Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Center Sees The Edge

This week it's all about new science that matters. A study funded by a founder of fracking finds the natural gas industry is still bleeding tons of methane into our atmosphere. The top body for American Scientists warns we must act now to prevent climate catastrophe. And an international team confirms the world food supply will be hit hard in a changing climate. Radio Ecoshock 140326

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


Suprise, suprise. A new study finds methane emissions from natural gas systems have been greatly Underestimated. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Is gas worth the risk? Is it better than coal?

Let's find out from the lead author of a new study looking at methane escaping from the gas system. Dr. Adam R. Brandt is with the Department of Energy Resources and Engineering at Stanford University.

The latest report on this problem is found in the paper "Methane Leaks from North American Natural Gas Systems". It was published in the February 14th edition of the journal "Science".

Find the paper summary here.

Brandt was part of a big team, with many names I recognize from universities, NOAA, the Lawrence Livermore Lab, even the U.S. Department of State. So we know this isn't going to be an attack piece on fracking or the gas industry. In fact, Adam tells me right off the bat, this study was funded by the foundation established by one of the wealthy pioneers of fracking, the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation.

This is part of my continuing coverage of methane emissions from natural gas. What could be more timely after a deadly blast in New York City, and a barrage of ads from the industry saying how green they are. Please notice I take care in the first story to let you know who funded this assessment of the industry, and some of the energy-friendly government labs who took part in it. Even so, they found a lot of leaking methane, and super-emitters in some states.

The study found that previous Environmental Protection Agency figures on methane emissions from gas production and distribution were low by about 50%. But that excess gas, Brandt tell us, isn't necessarily from fracking, but from the gas industry as a whole. For example, natural gas processing and compression plants have been underestimating their emissions.

In past weeks on Radio Ecoshock, we heard how studies of Boston, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. found between 3 and 7% of all gas entering the city leaks out on a daily basis. Some of those leaks are large enough to be explosive, but authorities and industry have been slow to act. No wonder we see some tragedies.

Brandt's study found that a tiny percentage of equipment in the gas industry is leaking most of the methane. If those broken pipes, connections, and valves could be located inexpensively, it wouldn't be too hard to greatly reduce the methane loss. Scientists and industry are working on cheaper locating devices. It's not easy, because there are over 200 million miles of natural gas pipes under the United States alone!

Download/listen to my interview with Dr. Adam Brandt here.

Here are a few links to follow up. A decent summary of this study is here. Stanford's press release is helpful here.

I also liked this article in Technology Review, and check out the further links it contains, to track the problem further.


Scientists know we are heading over a climate cliff, something not seen in human times on Earth. Why are they not speaking out? They are. The American Association for the Advancement of Science is launching a new report called "What We Know".

To talk about it, I reached Dr. James McCarthy - Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography, at Harvard University.

Find some good articles articles covering the release of this report here, here, and here.

And check out this short and realistic video, and get the report from the AAAS here!


I seldom interview wall Street players about climate change and industry responsibility. So this release by the triple AAAS was a good chance to do just that.

Bob Litterman is a former partner and risk manager at Goldman Sachs. With other Goldman alumni, he's now with fund manager Kepos Capital. He was a Partner at Goldman Sachs, as the legendary "grandfather" and originator of "Quant" trading!

To open, I ask Bob about the Carbon Tracker report outlining the huge risk that stranded assets of unburnable fossil fuels pose to the world financial system. Litterman was well aware of this, but says that without a price on carbon, or at least an expectation of a price on it, the market was unlikely to change its investment in energy companies.

That is disappointing to me. I had hoped Wall Street executives would notice their kids and grandkids, asking themselves what kind of future they would have. That should be motivation too. Because I don't see the U.S. instituting a price on carbon any time soon. According to Bob, that means no change from financial institutions. Which kinda means we are doomed to excessive climate change, according to the scientists I talk to.

Anyway, I appreciate Bob Litterman talking about climate change, and the importance of this new release from the AAAS. Bob is aware of climate risks, and hopes a solution can be found. Read his interesting article "What Is the Right Price for Carbon Emissions" here.

Almost as an aside in the interview, as a Board Member of the World Wildlife Fund, Litterman explains the WWF has investments in both coal and the Tar Sands. Fearing a possible price on carbon, they didn't sell those investments. Instead, the WWF kinda green-washed the situation by using a derivatives swap to be able to say the income was from a general stock index instead. I'm sure wildlife heading for extinction would understand.

None of us can afford to wait for a price on carbon. Pension funds, universities, non-profits and anyone with a brain needs to get out of fossil fuels right now. They are killing off our future.

Congratulations to the American Association for the Advancement of Science for having the guts to speak against climate change and denial.


We've all got the sinking feeling. Climate change could mean food shortages in the coming decades. But we don't really know how, or how much. An international team of scientists has plowed through vast numbers of studies, trying to add up what we know. They've published a first look at their findings in the journal Nature Climate Change. the Nature Climate Change letter titled "A meta-analysis of crop yield under climate change and adaptation" was published online on March 16, 2014.

At the the University of Leeds, where he teaches climate impacts, I reached the lead author, Dr. A.J. Challinor.

Food experts, including Lester Brown of Earth Policy Institute, have used the maxim that for every degree of warming, world food production would be reduced by 10 percent. All though this new study doesn't measure things in those terms, Challinore says that figure does that hold up.

I ask how this new paper compares to the previous AR4 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and will it be part of the new Fifth Assessment report coming out this year? Previous IPCC estimates thought food production might be the same, but this new study finds real problems as we go forward into climate change. As Challinore is also an author of the Fifth Assessment due out in a week or two, his work will be included. Radio Ecoshock listeners get an advance preview in this interview!

Download/listen to this interview with Dr. Andy Challinore here, in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Find articles about this study here and here.


That concludes another packed show from Radio Ecoshock. I'm your reporter Alex Smith. Please help this program keep going, with your financial support at our web site,

And during the spring fund-raising drive, I ask you to pledge support for your local non-profit radio station. These are not easy times, and we need that platform for the uncomfortable truth to get out there. Here is a list of stations that broadcast Radio Ecoshock.

Thank you so much for listening, and I hope we'll meet again next week.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


SUMMARY: Dr. Michael Jennings says Earth's climate is already beyond the worst scenarios. Could a new Dark Age save us? Dr. Sing C. Chew says we are due. It's edutainment for troubled times. Radio Ecoshock 140319


The bad news is planet Earth is already committed to very dangerous climate change. Dr. Michael Jennings published a paper in 2012 showing we are already in the worst case scenario. My interview with Dr. Jennings is frank and moving.

We may be saved from utter disaster if an economic collapse comes sooner rather than later. Dr. Sing C. Chew will give us the good news about Dark Ages, and the signs we are entering one now.

In March 2014, the Earth's atmosphere went above 401 parts per billion of carbon dioxide. The Arctic ice is at an absolute record low this winter, even as eastern north america freezes. New science is reporting bad news like artillery fire from a climate war zone. Increased malaria zones, dying birds, faster Greenland ice melt, climate disruption is moving faster than anyone can comprehend.

I'm Alex Smith, welcome to Radio Ecoshock, the cheerful program for pessimists and realists alike.

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


Well it's official. With no international agreements and ever-growing greenhouse gas emissions, scientists are asking if we are heading off the cliff of climate disruption, into the worst of all worlds.

Our guest is Dr. Michael Jennings from the Department of Geography at the University of Idaho. Last year he published a paper in the journal "Global Policy". It's title is: "Climate Disruption: Are We Beyond the Worst Case Scenario?"

Here are the details on that paper:

Climate Disruption: Are We Beyond the Worst Case Scenario?

Published in Global Policy, Volume 4, Issue 1, Article first published online: 3 SEP 2012 and in print: Global Policy Volume 4 . Issue 1 . February 2013

"Climate disruption: Are we beyond the worst case scenario?" was published by the London School of Economics journal "Global Policy", free online here.

Michael wrote me in an email:

"If we are to maintain the climate of the Holocene—which is the climate that agriculture, economies, and societies evolved with over the past 10,000 years—we can emit no more than a total of 500 billion total tons of carbon without a large scale perturbation of the biosphere as we have known it since the dawn of agriculture. So far we have emitted a total 370 billion tons since the beginning of the industrial revolution. That leaves us with 130 billion tons of carbon emissions until we reach the safe limit of 500 billion tons. Right now we are emitting more than 9 billion tons per year; it’s actually closer to 10. So, 130 billion tons at 10 tons per year leaves us with how many years, assuming no annual increases?

At the same time, burning all of the fossil fuel that is currently owned, accounted for and held in known reserves would emit 2,795 billion tons of carbon dioxide. That is more than 20 times the 130 billion tons that is safe. But, our global economy is predicated on not only the value of the existing reserves of coal, oil, and gas as they are traded around the world, but the economic yield of the goods and energy that would be derived from those 2,795 billion tons of emissions. What would you do if you were invested in those carbon stocks?"

More about investments in carbon stocks further, in a segment with Mark Campanale of See below.

Dr Jennings pointed us toward a pivotal paper led by Dr. James Hansen, formerly of NASA. It's titled "Assessing ‘‘Dangerous Climate Change’’: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature" It may be the most important paper of the year. Read it in full text here.

There are two items in the paper by Hansen et al. that seldom get attention. The first is our obligation to coming generations. The second point raised by James Hansen and a who's who of illustrious scientists is the threat posed by climate change is not just to ourselves, but to all the other species of plants and animals in nature.


I clarified one thing with Dr. Jennings. He explained we would hit the ceiling for any "safe" climate change, if there is any safe climate change, in just 13 years at our current rate of consumption (which is actually going up every year). But Jennings is not saying we will experience the full impacts of climate disruption in 13 years.

The good news is the ocean and many other factors will probably buffer and delay the true damage for another few decades. Certainly rising seas will take several decades to really manifest, as it takes time for glaciers to melt, for example.

The bad news is the true impact could be hidden to humans for several decades, during which time we will continue to burn fossil fuels. Then the world changes beyond recognition, and possibly beyond our survival.

After the interview, Dr. Jennings wrote me an email saying:

"One of the really difficult things is that we can't say exactly how, when, and what will happen. It's a bit like breaking the news to someone that they have cancer and we don't really know whether you are going to live or die. And if you live, what sort of life you will have. Or if you die, what sort of death it will be. One huge difference is that with cancers we have doctors and scientists who work with it and study it and we have case studies. We have no previous experience with climate disruption, no indicators providing hints as to what might happen next.

But like a cancer that someone has not been able to come to terms with, climate disruption now has a stranglehold on the most basic systems by which our planet operates."

He added:

"It will not manifest at the same rate, intensity, or magnitude everywhere. Generally, it's safe to say that temperature extremes will be greater at higher latitudes, storm activity will be greater at lower latitudes. Dry places will get dryer and wet places will get wetter. But the key thing is that in a global economy the disruption of agriculture in one place is likely to destabilize economies and social order in other places that are far away, to say nothing about the potential risk of greater armed conflict."

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview (21 minutes) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Is it possible we are already entering another "dark age"? Is that what nature needs to recover?

Next in my series of experts on the coming collapse, we enter the long-view world of Professor Sing C. Chew. Dr. Chew is a global teacher. He's a Professor of Sociology at Humboldt State University in California. He's a Senior Research Scientist at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany. Dr. Chew has been a visiting professor at universities in Singapore, Hong Kong, Sweden, and Hawaii.

As you might imagine, Sing C. Chew is the author of many papers and books. We'll be drawing from just his trilogy on how civilizations rise and fall with their degradation of nature.

Yes, Dr. Chew tells us the coming Dark Age is an inevitable cycle of civilization consuming the natural world. That is not a tragedy. It means a rest for the natural world, and eventually a re-birth for the human story.

Read more about his predictions for ecological futures here.

For this program we focus on his trilogy:

1. World Ecological Degradation: Accumulation, Urbanization, and Deforestation 3000B.C.-A.D.2000 Vol. 1 Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press/Rowman and Littlefield Publishers 2001.

2. The Recurring Dark Ages: Ecological Stress, Climate Changes, and System Transformation Vol. 2 Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press/Rowman and Littlefield Publishers 2006

3. Ecological Futures: What History Can Teach Us Vol. 3 Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press/Rowman and Littlefield Publishers 2008.

This first book begins from Chew's background in studying forests and deforestation - a factor he finds influential in the decline of very early civilizations.

The Recurring Dark Ages takes a natural resources explanation of the collapse of previous civilizations. Dark Ages, he tells us, are not temporary blips in history, but necessary and in themselves natural results of civilizations. One leads to the other.

Ecological Futures tries to take this work, what we know, and apply it to where we are going. That doesn't look good.

Under Chew's system, we may be approaching a dark age, but this would be natural, and could be the necessary resting space that nature needs to recover from us.

He predicts there will be a hit to the neo-liberal profit system (say the world banking system) but the real driver of civilization's decline will be deterioration of the ecosystem, especially through climate change, but also, as before in history, via deforestation, reduction of species due to agriculture and cities, pillaging the ocean beyond its capacity, and so on.

As it says in this Daily Kos review: "That there be a social/ technological fragility to the civilization in question which does not allow it to persist. "

Dr. Chew just returned from Singapore where he delivered Keynote Address for Conference on Sustainability in Education: Pedagogical Themes and Practices in Asian Countries. That was at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, running from February 26-28, 2014.

You can find The Recurring Dark Ages: Ecological Stress, Climate Changes, and System Transformation in paperback on Amazon here.

Find a detailed review here.

Also find a good overview discussion here in the World Financial Review.

Further, Dr. Chew writes about the confluence of Peak Oil and climate change:

"The declared impending scarcity of fossil fuel (energy) by this mid-century therefore poses a global threat to the reproduction of life on this planet, and the thousands of years of human evolutionary development will be in peril.

Without energy the devolution of the complexity of life will start. Life chances, expectations, and growth will slow down, and eventually growth will end. Such conditions will generate global instability as different regions, political and economic powers compete to ensure their own economic, political and social survival. A natural system crisis including interconnected complications such as global warming brought on by excessive consumption without any regard to sustainability of energy resources has spilled over to the socio-economic system sphere leading to a global crisis.

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview with Dr. Chew in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


In both of this programs' interviews, I raise the eerie economic danger of thinking we can burn all the carbon reserves that big companies and fossil-fuel rich countries claim on their books. Earlier this year, Mark Campanale of Carbon Tracker startled world markets with his analyis of the business side of extreme climate change. A couple of weeks ago, Mark gave an hour-long web conference, organized by the British Columbia Sustainable Energy Association, the BCSEA. Long time energy man Guy Dauncy was the host.

You can watch that full presentation on You tube.

Here is why you should tune in. Campanale is asking why big oil, gas and coal companies can raise hundreds of billions of dollars on the stock and bond markets, without disclosing they may not be able to burn all the reserves they claim to own.

The details are in the Carbon Tracker report: "Unburnable carbon 2013: Wasted capital and stranded assets".

I know your objection right away. Of course they will burn it. Governments aren't going to limit fossil fuel use. Mark answers that objection raised during the Q and A, and I play his response in this radio show.

It's partly just our inability to imagine the empire of fossil fuels could end. Picture the situation in the late 1890s when the first horseless carriages appeared. Everyone knew these were freaks, while horses would continue to be the major vehicle for personal and business transportation. Just three decades later, cars and horses were battling it out on the roads. By 1950, the last horses in the city were drawing a few milk wagons. And then they were gone. Large changes can and do happen, even if we can hardly believe it now.

Mark Campanale is calling for two things. First, fossil fuel companies should be regulated to divulge the full climate risk of what they do, and the probability they cannot capitalize on all the oil, gas, and coal they have in the ground.

Second: Divestment, selling off investments in these climate killing companies, makes sense, especially for bodies like universities who claim to represent the future of younger people. But, Campanale, who knows the markets well, suggests simple greed and risk aversion can help these fossil giants wind down, as they must, one way or another.

Campanale says there is no point in spending more billions, actually trillions over the next years, to discover more reserves that can never be burned. For example, oil companies have to spend more and more to get less and less, using expensive processes like the Tar Sands or deep sea drilling. Why not simply return the profits to the shareholders, as the companies move away from what will eventually be an unsaleable product? Investors will like that, whether they care about climate change or not.

Sooner or later, the world mega-projects for oil, gas, and coal won't be viable. Either they will be limited by public and government demand, perhaps following years of climate-driven weather tragedies. Or they will burn on until an economic collapse snatches the funding mechanisms away, again perhaps due to storms and agricultural collapse so severe society cannot recover. That is the worst stage scenario. Far better, Campanale says, for these companies to voluntarily wind down, giving up new exploration, and paying out more to shareholders now.

Behind the scenes, major financial institutions, like HSBC bank and the Norwegian investment fund, and big companies, like Shell and BP, are starting to recognize the giant lop-sided risk unburnable reserves pose to the overall markets. Once shareholders and investors realize the books are cooked, there is a possibility of collapse of the economic system, from that one carbon bubble alone.

Tune into this important slide show and talk by Mark Campanale of at the bcsea web site,


Next week we'll continue this barrage of good-times radio, with a full feature interview with David Korowicz. He'll explain why the crash could happen much faster than you think.

Help yourself to all our past programs, as free mp3's at

Please don't forget to donate or subscribe to Radio Ecoshock, if you can. It all helps me keep this show in production and on the air. Get the at the web site,

I want to thank all the listeners for their show suggestions. You can contact me any time, using the contact form on the web site, or email to radio //at//

I'm Alex Smith, saying thank you for listening, and caring about your world.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


On 3rd anniversary of Fukushima, two authors report American reactors are unsafe at any speed. Shocking risk. Plus audio from March 2 XL Pipeline dissent protest in D.C. & letter from youth, via Bobby Wengronowitz. Radio Ecoshock 140312

Yes, despite a punishing cold winter, thousands of Americans showed up at the White House to fight off the Keystone XL pipeline. They were mostly young, protecting their future against climate change driven by the Tar Sands, the dirtiest fuel on Earth. Over 350 people were arrested. I'll take you there.

But first, on the third anniversary of the worst nuclear disaster in the world, I'll talk with the authors of Fukushima, The Story of a Nuclear Disaster". But America is just waiting for it's own nuclear mega-disaster. Despite promises after March 2011, the U.S. industry is still stalling on safety critical fixes to aging reactors. It's just a matter of time.

I'm Alex Smith. Welcome back to Radio Ecoshock.

Listen to/download this program in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Interview with David Lochbaum, Union of Concerned Scientists

After the triple melt down of reactors in Fukushima Japan in March 2011, the American Nuclear Regulatory Commission did two things: they assured the public "it can't happen here" - and they promised a flurry of action to make reactors safer in the United States.

Now we have the first new book from nuclear experts explaining what happened at Fukushima. And we have a report that American reactors are still unsafe, still waiting for the next major melt-down.

Both come from David Lochbaum. He worked in U.S. reactors for 17 years. He was an instructor for the NRC. David is now Director of the Nuclear Safety Project, for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Read David's latest article "Nuclear Disaster American Style" here.

Half of reactors in U.S. don't meet fire regulations. This is as dangerous as a risk factor as the tsunami that broke Fukushima.

David writes:

"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission examined fire hazards during a briefing on July 17, 2008. An NRC senior manager informed the Chairman and Commissioners that “Approximately one-half of the core damage risk at operating reactors results from accident sequences that initiate with fire events.” In other words, the fire hazard roughly equals all other hazards combined. And that analysis assumed the NRC’s fire protection regulations were being met—the risk goes up when the fire regulations are not met.

Fire is a large risk for the same reason that flooding caused so much trouble at Fukushima. Fires and floods can disable primary safety systems and their backups. If workers are unable to recover disabled equipment or connect temporary replacements, reactor cores overheat and melt down.

The nuclear plant fire hazard is not speculative. In March 1975, a fire at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Alabama disabled all the emergency systems for cooling the Unit 1 reactor and most of those systems for Unit 2. Only heroic worker efforts prevented both cores from melting that day.

The NRC did not want another nuclear plant to experience another fire as bad as, or worse than, the one at Browns Ferry. It adopted fire protection regulations in 1980 intended to manage the fire risk to an acceptably low level. In the late 1990s, the NRC’s inspectors discovered that dozens of reactors, including the two at Diablo Canyon, did not satisfy the 1980 fire protection regulations. In 2004, the NRC adopted an alternative set of fire protection regulations. Owners had the choice of satisfying either set of regulations. On December 29, 2005, Diablo Canyon’s owner notified the NRC that it opted to someday implement the measures necessary to achieve compliance with the 2004 regulations. As of today, Diablo Canyon meets neither set of fire protection regulations.

Fully one third of American reactors are not protected against flooding from upstream dam breaking. Another nuclear plant would be in severe danger if a DOWNSTREAM dam broke, because that would drain away the source for it's cooling water.

About one quarter of all American reactors in geologic danger zones are not protected against earth quake hazards.

Get the Executive Summary of the Union of Concerned Scientists report on the NRC and U.S. nuclear safety in 2013 here.

After Fukushima, David Lockbaum was on Radio Ecoshock June 1st, 2011. Here is a link to that show blog, and you can listen to/download that interview with David here. It's still important today.

David and co-author Susan Stranahan did an excellent interview for The Real News on American nuke safety. Find that here. Or watch it on You tube. They are also featured in this Washington's Blog entry.

You can buy the book "Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster" here. Or get more details at the Union of Concerned Scientists web site.

In testimony relating to the C-10 group in Boston, and the Pilgrim reactor relicensing, David Lochbaum explained how the NRC stopped enforcing regulations in 1998, after Congress threatened to cut NRC funding. It's incredible how the nuke industry managed to use politicians to avoid spending money on safety fixes.

All this leads to the third big question about American reactor safety. After Fukushima, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission promised to be more vigilant, and get more problems fixed in American reactors. Yet the NRC oversight seems weak, where many safety matters are just voluntary for the companies involved. What happened to NRC Chair Gregory Jaczko, who wanted changes, and is the NRC fixed? Jaczko wanted things repaired to fast, so he got the boot.

I recently covered hearings where the NRC sought a generic environmental approval process for ALL nuclear reactors, instead of case by case - following a high court ruling. That's still on-going.

By refusing to be regulated, the nuclear industry is really gambling with the whole American economy, and maybe the world economy. Twenty percent of US electricity is being gambled on no plant having a really bad accident.

Look what happened in Japan after Fukushima. ALL nuclear plants were shut down. Imagine that happening in the U.S.

Here is another worthwhile article on this new Fukushima book.

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview with David Lochbaum in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Finally, something that puzzles me, and confuses the public. A nuclear reactor produces huge amounts of power. But if outside electricity is cut off, even for short periods, the whole system risks blowing up or melting down. Why can't a reactor use it's own power to run the cooling system, water intakes, and all that?

Lochbaum says they could have been designed that way, avoiding total dependence on backup generators and batteries. But the electrical equipment within the plant would have to be a higher industrial grade, so this riskier design was chosen - to save money.


Our next guest was the lead author of a team of reporters for the Philadelphia Enquirer. Their reporting on the Three Mile Island reactor accident in Pennsylvania on March 28th, 1979 won a Pulitzer Prize. Suasn has published in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Fortune and Time magazines, and the Rolling Stone.

She's now a free lance writer living in Maine. Susan Q. Stranahan is co-author of the new book "Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster".

America already had a nuclear reactor melt down. Perhaps you didn't know that. Even though I've followed nuclear affairs since before Three Mile Island, I only learned after Fukushima that there really was a melt-down inside those reactors in Pennsylvania.

It was four years before they could even get a camera inside Three Mile Island to see what happened. They found the fuel rods totally melted down, and some nuclear fuel escaped from the reactor. Yet most Americans still buy the original line that it was just a little release of radioactive steam.

Download/listen to this interview with Susan Stranahan in Cd Quality or Lo-Fi

One important aspect of this story is the huge amounts of extra debt accumulated by the Japanese tax payer. All the people who object to government debt, and higher taxes should really pay attention to nuclear safety. The Tea Party should be virulently opposed to nuclear power! When, not if, an even more serious nuclear accident strikes in the U.S., the American people are on the hook for any costs. That's because under the Price-Anderson act, the taxpayers are the insurance company for all 100 current plants, and those that have shut down. No private insurance company would touch the, for good reason. The risks are too huge.

The other story is about all the people who lost their homes, many possibly forever. Imagine part of America being closed.

It's also about the kids. Children are at risk of leukemia and other health problems, and no doubt they learned a new level of fear that day.

To my mind, there are three major scenes in the Fukushima tragedy. The opening act consists of decades where the risks were known and not dealt with. Then we have the technical story of what happened in nuclear terms. But the saddest part may be the failure of humans to react properly and rationally.

In both Fukushima and at Three Mile Island, the government's first reaction seems to have been to reassure the people that everyone is perfectly safe - to downplay the danger. As NBC News reported just last week, "U.S. Nuclear Agency Hid Concerns, Hailed Safety Record as Fukushima Melted". They knew it was bad, but told the public otherwise.

I'm betting most our listeners don't know that in 2010, just before Fukushima, the NRC acquired a new building and hired a thousand more people, just to get ready for the promised nuclear renaissance. The U.S. Government is still promising $8.3 billion for new reactors in Georgia, but the re-birth of nuclear power in America has become more unlikely. That's partly due to public concern after Fukushima, but even more because low natural gas prices makes nuclear reactors completely cost impossible.


There are about 22 dangerous Mark I nuclear reactors still operating in the United States - the same basic design as leaked fuel out of containment at Fukushima. That's almost one quarter of the U.S. fleet of about 100 reactors operating today. As David Lochbaum tells us, the containment was built too small, to save money. And as Fukushima demonstrated, the way the fuel rods come up from the bottom of the reactor makes for weak seals where damaged nuclear fuel can escape. These need to be closed down as a priority. Find out what type of nuclear reactor is nearest you (that is, within a couple of hundred miles upwind...).

We must protect ourselves. The nuclear regulators won't do it, in any country. The nuclear industry is the fourth largesT donor to both political parties in the United States, behind big oil and big tobacco. No wonder both parties protect the industry - even from enforcement of obvious safety fixes!


I get email at Radio Ecoshock, and its the best kind: feedback and ideas from you, the listener.

Bobby Wengronowitz from Boston told me he and a whole flock of students from the Boston area were heading to the U.S. capital to protest the Keystone XL pipeline. Though he's not an expert, Bobby took his sound recorder as a witness. In this picture, Bobby is attached to the Whitehouse fence, in the blue shirt, second from the bottom right.

On March 2nd, they marched from Georgetown to the capital, where they handcuffed their bodies to the Whitehouse fence. Hundreds were arrested. That's a big commitment in the U.S., where your criminal record can become part of your life. It's criminal now to demand a safe climate for young people, and the next generation to come. It's not criminal to blow up the climate with a giant pipeline from the notoriously dirty Canadian Tar Sands. It's all a matter of campaign donations I guess.

When he got back, Bobby wrote to his local paper of record, the Boston Globe. They never published his impassioned letter, so we will. Listen to clips on-scene from the protest, and Bobby's letter here.

It's almost enough to give us hope. Young people know. They care. They have not given up.

You can grab some good chants from the audio of that march, for your own climate protest. If the people of North Africa and the Ukraine can change the government, maybe Americans can boot out the climate deniers and fossil fuel apologists Congress. Maybe Americans can have a future.

I'm Alex Smith. Please support this program at our web site, or the right hand top of this blog.

There are years worth of free mp3 interviews waiting for you at the web site - the voices of scientists, authors and activists from around the world. Help yourself, and help the future, with Radio Ecoshock.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

California Drought: Is this the big one?

RADIO ECOSHOCK SPECIAL ON CALIFORNIA DROUGHT Despite recent rains, California's reservoirs are near empty, snow-pack light, and groundwater depleted. Four experts on a drought that really started in 2006, impacts on economy, food, farming, and nature. Guests: Dr. Peter Gleick, Dr. Jay Famiglietti, David Schroeder, Dr. Reagan Waskom


Rainstorms finally arrived in California, after a 14 month drought with no significant rain. But the big reservoirs are still pitifully low, and snow pack is less than a quarter of normal. Hundreds of thousands of acres will not be planted, and food bills will likely go up in North America, and possibly around the world.

This is the Radio Ecoshock special on the California drought, as a case study of what we can expect in many parts of the Earth. I've lined up 4 experts all with something new for you.

Dr. Peter Gleick is a climate and water specialist who has been warning this could happen for years.

Dr. Reagan Waskom is another water and agriculture expert from Colorado.

We connect with boots-on-the ground water conservation specialist David Schroeder in Montclair, right on the edge of thirsty Los Angeles.

Finally, we get back to the big picture, as Professor Jay Famiglietti at University of California Irvine warns of depletion of the ground water under one of the world's biggest food producing areas. That's a trend all over the world, as we race toward peak water.

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

PETER GLEICK: Is the drought climate change?

Our first guest is Dr. Peter Gleick. He's president of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California, one of the world's leading independent think tanks on water issues. Peter is also a scientist known around the world.

Peter introduced the term "Bellwether Drought" for this event. We know climate change threatens the water cycle. Scientists believe the wet areas (like the UK!) will get wetter, and the dry areas like California, will get dryer. So the dice are loaded for more droughts to occur in this major food producing area.

Dr. Gleick points out we could say this drought started in at least 2006. There have been several drier-than-normal years since then. Scientists have found records showing California has experienced droughts lasting more than a hundred years in the past, in the 1100's for example.

So we may be asking if human-induced climate change has triggered this drought cycle. The causes of regional weather events are complex. We have ocean currents, natural cycles like El Nino and El Nina, and changes to the Jet Stream. All of those, especially the Jet Stream (as shown by the work of Jennifer Francis et al at Rutgers) can be influenced by climate change.

It's a Bellwether event because whether or not we can nail down direct causation by climate disruption - it's a sure test of what is likely during the coming decades. As in Australia, it is possible Euro-humans arrived in California during a cyclical wet spell that was bound to end. But have we hastened that process?

I also talk with Peter about desalination, it's promises and obstacles. A new desalination plant has been build to feed the San Diego water system. But really, it's so energy intensive and expensive that desalination cannot save the whole California agricultural system.

Peter Gleick is an influential scientist in many places. He talks about the global work his institute is involved in, and it's heavy-duty stuff. It's cool he Tweeted this program link out to his 11,000 plus followers.

You can download or listen to this 18 minute interview with Dr. Peter Gleick in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

DR. JAY FAMIGLIETTI: Looking at the drought from space.

When the rains don't fall in California, every one checks their wallet for rising food prices. But rain or not, cities and farmers are pumping out California groundwater at an alarming rate. Thanks to new satellite science, now we know how much of that unseen wealth has been depleted. It's a problem for farmers and all humans all over the world, as we grab water stored over the ages, to keep us alive right now. At some point, the water runs out.

Dr. Jay Famiglietti is a Professor of Earth System Science, and Director of the Center for Hydrologic Modeling at the University of California, Irvine. He's an expert's expert.

When the federal government, and state agencies cut off water supplies, as they did just this past month, farmers don't just roll over and die. All those who can start pumping up groundwater furiously. They've been doing that for decades, always at an increasing level. You may think ground water gets replenished with rains, but some of it was captured and contained over millions of years. When I have a glass of water in my village, that water is 100,000 years old.

So just like oil, ground water is a limited resource. When you run out, that's it.

Amazing to tell, scientists can measure the rate of groundwater depletion in California from space. The twin GRACE satellites have shown the loss of mass in Greenland as the glaciers melt. Now scientists at the University of California Irvine report that California is setting new records for groundwater loss. The state is literally getting lighter.

Find out about the GRACE satellites here. Oh, and by the way, one of their top stories is the discovery that climate change is causing the Earth's poles to migrate. Don't believe that? Read about it here.

One result is the land starts to sink, once the water below is removed. That's serious in the Sacramento delta, where so much of North America's fruits and vegetables are grown. Once it goes too low, a rush of salt water, say from a storm surge, can take thousands and thousands of prime acres out of production.

Jay Familietti describes what we know. He says the average of prediction of when California will run out of groundwater at current rates is 60 years from now. After that, the glory days of big populations and big cities may be done. Some experts say it will come sooner than that.

That same story is being repeated, even worse, in countries like China and India. India is pumping out the water tables at an alarming rate. In both countries, as thousands of wells go dry, they drill deeper, and burn even more energy with bigger pumps, just to keep up. Some places are already out of water, and out of production.

Keep this story in mind as you build the big picture: peak groundwater. It's coming.

By the way, I ask Dr. Famiglietti what happens to all the water we pump out for our fields and cities. Some of it goes into the ocean, to become salt water. The warmer atmosphere can hold 4% more water vapor already, since 1970, and that's a huge amount. Other water ends up falling in those places that are already wet.

Don't miss this 12 minute interview with Jay Famiglietti. It's short but powerful. Listen or download in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Read a key article by Dr. Famiglietti "Epic California Drought and Groundwater: Where Do We Go From Here?". And check out his LA Times Op-Ed from 2013, "California's water house of cards".

DR. REAGAN WASKOM - Feeding the western food supply

I was referred to Dr. Waskom by Michael Cohen of the Pacific Institute. Even though Waskom is the University of Colorado in Fort Collins, he's one of the country's wisemen when it comes to water supplies and our food system.

Reagan Waskom is the Director of the Colorado Water Institute, and Chair of the Colorado State University Water Center.

It turns out Colorado supplies much of the water to Southern California. We are not talking about the big food production areas, but more the heavy populations in places like Los Anglees. So what happens in Colorado matters a lot to California.

The good news is there is a heavy snow pack this year in Colorado. How useful that is depends on how fast the snow melt is, among other factors.

I ask Dr. Waskom what happens if California really is in a long-term drought. Could we replace all that food with farming somewhere else in the country?

Dr. Waskom has also been studying the big use of water by the fracking industry. We touch on that.

My final question is more personal: "You've taught a lot of students, and graduate students. Do you think young people are more disconnected from natural reality than when you were growing up?"

I learned a lot just talking with the man. You probably will too. Download this 17 minute interview in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

DAVID SCHROEDER on the ground outside of LA

I wanted to get you some reporting from right on the ground in southern California. Acting on a tip from a Radio Ecoshock listener, we've reached David Schroeder. He's a Water Conservation Specialist with the Chino Basin Water District. That's based in Montclair California, right on the edge of one of America's biggest cities, Los Angeles.

We talk about where water for southern California comes from, and what to do when it doesn't. Dave specializes in getting the public involved in tearing up grass to install natural vegetation, to use less water in the home, and so on. There isn't much farming left in the south of the state. Now the challenge is huge cities and endless suburbs.

Dave lives in the mountains that used to be white with snow in winter, when I lived in L.A. many moons ago. No snow there this year he reports. That's not good news for the coming fire season, for anything.

Download/listen to this 10 minute interview with David Schroeder in CD Quality


That wraps up my Radio Ecoshock special on the California drought, 2014. I hope you learned, as I did, about where our water comes from, where it's going, and the dangerous tightrope we walk trying to feed a growing world population during climate disruption.

Radio Ecoshock is provided free to more than 75 non-profit radio stations. I depend on your financial help to keep going. Find ways to support this program in this blog, and at the show archive and web site,

I'm Alex Smith. As always, thank you for listening, and caring about your world.