Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Eco Horror

SUMMARY: UK "eco-horror" novelist Joseph D'Lacey living after the Apocalypse. Stanford's Dr. Mary Kang: oil & gas pipes leak methane after shutdown. Scientist Michael Mann's take on "The Newsroom" climate doom. Radio Ecoshock 141210

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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now!


Not long ago, I took up writing music as a hobby. I was surprised to find a skill at writing horror music. Could that be an expression of my fears for the future, driven by interviews for Radio Ecoshock?

During the last ten years, the first ten of a new century, I've watched horror creep into all kinds of art. Just consider the multi-million dollar market for horror films, or the ghoulish video games full of slaughter and chaos. Humans have had a fascination for the dark side for centuries, but is that growing? And if it is, is that a response to imbalances and wrongs in the real world?

Now there is a whole genre of literature to go along with the coming apocalypse, if it ever comes. We've told you about "cli-fi' - climate-based science fiction. Now meet "eco-horror". One leader in that field is British novelist Joseph D'Lacey. His new two-book series "The Black Dawn" describe life after the ecological and social breakdown on planet Earth.

In the vimeo trailer for his book "Blackfeathers" D'Lacey writes:

"I do not want to recount it. I do not want to recall the casting out of so much goodness, nor the reaping of so much pain."

As a radio journalist covering the edge of disaster, I can empathize with that. Are we unwilling witnesses, - and why do we go ahead and say what we see?

We start off talking about Joseph's breakthrough book "Meat". To research the book, he spent many awful hours watching videos of animals in slaughterhouses. It was enough to turn D'Lacey into a vegetarian, and many people still buy or download this book to help change their diet.

The premise in the book, which returns often in D'Lacey's work, is that after some sort of collapse, the world is ruled by a small group of corporate and religious leaders. Corporations have entirely taken over the political system (which sounds rathers familiar). Of course the Italian leader Benito Mussilini had a word for the combination of corporations and government: fascism. In all Joseph's books, this "corpocracy" is toxic, even to itself.

The book "Meat" was a hit, translated into 5 other languages. The after-the-apocalypse theme returned with his later novel "Garbageman". There the focus is on our mountains of waste, as well as our ability to hide things from ourselves, just as we hide the garbage.

His newest work is a "duology" - a two book series called "The Black Dawn." The first book is "Blackfeathers" and the second "The Book of the Crowman". The "crow man" is a mysterious figure, and the inspiration for a band of rebels called "the Green Men". The reference is to the mythological figure "the green man" sometimes known in Medieval England as "John Barleycorn".

The Crowman would be seen as evil by some, as he is present as things fall apart or destroyed. On the other hand, he may be the seed of a new order, which D'Lacey's characters call "the bright day".

The coming apocalypse imagined by D'Lacey is perhaps more horrible because it isn't a mass die-off for humans, but instead we must continue living (badly) in a wrecked world. Climate change, pollution, and all the ills of this present world add up to a giant crash. Then the novelist draws out the world after...

Eco-horror? Are you ready? Maybe you already have these fears within, waiting to find expression. Try the Black Dawn books from our Radio Ecoshock guest, Joseph D'Lacey.

My thanks to presenter Bernie Keith of BBC Northhampton for recording the readings by Joseph D'Lacey.


Oil and gas wells can leak methane for years after they are supposedly sealed up. That's the news from a study just published by PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Sealed wells leaking a dangerous greenhouse gas. How is that possible?

I interview the lead author, Dr. Mary Kang, a Post Doctoral researcher at Stanford University in California.

On Radio Ecoshock 9141001) our guest Micky Moritz told us the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published incorrect figures about American methane emissions for years. Their method of calculating from the ground up substantially under-reported what was actually found by scientific measurements of methane in the air. Mary's team found one of the previously unreported sources of methane emissions.

Find the blog about Micky Moritz here, and listen to that interview here.

It doesn't surprise me that we barely know where all these wells are. But if we are serious about reigning in methane as a potent warming gas, shouldn't we get the drilling companies to come back and find a way to really and permanently seal off those pipes, or maybe collect the methane?

The bottom line for me is that if the oil and gas industry hadn't gone into wildly drilling thousands, possibly millions of pipes into the Earth, that methane would still be safely underground, buried for the ages. We've created many pathways for its escape, and then more or less walked away from them.

The paper "Direct measurements of methane emissions from abandoned oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania" can be found in PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Our guest Dr. Mary Kang was formerly with the Environmental Engineering department of Princeton University, and is now a Post Doctoral researcher for Stanford University.

Listen to my interview with Mary Kang here.


Near the end of the November, a fake TV News interview on Aaron Sarokin's series "The Newsroom" set the climate world abuzz.

An actor playing an acting EPA had is interviewed by TV Anchor Will MacIllroy. Will tries to get the positive spin, but is rebuffed by the defeatism of this alleged scientist and top bureaucrat, named Richard Westbrook. Let's give it a listen one more time, and then get a few different views about whether this now famous script of doom is accurate.

Here's the TV drama the newsroom, as anchor Will interviews EPA guest Westbrook. You can watch and listen to that 4 minute exchange here on You tube.

Are we already so doomed we may as well live it up, or at least give up trying to save ourselves? Professor Emeritus Guy McPherson certainly thinks so. He says we'll be extinct before 2050.

Over at Mother Jones magazine, journalist James West fact-checked Sorokin's climate science in an article published November 26th. Line by line, James West concludes the science is more or less correct.

Let's get a different view from the originator of the famous "Hockey Stick graph" of CO2, a real climate scientist, Dr. Michael Mann. Michael was interviewed on KFPK radio's "Bradcast" with host Brad Friedman, on December 3, 2014.

After playing the same Newsroom clip you just heard, Brad asks Dr. Mann about it.

[clip of a few minutes of Brad Friedman interviewing Dr. Mann] Along with Brad Friedman I have a hard time sharing Michael Manns optimism about our ability to stay under 450 parts per million CO2 (we are already at 400 ppm and increasing annually) - or staying under 2 degrees.

Notice one key point from that interview: yes the seas were 80 feet higher the last time carbon dioxide in the atmosphere went this high. But, as Michael Mann points out, it first stayed that high for thousands of years, and the deglaciation of the planet took thousands of years, certainly not a couple of centuries, - not happening by 2100. It's always possible we may find a way to reduce the CO2 levels in the atmosphere, before this utter disaster takes place.

Like you, I've also heard plenty of reports that the world will warm by at least 4 degrees Centigrade by 2100, or over 7 degrees Fahrenheit. But when you check on these reports, the originals say "if we continue emitting greenhouse gases at the same rate" or if we go on with "business as usual". It's true humans are still increasing our numbers, our consumer demands, and our greenhouse gas emissions.

But no one can guarantee we won't change, or be forced to change. That change could come from external factors, like a severe economic crash, a world-wide plague of disease, a solar storm, or a big nuclear war. Of it could be a political and corporate turn-around in time to stave off the worst warming.

Be careful with this. I've just read a Reuters news report on increasing lightening strikes in a hotter world. It says,

"The 11 different climate models used in the study pointed to an increase of 7 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) between now and 2100."

Nope. I looked at the press release this reporter likely used, from the institution that published that report on lightening strikes. That article says:

" 2100 if Earth sees the expected 4-degree Celsius increase (7 degrees Fahrenheit) in temperature. This assumes carbon dioxide emissions keep rising consistent with business as usual."

The 11 models were used to predict the increase in lightening strikes, not to predict the 4 degree C temperature rise. And the scientists again qualify the high 4 degree scenario by assuming we don't take any action to stop climate change.

Other journalists cite a study by Australia's Steven Sherwood, published in January 2014 in the Journal Nature. That study found the Earth was more sensitive to CO2 increases than previously thought, due to faulty assumptions about clouds and cooling. I interviewed Dr. Sherwood about this paper shortly after it was published. Find that in the Radio Ecoshock show for January 15, 2014. Again, Sherwood sees a 7 degree Fahrenheit rise, about 4 degrees C, IF, IF, IF we don't do anything to reduce our greenhouse gas emission within a decade or so.

Download or listen to that Steve Sherwood interview here.

The World Bank warns we are headed toward a 4 degrees C hotter world by 2100, IF we keep on our current emissions pathway.

And finally, what does the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, say in their latest report? Here is how Michael Mann and Gavin Schmidt summarized that, on the blog:

"Last year, the IPCC assessment dropped the lower bound on the expected range of climate sensitivity slightly, going from 2-4.5ºC in AR4 to 1.5-4.5ºC in AR5."

So, in the latest AR5 report, the IPCC still leaves room to stay under 1.5 degrees C heating, if we can somehow manage a drastic turnaround on emissions, say over the next ten years.

Sneer if you want, but the world's top climate scientists do NOT say we are headed toward doom without any chance of avoiding it. There is still time, not much, but a little, to save our descendants from either a living Hell, or extinction.

Personally, I think our prospects are limited and bleak. But I can't say, and no one can say, for certain what the future will look like. It isn't yet time to give up.

I'm Alex Smith. That's my opinion. Add yours to the weekly Radio Ecoshock blog comments below. Remember you can download all our past shows as free .mp3 files from our web site at

Music for this program included some of my horror productions for the film "Hotal" due for release later this month at the New Delhi International Film Festival. The end piece is called "Dark Path".

No comments: