Wednesday, February 25, 2015


SUMMARY: America's famous scientist Michael Mann unloads climate reality. Kristin Ohlson says "The Soil Will Save Us". Frances Moore: climate stalls European food production. Radio Ecoshock 150225

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Coming up in this Radio Ecoshock show: a frank conversation with one of the world's most famous and attacked climate scientist, Dr. Michael Mann, originator of the "hockey stick" graph of a rapidly heating world. Then we are off to the solutions corner, with Kristin Ohlson, author of the ""The Soil Will Save Us". We wrap this triple-header with new science about the impact of climate change on European crops. I'm Alex Smith. Dig in.

Our music this week comes from Down Temple Dub, the Remix album of music from Desert Dwellers. Find them at Great stuff.


He's a super-star of climate scientists, even though he didn't chose that. Dr. Michael Mann was already a leading American climate expert in 2001 when he become a lead author for the Third Scientific Assessment Report by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( the IPCC).

That report featured a stunning graphic showing global temperature data for the past 1,000 years. It was gathered from a huge variety of measurements by scientists all over the world. Because this graph showed a steep rise upward over the past century or so, it was called "the hockey stick".

That image, and its lead author became the target and punching bag for the fossil fuel industry and a wild bunch of climate deniers. Mann was attacked at his University. He was a target of the so-called "Climategate" hacked emails, carefully timed to damage the 2009 Copenhagen Climate talks. It got so bad that Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli demanded an investigation into Michael Mann by the University of Virginia. Thankfully, the University successfully fought off Cuccinelli in court, striking a blow for academic freedom.

Michael Mann sued the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and the National Review for their attacks on the hockey stick graph and himself. We'll get an update on that.

Through it all, Michael Mann has certainly taken on science as a contact sport, appearing many times in media, including debating climate deniers. He co-founded the authoritative voice of science, Oh, and by the way, Dr. Mann also continued his prodigious scientific research to unearth evidence of climate change. His work has won too many awards to list them all.

Dr. Michael E. Mann is Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Penn State University. He is part of the Department of Geosciences and the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI), and he's director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center.

It's tempting to spend lots of time talking about climate deniers, but our listeners are way beyond that. We know it's real. Some of us think it's too late to avoid wrenching changes to everything, for all the species. I ask Michael Mann: "have humans wasted too much time already?" Mann emphatically says we have wasted decades, meaning climate change will be worse.

Just ten years ago, we had reports, like the Stern Report in the UK, which accepted greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would be safely reigned in at 550 parts per million carbon dioxide, or even higher. Now we know those emission levels will likely lead to a mass extinction event, with seas rising tens of meters over the coming centuries. If 550 is good for business, it is deadly for the species of this planet.

I ask Dr. Mann to help us with a common problem, trying to judge where we really are with greenhouse gases. The common figure we get is that we are hovering around 400 parts per million of CO2 these days. But does that include the gradually rising levels of methane, and all the other exotic greenhouse gases humans are churning out? It does not. Scientists conclude we are really already past the 450 ppm mark in CO2 equivalent, with those other gases. That's the level which we think leads to two degrees of warming, which all nations have already agreed is "dangerous" climate change. So why do we talk about 400 ppm, when we've already gone much higher, as far as nature is concerned?

Speaking of methane, we hear a chorus of people who worry frozen methane in the sea bed will reach melting temperature, and cause a sudden shift of warming. How does Michael Mann assess the methane risk? Listen to this interview to find out.

As an aside, when I asked Dr. David Archer about a methane burst, he said almost in a joking way that maybe it could be a good thing, if humans got to experience a burst of heating that died down in a decade, before they hit centuries of warming from long-lasting carbon dioxide.

Sadly, science does not operate in a chamber of reason. In 2012, North Carolina lawmakers proposed a law prohibiting considering rising seas in planning. That wasn't enacted, but now we have 56 percent of Republicans in Congress who either deny climate change is real, or think humans aren't causing it. At the same time, the oil-rich Koch brothers promise to spend about 880 million dollars in the 2016 election.

Again in 2012, Michael Mann published his story in the book "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines." In it, he joined a chorus of scientists who discovered that the same tired voices of the tobacco lobby are now getting money from energy companies to discredit climate change and climate scientists.


We just got news about another scientist for sale this past week. Greenpeace released a scathing report showing the alleged "Harvard Astrophysicist" Willie Soon was paid over a million dollars by the fossil fuel industry. Soon was one of the few scientists climate deniers and the industry could rely on. He kept publishing papers saying the sun could be causing climate change, instead of carbon emissions.

It turns out Willie Soon is not a climate expert at all. And this week after the revelations by Greenpeace, Harvard University said he had never been on their staff. They disavowed him. Really Soon was connected to a Harvard-Smithonian project, not directly part of the University.

As you can read all over the place, Soon corresponded with oil companies like Exxon, coal and utility companies, promising "deliverables" and discussing his very large payments from those companies, that totalled over 1.2 million dollars over the past few years. Of course Soon received money through organizations funded by the notorious Koch brothers.

Even worse, Soon did not disclose these payments in his scientific papers, as he is required to do. Various scientific journals say they will have to re-evaluate his work. The Smithsonian Institute say Soon violated their guidelines, and will be the subject of an internal investigation.

Soon's most famous work was with Sallie Baliunas - trying to discredit the hockey stick graph and Michael Mann. Read all about it here (New York Times), and here (The Guardian, UK).


These very same companies paid various front groups, including Foundations, millions of dollars. Those organizations then used every tactic to create tobacco-style doubt about global warming. They also attacked major scientists. Michael Mann became the biggest target. Critics tried to get him kicked out of his University. He received all kinds of threats, and abuse on the Internet. Hostile Republicans called Mann to testify to both the House and the Senate, to defend his science. He did.


The National Academy just gave a green light to doing more research into geoengineering, like artificially creating more cloud cover. Should we develop some kind of lifeboat tech, in case the climate becomes much worse, much faster than we thought? I ask Michael for his opinion.

As you can hear, Mann has severe reservations about geoengineering - other than efforts to simply remove carbon dioxide from the air, which finds harmless and likely beneficial. Shooting sulfur into the air, to mimic volcanoes can have harmful expected consequences, he says, and likely some impacts we don't yet know about.

Because it's still before the courts. Dr. Mann cannot talk directly about his defamation lawsuit against the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the National Review. However, he did tell us about the on-going attacks on scientists, and muzzling of them.

Find Michael Mann's personal web page here. It's loaded with good info and links.

Listen to this 23 minute interview with Dr. Michael Mann in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


More scientists say our best and maybe only hope to bring greenhouse gases down is: - putting carbon back in the soil. Several listeners have asked for more on this big solution.

This week I've reached out to an award-winning author and freelance journalist from Portland, Oregon, Kristin Ohlson. Her book is "The Soil Will Save Us - How Scientists, Farmers, and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet" It's a Finalist for the 2015 Oregon Book Awards.

It was only about ten years ago I heard a few experts say the world started warming about 8,000 years ago - and agriculture is the reason why. Our methods of tilling the soil, and heavily grazing the same spots with farm animals, has released many gigatons of carbon from the soil, and into the atmosphere.

Author Kristin Ohlson

One of the heros of this book is Gabe Brown, from North Dakota. Gabe has a ranch of about 5,000 acres near Bismark N.D. He was losing money using traditional techniques, and switched over to carbon farming techniques, with very few chemicals. He now has a profit well above the County average, partly because he doesn't have to pay for fertilizers. Now Brown advises farmers all over America, and in fact around the world.

Also, we learn from Kristin that we don't have to convert every farm and farmer everywhere to save the climate with soil carbon. David Johnson of New Mexico State University says carbon farming on just 11% of our farmlands could offset all the emissions of an industrial society.

Back in 2011, I interviewed a Vermont carbon farmer, Abe Collins. He helped kick off something called "the soil carbon challenge". Abe Collins was part of a crew, including Peter Donovan, who attempted to get "carbon farming" recognized in the New England carbon trading scheme. As I said in my blog then, why pay big companies to off-set emissions, when farmers can capture carbon - AND feed us sustainably?

On February 23rd, Kristin was in Los Angeles for something called the "Urban Soil Carbon Water Summit". There is a meaningful role that city folks can play too, in the way the big landscape under the city is treated.

Listen to Kristin Ohlson on Radio Ecoshock in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

Find Kristin Ohlson here on Facebook and Twitter, plus her own web site here.


In the past couple of years there has been a tidal wave of warnings that the world cannot feed the extra 3 billion people expected in the next decades. In fact, with the impacts of climate change, we may not be able to feed the current population - which we are doing poorly as it is.

We are not talking about hippy bloggers. These voices of worry come from Greg Page, the conservative executive chairman of the Cargill food empire, from investment gurus like Jeremy Grantham, and from the Pentagon.

That means it is time to talk with the scientists, about what we know, and what we don't, when it comes to climate change and food stress. It will take a series of interviews and programs to do it.

We start this week with new science about climate and the stagnation of food production in the heavily populated European Union. Our guest is Frances C. Moore. She's close to a PHD at Stanford, while working with the MacArthur "genius" award-winning scientist David B. Lobell.

Francis C. Moore, Stanford

Frances is the lead author in two key parts of the puzzle. In 2014 she and Lobell published a letter about the ability of European farmers to adapt to shocks brought on by climate change. At the start of 2015, Moore was the lead author of a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy - titled "The fingerprint of climate trends on European crop yields".

These authors find that climate change is provably a factor in Europe's inability to produce still more food. For example, in wheat and barley, they estimated about 10% of the stagnation was brought on by climate change. Of course, that's averaged over the whole European Union. There are more extreme cases of crop losses in Spain and Italy, for example, where the contribution of climate change would be greater.

This paper shows the impact of climate change will continue to hamper the development of European crops. At the present time, Europe exports a lot of food. If, due to drought, heat waves, or extreme rainfall events, Europe cannot export as much, that leads to food stress in poorer parts of the world. Lack of food can lead to social instability, and wars. Co-author David Lobell published a paper finding that climate stress is linked to civil war in Africa.

Last year, Frances Moore and David Lobell published a letter in the journal Nature Climate Change. The title is "Adaptation potential of European agriculture in response to climate change". In a nutshell, they found the ability of farmers to adapt to a shift in climate depends partly on the whether the farmers consider the problem as a short-term thing, or work on a long-term plan.

In the short-term, the farmer thinks this is just unusual weather, and so makes fewer fundamental changes. The long-term farmer, realizing climate change is happening, may build in better infrastructure to hold water, or to drain water. He or she may look at adaptations in hotter regions and adopt those. Or the farmer may have to change crops to more heat tolerant varieties.

Frances C. Moore is one of the bright young minds at the Stanford School of Earth, Energy, & Environmental Sciences in California. Listen to this 18 minute Radio Ecoshock interview with Frances C. Moore in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

To compare what is happening with climate and crops in Europe to the United States, check out this recent report on "Midwest Agriculture and Climate Risk"

. For the larger global picture, try this article "5 Reasons why peak food is the world's No. 1 Ticking time bomb".


We've burned through all the time there is. Check out all our past shows as free mp3 downloads at Or find Radio Ecoshock on Soundcloud.

I'm Alex Smith. Thanks for listening.

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