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.

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