Wednesday, June 17, 2015


SUMMARY: Pacific Northwest fights becoming a carbon colony. Vancouver protests American coal expansion (Kevin Washbrook, VTACC). Daphne Wysham: Oregon kicks out Canadian propane peddler. The unreported stories. Radio Ecoshock 150617

Welcome to Radio Ecoshock. This week we investigate attempts by the fossil fuel industry to capture otherwise green-thinking ports in the Pacific Northwest, of the United States and Canada, to export carbon to Asia. It's a battle you hardly hear about. Citizens are lining up against huge corporations with huge money, to fight off giant coal ports, liquified natural gas ports, even propane ports. If we commit to that infrastructure, we commit to devastating climate change - not to mention the explosive, toxic and polluting impacts of these big projects on the Pacific coast.

We first hear from activist Kevin Washbrook reporting from Vancouver, Canada, and then from green radio host and activist Daphne Wysham from Portland, Oregon.

I wrap up with some new science presented at a Harvard University research talk. Dr. James Anderson talks about why climate change is coming much faster than anyone thought possible. And why it's irreversible.

It's eco-shocking radio. I'm Alex Smith. Let's roll. But I first want to thank George from Australia. George generously covered all the telecommunications and download costs, for all Ecoshock listeners, for the whole summer. That's a load off my mind for sure. Thank you George!

Listen to or download this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)

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Multinational corporations would like to turn the gorgeous port of Vancouver, Canada into another fossil fuel colony. After coal port proposals were blocked by public outcry in the American Pacific Northwest, they want to ship out coal to Asia through Vancouver. There is an active proposal to steer dirty Tar Sands oil into hundreds of tankers through Vancouver's scenic inlets. Even liquid natural gas is trying to use Vancouver at an outlet.

We've reached activist Kevin Washbrook in Vancouver. He's part of the group Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, or VTACC.

NASA scientist James Hansen famously was arrested protesting mountain top removal for coal. But in Vancouver, Simon Fraser University Professor and world energy expert Mark Jaccard was also arrested, blocking a coal train. The scientists are increasingly fed up with the failure of governments and official "climate talks" while carbon to the atmosphere keeps rising.

Trying to stop fossil fuel exports is like playing the game whack-a-mole. You find one project, and then another pops up, like the recent proposal to ship out Liquid Natural Gas via the historic Fraser River. We get a rather scary update on that project, with information anyone living near a proposed LNG terminal needs to know!


Here's the scoop. Canada hardly requires any environmental assessment for liquid natural gas ports. Remember, these are not just "ports" but large industrial operations where natural gas is frozen at hundreds of degrees below zero Centigrade, which compresses it for shipments (often to Asia). The company on the Fraser River just looks at their immediate site, to list what environmental impacts that might have, and IS NOT REQUIRED TO ASSESS POSSIBLE DAMAGE CAUSED BY RIVER SHIPMENTS.

So the VTACC group had to look to the United States, which does require a full assessment, right out to the ocean. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recognizes that liquid natural gas is a terrorist risk. The Canadian government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper talks a lot about the reality of terrorist theats to Canada, but doesn't assess the possibility of an attack on an LNG tanker or barge.

The U.S. Coast Guard also looks at possible risks. According to Kevin Washbrook, his group found a U.S. report by Sandia National Lab that says an "unignited" cloud of natural gas could spread up to 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometers) on either side of the ship used for transportation. Presumably, that cloud of gas could ignite into an unGodly big fireball. That's just one of the things they don't tell you.

Who knows what could happen if terrorists bombed and exploded a giant LNG tanker near any port or city. It would look nuclear.

You can find one report on all this from the U.S. Sandia National Lab, published in 2008, here.


Tsawwassen, a suburb of Vancouver, Canada hosts one of the busiest coal ports in North America. It's called "Westport", shipping 33 million tons of carbon-loaded coal a year. About 8 million tons of that is American coal brought up from the Powder River open pit coal mines in Wyoming. It comes on U.S. trains owned by Warren Buffett.

The obvious question: why don't they ship this coal out of American ports? As we'll hear next from Daphne Wysham, that's because coal port proposals in Oregon and Washington States have been shot down by public resistance. Nobody wants them, and no wonder. The coal trains themselves leave unhealthy coal dust all along the way. The companies say they don't but photographs taken by activists show they do. Plus the trains are way above the World Health Organization guidelines for night- time noise. Every train going by leads to more storms, droughts, and heat.

Four out of six coal ports proposed for the US Pacific Northwest were shot down. The largest still being pushed by industry is for Cherry Point in Washington State, near the Canadian border. That's been rejected by the local tribe.

So as Kevin puts it, British Columbia has become the back-door dirty doormat to ship American coal to China and Asia generally. The coal industry always wants to expand their ports, to double their shipments and their profits, and to double their emissions into the already damaged atmosphere. There is another proposal to build a coal port in another Vancouver suburb, the City of Surrey.

Naturally, in the environmentally-conscious Vancouver area, there is lots of push-back from concerned citzens. The regional government has objected to the Surrey coal port. But the port system is not run by the City of Vancouver, but rather by the fossil- friendly Federal Government.

There is no democratic input into where these shipping facilities are built, and whether they should be built at all. Building coal ports now seems like such a waste of capital. It's like building barns and herds of horses in the year 1905, just as the horseless carriage was starting to take over. Coal is so done.

Keep in touch with Kevin Washburn on his Facebook page.

Listen to or download this interview with Kevin Washbrook, in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


What's happening on the U.S. West Coast, where fossil fuel companies race to export carbon to Asia? Let's tune in with a long-time friend of the environment, Daphne Wysham. For 8 years, out of Washington D.C., Daphne hosted the syndicated radio show "Earthbeat",on the Pacifica network. Her articles have been published by both mainstream and alternative media. Now Daphne is in Portland Oregon, as Director of the Climate and Energy Program, at the Centre for Sustainable Economy. At the same time she's an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Daphne and I were just on Post Carbon radio, on KWMR in Northern California, with Bing Gong and Karen Nyhus. It was a wide-ranging talk and you can listen to it here.

Green radio host, researcher, and activist Daphne Wysham

In this show we drill into what is happening in Portland, the state of Oregon, and the Pacific Northwest - when it comes to transporting fossil fuels. Note that Portland was the first city in the United States to have and implement a climate action plan. Even so, the Mayor pushed a proposal to open a propane loading facility.

The corporation involved, Pembina Pipeline Corp., operates in the Canadian Tar Sands of Alberta. For them, propane is just a bi-product they can sell. Of course it's wildly explosive, and adds more carbon to the atmosphere. Natural gas is lighter than air, so it rises when it leaks. Propane is heavier than air, so it flows along the water or land, into low spots, where it can pool and then violently explode.

Pembina tried to tell the public the propane would go to help poor women in Asia have lighting and cooking facilities. Environmental groups found out the real destination was for making propylene in Chinese factories. The carbon emissions from this one propane port over a few decades would be larger than the emissions from the whole city of Portland. What good are bicycle routes and electric cars if the propane port overwhelms all the green good we can muster?

The Portland propane facility has been turned away for now, being wildly unpopular. But the situation always requires vigilance, and these projects are seldom killed forever.

Meanwhile, there's another fossil fuel port proposed for Vancouver, Washington, right across the river from Portland. If approved, that could be the largest oil terminal in the United States - larger even than the giants in the Gulf of Mexico.

Daphne Wysham tells us the whole Pacific Northwest is in the cross-hairs of the fossil fuel industry. They want to build ports and shipping facilities that would allow a carbon river much larger than the Keystone Pipeline. Projects arrive, and small environment groups can't possibly match corporate funding for research and legal battles. The infamous corporate lobby group Alec, which funds politicians who write fossil-friendly laws, makes Oregon it's number three biggest target for funding, Wysham tells us.

That is why Oregonians are now demanding a moratorium on new fossil fuel infrastructure. That's the real answer. The moratorium movement is spreading to Washington State, and only needs British Columbia to get on board, to stop this fossil madness.

We all seen what happens when mega-corporations start playing with local or state politics. The money and big promises of jobs lure in the politicians. Are these forces compatible with democracy and self-determination? Is there still enough freedom left on the Pacific Coast to avoid becoming the kind of carbon colonies that developed in Texas, Alberta, and Louisiana?

Listen to or download this Radio Ecoshock interview with Daphne Wysham in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


In the short time we have left, I'd like to pass on some quotes and some notes from a deep and important talk from Climate Week at the Harvard University Center for the Environment. The speaker is Dr. James Anderson and the title is: "Coupled Feedbacks in the Climate Structure That Set the Time Sale for Irreversible Change: Arctic Isotopes to Stratospheric Radicals."

Watch the full talk by James G. Anderson on Vimeo here.

This talk on April 8th, 2015 was part of a series of presentations. I found this on Vimeo thanks to a tip from a Radio Ecoshock listeners, and I'm so glad I did.

The talk, as Anderson tells us, is fairly high level, a presentation of on-going research into some important developments in the climate. Anderson covers a wide range of science. I can only cover a few important points.

James G. Anderson, Harvard

For example, research into past ages showed the stratosphere, that upper layer of Earth's atmosphere above the weather, was far wetter than today, in past greenhouse ages. The wetting of the stratosphere should be happening now, but until very recently, nobody knew how that could happen.

Anderson also points out a key difference between past hot house worlds and today. This time around, humans also injected chlorinate substances, like ozone-destroying CFC's, that were never there in past ages. How does that affect climate change?

And as we'll hear from this opening quote, scientists are gaining new knowledge on changes we've made that cannot be reversed, at least not in any time scale that matters to humans. Here are some key quotes from Dr. Anderson, speaking at Harvard.

Quote 1

"This is really a research talk about two aspects of the climate structure both of which are coupled through irreversible connected cycles. So I'm going to talk about experiments done 5 meters above the surface, and then experiments done 20 kilometers above the surface. And you'll see why those are linked.

I want to emphasize some points. The first is this global climate structure is changing far more rapidly than we believed was possible even five years ago.....

The next issue is the feedback in the climate structure because it's these feedbacks that set the time scale for irreversibility, and I'm going to take a very brief tour through the climate system to show how that functions.

Next we'll hear about the fragile Arctic and how that determines so much of our weather. Note how Anderson also stresses a point made again and again by our guest scientist Paul Beckwith, when explaining the new disruption of weather in the Northern Hemisphere: the temperature difference between the tropics and the poles, and as polar regions warm up, that difference is declining. The result is a slower and wavier Jet Stream.

Quote 2

"The climate structure depends in large measure on the temperature gradient between the tropics and the polar regions."

"During the Eocene there was very little temperature difference between the tropics and the polar regions, and in that particular structure the stratosphere had to be wet ... I don't think there's any possibility of having that climate structure without a moist stratosphere. And as we'll see, moisture entering the stratosphere today has a very different connotation because it triggers catalytic cycles involving chlorine and bromine that were not present during the Eocene.

I'll also talk about deep convective injection North of the sub-tropical Jet which, as we saw from Brian's talk, is a potential way of transitioning from the current structure of the climate to one in which there is a far smaller difference in temperature between the equator and the polar regions. So this convective injection of water turns out to be unique over the U.S. And it's couple to also anti-cyclonic flow over the U.S. that's created by the North American monsoon. So we have this convective injection into this anti-cyclonic motion which is a demonic combination created by the dynamics, but is has a very strong coupling into the catalytic chemical structure of the stratosphere.


As a side-note, Anderson explains why both the Left and the Right may support further research into geo-engineering. First he refers to the National Research Council report on climate engineering, particularly solar radiation management. Quote 4

"It [Geoengineering research] is being pushed, actually in a bi-partisan way. The right would like to have solar radiation management so more fossil fuels can be burned. And the Left believes that intruding in natural systems like this is a very dangerous adventure. So research on the topic is gaining bi-lateral support, which is highly unusual these days. And we'll see that it engages exactly the same catalytic chemistry."


Next we hear why James Anderson thinks "global warming" is so horribly wrong as a term to describe the current climate shift.


"This term 'global warming' applied to this problem makes me shudder, because 70 per cent of the globe is covered by ocean with an average depth of 3500 meters, and it has massive heat capacity. So in my mind the most degenerate variable you can discuss is mean global temperature. And it also carries this connotation of something that's happening slowly. You know, 1 degree Centigrade per century doesn't carry a huge amount of political imperative behind it. It also carries the connotation that you could watch things slowly change and then if you don't like it you can just slow down the release of carbon dioxide and return to the initial [state] - and nothing could be further from the truth. I always avoid the term ['global warming'], and I cringe every time I hear it."


We'll never have time to get to all the great science in this talk, but I want you to hear this:

"The next point involves these methane clathrates. These are these beautiful structures: ice cages within which Nature inserts methane produced anaerobically [without oxygen] by decomposition of organic material. It's entropy that's driving this entirely because Nature of course abhors a vacuum. You want to stuff molecules into every possible nook and cranny in order to engage the inclusion of the energy states. And it turns out methane fits beautifully into these water cages. This is ubiquitous. Methane clathrates contain about three times the chemical energy of all known fossil fuel reserves in coal, petroleum, and natural gas.

And they reside not only in the surface soils of Siberia and Northern Alaska but also they are ubiquitous across the ocean basins

Anderson gives the example of a clathrate pulled up off the West Coast, from a depth of about 100 meters, that could be ignited with a match.

"But the numbers, as Steve Wassi (sp?) pointed out are quite concerning. If you plot the CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning in gigatons of carbon per year (so you have to convert back from CO2)....In 1990, about 6 gigatons of carbon was added to the atmosphere by fossil fuel burning - and that was basically a textbook number for many, many years. But in 2000 it started to take off, and when the 2007 IPCC report came out these were the release scenarios. This was the worst possible case this upper red line. And of course we've exceeded it every year subsequent to 2007.

The key point is that just a half a percent of the labile carbon in the suface soils of the North Slope of Alaska and Siberia - just half a percent release rate per year gives us around 8 to 9 gigatons per year which doubles the carbon added to the atmosphere by all fossil fuel burning world-wide.

So that constitutes the next exhibit for feedbacks.


Anderson starts with data produced at the Polar Science Center at the University of Washington. Their research focuses not so much on the area covered by Sea Ice, but on the volume of the ice (which also accounts for it's thickness). Shockingly, in 2007, there was less ice in the Arctic than the 2007 IPCC report predicted for the end of the century.

"The volume allows you to calculate the heat, the internal energy going into the system to melt that amount of ice, per year. And that turns out to be about 1 part in 40,000 of the circulating infrared radiation between the Earth's surface and the atmosphere/water/carbon dioxide cloud structure. And so just a very small shift in the Meridional inflow of heat into the Arctic has huge ramifications in terms of losing this permanent ice."

"So the second point here is it's these feedbacks within the climate structure that are driving both the first and second derivative of that ice volume. And of course as ice pulls back, one of the feedbacks is that the ocean exchange brings in warm water from lower latitudes bringing heat into the Arctic basin. The other thing that happens is that as ice and snow disappear, the atmospheric transport that used to come in and radiate as T to the Fourth into the cold ground below it - would be stripped of it's internal energy before it even got into the Arctic Basin. That's not true any more. In fact about three quarters of the heat transport is by the atmosphere."

"Then of course the most obvious is the rejection of incoming solar forcing. Ice reflects 90 per cent of it, ocean water absorbs about 90 per cent of it. On the face of it that's important to the energy balance of the climate. But the University of Washington also discovered that what in retrospect is quite obvious but very important - and this that the dominant amount of that energy goes into just the upper few meters of the Arctic Ocean. And the mean depth of the remaining ice is only a meter and a half. The entire edges are slushy and gets broken up. And so all of that solar forcing goes right into the heat bath within which that remaining ice resides. And this is why you see such a dramatic combination of feedbacks."

Due to the multiple feedbacks in place "...from my perspective it's from the Arctic that all these problems evolve. This brings up the problem of high latitude melting of clathrates and permafrost. Of course the immediate question is can we lose 70 percent of the ice volume in 30 years and return to a stable condition. I don't know anybody who has suggested how heat can be extracted from this system to re-form the ice structure. All of these feedbacks are operating in the same direction. And there's no known mechanism that can extract heat to re-form these ice structures... and so when you look at this question [of reversing Arctic ice loss], the answer quite clearly 'no'.


Well, we didn't get to the strange way chlorinated substances play back on other climate feed-backs in the atmosphere. Plus, and this is a spoiler alert, scientists have discovered a way the stratosphere can become wetter, as it did in past greenhouse worlds. Many, many hours flying around the world found the stratosphere has the same low amount of water vapor.

But in a kink in the system, a collision of weather factors over the continental United States creates a kind of heat funnel that does inject more water into the stratosphere. There are several other sites like that, Anderson says. They have the mechanism that will wet down the stratosphere over time.

As I say, there is a huge range of cutting science in this talk by James Anderson. Some of it is difficult for the lay person to understand. But most of it is very clear, and we learn of feedbacks which make this developing climate shift into a major geological event that cannot be reversed. We have already gone over the climate cliff. How far we fall depends on whether we can reign in our fossil burning emissions before they trigger much, much larger carbon or methane inputs from the previously frozen lands and sea bed in the Arctic.

Then Anderson wraps up with a passionate talk on why Harvard University MUST divest it's multi-billion dollar investment fund from fossil fuels.


Ahh, we've blown through the time barrier again. Get all our past programs as free mp3s from our web site at Listen any time on the Radio Ecoshock page on Soundcloud. Support the on-going work of Radio Ecoshock here.

I'm Alex. Thank you for listening, and caring about our world.

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