Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Planet Code Red

The amount of carbon we can burn and still have a safe climate is zero. One Australian calls it Code Red, time for emergency action. Plus new science on why New York City will flood again and again. Guests David Spratt and Dr. Stefan Talke, plus special on gardening in extreme heat with Marjory Wildcraft. Radio Ecoshock 140611 1 hour in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

In this Radio Ecoshock show: we find out the amount of carbon we can burn and still have a safe climate is zero. One Australian calls it Code Red, time for emergency action.

Then we'll zero in on one of the global cities that will flood time and time again. A new scientific report on why New York City is going under.

We end with a quick lesson from a wise garden grower in Texas. How and what to plant in the coming times of heat and water stress as the climate warps far from normal.

I'm Alex Smith. Get ready for Radio Ecoshock.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock show in CD quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)


Our talk was pretty wide-ranging. You should listen to the interview if you have time.

We began by looking at who originally set two degrees (Centigrade) as a safe level for the world to warm. We've already seen major melting at both poles, plus storms, droughts and weird weather in between, and that's just at 1 degree hotter over pre-industrial times.

The two degree "safe" limit was from William Nordhaus, who wasn't a climate scientist at all. He was an economist when he made that limit in the 1970's. We've found out a lot since then!

Find out more in my notes on a Guy McPherson speech. Search in that document for "Where did the 2 degrees "Safe" Limit Come From".

David Spratt hit it dead on when he said the politicians think the 2 degree limit is coming from the climate scientists, while climate scientists think the 2 degree mark is just political!

Neither is right. David Spratt explains why 2 degrees is far from safe, and anyway on our current path of fossil fuel burning we are heading to 4 degrees or more. By the way, each 1 degree of warming, David says, adds another 15 meters of sea level rise (almost 50 feet!!)over time.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview with David Spratt in CD quality or Lo-Fi.

You can listen right now on Soundcloud here.

Here is a short URL for this David Spratt interview, in case you want to Tweet about it.


If we do get to 4 degrees what happens?

"If we get to 4 degrees of warming, we think, our best expert guess is that the carrying capacity of the planet will be under 1 billion people. So that's a very strong statement.

Other people were - James Lovelock said that many years ago. And more recently at a presentation in England Kevin Anderson [Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research] said 'I think four degrees is incomaptible with the continuation of human civilization.'

So I think there's a widespread view that it's simply - we could not go on as we are. And obviously at 4 degrees of sea level will in the end go up to 70 meters, that's going to drown most of human civilization. So it's a very dramatic scenario.

On the road to the alleged safe level of 2 degrees, a whole series of reports, from the Stern Report in Britain to the Garnaut Report in Australia, to the IPCC - they all try to calculate "the carbon budget". That's the amount of carbon we can still burn before going over 2 degrees. They talk about gradual reductions of fossil fuels over decades because that pleases industry, politicians, and classical economists.

That whole exercise is not just a farce, says David Spratt, it's an illusion so dangerous it could endanger most of humanity.

Spratt explains the real numbers. Humans so far have put up about 550 billion tons of carbon. Then the real odds chime in.

"If you want a 33% chance of staying below two degrees, then you can have 1500 in your budget. If you want a 50% chance it comes down to 1200. If you want a 66% chance of staying below 2 degrees then it's 1,000. And then if we take gases other than carbon dioxide, because we're putting up methane and nitrous oxide, and so on - then perhaps the budget is 800."

So if you want a two in three chance that we won't ruin the entire planet for all succeeding generations and most other species, the real amount left to burn could be 250 billion tons.

We are currently emitting about 10 billion tons a year, so ostensibly we can go on with our current emissions for another 25 years, and if we are lucky, get away with "just" 2 degrees of warming.

But wait. There are huge holes in even that estimate. For one thing, it doesn't account for increases in emissions. We are emitting more every year, as we fixate on global "growth" of economies. Nor does it count any growth in natural emissions, from positive feedbacks like a warming ocean due to disappearing sea ice. There is no spot in this "carbon budget" for any increase in methane in the warming Arctic, due to either frozen methane balls melting under the sea (the "clathrates"), or from melting permafrost.

Then David Spratt brings in another budget killer. We need to allow for future emissions from agriculture, to feed the growing human population. We may be able to de-industrialize somewhat, to switch to renewables, etc. - but we will still want food. Commercial agriculture, as we learned recently from our guest Kip Anderson, releases more greenhouse gases than our whole transportation system. Humans also deforest and slash burn for agriculture, which means continuing emissions.

Spratt says once we account for the future food emissions, there is no carbon budget left at all. Zero! His solution is calling for a recognition of this planetary emergency. We talk about the way Britain totally transformed their economy and way of living in 1939, as World War Two developed, and cessation of automobile production in the United States in 1942, for the same reason. We have made a major change before. We can do it again, and we must.

Getting rid of the illusion of having a "carbon budget" left to spend, like secret money in the bank, is one first step to waking up the extreme danger of our situation.

In 2008, David Spratt published his important book "Climate Code Red, the Case for Emergency Action." With his blog, and especially his recent post "Carbon budgets, climate sensitivity and the myth of 'burnable carbon'" - Spratt continues his campaign to get people and world leaders to face the facts raised by science.

Keep in touch with David Spratt's work at his influential blog Climate Code Red.


We saw it in Hurricane Sandy. Parts of Manhattan were flooded, including streets, subways, and buildings. Expect a lot more of that as sea levels rise. But you won't have to wait a century to find more flooding in America's largest city.

A recent scientific letter suggests the odds of storm tides overflowing sea walls in New York City have increased 20-fold since the mid-1800's.

Dr. Stefan Talke has a PHD in civil and environmental engineering. He's studied the way sediments work in rivers and estuaries in Europe and on the Pacific coast, where he teaches at Portland State University.

Along with scientists Philip Orton and David Jay, Stefan Talke just published these startling findings about New York City flooding in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. It's titled "Increasing Storm Tides in New York Harbor, 1844-2013". Find the abstract and paper details here.

Here is one scary quote from that paper:

"Three of the nine highest recorded water levels in the New York Harbor (NYH) region have occurred since 2010 (Mar. 2010, Aug. 2011, and Oct. 2012), and eight of the largest twenty have occurred since 1990."

OK, why is New York flooding? The answers (and there are several) aren't easy, but each one leads to a greater understanding of the planet we live on.

I hesitate to explain what Dr. Talke said eloquently in the interview, but my impressions are these:

1. New York, and much of the coast of New England is sinking. It's called "subsidence". One cause of that was the glaciers of past ages. Not because New York was covered by a glacier, but because it wasn't. Land further inland, that was flattened lower by the huge weight of ice miles deep. That land sank, and is now rising, while the coast is sinking. That is one reason New York will flood more.

2. Another factor is a huge cycle of weather in the North Atlantic. It's called the North Atlantic Oscillation. I wont' go into that here. Google it, or listen to an excellent explanation of that, and it's impact on storm surges and storm tides, in this Radio Ecoshock interview.

By the way, Stefan Talke carefully explains the critical difference between a "storm surge", and a "storm tide". The latter is when a storm surge builds on top of a rising tide, as happened in Hurricane Sandy.

3. Human interference in land use in New York Harbor makes it easier for high water to come in (and get out). There is less friction when wetlands are gone, and most of the sea side is lined with concrete.

4. Finally, as you might expect, there is the issue of rising seas as the planet warms. This adds to all the other factors. In the long run, it will become the biggest driving factor.

All this adds up to America's largest city, the hub of communications and finance, having to spend more and more trying to repair flood damage. Think flooded subways, damaged underground pipes and electrical systems, continual flooding in Manhattan and some boroughs. It's going to weight the economy down, and eventually drive part of the city underwater.

There are possible harbor defences, like tide gates which cost about $10 billion for NYC, as suggested by our guest J. Court Stevenson in my Radio Ecoshock interview linked from this show blog.

But that just adds a few more decades to New York's life. After that, it's retreat from the sea. The Wall Street bankers who finance oil and coal don't really understand that. Or it they do, they obviously don't care. It's a problem for the next generation - or is it?

We also discuss how port dredging can lead to ecological dead zones, and some strange stuff about the health of San Francisco Bay. It's real science in the real world. I like this interview.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview with Stefan Talke, in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

Or listen on Soundcloud here.


I've been out gardening in some hot weather. I wonder how we'll grow food when it get's even hotter!

We're all wondering how to survive in a heat stressed world. In this program I play you the 8 minute audio from the best short You tube video I've found on this subject.. It's by Marjory Wildcraft, recorded in a garden farmyard of Texas, during their incredible drought and heat wave two years ago. Listen and learn, grasshopper. Here is the link to that You tube video.

Marjory covers several things. First, the old farmers in Texas really had two seasons: spring gardens and fall gardens. Not much grows in the 108 degree heat that's been coming in summers of recent years.

Then she describes at least three food plants which can survive the heat and even drought. It's good survival prepper information, and good for the family budget, even as the climate changes.

This wise advice comes from Marjory Wildcraft at It's called "Gardining in the Heat" posted on You tube in November 2011. And check out her influential DVD called "Grow Your Own Groceries". I'm going to ask Marjorie to join us on the program.

I'll be doing more on gardening in the heat in coming shows.

That is our program for this week, from one species in trouble on the living planet. Get our past programs free from the web site Encourage your friends to listen on their local non-profit radio station, or on the Radio Ecoshock Soundcloud page.

My special thanks to those listeners who donated this week to help keep this project going out to the public.

I've also posted my new song "All the Beasts" on Soundcloud. In addition to some rocking dance music, it features quotes about an earthly paradise of plants and beasts, just waiting for you. Sadly, the recording is from Jim Jones, the deadly preacher who led his flock into a mass suicide. We live in an ironic universe.

Thank you for listening to Radio Ecoshock this week (instead of Jim Jones), and thank you for caring about your world.


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