Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The High Arctic and Eco-Anxiety

SUMMARY: Disturbing climate news from high Arctic with Paul Beckwith. Handling eco-anxiety with Susie Burke of Australian Psychological Society. Radio Ecoshock 140903 kicks off new fall season.

A hearty welcome back to another season of Radio Ecoshock. I'm your tour-guide, Alex Smith.

In this program you'll get a review of some of the disturbing climate news in the high Arctic, trends which pretty well guarantees a hotter and less stable climate for all of us. The knowledgeable climate scientist Paul Beckwith is our guide. He's just back from the glaciers of Alaska.

If you've been experiencing a growing anxiety about our future climate, you'll appreciate an interview crammed with helpful tips from a senior psychologist in Australia. Our guest will be Susie Burke from the Australian Psychology Society. She specializes in mental prepping for disasters, and ways to cope with eco-anxiety.

Download or listen to this program in CD Quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)

You can also listen to this show right now on Soundcloud.

HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER...(remember those back to school essays?)

On a personal note, I've been back in nature, tubing down the river, soaking in the heat in a remarkably dry summer in British Columbia Canada.

I've also been following my own advice to get local food, and save money by capturing crops during the harvest, with a garden at home and another in the local community garden. In the community-owned canning kitchen, we canned dozens of bottles of plums and peaches, dried more dozens of pounds of cherries, and apricots, while cooking up tomato sauce and freezing our own beans for the winter.

As you know I've been learning to create home-grown music for Radio Ecoshock. This summer I had an opportunity to write pieces for a film score. The Pakistan-produced psychological thriller "Hotal" from Outfield Productions will premier in the New Delhi International Film Festival this coming December. There will be a music credit to Alex Smith, and no doubt I'll squeeze in a few samples for that. You can read a review about this film's big ambitions here. And here is a Vimeo trailer for the new film.

While stretching my music to the sitar, sarod, and tabla, I've also been thinking about the need to expand Radio Ecoshock to cover even more voices and issues from India, which is poised to become the world's most populous country in the coming decades. India's entry to the industrial revolution is powered almost entirely by coal.

At the end of the show, you'll hear a short interview I did over the summer, a kind of introduction for new listeners, with some news about a major mining disaster in Canada.

Plus - many thanks to those whose continuing donations helped pay the bills during the summer! We got a surprising number of downloads of recent and past programs as more people become aware of the program and the issues we cover.

I also appreciate those who ReTweet notice of the new Radio Ecoshock season, including @johnlundin @bluesuezoo @Pcamachobotero @PltBRos @TheEarthNetwork @JTToronto @philrandal @nicorajohns @ecodissident @ArcticBoundCom and more. The program doesn't have a publicity department - so I count on listeners to get the word out by social media. Get news of new programs from my own Twitter feed @ecoshock - and please forward those Tweets to your own lists of friends and followers!

If you'd like to Tweet about this program, here is a handy short URL for it, to save those precious characters: http://tinyurl.com/k2vhbh8


Before we get started, here are the two super sources Paul Beckwith recommends at the end of our interview. Both are loaded with real-time or very recent maps and charts showing climate change in action:



Be sure and check them out!


So much climate change is taking place in the Arctic, and those giant events could soon sweep the world into a hotter age. There are a few good blogs, like Arctic News and Robert Scribbler, but really we need a full-time Arctic TV news station. Until that comes, let's get some of this summer's top climate stories in the north, from Paul Beckwith. He's the University of Ottawa climate undergrad, with two Masters degrees already to his credit. As it happens, Paul has just returned from a visit to Alaska.

Here are some of the big stories out of the Arctic we talk about. One that got a lot of eyeballs was that crater that blew up in Siberia. Apparently it was caused by a methane explosion - another sign that the melting tundra is removing the frozen cap from methane created millions of years ago. It's not a climate-changer in itself, but the start of something unpleasantly big.

We think the largest and worst amount of methane is similarly sequestered under the shallow Arctic sea of East Siberia. A multi-country research ship went up there this July, and found many methane vents bubbling up to the surface. The Arctic News blog is reporting methane from the ocean went up even further, after that research vessel left. I've also been reading some reports about much warmer ocean temperatures in the Arctic, another reason sea-bed methane could be released.

The well-known ice scientist Jason Box used the F-word in a Tweet, to describe our situation if Arctic methane gets released in quantity. Scientists are really worried about this, while the public has barely heard about it.

There have been heat waves again in the Arctic this year of 2014. Planetary warming may only be around 1 degree on average, but around the North Pole it's up to 8 degrees above normal. That reduces the amount of thermal tension between the Pole and the tropics, which many scientists think has slowed the Jet Stream. Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University has led research into this theory, with new support from a scientific paper released this summer by the Potsdam Institute.

A Jet Stream with less power tends to meander and stall, like a river in a big delta. The weather experienced in the Northern Hemisphere is greatly influenced by that. Jet Stream bends and weather blockage resulted in a generally cooler, wetter summer in the Eastern part of North America, with a hot dry summer in the West. That means soggy floods in the Mid-West and New England, and forest fires and drought from California north.

We had a week or two of forest fire smoke where I live in British Columbia, and a listener from Montana says it was even worse there. I know Washington State experienced its largest wildfire EVER this summer. Perhaps you've seen coverage of the continuing fires in California. Everybody has been warned food prices will go up, due to the drought there. Photos comparing reservoir levels in Northern California to past years are shocking.

There were huge fires in the Arctic this year, including some fires reported burning in the Tundra, where there are not even any trees. Smoke from those fires went around the world, but the soot particles falling on ice, especially in Greenland are a big concern. The darker surface helps the ice melt faster. Some scientists estimate up to half of the rapid ice melt of glaciers in Greenland are due to soot from industry and forest fires make the snow darker.

Arctic fires are fast becoming a positive feedback loop for global warming. More fires lead to a faster snow melt, extending the fire season, leading to more fires. The darker snow and ice lowers reflection of the Sun's energy into space (the planetary "albedo") leading to more heating, leading to more fires. I'd love to see the science that quantifies this feedback effect, now that runaway Arctic fires are common every year, from Alaska through Canada, and especially in Siberia.

Meanwhile in Canada, home of the Tar Sands, our Prime Minister Harper is giving photo-ops on board a military ship searching for the Franklin Expedition, lost in the 1800's. If the explorers had set out today, they probably would never have been trapped in the ice. They might have sailed right through the newly melted Northwest Passage! Prime Minister Harper doesn't see the irony of pushing more oil drilling in the Arctic, now that fossil fuels have melted the sea ice. Maybe he should spend that money re-hiring the climate scientists he's fired...

As always, Paul Beckwith has lots of stories and insight into developing climate change, especially in the Arctic.

You can listen to/download his 24 minute interview here in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

If you want to pass on a link to Paul's interview in social media, here is a tiny URL to save precious space in a Twitter or Facebook post: http://tinyurl.com/nf67hkz

Keep track of Paul's many blog postings, videos and You tube videos on his Facebook page here.


Has knowing about climate change hurt your mental health?

Susie Burke is with the Australian Pyschological Society. She's made a specialty of studying the impacts of climate change on mental health. Susie has a lot of useful tips for keeping our own sanity, despite knowing the serious troubles we face in the future.

SUSIE BURKE, Australian Psychological Society

I first found Susie in an article titled "A Climate of Despair" in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. It begins with an environmental scientist with a developing depression about the future. I would think climate scientists are on the front lines, possibly encountering a kind of "pre-traumatic stress disorder." Are psychologists finding more people having difficulty imagining a positive future?

Think about leading climate scientists like Kevin Anderson in the UK, or the German expert John Schellnhuber, who spoke at the "Four Degrees or More" conference in Australia in 2011. I wonder how can they can cope knowing the extreme threats we face? Kevin Anderson has talked about this, and he finds it difficult. Former NASA lead scientist James Hansen is so concerned for the future of his grandchildren, he was forced to become an activist, including an arrest to oppose mountain-top removal coal mining.

What should we call a fear and sadness about wrecking the future for our descendants? Some call it "eco-anxiety". The Australian environmental Philosopher (at the University of Newcastle) Glenn A. Albrecht invented a new word for this condition: "solastalgia"

Here is his official explanation for the term:

"Solastalgia is the pain or sickness caused by the loss or lack of solace and the sense of desolation connected to the present state of one’s home and territory. It is the 'lived experience' of negative environmental change. It is the homesickness you have when you are still at home. It is that feeling you have when your sense of place is under attack. While I claim responsibility for creating the concept of solastalgia and its meaning, I am aware that that the existential experience underlying it is not new ... only that it is newly defined in English (but possibly represented in many other languages). The experience of solastalgia might well be ancient and ubiquitous and under the impact of relentless environmental change, ecosystem distress and climate chaos, it may well become much more common. It is my sincere hope that the negative experience of solastalgia can be overcome by the restoration of ecosystem and human health via every form of creative enterprise at our disposal."

Our radio guest Susie Burke recently gave a presentation at the Climate Reality Project hosted in Australia by former US vice-president Al Gore.

If someone comes to a psychologist or psychiatrist saying climate change is going to wipe out our future, and they are really down about that, would they likely be diagnosed with a mental problem and a drug prescription? Susie doesn't think so. It's more likely a person would get counselling to help them handle their feeling "down" and then get pointed into activism to get going again.

That seems to be the three point method:

1. Allow yourself to experience your real emotions, which may be painful once you admit them. These may include fear, a sense of mourning for what we have lost in nature, or even grief. More about that next week.

2. Find others who feel the same, and share what you are feeling.

3. Then turn outward into activism, in whatever way you can find, preferably with others.

In Australia, the Psychological Society has already had to deal with climate-related disaster victims. There have been extreme fires, including the deadly Black Saturday bush fires where 173 people died. The Murray-Darling River Basin experienced such a horrible long-term drought that many farmers killed themselves, as other Australian farmers have done due to drought. Australians also endured some of the freakiest of freaky flash floods.

You don't have to live in Australia, or wherever climate-driven disasters strike, to feel the pain. I talk to Suzie about "vicarious" climate anxiety. We'll all be feeling that watching TV news as this decade unfolds.

The Psychological Society prepared a pre-disaster planning guide. The main point is that we can think through what may happen, which helps us keep our cool during the actual event. Otherwise people tend to panic, and make bad decisions that endangers lives.

You can find their disaster guide on the Society web site, here.

Here is a link to their .pdf booklet on Psychological First Aid, An Australian guide ot supporting people affected by disaster.

This is where you can find the Psychological Society tips sheets on being mentally prepared - metnal "preppers"!

Next week, I'll talk with American psychologist Carolyn Baker. She's been counselling people to experience the grief of climate loss now. I ask Susie Burke about that - and find she endorses that idea, so long as people don't stop with climate grieving, but go on to climate action.

We also discuss the sad state of Australian climate denial, where the current government is disbanding previous efforts to combat climate change, including study institutes and the carbon tax. Burke reports that surveys show most Australians know climate change is real, and think something should be done about it.

You can download or listen to this interview with Susie Burke here in CD Quality or Lo-Fi. I think it's going to become one of my favorites.

Is it possible the whole world might enter not an economic depression, but an unexpected viral mental depression, as we see the climate deteriorate, with things like repeated extreme weather, countless storm incursions on coastal cities, and so on? I wonder how often people can rebuild their homes and their lives without becoming angry about life, or their leaders.


During the year you will hear little about me, and lots from the scientists, authors and experts that define Radio Ecoshock. In this 2014 kick-off show, I added one short piece with a bit about myself as host, and the vision behind this program.

This is part of an interview I did for the EcoCentric show for community radio in Nelson British Columbia. It followed the Mount Polley mine disaster in that Canadian Province. On August 4th, a giant tailings pond burst, wiping out wide swaths as it raced toward pristine Quesnel Lake. It's one of those mega-mining disasters that keep happening all around the world, in our quest for cheap metals and big profits. Here is that chat during August, hosted by Bruce Edson of Kootenay Co-op Radio. The program is called "EcoCentric".

As always, we've ran out of time, almost before we began. There is lots more to come in the coming year of new Radio Ecoshock shows.


Next week we'll ask the big question: can humans survive the big climate shift we are creating? Dr. Guy McPherson says "no". His co-author in the coming book "Extinction Dialogs", Carolyn Baker, tells us how to keep on living, despite knowing the worst is yet to come.

Then I'll be finding more answers for you, as we try hard to avoid wrecking the world we were born in. Expect strong voices and tough choices, right here on Radio Ecoshock.

I'm Alex Smith. Thank you so much for listening.

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