Fires in Tasmania, typhoons in the Philippines, Mexican coal criminals - another work week for Radio Ecoshock. Environmental journalist for the Nation, Mark Hertsgaard on book "Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth". Robert M. Hirsch of U.S. Geological Survey on real cause of floods. Radio Ecoshock 130109 1 hour.
Welcome to another attempt to save reality from a whirlpool of superstition, wishful thinking, and propaganda. You and I will work through the biggest change humanity has ever faced. But what is climate change, and what is not? Can we hear the signal through the noise?
Scientists know the world is warming, seas are rising, and ice is melting. The denial is all over. Economic realists also know the era of never-ending growth powered by fossil fuels is also drawing to a close. Like any population in nature, we cannot grow forever.
Those certainties reveal themselves in a slow grind, and in sudden jolts. There are still a lot of guesses bound to be proved wrong. There is still room for doubt in the details.
THE MYTH OF JELLYFISH
Here is just one small example: I have reported on the surge of Jellyfish in many parts of the world, especially in the Mediterranean. Ocean specialists have suggested this could be a result of overfishing, or ocean acidification caused by incessant dumping of carbon into the atmosphere.
But now, a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, or PNAS, says "Recurrent jellyfish blooms are a consequence of global oscillations." Here is an easier to understand version from Science Daily.
One author is Cathy Lucas from the University of Southampton. Another is ocean expert Carlos Duarte who I interviewed in our February 15th, 2012 show.
A careful investigation shows there has been no increase in jellyfish over the past two hundred years. It's a boom and bust species. There was another jelly wave in the 1970's but nobody paid much attention. Another myth bites the dust.
COMING UP IN THIS SHOW
Later in this program we're going to tackle a great divide between some climate scientists, and the flood engineers and experts in the United States. I've covered the wild floods in Nashville in May 2010 when the Grand Old Opry went underwater. There were more floods in Wisconsin and Minnesota that fall.
Are these heavily news-laden flood events a sure sign of global warming? Maybe not, says Robert M. Hirsch, research hydrologist and a former Associate Director for Water of the U.S. Geological Survey.. Hirsch isn't a climate denier. He knows the world is warming, and these floods are mostly human caused - but not from greenhouse gases. It's a tricky problem which will work our brains, as we talk with one of the prominent experts in American river systems and flooding.
If the hydrological cycle is still one of the wild cards waiting to be seen, the promise of growing heat on this planet is as sure as the laws of physics. More carbon in the atmosphere traps heat energy that would otherwise have bounced back into space. We've known that for more than a hundred years.
In just a few minutes, I'm going to chat with one of the best environmental journalists, Mark Hertsgaard. I've been waiting for this talk, while Mark wrapped up key articles for the Nation magazine and just recently Newsweek. While his seven year old daughter waits in the room, Mark has to explain what we will all have to explain to our children: the climate has already been disrupted, and will change still more. Hertsgaard's latest book is "Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth".
AUSTRALIA: WELCOME BACK TO CLIMATE BURN-OUT
I want to welcome our first full-time radio station to broadcast Radio Ecoshock in Australia. 3CR has been one of those activist community stations pounding at the corridors of power and injustice since 1976. That furthers my own vision for a global English-language program as we witness and create the great change, in climate, energy, agriculture, and society, in order to survive the passing industrial civilization.
It's a strange synchronicity. I just wrote an Australian scientist for an interview, saying it seemed like the land down under was getting a break from the weird dangerous weather that struck that continent from 2009 onwards. Then on the fifth of January, starting out the new year in the Australian summer, I hear this from the Australian News Network.
news.com.au clip "Australia Boils as Extreme Heat Hits"
You heard that right. Parts of Australia went hit 47 degrees C and more, that's over 117 degrees Fahrenheit. The average for the whole country was 39, a sweltering 102 Fahrenheit. Find more in this article in the UK newspaper the Telegraph.
Here is what blows me away: the extreme heat was in the South of Australia, not in the tropical North where you might expect it. In the capital of South Australia, Adelaide, the thermometer went over 45 degrees. That's 113. Nobody goes outside of air-conditioned spaces in that kind of heat.
And then there's dear Tasmania, that coolish island pointing toward Antarctica. The Tasmanian capital of Hobart peaked out at 41.8 degrees C, the highest since record keeping began 120 years ago.
That's the kind of extreme we need to watch out for, as this relentless warming develops during the next decade.
The heat wave and lack of rainfall created ideal conditions for brushfires across southern Australia. Tasmania ignited into at least a dozen fires, in a land known for its wet cool forests. At least a hundred homes burned, and a town of Dunalley was destroyed, as we hear from ABC News Australia.
I played a bit of that clip to prepare all of us for the probability that super heat will stimulate burning forests in many parts of the world. Maybe even close to your home. What will you do? The Tasmanian bush will regrow, but some global forests will never regrow, converting over to grasslands, to entirely new ecosystems.
Australia is not escaping this year, from the signs that country is destroying its own living space, by ramping up their coal mining and exports. It's a race to the fiery bottom, mates. No more coal.
THE SUPER TYPHOON IN THE PHILIPPINES NOBODY IS TALKING ABOUT
Speaking of extremes, here is another wild storm the press in the Northern Hemisphere mostly missed. You've heard about Hurricane Sandy, but what about super-typhoon Bopha? Not so much.
All credit to CNN weatherman Tom Sater for picking up on another climate-powered breakthrough, reported December 4th 2012.
This time, only hundreds died in the Philippines, not thousands as in the much smaller Cyclone Washi, aka Sendong in December 2011. This study linked the Philippines storm directly to climate change.
I guess part of my point is there is a southern hemisphere. Big things happen in countries that don't have major international news services. The climate is going out of control outside London or New York. We need a system of monitors, blogs, news and alerts to remind us a global problem is unfolding. There are so many untold stories in South America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific. And so many ears who tune all that out.
MEXICAN DRUG LORDS TURN TO COAL
I'll wrap up this ramble with just one more story that caught my eye this week. Al Jazeera reports the Mexican drug gang called the Zetas cartel, is moving into coal mining.
Reporter John Holman writes on January 4, 2013:
"On October 7, Mexican marines swooped in on one of the most powerful men in organized crime. But as the navy triumphantly announced the death of Heriberto Lazcano, leader of the Zetas gang, there was puzzlement over where he had been found. Far from the Zeta's strongholds and practically unprotected, he had been watching a baseball game in the small mining village of Progreso.
Theories abounded as to what exactly Lazcano had been doing in Progreso, a one horse town in the wide open spaces of the southern state of Coahuila. Humberto Moreira, ex-governor of Coahuila says that he has the answer: 'Heriberto Lazcano changed from being a killer, kidnapper and drug dealer to something still more lucrative: mining coal. That’s why he lived in the coal region, in a little village called Progreso.'
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Moreira says that the Zetas gang is fast discovering that illegal mining is an even more lucrative venture than drug running.
'They discover a mine, extract the coal, sell it at $30, pay the miners a miserable salary... It's more lucrative than selling drugs.'"
The Mexican government has confirmed the drug gangs have infiltrated the coal mines in the State of Coahuila.
Why do I think this matters? It says everything about where we are going.
COAL IS CRIMINAL IN THE U.S. TOO
Sure there is already a criminal conspiracy to mine climate-damaging coal in the United States. In fact, two U.S. Senators have just called for an investigation into the low rates given to big coal mining corporations on publicly owned lands in the Powder River Basin of Eastern Montana and Wyoming.
After a call by western ranchers, the Reuters news service investigated how Cloud Peak Energy Corp, Arch Coal, and Peabody Energy Group got such low royalties, while making a fortune exporting the coal to Asia. Criminal charges are possible.
Everybody with a brain knows it's just as criminal to blow the tops of Appalachian mountains for coal. Plus the coal lobby has their dirty hands in the federal government in Washington for a generation or two, making sure the Environmental Protection Agency doesn't clear up the air too much. Millions have died breathing dirty coal pollution around the world. The Zeta gang could never kill so many as the "legal" coal industry does, or make so many billions of dollars doing it.
But I think organized crime is the future of coal. As more people around the world realize they can't cope with extreme climate damage, they will demand an end to coal. We can't rebuild fast enough from major climate damage, can't find the money or the will. We can't stand the floods, heat waves and droughts. Months of hot cities well over 35 degrees, in the hundreds, will motivate a lot of people. Eventually, many of us can't survive in a four degree warmer world.
When that social tipping point comes, there will be a "War on Coal" just like the failed wars or terrorism or drugs. Where governments try to suppress the last killing mines, organized crime will fill the need. Coal will come out of the "black market", literally the "underground economy". It won't surprise me if a minor war is fought in a coming decade, not to get the coal, but to stop it from reaching the damaged atmosphere.
And how will we survive then? Mark Hertsgaard is here to tell us.
ENVIRONMENT JOURNALIST MARK HERTSGAARD: HOT LIVING
First climate change was coming. Now it's here in storms, rising seas, strange weather and much more. Our guest Mark Hertsgaard first came to my attention with his late 1990's book "Earth Odyssey: Around the World In Search of Our Environmental Future". That came after a quest of many years to find our impact on the natural world. Since then, I've read Mark's leading edge work in Vanity Fair, Newsweek, the New Yorker, and in his current post as environment reporter for The Nation.
We talk about "the end of Pasta", why Latinos, African Americans and youth are the new environmentalists, and much more.
FLOODS: ENGINEERS VS CLIMATE SCIENTISTS - DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES
Are there more floods? Is it climate change? Our guest is Robert M. Hirsch, a well-known research hydrologist, and high ranking water expert for the United States Geological Survey.
I was surprised to find there is another whole community dealing with the year-to-year reality of floods in the United States.
I've been in correspondence with Geoff Bonnin at the National Atmosphere and Ocean Administration. He's very cautious about assigning a big role for climate change in the remarkable floods we've seen in the past 3 years or so. I'm thinking of The Mississippi River floods in the Spring of 2011, one of the worst recorded in the past century, or the strange 2010 flooding of Nashville.
Hirsch is an expert's expert on this subject. You need to hear his explanation. If I can paraphrase a difficult subject, Hirsch says yes the increased flooding is human caused - but brought about by changes to the water system on the ground. We're talking about paving over so much ground, putting rivers in concrete banks, building subdivisions on wetlands and so on.
Hirsch's study of wild rivers that have escaped this redevelopment shows they have not been flooding more against the historic record. And both Hirsch and Bonnin caution that strange floods, some that appear once in a hundred years, or five hundred, are just a fact of history.
In late 2012, Brisbane Australia and its surroundings experienced what some called "an inland tsunami". It was a flash flood. But Brisbane's streets turned into rivers back in 1893, before there was atmospheric change.
Some of the disagreement with the climate community comes down to a different definition of "extreme rainfall" and a different perspective on how we understand flood events.
Personally, I still have a lot more to learn about this subject, but at least came away with a more scientific caution about making climate change an assumed cause of all the weird weather we see.
I'm Alex Smith. Thank you for listening and tune in next week, as Radio Ecoshock takes on the world.