Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Can We Avoid Collapse?

"Population Bomb" author & Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich on his Royal Society Paper "Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided?" From Tasmania, forest expert Dr. David Bowman: wild fires drive more global warming. Economist John Talberth suing the U.S. Government over risky ocean oil leases in the Arctic. Three interviews from a world of trouble. Radio Ecoshock 130123


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

Listen to/download the Paul Ehrlich interview (18 min) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Listen to/download the David Bowman interview (23 min) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Listen to/download the John Talberth interview (19 min) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Welcome to another triple-header with Radio Ecoshock. I'm Alex Smith with three interviews with three great guests.

I'll call Tasmania to learn why it burned and why climate-driven fires threaten all of us. Our guest is world-recognized fire expert David Bowman.

Then we'll investigate why the Obama Administration is rushing to sell off oil and gas rights on the dangerous Outer Continental Shelf. Is that fire-sale meant to fatten a Ponzi scheme of big oil stock prices? Economist John Talberth explains why his group, The Center for Sustainable Economy, is suing the government.

But first, But first Stanford's eminent biologist Dr. Paul Ehrlich (author of "The Population Bomb" and a dozen more) on his new scientific paper, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. The title of this peer-reviewed paper is "Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided?"

Please don't forget to support Radio Ecoshock. Help pay the bills. Please donate at our web site ecoshock.org, or right here at our show blog at ecoshock.info. PAUL EHRLICH: CAN COLLAPSE BE AVOIDED?

Dr. Paul R. Ehrlich

I'll bet you know who Paul Ehrlich is. But just in case: he's a Professor of Population Studies at Stanford University, and president of Stanford's Center for Conservation Biology. Maybe you know him for the world-famous book co-authored with his wife Anne, the 1968 classic "The Population Bomb". Since then Paul, with Anne and other authors, has published dozens of books. In February 2011 we interviewed Paul for his latest: "Humanity on a Tightrope", written with Robert Ornstein.

Now Paul and Anne ask a rather extreme question, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society no less: "Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided?" This peer-reviewed paper was published online January 13th, 2013 in the Biological Sciences section of the Proceedings of the Royal Society.

Climate change is on our minds, especially as America comes out of it's hottest year ever, and Australia burns. Yet there are other big threats out there. In fact, I counted nine developing ecological nightmares in Ehrlich's paper, not counting climate change or over-population.

We can't talk with Paul Ehrlich without population. Humans cannot multiply forever. But population is not the focus of this interview.

There is a disaster porn industry these days. But Paul has published in a journal known for science. Is there science behind the possibility civilization collapsing? A couple of dozen scientists reviewed the work and found it solid. Ehrlich notes that 160 different scientific papers were cited. Indeed, if you just followed up on those papers, you would probably develop the equivalent of a college course in the realities of today.

A good part of this Ehrlich paper is devoted to food production. The Ehrlichs have some suggestions on what could be done to avert a crisis. No food crisis for you? There is for more than a billion humans who do not have enough food today. It could get worse, threatening global stability.

I have to pose an inconvenient question. I interviewed Dr. Timothy Garrett from the University of Utah. Two years ago, he published a scientific, peer-reviewed paper showing only a complete collapse of our fossil-based civilization, right now, could avoid crushing climate change. We are a deadly species creating a mass extinction event. Maybe we should help this suicidal system collapse, instead of trying to save it?

Paul replies that for the sake of the people he loves, and the people he knows, he doesn't want to see such a harsh solution.

Paul told Stephen Leahy of the Independent Press Service "We are all scared." The people frightened are not just scientists, but anyone who either has the expertise, or educates themselves, on the various challenges to our civilization, a system which is far more fragile than we want to believe. By the way, I wouldn't have found out about this paper without the independent environmental journalist Stephen Leahy. Please visit his web site, and support his efforts.

There is far too much to this interview, with one of the grand older men of science and popular culture, to list here. Please listen for yourself.


Professor David Bowman, University of Tasmania

Sydney and Melbourne his more record highs this week, as the Australian super heat wave continues. This is our future friends - so let's tune in for a listen.

The image of kids in the water clinging to a dock, under a fire-red sky, captured the situation. The great Australian heat wave of 2013 also struck the southern-most part of the country, the island of Tasmania. Maybe this is the future anywhere trees grow, as global warming heats the planet.

Professor David Bowman is at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, teaching and researching Forest Ecology. He's a published expert on fire in the earth system.

When Dunalley Tasmania burned, Bowman was out of contact in the bush. He told his research team fire conditions were catastrophic, the worst he'd seen. Just last year Bowman was so concerned about the growing fire risk, he wrote the media a warning (which was ignored).

Listen to the 20 minute Radio Ecoshock interview with David Bowman.

While the public thinks a couple of wet seasons after a drought is a good thing, forest experts around the world know that is the most dangerous time. The rain creates new fuel for bush fires - which are more likely as the planet heats up.

It gets worse when slow-growing tree species get burned over in relatively quick succession. Fires that would normally return in perhaps 75 years come back in 5 years. Bowman says some forest ecologies in the Southern Hemisphere are converting toward super fireweed species. For example the Australian Alps are in danger of an ecosystem change.

The climate impacts from fire soot has also been underestimated in climate models, Bowman suggests. The black particles absorb the sun's heat, raising warming. Fire smoke is a complex mix of chemicals which are also responsible for many deaths around the world. Much more needs to be understood about them.

We also discuss the extreme fire risk of the trend to plant Eucalyptus trees around the world, including in California and the Mediterranean. The Eucalyptus, Bowman thinks, may be a real fire tree.

David Bowman has also been working with an extended family of aboriginal people in Northern Australia over the past 15 years, trying to learn what they know about fire. That relationship is unique, with fire being a part of aboriginal culture. Too bad the colonists didn't learn from them.

Learn a lot in one short interview. This kind of fire becomes a positive feedback effect on the climate. More fires lead to more warming, which leads to more fires.


John Talberth

John Talberth is the senior economist for the Center for Sustainable Economy, which is based in New Mexico.

In our final interview this week, I bring you a case you probably haven't heard about. The U.S. Federal Government seems permanently on the edge of bankruptcy. The public always wants lower gas prices at the pump. Now the Obama Administration is auctioning off huge tracts of the Outer Continental Shelf to big oil and gas companies. Our guest, economist John Talberth says that's a bad idea, on so many levels. His group The Center for Sustainable Economy has taken the government to court to stop it.

There are many angles to this story. In a nutshell, the Center is suing a branch of the U.S. Government, called the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, saying their assessment of the risks and benefits of awarding new leases on the Outer Continental Shelf did was not proper. If you haven't heard of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, it's the former "Minerals Management Service" (MMS) disgraced by the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling accident (and so renamed).

The Center for Sustainable Economy says the BOEM simply presumed America should sell off huge areas for oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the high Arctic above Alaska, to make a buck and bolster big oil. The BOEM, and the EPA, did not consider the true risks, the suit says. And here is the novel argument: the agencies did not consider the benefits of leaving those fossil fuels in the ground. Just consider the climate costs of burning those fuels for example - $60 billion dollars in damages from Hurricane Sandy alone, with more to come.

The group also wants the government to weigh the advantages of saving these resources for future generations. As though we give a damn about our kids and grandkids, and what they might need, instead of driving around pointlessly now.


What I found fascinating was guest John Talberth's calculation these leases might have been awarded in part to bolster the stock price of major oil and gas companies. Even if the resources are not developed for some years, the alleged oil and gas go on the big corporate books as assets, keeping stock prices high.

Oil will end eventually. And public pressure due to climate damage might bring that day sooner than later. But the companies need to keep the fascade that oil exploration and development will go on forever, to keep the Ponzi scheme going.

I also dig up possible corruption by the House leader pushing this oil drilling, none other than former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan. The report by the Congressional Budget Office, and released August 9, 2012, was requested by Ryan analyzed a proposal to open both Outer Continental Shelf areas, but also ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge).

Look here at Climate Progress blog for the details of Paul Ryan's connections to the dirty fossil fuel industry. And here. By the way, Paul Ryan is also a global warming denier.

Here is the industry's take on this lawsuit, as found in Refinery News.

Keep in mind some of the proposed drilling areas are in the Arctic, in the Chuckchi and Beaufort Seas, where no possible solution could be found for an accident like the Deepwater Horizon. The Arctic would hold on to the oil mess almost forever. The drill sites are shown, in government maps, to be within the ice fields needed by both polar bears and aboriginal Inuit hunting. What could go wrong?

Details of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management plan are here.

The maps show giant areas for the "Proposed Final Program Areas" - two of which are in the Arctic, including the Chukchi Sea and the Beaufort Sea. All of the proposed drill areas appear to be within the area described as "Polar Bear Critical Habitat - Seaward Extent". Many are also within the area shown as ""Subsistence, High Use" (I presume by aboriginal people).

Join us again next week for more Radio Ecoshock, for more reporting from around the world. Thank you for listening.

Some show music provided by Vastmandana at soundclick.com. We'll go out with a bit of a new song from Kukulcan "Mother Nature, Mother Earth"

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