Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The C.I.A., Nigeria and Germany

Three stories, 3 hosts, 3 continents. Professor John D. Steinbruner on a new report to the C.I.A. about disruptive climate change. Ecoshock's Gerri Williams with Jonathan Kaufman, EarthRights International. Why do big oil companies pay for spills in developed countries, and get away with murder in Nigeria? From Berlin, Daphne Wysham with expert Hans Verholme: the fantastic growth of renewable energy in Germany. Radio Ecoshock 121128 1 hour.


Full show in CD quality (56 MB)

Full show in faster downloading, lower quality Lo-fi (14 MB)

The John D. Steinbruner interview (18 min) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

Gerri Williams interviews Jonathan Kaufman of EarthRights on Nigeria (24 min) in CD quality or Lo-Fi

Daphne Wysham interviews Hans Verholme in Berlin (18 min) in CD quality or Lo-Fi


John D. Steinbruner

A new report to the C.I.A. advises the intelligence and security community to prepare for disruption in a warming world.

The title of the assessment from National Research Council is “Climate and Social Stress: Implications for Security Analysis.” You can read the full text of this report here.

In a strange irony, presentation of this report to the C.I.A. was temporarily postponed, as the capital closed down due to a violent storm, Hurricane Sandy.

Our guest is John D. Steinbruner. He's a Professor of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, and chairs the 14-member panel of experts who conducted the analysis for the intelligence community.

If I were in the C.I.A., I would certainly have paid attention to the Russian heat wave of 2010. At least one nuclear reactor, and another Russian military base with nuclear materials were cut off and threatened by fire, which was stopped only by extraordinary measures.


Let's consider climate and government. A major climatic event might destabilize a central government, or it might make it stronger.

Take the case of the Pakistan floods of 2010, which covered an estimated one fifth of the land area in this nuclear-armed country. There could have been social break-down, but my understanding from people in-country was the government looked after its own supporters first, and may have been strengthened by disruption in areas where they had weak control anyway.

Even considering U.S hurricanes, we could say the poor response of the Bush administration weakened the federal government. The anti-FEMA meme (the right wing conspiracy theory that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is planning concentration camps, etc.,) grew stronger after Hurricane Katrina. The idea that central government was incompetent, and less necessary, accelerated after 2005.

By contrast President Obama's team response may have strengthened public perception of the necessity of a strong central government. There was less hostility to Federal aid and demand for more of it.

Given the likely role of warming oceans and rising seas adding to the damage from both hurricanes, we can see the possibility of even worse future climate events affecting the ability to govern all over the world.

Consider Mali, that central African country suffering from long-term drought that may be linked to global warming. Islamic fundamentalists, carrying weapons taken from fallen Libya, have taken over the northern part of the country. The whole of the North Africa Sahel is drought-stricken and at the same time politically unstable.

Dr. Steinbruner and I spend more time looking at the flash point of Pakistan and India. Water needed to irrigate Pakistani crops, to feed the people, is dwindling in the Indus River, as glaciers and snowfall decline upstream in India. The Pakistani government blames its old enemy India, but is climate change the real culprit?

I ask Steinbruner how seriously the C.I.A. takes climate change. That's a difficult question as the Agency just closed its climate change office. Were they ducking Republican attacks on climate, ahead of looming budget cuts across the board in the Federal government? Did the C.I.A. climate operation just go underground (it's what they do for a living)? Or is the Obama Administration just not that interested in climate information? We don't know.

What we do know is the National Research Council report was well received where it was presented, and Dr. Steinbruner hopes it assist all the government agencies get ready for possible "climate surprises" coming up.

Unfortunately, the NRC was only tasked to look at the next ten years. The biggest surprises might come a decade or two later. Climate change is definitely a subject for long-term study and planning.

At least we know: the government has been told.

I have to wonder, how much will the intelligence agencies share with other government agencies, and the public? As we learned from 911, critical information can become compartmentalized. Right now, governments in some countries are either publicly denying climate change, or trying to avoid talking about it. If their intelligence agencies see a real threat, will we even find out in time to protect ourselves?

Climate change is a global problem unfolding in various ways across the world. A massive flood in Beijing or Mumbai might begin a financial or political domino effect reaching us at home. The report suggests a network of rapid information sharing between America, her allies, and other governments - as fast-developing climate events arise. But Pakistan considers things like rainfall statistics a national secret. India wants to sell the info to the U.S. Satellites can only do so much.

John Steinbruner has blogged about a book by Fred Guterl, the Executive Editor of Scientific American. It's called "Fate of the Species: Why the Human Race May Cause its Own Extinction and How We Can Stop It." Find an abbreviated version of that book here at Scientific American.

I ask Dr. Steinbruner whether the panel of National Research Council experts considered the possibility that runaway climate change could bring about the human extinction.


One surprising result of the National Research Council study was the possibility of building better communities.

Climate instability may not be all bad. Tyrants may have a harder time subjugating people where climate stress changes communications and social relations. The victims may unite into new political formations.

Maybe people will develop a larger sense of a shared Earth.

It seems that people engulfed in the climate emergency, whether they live in Asia or the Rockaways of New York - have to create an instant community of self-help. Just look at the way Occupy movement members jumped in to help in the hardest hit areas. They were very effective, without government help.

Maybe we'll see more localization and resilience developing, as big weather events strike with more regularity. Will a more stressful climate change social organization?

John D. Steinbruner has written a lot of technical books on security and public policy, but also a novel "The Secular Monastery". It's an intriguing look at a society where information is used for the public good. That is a novel idea. Find more about that book here.


Jonathan Kaufman

Next we turn to unreported news: huge oil spills continue in Nigeria. In America, BP may pony up over 4 billion dollars in damages for their Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. But in Nigeria, none of big oil corporations are fined for their decades of pollution. The fisher people lose their livelihoods; vast areas of the Niger Delta are plagued with oil spills and leaks.

But the government of Nigeria gets most of its income from oil revenues, not from taxpayers. Leaders there know where the money comes from, and more or less work for the oil multinationals like Shell, Exxon/Mobil and the usual suspects.

American and European multinationals are dodging the law and wreaking havoc with nature and local people. From the Washington studios of WPFW Pacifica radio, Ecoshock correspondent Gerri Williams reports.

Gerri's guest is Jonathan Kaufman, an attorney with EarthRights International. That organization finds ways to give a voice to the dispossessed, polluted and wronged in countries where justice is in short supply.

Kaufman describes the on-going oil mess in Nigeria, and the lack of redress. America imports lots of Nigerian oil, as does Europe. But hardly anyone covers the corruption and outright murder going on there.

What to do? The Shell oil company is being sued for damages in a local court in the Netherlands.


Others have brought a suit all the way to the American Supreme Court. The discussion there should concern all of us. As you know, corporations have been designated as "persons" - people with rights. The current Supreme Court strengthened those corporate rights in the case of Citizens United.

But as Kaufman explains, there is a law dating back to the pirate days of 1789, as America's fundamental laws were drawn up. As I understand it, any person profiting from illegal action abroad could be brought to justice in an American court. Well.... corporations are "persons" - so this law should apply to big oil companies like Exxon or Shell. All of a sudden, lawyers are trying to argue corporations cannot be held responsible for things like genocide or pollution they cause or fund. They can't have it both ways.

So this is an interview for those interested in the mysteries of Nigeria, but also for everyone following the legal rights corporations are claiming for themselves, versus the public interest.

Find Jonathan Kaufman's blog here.

Gerri Williams did a great job getting this interview.


Hans Verholme

Last summer, Germany - that industrial power of Europe - had enough renewable energy to sustain their entire grid. Daphne Wysham from the Institute for Policy Studies was in Berlin to find out how they did it. Daphne is the long-time Earthbeat Radio.

In Berlin, sitting beside the River Spree, outside the new German parliament buildings, Daphne sat down with energy and climate expert Hans Verholme.

The interview is important, because Verholme describes what works to make a country go for green energy. The population gets involved because they can make money at it too. Distributed energy is more important than giant wind or solar farms, and more resilient.

The struggle to keep the big energy and transmission corporations from ruining the green revolution never ends, Verholme says. But so far it's working in Germany, and Verholme has good advice for people in North America who want that same energy security along with a safer climate.

I wish I had a transcript of this interview. Anyone wanting to volunteer should email me at radio [at]ecoshock.org so we don't get duplication.


Again my thanks this week to all those who donated to keep Radio Ecoshock going. The "Donate" button is at the top right of this blog. Your donations let me concentrate on developing big stories.

The Kevin Anderson show two weeks ago continues to reverberate. Discussion continues on that blog item. Please note I added a link to the full transcript provided by a Radio Ecoshock listener. That's very helpful.

The Cabot Institute, who hosted Anderson's lecture "Real Clothes for the Emperor: Facing the challenges of climate change" posted a video of the whole lecture on this page.

Craig K. Comstock wrote about Anderson's talk in the Huffington Post, and linked to the Radio Ecoshock show.

Another listener sent me a link to another block-buster speech of climate bleakness. I'm working on that for your program next week.

This has been Radio Ecoshock. Find more free mp3 downloads at our web site, ecoshock.org

I'm Alex Smith. Thank you for listening.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Kevin Anderson: What They Won't Tell You About Climate Catastrophe

Scientists and officials are not telling the public the awful truth: we are hurtling toward catastrophic climate change. A review, summary and critique of an earth-breaking speech by Dr. Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre in Britain. Speaking to the Cabot Institute in Bristol November 6th, Anderson told the sold-out crowd our future is not possible. Radio Ecoshock 121114 1 hour.

Professor Kevin Anderson

Are the climate deniers right? Are some scientists colluding with government to hide the truth about climate change? "Yes", according to top British scientist Kevin Anderson - but not the scandal you've heard about. Top scientists and government reports won't tell you we are heading toward catastrophic climate change. Emissions are skidding out of control, leading us to a world six degrees Centigrade hotter on average, much faster than anyone thought possible. Why doesn't the public know?

Why are world conferences still talking about staying below 2 degrees, as though that is possible?

In a devastating speech at Bristol University Tuesday November 6th, 2012, Dr. Kevin Anderson accused too many climate scientists of keeping quiet about the unrealistic assessments put out by governments, and our awful odds of reaching global warming far above the proposed 2 degree safe point.

In fact, says Anderson, we are almost guaranteed to reach 4 degrees of warming, as early as 2050, and may soar far beyond that - beyond the point which agriculture, the ecosystem, and industrial civilization can survive.

All this comes from one of the world's top climate scientists, plugged in to the latest research and numbers. Kevin Anderson is from the UK's premier climate modeling institution, the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, and the University of Manchester. He delivered the speech "Real Clothes for the Emperor, Facing the Challenges of Climate Change" at the Cabot Institute of the University of Bristol in Britain.

His estimates are backed up by recent reports from the International Energy Agency, and now the global accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. I also quote from Joe Romm's blog at thinkprogress.org, and a comment by Lewis Cleverdon from Wales, in the Transition blog at transitionculture.org.

I'm Alex Smith for Radio Ecoshock. In this program, I'm going to play selections from Kevin Anderson's latest speech, accompanied by some explanation and references to other sources. Anderson speaks very quickly, assuming a highly informed European audience, and includes some technical data and reports unknown to most of us. So we're going to work through this together.


All music on this program is by Suvarna, with her co-conspirator Ravi, and guest Egyptian percussionist Hossam Ramzy. The album is "Energia" on Etherean Records. Suvarna, a world music maker, has another couple of albums with White Swan Records. We end this Radio Ecoshock show with a special single she sent to Radio Ecoshock. It's dead on. The song is "Atmosphere's Lament".

Suvarna's home page.


For the first time in seven years, I have to ask for your help. I've always paid the whole cost of Radio Ecoshock. Now my income has gone down, while production and distribution costs are going up. You can help this radio program keep going by clicking on the donate button on our web site at ecoshock.org - or on the blog at ecoshock.info - look on the upper right hand side of this page for the "Donate" button. My thanks to listeners who made that donation last week.

Radio Ecoshock is the second biggest environment show anywhere. We run the world's largest free green audio download site. Won’t you become part of the program?



This week's show on Kevin Anderson in CD Quality (56 MB).

Or try the faster downloading, lower quality Lo-Fi version (best to share on social media...)


Here is a 58 minute radio edit of Anderson's speech for those wanting to rebroadcast. It could be even shorter if you cut the intro and provide your own.

A transcript of the Kevin Anderson speech is available from this page. This version is also great for busy people downloading the speech for their IPOD, mp3 player, phone or whatever. To save space you can use the "Lo-Fi" version, which is less than 14 megabytes.

Find the complete and full original speech, just over an hour long, as recorded by Alex Smith here. My thanks to Chris at Sheffield IndyMedia for telling me about this important lecture in advance.

Find the helpful slides (including the graphs) for this Kevin Anderson speech here.

You may also want to check out Kevin Anderson's first chapter of a recently published book, “Climate, Development and Equity”.

That's available online here: Kevin Anderson: “Climate Change going beyond dangerous: brutal numbers and tenuous hope


Anderson begins his talk with a source that is hardly known as green or radical. Fatih Birol, Chief Economist and Director of the International Energy Agency has warned on our current energy pathway the global mean temperature will rise by 3.5 degrees C - over 7 degrees F - over pre-industrial levels by 2040. For those counting, that's just 28 years from now. The IEA predicts 4 degrees rise by 2050, and 6 degrees by 2100.

In his book, "Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet", and the National Geographic series based on the book, Mark Lynas says at +4 degrees C "Southern Europe will become unlivable due to extreme heat. The West Antarctic ice sheet will melt away and add another 5 meters to global sea level." At +6 degrees C, the Amazon forest long ago burned in a giant fireball, and all the polar ice melted, Lynas simply says "we will all be dead." The short You tube version is here.

Fatih Birol of the IEA says we have only five years to change our energy system - or have it changed for us. We'll talk more about that short time frame later.


Returning to Kevin Anderson, he points out our infrastructure commits us to emissions for decades. Every new airplane sold, and every ship is expected to last at least 30 years, burning whatever they burn. Buildings, inefficient as they are, may last centuries. Each new power plant opened is likely to keep on burning for at least 50 years, often longer than that.

We have already built more carbon capacity than the atmosphere can ever hold, with a climate suited for human survival. This leads me to conclude not another single fossil fuel based power plant should be opened anywhere in the world. Of course that's not fair to developing peoples, so we need a plan to shut down coal and oil-powered plants in North America and Europe to make room for electricity in China, India, Africa, and so on.

It is this commitment from long-lasting infrastructure, coupled with the already overloaded atmosphere, that dictates we only have about five years at best to change directions, or suffer a climate catastrophe beyond our current comprehension. Only a giant power-down by wealthy consumers (that's most of us) could possibly save us. That would include stopping recreational shopping for consumer goods that carry so much embedded energy use. And really, Anderson says, our best and possibly only hope for survival is an economic crash, or at least a planned "recession".

Remember Professor Tim Garrett from the University of Utah, following an interview on Radio Ecoshock, published a peer-reviewed paper saying exactly the same thing: the dynamics of energy in this civilization, poised against limitations in our atmosphere, show that only a deep and prolonger economic crash could really guarantee a safe climate.

At any rate, the good news, such as it is, is this: you and I have the ability to change our deadly course. We can cut our energy and consumption drastically. That's the front-line strategy that Kevin Anderson advocates. He tried to live it. Anderson does NOT fly around to climate conferences. He conserves energy personally, despite the disbelief of relatives and friends.


Kevin Anderson has brought up the new study from a most unexpected source. The report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the generally conservative giant accounting company, is titled" "Too Late For Two Degrees?" Joe Romm at thinkprogress.org has an excellent summary posted November 6th, titled " Study: We're Headed to 11 degrees F Warming and Even 7 Degrees F Requires 'Nearly Quadrupling The Current Rate of Decarbonization".

The main conclusion in the PricewaterhouseCoopers study reads:

"Our Low Carbon Economy Index evaluates the rate of decarbonisation of the global economy that is needed to limit warming to 2oC. This report shows that global carbon intensity decreased between 2000 and 2011 by around 0.8% a year. In 2011, carbon intensity decreased by 0.7%. The global economy now needs to cut carbon intensity by 5.1% every year from now to 2050. Keeping to the 2oC carbon budget will require sustained and unprecedented reductions over four decades.

Governments’ ambitions to limit warming to 2oC appear highly unrealistic."


"We have passed a critical threshold – not once since 1950 has the world achieved that rate of decarbonisation in a single year, but the task now confronting us is to achieve it for 39 consecutive years….

Even to have a reasonable prospect of getting to a 4°C scenario would imply nearly quadrupling the current rate of decarbonisation."

Joe Romm reminds us, our speaker Kevin Anderson has already written about the 7 degree Fahrenheit increase in global mean temperature:

“incompatible with organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems & has a high probability of not being stable (i.e. 4°C [7°F] would be an interim temperature on the way to a much higher equilibrium level”

I'd like to just keep reading out Joe Romm's excellent if horrifying article, but I'll leave that up to you, except for this from Joe:

"Such a world would likely mean:

* Permanent Dust Bowl conditions over the U.S. Southwest, parts of the Great Plains and many other regions around the globe that are heavily populated and/or heavily farmed.

* Sea level rise of some 1 foot by 2050, then 4 to 6 feet (or more) by 2100, rising some 6 to 12 inches (or more) each decade thereafter

* Massive species loss on land and sea — perhaps 50% or more of all biodiversity.

* Much more extreme weather

These will all be happening simultaneously and getting worse decade after decade. A 2009 NOAA-led study found the worst impacts would be 'largely irreversible for 1000 years.'

In such a world there would be little prospect for feeding 9 billion people post-2050 given current dietary, economic, and agricultural practices. The word “adaptation” simply doesn’t apply in any meaningful sense."

Other evidence is pouring in from all quarters that we are headed to the high side of climate predictions. Consider this release November 8th from the U.S. Snow and Ice Date Center.

"Future Warming Likely to Be On High Side of Climate Projections, Analysis Finds" November 08, 2012

Thank you for taking the time, and having the courage, to listen.

I'm Alex Smith, for Radio Ecoshock.