Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Living on The Edge

Dr. Thomas Lovejoy, is the father of "biodiversity". He advises Presidents and the World Bank. Thomas Lovejoy visits Radio Ecoshock. Next science vs. spirituality with Dr. Carolyn Baker She says: go positive in a negative world. Alex investigates why millions of people in America, Europe & Australia can't come up with $500 (300 Pounds). Song "Mother Nature" by Kukulcan. Radio Ecoshock 130213

Radio Ecoshock, living on the edge.


RADIO ECOSHOCK SHOW in CD Quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)

Thomas Lovejoy interview (18 minutes) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Carolyn Baker interview (26 minutes) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Our feature song this week: "Mother Nature, Mother Earth" by Kukulcan, from their album "Earth"

Listen to the show right now (courtesy of archive.org)


Dr. Thomas Lovejoy

Introducing our next guest on Radio Ecoshock is a problem. It can take 5 minutes to list out his posts, awards, and credentials. His time is too valuable, so I'll spare you most of that.

Back in 1980, Dr. Thomas E. Lovejoy introduced the term "biological diversity" to the world. He's currently a professor at George Mason University, and the Biodiversity Chair at the Heinz Center. Dr. Lovejoy has advised the United Nations, the World Bank, and 3 past Presidents. Beyond that, he's a tireless advocate for endangered ecosystems that have no voice of their own.

Here is Lovejoy's George Mason University bio page, but I find the Wiki entry better.

I first came to appreciate Dr. Thomas Lovejoy when listening to his Reith Lectures 2000 series on the living world. Find the full text of that presentation here.

Here is another speech I've collected, as Thomas Lovejoy opens a United Nations event in Paris in 2010, to celebrate the Year of Biodiversity. Lovejoy warns we are entering the sixth great extinction. Don't miss this powerful overview on climate change and the species. Recorded by Stephen Leahy, environmental journalist. Broadcast by Radio Ecoshock.

Download/listen to that 36 minute Thomas Lovejoy speech in Paris in CD Quality here or in faster downloading Lo-Fi here.

Lovejoy is perhaps best known as a champion for the Amazon rain forest and the creatures there. In this Radio Ecoshock interview, I ask him about another very endangered world ecosystem that gets less press: the African Savanna. The true wide open grasslands of Africa, likely our own human homeland, and the wonder of big species from lions to big herds, is down to just 30% of it's original size. That includes the famous Serengeti. Find out more about the Savanna from Blue Planet here.

The population of Africa is growing and needs to feed itself. Beyond that, countries like China are buying up Savanna to farm - to export food back to Asia. It's a renewal of agricultural colonialism. Add in big impact industry like mining, and climate change, and you can see the days of the fabulous Savanna may be numbered.

I ask Dr. Lovejoy whether we are in the sixth Great Extinction event recorded throughout time. He gives me a cautious "yes", saying we can see the shadow of this event already developing. It's not good news.

I know some listeners will be skeptical of a man who advises the World Bank. In fact, Lovejoy tells me he just had a one hour meeting with the new President of the World Bank last week. Lovejoy assures me President Jim Yong Kim really "gets" the immediacy of climate change. We'll see if the Bank can stop funding coal plants!

When I bring up the regrettable role of George Mason University's refusal to pursue the blatant plagiarism in the Professor Wegman report made to Congress, again Lovejoy says there is new leadership at the University. His basic position is that as a concerned biologist, he has to keep warning and informing whatever leadership exists, always trying to fight for a better chance for the planet.

Along those lines, Lovejoy gives us a three point plan he would give President Obama if he had the chance. First among them is this: two degrees of warming is NOT safe. Even then, we lose the coral reefs, and all kinds of species around the world.

We also discuss whether Nature should have her own rights, as Boliva has just granted her in law.

In my opinion, Thomas Lovejoy is one of the fathers of environmentalism, and protector of the species. It's an interview well worth hearing.


Dr. Carolyn Baker

"The more rational a culture seems to be, the more irrational will be its underside when the dark times come, the veils lift, and more is revealed than most want to see."

Those are the words of Michael Meade, in his seminal book "Why The World Doesn't End". Watch a You tube of Meade about this book here.

It is also the opening quote in another piece called "The Really Big Transition: Saying Goodbye To The Enlightenment, Saying Hello To Consciousness". The author is a friend of this program, Carolyn Baker. Actually, that is Dr. Carolyn Baker, a former psychotherapist in private practice, and former adjunct professor of history and psychology, now living in Colorado.

I hear from Carolyn every day, through her email update of pithy news about a world in trouble. But at the bottom of the page, Carolyn also sends her solutions links with tips about things you and I can do. She's a thought-leader and writer for Transition Colorado.

I invited Carolyn to Radio Ecoshock because I am wrestling with my own problem. Science is telling us humans are in the process of ruining the world for life as we know it. Very few of us are responding. We just keep wasting the planet, polluting the land, sea, and atmosphere, as though there is no tomorrow. Why is reason failing? As we look for alternatives, how can we avoid the pitfalls of past superstition, not to mention the just plain craziness so prevalent on the Internet?

We also discuss the emails we both receive from people who are very distressed about the collapse of the economy and the environment, especially climate change. One person on my Facebook page said she decided not to have children after hearing my program. Another private mail suggested the writer was contemplating suicide.

Carolyn has good advice on how to handle very bad news. In fact, she feels we can turn these challenging times to our advantage, sharpening our "gifts" to help others. She doesn't offer feel good "candy" type advice. Carolyn is hard-headed but human, willing to help others face difficulty. She uses her past training to help counsel individuals and couples who contact her. She gives speeches and workshops all over the country, particularly to Transition groups. Carolyn Baker is a regular writer and organizer for Transition Colorado, and she tells us how it's going there.

It was well worth having her back on the show. I think Carolyn should have her own radio show, maybe the call-in variety. In the meantime, she offers a low-fee subscription daily headline sheet which I use to help me prepare for Radio Ecoshock. It carries some of the tough news mainstream media glosses over, but Carolyn always has a series of practical solutions coming out ever day as well. Get the details on her daily news service here.

One of Carolyn's most famous books is titled "Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse." Her newest is "Navigating the Coming Chaos A Handbook for Inner Transition".


- a rant by Alex Smith (with real numbers from the real economy)

You know the rich are literally getting richer, while the poor get poorer. In every developed country, there are millions of people who are just one paycheck away from financial disaster.

I'm concerned about those people. You may be one of them without really thinking about it. Even if you are not, if crowds of people get kicked out on the street, can't afford groceries, or turn to crime to get by, that is certainly going to affect all of our lives.

Last week we mentioned Nicole Foss of the Automatic Earth blog. She started out thinking Peak Oil would collapse the economy, and then wondered if climate change might bring a crash first. Now she's traveling to many countries giving lectures saying the economy will crash even without a push by high energy prices and climate disruption.

Nicole is looking at the very big picture, where governments in the United States, the UK and the rest of Europe, are printing billions of dollars out of thin air. Just a push of a computer button, and $40 billion a month goes to the five biggest American banks to buy up their worst loans. That's just a fraction of the real support for industrial civlization, being billed to some future taxpayers.


In Canada, payroll taxes are deducted for something called the Canada Pension plan. That money was actually set aside in a pool which has become huge over the years. The money is actually there, unless there is a global crash where everything is worth nothing.

In the United States, the government also deducts payroll taxes, but never did save that money. They rolled it into general revenues, and spent it on crazy things like foreign wars and oil subsidies. The money isn't there to support American seniors. You've heard of "unfunded liabilities" - well that's one for sure.


The other scam in the U.S., but also in Canada, and the UK, is to hide real unemployment numbers by herding people of all ages back into school, allegedly to improve their job prospects and eventual salaries.

Student loans in the United States have now topped 1 trillion dollars. Of this, about 15% of loans are already delinquent. Bankers expect that at least $200 billion of student loans will not be repaid. This education bubble is approaching the crazy levels set by the sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2007-2008. Except those loans at least had a house attached, while student loans have no equity.

The banks don't need to worry. The Federal Government guarantees all these loans. The banks can loan out billions at low interest rates and the taxpayer is on the hook.

You can see how it happens. A person 30 or 40 years old, a good worker, is suddenly out of work. Their job has been automated or sent overseas.

Counselors and the media say that person needs to be retrained for another job. Anyway, getting tens of thousands of dollars or pounds in loans will pay for the mortgage and groceries while they figure out what to do.

Most do not find work in the field they trained for. Many will end up as waiters or other low-paying jobs, unable to repay the loans. Even so, the government can garnishee their pitiful wages, because there is not way to discharge a student loan through declaring bankruptcy in America, thanks to a law passed during the Bush administration.

It's far worse for youth, in Europe and America. When we count inflation, American college students are borrowing almost twice as much as they did just ten years ago. "According to FICO: 'While the delinquency rate is climbing, the average amount of student loan debt is increasing even faster. In 2005, the average U.S. student loan debt was $17,233. By 2012, it had ballooned to more than $27,253 – an increase of 58 percent in seven years.'"

One percent of the U.S. population has student loans over $100,000.

More than half of graduate students in one survey said they intended to move back in with their parents after finishing University.

University is a place where youth hang out when there are no jobs for them. Most of the supposed job growth has been for people over the age of 45.

I won't even go into the rates of youth unemployment in countries like Italy, Spain, and even France. Probably one quarter of people in those countries will never have a good-paying job.

Meanwhile, millions and millions of people in America, Canada, and the UK are really, really broke. They still watch TV ads for expensive pickup trucks. They may even buy a Starbucks every day. But a rude awakening could be just around the corner, with something as simple as a 1% increase in interest rates. Or a collapse of the unreal prices for stocks these days.


At some point in the year, 77% of all Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. One third of Americans are contributing absolutely nothing to retirement savings. They can't. There is nothing to spare.

One survey found that 28% of Americans have nothing at all in savings for emergencies.

Another survey found 40% of Americans have $500 or less in savings.


Almost half of Canadians are living paycheck to paycheck. Forty seven percent of Canucks are in big trouble if their paycheck is delayed even by a week. That's actually an improvement. It was 57% in 2011.

As the Canadian government has warned, Canadians hold record amounts of personal debt in 2012. Total average debt - not including a mortgage, is around $27,000.

Those levels are rising rapidly, as Canadians keep spending on consumer items, bought with credit cards, or lines of credit on their houses, spending more than their income every year. The household debt to income ratio stood at 164.6 per cent. According to Statistics Canada, the average household debt is $103,000, and total debt load $1.6 trillion. Is that going to end well?


Do I need to tell you how bad it is for the lower income person in the UK? In December 2012, the Independent newspaper reported one in ten families were forced to default on their household debts. Ten million families are in danger, struggling on the edge of that knife-edge, where a missed paycheck or sudden expense breaks them. Millions of families are already behind in their utility bills or home payments.


You would think Australians are doing much better. In some senses, bouyed by mineral exports and such, they are. But the average Australian has the highest household debt compared to disposable income. Higher than anywhere else in the world, and absolute leaders in the amount of credit card debt. The average Austrlian owes the equivalent of $56,000 America dollars, while Americans average out of $44,000.

Just recently, Australians started spending more than their total gross domestic product. Of course many are counting on their high property values as a piggy bank - but what if the market goes down?


Everyone has been sold on the Middle Class dream, if not a route to being really wealthy. They want to live it right now, even if the paycheck isn't there to support it.

If that bubble bursts, and simply common sense says the pyramid scheme must fall eventually. It may break at the top with bankrupt governments and big banks. Or at the bottom with huge crowds of disappointed and yes, even hungry people, in the former "First World" countries.

It could break at the top and the bottom at the same time.

Either way, the old system is primed for failure.

One future is severe civil unrest, as we've seen in North Africa. Crowds in the street. Looting, a break down in social services and then government.

We all need to think about how we would supplement our food and fuel supplies. We need to organize local communities now, that can function even during a break down. We need to begin helping one another right now, with more food banks, barter systems and local currencies, markets for locally grown food. Reach out to those on the edge, with comfort and help. Big government is not going to solve this problem!


I'm not preaching from some safe place. Our major breadwinner was out of work for 10 months. My son-in-law was laid off, but fortunately found a good job a few months later. My own small pension was cut in half.

But we've stayed out of the consumer dream for years. Our home is graced with used furniture, and our closets with some used clothes. We save what little we have, and spend less than we bring in. We've lived poor before. We know how to grow food, chickens and all that. We know how to heat with wood.

Most of all, we know how to link up with others, to trade and enrich our lives with home-made music, child-care exchanges, and all the good things community can bring.

Watch out for the coming tsunami of poverty. But instead of digging a bunker for food, dig a lot of holes, to plant food all over your neighborhood and town. Prepare in the big sense of the word.


I'm putting together a program on African American food and farming in the South. It's an unreported scene. We can all learn a lot from that past and present - including a super report on urban farming in Atlanta from Rashid Nuri, and lessons from the times of slave gardens, from African American gourmet Michael Witty.

After that I have a show in development about indoor growing of food - under lights. I'll be talking with two entrepreneurs who are doing it, and I'll let loose a little of my own experience growing indoors. Food is key to our future, I think, and this may be one way to get city people started, learning what they need to know.

If you have suggestions or tips, please send them along to: radio [at] ecoshock /dot/ org. Or use the Contact form on our web site.

My special thanks to listeners who donated this past week. Your generosity makes if all worthwhile. Find out how to help me keep making Radio Ecoshock here.

If my voice sounds a little different lately, I've had a bad flu. But the show must go on...

I'm Alex Smith, for Radio Ecoshock.

A couple of weeks ago, I managed to play a clip from a song by Kukulcan called Mother Earth. Then my blog got chopped off in a technical glitch, and the band didn't get the link they deserved. This week in my one hour program I play you the whole thing! Thanks for sending me the song guys!

"Mother Nature, Mother Earth" by Kukulcan, from their album "Earth"

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