTING REAL ABOUT IT: MEETING THE PSYCHOLOGICAL AND SOCIAL DEMANDS OF A WORLD IN DISTRESS".

Our guest is the author, Dr. Susanne C. Moser. She is a researcher and consultant from California, associated with Stanford University. Susanne was previously a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and with the Union of Concerned Scientists. She currently has her own research and consulting company in California.

I learned about Susanne's article from a link provided by Carolyn Baker, at

I've looked forward to our talk, ever since I read her refreshing look at where we really are. I ask you a few impossibly difficult questions, but only because Susanne was brave enough to raise them.

Before we get to her prescriptions for living in a sick civilization, she picks out one particular illness as a case study. We could be talking about mass extinctions, or running out of fresh water - but Moser chose the problem of climate change as her example. That is her area of expertise, where she can make the best case study of the ways we fail to look at reality.

After making a convincing case we are hurtling toward completely unknown lives, in a climate never seen by any human, Moser suggests there are two roads ahead. She calls them two kinds of transitions.

But first, I hit a real stumbling block. Moser writes about "environmental leaders".

I wonder if there are any. I see environmentalists, who are more or less powerless in the current political economy. I see leaders who are mostly bought by big fossil fuel companies, and other corporate interests. An "environmental leader" sounds like a hybrid that doesn't exist yet. Who is she you talking about?

Listen to the interview for her answer. For one thing, she is writing a chapter for the upcoming "Sage Reference Handbook of Environmental Leadership." But Moser goes much deeper, looking at the roles we all can play.

Let's imagine that whole populations realize we are in a biosphere on life-support. They elect leaders to save us from more losses, if not extinction. Moser doesn't pull any punches. She says any new system will have to live through, "enormous losses, human distress, constant crisis, and the seemingly endless need to remain engaged in the task of maintaining, restoring, and rebuilding - despite all setbacks - a viable planet..."

Here is another thorny issue we discuss: once people realize a couple of generations have ruined the known natural world, what the heck are we going to do with all the blame? Do we hang a bunch of geriatric "climate criminals"; do we declare an amnesty, or what?

I think the world of mass media, especially advertising, but also the industrial consumer system, has infantilized the whole population - all of us. We don't know how anything is produced, we just wait for it to come, and we don't count all the costs. So how do we transition a whole species away from being irresponsible children, to become responsible adult Earthlings?

Even though Moser's article "Getting Real About It" is aimed at environmental leaders, it is useful for everybody. I think that's why it's bouncing around the Net so quickly.
Download this 23 minute interview with Susanne Moser in CD quality or Lo-Fi

Under our program ending, you can hear the international artist Ariel Kalma, with "Spirit Dancer". Check out his work, as the father of disco, and electronica. Good stuff.

As always, thank you for listening, for daring to think about the tough problems of our times.

Alex Smith
Radio Ecoshock

No comments: