Wednesday, February 24, 2016


SUMMARY: Coming up on Radio Ecoshock two heavy hitters. We have the expert on past mass extinctions, and maybe the present one, scientist Peter Ward. Then climate scientist Paul Beckwith joins me. There is serious news about plankton, the tiny ocean plants that feed the seas, and provide most of the oxygen you are breathing right now. I'm Alex Smith. Welcome to Radio Ecoshock.

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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now.


The long-standing (since 2006) Radio Ecoshock podcast on Itunes has died. That is because this blog has become too complex for the Itunes system. I have to break apart the podcast feed and the blog. Plus, the web site is rather boring. It just doesn't reflect the excitement of our guests and the danger of these times.

I have a new site designer working on this. He's a long-time fan, in the online business, who is giving Radio Ecoshock a great low rate. Carl's been running the Radio Ecoshock web site for years, flawlessly. He's a big reason you can get Radio Ecoshock online. Plus, Russ, the original Ecoshock graphics designer, is coming back with a new logo and some screen graphics.

As you know I've been fundraising last fall and continuing. That's partly to save up for the cost of a new web site, blog - everything really. If you can add to that fund, we'll get even more online, helping more people find out about climate change and other serious problems facing this civilization. If you can help, use this page to see donation options.


Do you have photos or other graphics or images you can contribute to our new web site and blog?

Photos of nature, or the wreckage of nature would be welcome for the new site and on-going use (like on Soundcloud). Or you may have drawing, art, or images suitable for Radio Ecoshock (burning Earth, fallen forests, nuclear stuff, you know what we cover).

You must own the rights to material you submit. If it is public domain, you must send proof (say a link) that shows it is public domain.

Send your submission, or a link to where I can get it, to: radio //at// ecoshock dot org. Thanks for helping out if you can! Let's get this science and news out further to more people.


Is Earth designed by life for life? Or is this a casino of chance, where catastrophe decides the survivors? Those questions, and more this week with Dr. Peter Ward on Radio Ecoshock. I can tell you Peter is a Professor at the University of Washington, and a paleontologist. He's a specialist in the long history of Earth, it's climate, and its periods of mass extinction.

In my opinion, Peter is also one of the most under-estimated minds in American science. His 11th book shook me. It's called "Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future." That books presents the best theory we have on the mechanism of great mass extinction. That was in 2007. Two years later he surprised us again with the Medea Hypothesis (Princeton University Press) which we'll touch on. His 2010 book "The Flooded Earth: Our Future In a World Without Ice Caps." stands near my desk, as a standard for the public. In 2015, he published "A New History of Life: The radical new discoveries about the origins and evolution of life on Earth" with Joe Kirschvink. It is radical science. We'll find out why.

It's my pleasure to welcome Peter Ward back to Radio Ecoshock.

Dr. Peter D. Ward

I saved up some serious questions for Peter, which touch on his string of books. We start by revisiting his now ten-year-old theory of how a massive extinction of land and sea creatures happened. That's in the classic book (read it!) "Under A Green Sky". I ask Peter to describe the organisms that created a poisonous atmosphere for a time on Earth.

These are bacteria that have a different metabolism than most life we know. They do not depend on oxygen, and breath out sulphur dioxide. That's the "rotten egg" chemical you may have smelled in a high school chemistry class. We instinctively run away from that smell, because it is poisonous to our lungs.

Ward theorizes that when oxygen ran to lower levels in great warming of the oceans in the distant past, these sulphur producing bacteria took over from oxygen producing plankton. Waves of poisonous gas would have washed over land, killing off most life forms there. Thus we have a period of ten million years (among several such times) where there is no record, or very little sign, of life in the fossil record of rocks.

These sulfur bacteria are very ancient. They were on Earth at least 3 billion years ago, and remain with us still. You can find them in the bad-smelling oxygen-deprived parts under a beach, if you dig down. If oxygen in the oceans become depleted beyond a certain point, these sulfur breathers will come roaring back!

All this relates to the possible collapse of oxygen-producing plankton, which I cover with Paul Beckwith in the second part of this program.

A few weeks ago I interviewed the Russian scientist Sergei Petrovskii, now working in the UK. His work suggests that phytoplankton, which produce the majority of the world's oxygen, could thrive as warming progresses, up to a point where many species go into extinction. The paper is called "Mathematical Modelling of Plankton–Oxygen Dynamics Under the Climate Change".

The full paper is here.

Or you can listen to my interview with Petrovskii here.

Sergei Petrovksii told us he had not yet checked his model against the record of the ancient past. So I ask Peter Ward, who know about such things, if there have been cases of a dip in world oxygen levels in the paleoclimatic record, since the Great Oxygenation Event, about 2.3 billion years ago?

His answer is "yes" many of them. Ward tells us that each of the mass extinction events in the past 500 million years were accompanied by a reduction of oxygen. Listen to the interview for the full details, but this appears to further the concerns raised by Petrovskii - that extreme warming could lead to a plankton die-off and consequent loss of oxygen.

Download or listen to this 30 minute interview with Peter Ward in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


My next problem touches on Ward's book "The Flooded Earth". In Robert Scribbler's blog, Robert Marston Fanney says sea level rise has accelerated. He writes: "From 2009 Through October 2015, Global Oceans Have Risen by 5 Millimeters Per Year". He cites data and a graph from AVISO, the satellite altimetry data site.

On the other hand, very new science has come out suggesting a drier state of land is soaking up more moisture than before, limiting sea level rise. That comes from work led by J.T. Reager, a researcher with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

What does Ward see happening in this matter of short-term sea level rise? Actually, he prefers not to talk about short-term sea level at all. There isn't a consensus yet about it, as new science comes out. What we do know is that sea levels WILL rise, and Ward documents the impacts of that in his book "The Flooded Earth".


Here is a quote from a press release February 22, 2016 from the Potsdam Institute:

"Sea-level rise past and future: Robust estimates for coastal planners


"Sea-levels worldwide will likely rise by 50 to 130 centimeters by the end of this century if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced rapidly. This is shown in a new study led by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research that, for the first time, combines the two most important estimation methods for future sea-level rise and yields a more robust risk range. A second study, like the first one to be published in the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides the first global analysis of sea-level data for the past 3000 years. It confirms that during the past millennia sea-level has never risen nearly as fast as during the last century."

And here is a news story about that second breaking science story - that sea levels are now rising faster than they have in the past 2800 years.


Starting in the 1700's, scientists, especially geologists, described the world a gradual continuum, where "the present is the key to the past". The opposite theory, called catastrophism, was left for fringe writers like Immanuel Velikovksy.

Peter's newest book re-writes the history of life on Earth, not from the viewpoint of gradual evolution, but from the many catastrophes that have occurred on this planet. That's not just the impact of asteroids hitting, but gigantic and long-lasting eruption of volcanoes, the almost frozen times known as "snowball Earth", and of course the many periods of serious global heating.

This new book also originates from Ward's important earlier book the "Medea Hypothesis". That is an answer to James Lovelock's and the Gaia hypothesis. Instead of life arranging the best circumstances for its continued survival, Ward finds in the geologic record that life forms have often been suicidal, destroying the conditions required for survival. Does that sound familiar?

The new book is: "A New History of Life: The Radical New Discoveries about the Origins and Evolution of Life on Earth" by Peter Ward and Joe Kirschvink.

If life bumbles along through long periods between catastrophes, often of it's own making, where do you think we are now? Are we on the edge of the next mass extinction, or could that be thousands of years from now?


It's really strange. Peter when I talk with some of the world's top scientists, it's common for them to mention Peter's theories. Radio Ecoshock listeners ask about him. He's been on PBS, Coast to Coast AM, and helped Animal Planet. Yet if I Google Peter Ward and climate, the top couple of pages refer to a man who really is on the fringe of climate science.

Yes, Dr. Peter Langdon Ward is a vulcanologist with unorthodox views on the causes of climate change. Rather than fossil fuels, the other Peter Ward claims volcanic eruptions and depletion of ozone from chlorinated substances cause global warming. It's a different kind of denial, and yet the American Geophysical Union (AGU) continues to give this other Peter Ward top billing. Shame on them. The fossil fuel companies must love it - "we're not responsible, it's the volcanoes or something...." Yeah right.

Here are some links to the real Peter Ward - Peter D. Ward, from the University of Washington.

His academic bio, on the University of Washington site. The Peter Ward Paleontologist page in Wikipedia.

Here is Part 1 of my video interview with Peter Ward five years ago, but still valid.

Part 2 is here. Part 3 here.

Peter Ward on Earth's Mass Extinction, TED-Ed talk 3 years ago. Peter Ward You tube video "Our Future in a World Without Ice Caps".


The world economy is teetering. The weather is nuts and dangerous. So let's talk about plankton! Those little critters in the ocean we never see, produce most of the oxygen you are breathing right now. They are the bottom of the food chain for ocean life. And they are in trouble.

Here to chat about all this is a regular Radio Ecoshock correspondent, climate scientist Paul Beckwith. By the way, there's a humorous album of photo-shopped Paul Beckwith here on Facebook.

Paul has two Masters Degrees, and is now working on his Ph.D. in climate science at the University of Ottawa. He's a prolific communicator on climate, with emphasis on his research into abrupt climate shifts.

Paul says we are entering an abrupt shift of climate now, and we will have to do some kind of geoengineering to save a livable climate. That might include feeding nutrients to plankton, whether by dumping iron into the sea, and the non-scientist Russ George tried, or even by placing tubes into the sea, to use wave power to bring up nutrients from the depths for plankton to feed on.

The latest studies found a very disturbing trend. Apparently we've lost almost 40% of plankton in world oceans already, at least according to a 2010 paper. Paul Beckwith, tells us about that study in his new video about plankton posted on You tube two weeks ago.

Then a newsletter from Jim Thomas of the ETC Group said the loss was not as great as thought. The disappearance of plankton may be partly due to satellite misreading. Jim cited the paper “Revaluating ocean warming impacts on global phytoplankton”, published in the journal Nature Climate Change on October 26, 2015.

Paul says this new study implies a loss of plankton at about 8%, instead of 40% since 1950. If true that would be good news. But there is more research needed. At the very least, this new paper in Nature Climate Change tells us more about plankton's response to warming oceans. Paul's comments are excellent, listen in.

Download or listen to this 29 minute interview with Paul Beckwith in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Paul and I talk about many things, like the impact on fisheries and world food, declining Plankton in the Indian Ocean, super warming in the Arctic and what that means for plankton, and whether he thinks the die-off of mammals and sea birds on the West Coast is caused by Fukushima radiation (he doesn't).

Get all the latest from Paul Beckwith on his web site here. I also get a lot of good tips from Paul's Facebook page.


Next week, Radio Ecoshock covers the coming phenomenon of food shock. This isn't about doomer fantasies. The warning comes from government-funded institutions and serious scientists. Be sure to tune in for our food shock show next week.

Sorry to nag about money, but if you can spare some, I'll need it for the new web page, blog, graphics and all that. The page to find out how is here.

We are out of time. I'm Alex. Thank you for listening again this week, and for caring about our world.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Summary: Australia fires climate scientists while expanding coal. Ellen Roberts of GetUp! reports. From Netherlands, scientist Arjen Hoekstra finds 4 billion people in water scarcity. From Hong Kong, Stuart Heaver on nuclear fear next door. Radio Ecoshock 160217

A new paper by Australian scientists find that that the number of bushfires in Australia is up 40 percent just since 2007. Find that study here.

Another hot summer is just ending in Australia, with another round of fires. Meanwhile, Tasmania is burning, with fires so hot they create their own lightning - self-sustaining fires.

What does the government do? It hires a thug to fire 110 climate scientists who report on the growing impacts of climate disruption. The premier climate study agency CISRO, is being converted into a for-profit tech research agency with industry in mind. Why? The new boss says climate change has already been proven, so why keep all those climate scientists?

Over 3,000 scientists around the world have petitioned to stop the carnage at CISRO. No matter. The government has other fish to fry, literally, as the waters around Australia heat up beyond the survival limits of the famous Great Barrier Reef (just look at this recent example from Fiji). That doesn't matter anyway, as the Australian government just approved a massive new coal mine complex, and a coal shipping port just a few kilometers from that reef.

That's the real reason climate science has to go. It's the coal business, mate.

We'll get to the scientist who led a study showing billions of people experience "severe water scarcity", and listen to more nuclear fears about reactor mania in China. Welcome to your dose of world news and science, this week on Radio Ecoshock.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB) Or listen on Soundcloud right now!


There are crazy projects, and then there are plans so dangerous we can't believe any government or corporation would do it. Here is one of those. In Australia, just before Christmas, the government announced approval of a mega-coal shipping terminal just a few kilometers from the World Heritage Great Barrier reef. Australia is busy expanding production with absolutely giant mines, to ship more climate-wrecking coal to India. What could go wrong?

Here to tell us about it is Ellen Roberts of the Australian activist organization GetUp! The GetUp! group in Queensland covers a wide range of issues, from climate change to mistreatment of refugees. They help organize the public to get action, despite the current reactionary government in Australia.

Ellen Roberts. Photo credit: Australian Financial Review at

Here is part of a GetUp email to their members:

"Earlier this year, we helped the Mackay Conservation Group defeat the Carmichael mine in Federal Court. And in 2013 GetUp members funded two court cases that stopped the Abbot Point expansion in its tracks. They were historic cases that forced new laws banning dredge spoil from being dumped out at sea.

But, under huge pressure from the coal lobby and conservatives within his party, Greg Hunt has just re-approved Adani's destructive, unprofitable coal disaster.

This port will involve more than a million cubic metres of dredging in Great Barrier Reef World Heritage waters. It will make way for a company with a documented history of bribery, corruption and environmental destruction to build one of the biggest coal mines in the world.

The mine would create more carbon emissions than most countries. It will heat the oceans, bleach our coral and undermine international efforts to stop global warming. On every level, this is a disaster.

We've done it before. Now, we have no choice. To stop this project, we have to do it again.

If it makes you feel any better, the Adani Group in India have announced they will delay opening their super coal mines in Australia, and the new coal port. Perhaps they've noticed that stock in coal companies around the world have crashed so badly that many are going bankrupt. The Australian government is still optimistic though, hoping they can help crash the world climate with more coal. This adds to my conviction that only a major economic crash can possibly stop civilization from environmental suicide.

All along, the Aussie coal industry has foot tooth and nail against any subsidy for solar or wind power. Now that Asian coal demand has fallen, and Australia's mines running at a loss, here comes the coal industry looking for billions more in taxpayers dollars - aside from the multiple subisides they already get in public infrastructure.

More on falls in Asian coal demand lower down in this article.

By providing coal, Australia is helping India avoid the transition to clean fuel. India and that whole region is hard hit by climate change. Plus literally millions of Indians are killed every year by air pollution caused by burning coal. I think Australians need to take some responsibility for the impacts in India, but here we also have an Indian corporation using Australian coal to pollute their own people.

Here is the kicker. Coal companies in the United States and Europe are going bankrupt. Their stock is almost worthless. Nobody wants to invest in them. Why is Australia the last place to hear that the coal age is over?

Download or listen to this 17 minute interview with Ellen Roberts in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Word about this scary study is spreading around alternative media, even as it fades from it's 15 seconds of fame on mainstream outlets like the Guardian. Hardly anyone has a full interview with him. Radio Ecoshock does.

If you need water, just turn on a tap. Take as much as you want. Unless of course you are one of the four billion people on this planet who often can't.

You heard that right. A new study from the Netherlands is titled "Four billion people facing severe water scarcity." It's another jaw-dropping signal from the real world in trouble.

Dr. Arjen Hoekstra co-authored the paper with Mesfin Mekonnen. I think it's safe to say that Dr. Hoeskstra is a world authority on water use. His latest book "The Water Footprint of Modern Consumer Society" was translated into Chinese, with his other titles appearing in many languages.

He advises governments and international institutions like UNESCO and the World Bank. He founded the Water Footprint Network. And he's Professor in Water Management at the University of Twente, in the Netherlands.

Dr. Arjen Hoekstra

Essentially this study finds that 4 billion people experience at least 1 month of severe water scarcity a year. About half that number have to survive through many months of where water is hard to find, and some countries, like Libya, have severe water stress all year round.

To be accurate, here are the hard numbers from the Hoekstra paper:

""We find that about 71% of the global population (4.3 billion people) lives under conditions of moderate to severe water scarcity (WS > 1) at least 1 month of the year.

About 66% (4.0 billion people) lives under severe water scarcity (WS > 2.0) at least 1 month of the year.

Of these 4.0 billion people, 1.0 billion live in India and another 0.9 billion live in China. Significant populations facing severe water scarcity during at least part of the year further live in Bangladesh (130 million), the United States (130 million, mostly in western states such as California and southern states such as Texas and Florida), Pakistan (120 million, of which 85% are in the Indus basin), Nigeria (110 million), and Mexico (90 million)."

"The number of people facing severe water scarcity for at least 4 to 6 months per year is 1.8 to 2.9 billion.

Half a billion people face severe water scarcity all year round. Of those half-billion people, 180 million live in India, 73 million in Pakistan, 27 million in Egypt, 20 million in Mexico, 20 million in Saudi Arabia, and 18 million in Yemen. In the latter two countries, it concerns all people in the country, which puts those countries in an extremely vulnerable position.

Other countries in which a very large fraction of the population experiences severe water scarcity year-round are Libya and Somalia (80 to 90% of the population) and Pakistan, Morocco, Niger, and Jordan (50 to 55% of the population).

Picture women walking a few miles, every day, with a jug of dirty river water on their heads, and you get the idea. Crops can't be watered. It's hard to wash dishes or keep kids clean. This is not a statistic, but a snapshot of very difficult lives that most of my listeners have never encountered.

I'm wondering about the possibility of more abrupt water shortages. For example, farmers in parts of India and China are drilling deeper and deeper to suck out groundwater. California is doing the same, and last year some of those wells ran dry. Is there a point where groundwater can no longer make up for rainfall losses - and could we reach that point soon?

Another comparatively abrupt cause of water shortage would be pollution of rivers and lakes. For example, many rivers in China that are now too toxic to drink or unfit for irrigation. Add in ever-growing populations, and the increased need for water to satisfy new demand for meat, and we have a mess.

This whole picture, as bad as it is, will change significantly with climate change.

In a previous paper, Hoekstra published with Wiedmann, in the journal Science June 2014, they found that humanity's total environmental imprint, not just water use, was "unsustainable". We all know this is true.

There are pressure points where countries are moving toward such extreme water stress that their economies, political systems or even survival are at stake. It's already happened in Libya and Syria, with many more to come.

Arjen's latest book is "The Water Footprint of Modern Consumer Society". We discuss his new paper, with co-author Mesfin Mekonnen, titled "Four billion people facing severe water scarcity." That was published in January 29 in the journal "Science Advances".

Download or listen to this 20 minute interview with Arjen Hoesktra in CD Quality or Lo-Fi Follow the work of Arjen Hoekstra though his web site here.

Here is a recent (January 2016) presentation by Arjen on You tube called "Breaking the Wall to Water Security."

Or try this You tube video: Prof. Arjen Hoekstra on Virtual Water: The Water Footprint of Modern Society.


Why am I back talking about the wave of nuclear plant construction in China? First of all, we all do care about other people, even on the other side of the world. A nuclear plant accident among tens of millions of people could be the greatest tragedy ever seen. It's bound to happen eventually.

When it does, there will be no place to go. Those millions will continue to live in radioactive hot zones. If you still don't care, remember that the plume of very radioactive dust spread from Fukushima in Japan all the way around the world. Uranium from Fukushima was found in New England, and radiation arrived in Europe and Scandinavia. A nuclear accident anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere pollutes the whole Northern Hemisphere, for thousands of years. Now maybe you care what happens in China, where dozens of reactors with new designs never successfully run anywhere else are being built right now.

Lately there have been riots on the streets of Hong Kong. It's about freedom of speech, about continuing a free market, about a way of life. Behind it all, there is a growing dark shadow of worry about the new reactors being build right next door on the mainland. Radio Ecoshock investigates.

Stuart Heaver is a journalist with the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. His article in the Post Magazine, January 10, 2016, alerted me to this under-reported nuclear danger. The headline is: "Radiation fear in Hong Kong from China's unproven and possibly faulty nuclear reactors nearby."

Journalist Stuart Heaver from Hong Kong.

China is building and planning a wave of new nuclear reactors. There are eight under construction right now in Guangdong Province, all within 150 kilometers (93 miles) of the crowded super-city of Hong Kong. There are 120 million people in that small area. Trust me, there is absolutely no way to evacuate Hong Kong in any timely manner, should a nuclear accident like Fukushima occur.

There is a contingency evacuation plan for Hong Kong, Heaver tells us, but no one takes it seriously. The biggest and nearest fear is the multiple reactor complex at Daya Bay. There are at least two operators there. Suspicion abounds.

China is not famous for transparency. At least Western privately owned reactor companies have to file some information for their shareholders. The reactors being built by the Chinese government don't. Who knows if the public will even be told if there is a leak of radiation to the air or water? The Soviets didn't tell people in Kiev about the Ukranian nuclear blow-up at Chernobyl, until the Swedes outed them four days later!

One or the reactor complexes uses untested technology from AREVA, the French government controlled nuclear company. French regulators just revealed there is a serious flaw in the reactor core design. Chinese regulators did not inform the public. As we heard a few weeks ago in my interview with Mycle Schneider, this flaw is so serious, the current construction may have to be ripped down and start again.

China will also be the testing ground for the new Westinghouse AP-1000, so-called Third Generation reactors. It's almost like the government decided to try one or two of everything, to see what works and what doesn't. But it's a terrible thing when nuclear technology doesn't work!

Meanwhile, as Stuart Heaver tells us, Chinese industrial culture has a very bad record for safety. You may recall recent news footage of a major port in China blowing up. That's just the tip of the iceberg. Hong Kong media reports every week on deaths, explosions, leaks, and general accidents in industry on the Chinese mainland. The safety culture is not there, and that's terrible news when nuclear reactors are involved.

Even a government survey showed only 34% of Chinese people are confident nuclear power will be handled safely. Another reactor inland is built in an earthquake zone. The last big one was in 2012.

I don't want to pick on China. So far the nuclear record of other countries is worse. China is already a leader in alternative energy, and becoming pro-active on climate change. It's just that we now know nuclear power is literally a dead-end path. It's time to stop the construction and go for alternative energy all the way.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview with Stuart Heaver in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Follow Stuart Heaver through his blog here. His Twitter handle is @StuartHeaver.

I'm Alex Smith. Please support making and distributing this program if you can. Find out how here.

Thank you for listening, and caring about our world.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


SUMMARY: "Reality 101" with Nate Hagens, our minds, our world, the fossil trap. Scientists Alexander "Sandy" MacDonald of NOAA and Chris Clack of CIRES: yes we can power America with solar and wind power.

This week on Radio Ecoshock we'll see how hard it is, and how possible it is, to get out of the matrix. Resilience expert Dr. Nate Hagens talks about his college course "Reality 101".

Then we visit with two top American scientists whose recent study was published by the government-funded National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A detailed study of sun and wind says yes we can replace fossil and nuclear power with renewable energy, and it won't cost any more than what we are doing now.

Thanks for joining us this week as we explore where we really are, and what we could do about it.

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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now!


I don't know about you, but I'm often stuck on Bob Dylan's words: "something is happening here, but you don't know what it is". Wouldn't it be great if we could take a course to understand reality?

The course exists. Dr. Nathan J. Hagens teaches "Reality 101 - A Survey of the Human Predicament" to graduate students at the University of Minnesota. Nate Hagens is a familiar name to anyone who tracks energy and resilience. Nate was a successful Wall Street trader. He left all that in 2003 to probe deeper. Nate is on the Board of Directors of the Post Carbon Institute, a Director of the Bottleneck Foundation, and he teaches. He's working on a book that he doesn't want to talk about yet. Hagens lives on a farm in Wisconsin with a collection of animals.

Dr. Nate Hagens

I first learned about Nate from speeches made at Peak Oil conferences. We talk about that a bit. But the bigger problem here is the big problem - the nexis of threatening developments that seem too large to grasp. We have guests that see everything in terms of energy. Others focus only on the environment. I've talked with a few eco-psychologists. Nate is one of the few who attempt to wrap them all up together.

The course begins with the real overview: the first photos of Earth from space. Then it gets into "Systems theory and complexity" with a combination of You tube videos and Nate's own unreleased writing.


There is a course section on geologic time, and paleclimatology. Dr. Peter Ward, a several-time guest on Radio Ecoshock, is twice featured in the syllabus. I've got Peter lined up for a return trip to Radio Ecoshock soon. He's one of the few scientist to crystalize a working theory of how mass extinctions in the past really worked. They all developed through climate change, except for the great asteroid strike in the Gulf of Mexico about 65 million years ago. And even there, the dying animals (including dinosaurs) and plants may have already been weakened by a planetary warming that began a few million years before the asteroid hit.

You can watch a video interview I did with Dr. Peter Ward on this page. Here are the two key interviews with Peter Ward on Radio Ecoshock, as audio files: "Under a Green Sky" (2008) and "The Medea Hypothesis" (25 minutes)(2009). This are still very valid and powerful today.

In the course "Reality 101" there is a segment on mass extinction. I ask Nate Hagens where he stands on the idea of human extinction, either this century, as suggested by Dr. Guy McPherson, or in the near-coming centuries? If I can summarize Nate's reply, it would be that humans are very ingenious and adaptable. He doesn't think there is any basis for worrying about a near-term extinction, certainly not in this century. But please listen to the interview to get it in Nate's own words.


I watched a "Reality 101" course video about evolutionary psychology. It is a You tube interview with John Tooby and Leda Cosmides on "Stone Age Minds". Contrary to some tenets of psychology, they say the human mind arrives not as a blank slate, but with structures designed to cope with problems of a hunter-gatherer society. Tooby and Cosmides talk about mismatches between our ancient mental capabilities and the newly-minted modern world. That could explain a lot. Find that video here on You tube, courtesy of

Nate also offers his students an unpublished (yet) article "The Psychological Roots of Resource Overconsumption". You won't find that anywhere online, but it may appear in Nate's upcoming book "Bottleneck".

Then we have to consider how many of our problems dealing with the world are based on sexuality and addiction.


On I found another text required in the course. It's called "A Prosperous Way Down" by Howard and Elisabeth Odum. Actually, that article is a short-form introduction to their book of the same name. Is there a prosperous way down, and why should we accept going "down" at all? Nate explains why we either throttle back consumer society by choice and plan - or we collapse into a very nasty chaos.

The students wrap up the "Reality 101" course with a group discussion "What to do as individuals". That's a big one. As Nate wrote in an email to me: "What does a rational, non-sociopathic human facing the multiple bottlenecks of the 21st century DO?" Talk among yourselves.

There seem to be only two doors: (1) we keep on going and trust the next generation will figure things out, or (2) we are so completely doomed we might as well enjoy the end of days. Some of us hope there is a third door, but is there really?

This interview is kind of a warm up, for a longer interview I hope to do with Nate Hagens, when he and his co-author bring out their new book "Bottleneck" later this year.

Download or listen to this 30 minute interview with Nate Hagens in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Nate has a Masters Degree in Finance from the University of Chicago, and a Ph.D. in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. He left Wall Street money to become an alternative social critic. His personal web site is called "The Monkey Trap" (which is seldom updated).

Here is a cool Nate Hagens You tube talk, given for the Worldwatch Institute. I also like "The Converging Economic and Environmental Crisis" July 2014 found here.


Scientists say wind and solar CAN power America

Wouldn't it be great if most of the electricity generated in America came from wind and solar, instead of climate-wrecking fossil fuels? Of course it can't be done, except it can. Who says so? Hippies from California? Not quite.

It's all in a new paper by a former senior scientist at NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and a physicist/math whiz from CIRES, The Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, at the University of Colorado Boulder. Our guest are Dr. Alexander MacDonald, known as "Sandy", the recently retired director of NOAA’s Earth System Research Lab, and Dr. Christopher Clack from CIRES - all in Boulder Colorado.

Dr.Alexander MacDonald and Dr. Chris Clack

We talk about a new article titled "Future cost-competitive electricity systems and their impact on US CO2 emissions" published online in the journal "Nature" on January 25th, 2016.

Maybe the best way to begin is to give you the links sent to me by the Public Affairs Officer at NOAA Communications. My thanks to Theo Stein for getting me up to speed on this breaking paper.

The NOAA/CIRES press release is here.

"At the bottom of the CIRES release are animations of solar potential, wind potential and a power flow animation showing how a system dominated by renewables and supported by a HVDC grid might dispatch power around the country to meet demand."

The FAQ is here.

CIRES also put together this brief video explainer.


So what is the big news?

(1) The United States could power at least 80% of it's energy needs, maybe more with just solar energy and wind power. That's amazing and encouraging but there's more.

(2) Electricity from this system would not cost any more than it does today.

(3) Nuclear plants could be shut down. All coal-fired power could be closed. Only a few gas generators to pick up occasional slack would be needed.

(4) massive power storage would NOT be needed. That's a huge break-through.

(5) no new technology is required. We have the tools and we know how.

This system would require the construction of nation-spanning DC High Voltage lines. Current AC transmission lines are incredibly wasteful, losing up to half of all power created. And because AC cannot transmit power efficiently, (a) you have to build nuclear plants dangerously close to cities and (b) AC line cannot bring wind power from the central plains to New England (for example).

High Voltage DC lines already exist. There is one in Alberta Canada, and one running from Oregon to California. It's not unknown or untested tech. We can do it.

The real breakthrough comes from studying weather, in great detail, on a very big scale (across the United States). NOAA and CIRES has all the weather data to do it. They did and this paper is the result. So if you study alternative energy just within one state, it won't work to replace what we have. But if you look at national resources, and have a way to transmit them, it's all possible.

Of course the sun only shines during the day. But it turns out that the wind is strong enough at night to keep things going (when demand is lower anyway). We don't need storage, these two scientists say.

Just check out their press release, the short video, and their great maps and you'll see the future of energy.

Download or listen to this 24 minute interview with Alexander MacDonald and Chris Clack in CD Quality or Lo-Fi. Please pass these links on to your friends and on social media.


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

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Climate: Misunderstood Impacts

We have three interviews this week, including 2 climate scientists. Andy Pitman: new science on how climate really hits us. Plus Johan Rockstrom, the Swedish leader of planetary boundaries, followed by Lynn Benander on community power in New England. Let's go.

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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now!


It may get hotter where you are, sooner than you think. New science reveals many parts of the world won't have to wait long to experience unsafe heating and disruptive changes in precipitation. Once again, we underestimate the climate threat.

Dr. Andy J. Pitman is a British atmospheric scientist. Now he's the Director of Australia's ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney. [ARCCSS]

Dr. Andrew J. Pitman

Pitman is co-author of a new piece in the journal Nature, titled "Allowable CO2 emissions based on regional and impact-related climate targets". The lead author is Professor Sonia Seneviratne from the Swiss Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science.

You can read an article/press release from the University of New South Wales, explaining this paper, here.

The title of the press release says a lot: "How a 2°C rise means even higher temperatures where we live. Land based temperatures rise much faster than global average temperatures".

I think one startling result in this paper is the timing of climate impacts. We are used to reports talking about things happening by 2100, after we are dead. Now science has shortened that fuse. Serious impacts are less than 15 years away, or, as Pitman points out, they are already happening.

Let's face it, the Arctic has already warmed well beyond the two degree C danger mark. We had reports that parts of Siberia were warmer in the last week of January than Taiwan, which is right on the edge of the tropics. North-Central Siberia reported temperatures 20 degrees Celsius above normal for this time of year. That's 36 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than it should be!

According to lead author Prof Seneviratne:

"At 1.5°C we would still see temperature extremes in the Arctic rise by 4.4°C and a 2.2°C warming of extremes around the Mediterranean basin."

In our interview, Andy Pitman says two important things about the two degree C "safe" level of warming.

First of all, two degrees C warming is demonstrably not "safe". We are already experiencing extreme weather events, ocean acidification, coral die-off and much more. Pitman says the two degrees was accepted not because it was scientific, but because it was thought to be possible.

Secondly, the whole concept of a two degree global mean temperature as a goal is almost meaningless. We do not live in "average" climates. Their study found several parts of the world that will warm by two degrees (or more) as early as 2030. We're talking about the Mediterranean for example. That region will dry out and heat even more. You think you've seen mass migration now? It's only going to become worse, as more agriculture fails in North Africa, the Middle East, and places like Greece, Italy, and Spain.

Here is more from that University of New South Wales press release (and pay attention to the methane warning!)

"The extreme regional warming projected for Alaska, Canada, Northern Europe, Russia and Greenland could have global impacts, accelerating the pace of sea-level rise and increasing the likelihood of methane releases prompted by the melting of ice and permafrost regions.

'The temperature difference between global average temperatures and regional temperature extremes over land not only has direct climate impacts, it also means we may have to reconsider the amount of carbon dioxide we can emit,' said co-author and Director of ARCCSS Prof Andy Pitman.

'For instance, to keep extreme temperature changes over the Mediterranean below a 2°C threshold, the cumulative emissions of CO2 would have to be restricted to 600 gigatonnes rather than the 850 gigatonnes currently estimated to keep global average temperatures increase below 2°C.'

According to the researchers, if global average temperatures warm by 2°C compared to preindustrial times this would equate to a 3°C warming of hot extremes in the Mediterranean region and between 5.5 -- 8°C warming for cold extremes over land around the Arctic. Most land-masses around the world will see an extreme temperature rise greater than 2°C.

From our Radio Ecoshock interview, Andy Pitman says:

"Two degrees isn't safe because a two degree warming is expressed over the land surface by warming of much more than two degrees. And it's not expressed as a regional average warming of two degrees. It's expressed for instance by earlier spring heat waves. Or the ability of a landscape to continue growing through winter because the winter is several degrees warmer than it used to be.

Or it's expressed by summer heat waves lasting longer. And as your listeners would know, if you have a heat wave that traditionally lasts three days, and it starts to last five days, the impacts that that has on ecosystems but also primarly on human health can be way out of proportion to only an extra day or two.

What Pitman doesn't say, but I know from previous interviews with scientists and doctors, is that extra day or two of extreme heat is when people can begin to die off in great numbers. It happened in Russia in 2010, in France during the great heat of 2003, where tens of thousands died, and now arrives too often in Australia during extended heat waves. We've been told that heat is now a greater killer in Australia than car accidents.

Talking about Canada (where some residents think they'd like to warm up a few degrees!) Pitman warns:

"If you manage to warm a region of Eastern or Western Canada by three degrees on the annual average, but all that warming happens in July, the amount it warms in July is vastly more than three degrees. You start to get serious heat wave conditions...."

It sounds attractive to have an average annual warming, but the actual impacts may be increased deaths, wrecked eco-systems, more forest fires, or perhaps a whole year's wheat crop wiped out (again, the wheat crop in Russia was devastated).


Andy Pitman on Radio Ecoshock:

"We have probably erred as a science community in being a little conservative in how fast climate can change. And we have also had our eye on the averages more so than the extremes.

Now that's a general statement. There have been some outstanding groups in North America and in Europe that have focussed on extremes. But in general the climate community has been really interested in how much will the global average warm.

I think what our paper says is: it doesn't matter, really, what the global average warms. It matters critically how climate warms spacially, by country, and how that warming is translated into days of heat or cold or days of extreme rainfall - because those are the things that can break a drainage system, break a health system, damage an ecosystem.

Most of what our paper is about is that we have been too generous on the scale of emissions that should be permitted, but if I was going to take the science further, I would encourage the research communities to be targeting the nature and statistics of extreme events into the future, over how much the planet as a whole will warm.

There's lots more in the interview. For me, this backs up people like Ottawa scientist Paul Beckwith, who is studying abrupt climate change, and extreme changes, rather than statistical averages.

Download, listen to, or share this 22 minute Radio Ecoshock interview with Dr. Andrew Pitman in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.


There are limits to what humanity can do on this planet and still survive. Johan Rockstrom led a team that mapped out those Planetary Boundaries. Rockstrom is the Executive Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre. He teaches at Stockholm University, and holds many roles in the scientific community. We talk about his latest book, written wtih Mattias Klum, "Big World, Small Planet" - and many other questions we all have about climate change.

Dr. Johan Rockstrom

Here is one for example: At a TED talk, Rockstrom told an audience that climate change may actually not be our greatest challenge! I asked what he meant by that.

His answer makes sense. There are multiple crisis happening on Earth at this time. One very serious and long-lasting change is in the climate. But we are also going through a mass extinction event (assuming we make it through). We can do something about greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, Rockstrom tells us, but once a species goes extinct, it's gone. And all the species that might have interacted with it are also endangered. You can decide to drive an electric car, or travel less, or support carbon capture research - but you can't take any action to bring back species from extinction, or really restore wrecked ecosystems.

I take issue with Rockstrom, when he wrote: "we can trigger a new wave of sustainable technological inventions" to solve our ecological crisis. On Radio Ecoshock, I just talked with another well-known Swede, Alf Hornborg. Alf says there is no technological solution to the problems of technology. We need social and ideological change instead.

Or course Rockstrom is aware of Hornborg's work, and doesn't suggest that a technical fix is all we need. A change in human civilization will also be required. But in general, in this interview and in their new book, Johan Rockstrom takes the positive outlook. He sees grave dangers, but apparently believes humans are smart enough to solve the crisis we create. I'm not so sure, but you decide, after listening to this interview.

Johan explains what is meant by "the Fourth Industrial Revolution" - and his involvement in a project called "Future Earth".

Along the way, of course, you will learn more about our situation. Rockstrom is acknowledged as one of the world's top scientists. His leadership in the concept of Planetary Boundaries is absolutely important for us all. Don't under-estimate him.

Download, listen to, or share this 23 minute Radio Ecoshock interview with Dr. Johan Rockstrom in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.


What is the answer to giant power companies with equally giant greenhouse gas emissions? Citizens doing it for themselves. One of the best examples is Co-op Power in New England. We'll find out what it is, and how this could work in your community, from Lynn Benander. She's the CEO of Co-op Power and Northeast Biodiesel.

My first reaction was to picture a group of middle-class white folks getting together to bypass the system and save money. But as Lynn tell us, this came up at the very first organizing meeting. Some people rent, and still want green power. That's why community-owned power can make more sense than just well-off people installing solar on their rooftops.

Lynn Benander


Biodiesel got a terrible name as a false climate solution, when industrialized agriculture switched off growing food to make heavily subsidized gas substitutes. How is Northeast Biodiesel different from that? The company is opening a new plant this month, designed to produce over a million gallons of diesel fuel a year. The source stock is waste cooking oil! This doesn't displace agricultural food crops. The carbon load is already in producing the cooking oil, so burning what would otherwise be waste makes green sense. As Benander points out, for now, we still run our trucks, tractors and buses on diesel fuel. Until we can do better, green diesel, produced in the community, is a better solution.

Even the financing for this biodiesel plant came from the community. Read all about that here.

Lynn and I talk about how communities can raise money for alternative energy co-ops. I want you to hear this interview, and dig further into it. We so often have hopeless news on Radio Ecoshock, without enough solutions. Here is a group of New England communities that are not waiting for the grand scheme from the federal or state government, but doing it for themselves. It's inspiring.

Check out this slide and photo explanation of co-op power here.

Download, listen to, or share this 14 minute Radio Ecoshock interview with Lynn Benander in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

Here are some more Lynn Benander/Co-op Power links, courtesy of my friend Erik Hoffner, who suggested this story.

Post Carbon Institute Interview with Co-op Power's Lynn Benander - "Community is Created by Filling the Cup" September 2, 2015

Center for Popular Economics - Presentation on Cooperative Paths to Fossil Fuel Freedom: Stories from Community Energy Co-ops in the Co-op Power Network with Lynn Benander and Temistoclese Blessed Ferreira from Co-op Power August 23, 2015

Grist article on Diego Angarita, "Meet the Food Justice and Clean Energy Advocate who Wants to Shake up the Nonprofit World", noting his work at Co-op Power August 14, 2015

We are out of time. My thanks to the listeners who support Radio Ecoshock with a monthly donation, or a one-time gift to keep this program going. Find out about that here.

Thank you for listening, and caring about our world.