Wednesday, March 30, 2016


SUMMARY Humans pumping more carbon, faster, than in last 66 million years. Lead author Dr. Richard Zeebe from U of Hawaii. From The Center for Climate and Security, Shiloh Fetzek on origins of Syrian conflict, Ret. Brigadier General Gerald Galloway, on what the Pentagon knows about climate threats. Radio Ecoshock 160330.

Humans are tossing more carbon into the atmosphere ten times faster, and in much greater quantities, than at any time in the last 66 million years. We'll talk with the lead author of that study, Richard Zeebe.

Then, with the turmoil of the Middle East spreading into Europe, Africa and beyond, we ask two specialists on the driving role of drought, heat and climate change. Our guests are analyst Shiloh Fetzek and retired American Brigadier General Gerald Galloway.

I'm Alex Smith. Welcome to your world.

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In the Guardian newspaper on the 21st of March, we find this headline: "Carbon emission release rate ‘unprecedented’ in past 66m[illion] years." It then says "Researchers calculate that humans are pumping out carbon 10 times faster than at any point since the extinction of the dinosaurs."

To understand what this staggering situation means, we go to a new paper published the same day in the journal Nature Geoscience. The title is "Anthropogenic carbon release rate unprecedented during the past 66 million years." The lead author is Dr. Richard E. Zeebe. He's published or co-authored about 75 scientific papers since the 1990's. Richard is a Professor at the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at the University of Hawaii.

From Honolulu, we welcome Richard Zeebe to Radio Ecoshock.

We are looking for clues to our current fling with heating the world. I'll bet many listeners hear "66 million years" and think this will be all about an asteroid hit and the end of the dinosaurs. But really the focus of this paper is on a climate changed world about 10 million years closer to us, around 56 million years ago.

I've had a couple of scientific guests who describe relatively rapid global heating, say in 50 years or less, but always moving from a time of massive glaciation toward a warmer period. The Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum or PETM, is more useful for us, because there was a spike in global temperature even when the Earth was already ice-free.

One reading of this new paper is that perhaps we have been lulled to sleep by earlier paleoclimatology. We looked back at ice cores, for example, and decided climate change is a long drawn-out process, so we have time to change our energy systems and adapt. Zeebe and his co-authors say this research uncovers: "a fundamental challenge in constraining future climate projections."

Then finally, his team ends with this short statement: "future ecosystem disruptions are likely to exceed the relatively limited extinctions observed at the PETM." It sounds like we are in a free-fall where conditions on Earth may become hotter and more changed than the hottest period known to science since the dinosaurs. That's frightening.

The stunning new research paper was published in the journal Nature Geoscience on March 21st, 2016. Here is a link to the abstract, But if you use the link provided in the Guardian newspaper article, and wait patiently for a few seconds, the full paper shows up in your browser as a .pdf file. It's one of the most important papers so far this year. This interview with Richard contains some stunning perspectives on where we stand, and where we are going.

Listen to or download this 15 minute interview with Richard Zeebe in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


A new kind of creeping war is developing in Europe. It constantly threatens to re-appear in the United States and Canada. Meanwhile bombed cities spread across the Middle East . We hear rumors that climate change is a hidden factor driving Middle East discontent. Is it true?

Our guest Shiloh Fetzek writes about deep connections hardly reported by the press. Shiloh provides research for a non-governmental organization called "The Center for Climate and Security" - where she is a Senior Fellow for International Affairs. She is also Senior Fellow for Environment, Climate Change and Security at International Alert in London.

Shiloh Fetzek

In an article about Syria with Jeffrey Mazo, Fetzek writes:

"More than 70% of the country’s freshwater resources come from transborder flows, the bulk from Turkey via the Euphrates River."

What is the over-all status of that regional river water system. Has Turkey taken more, and left less, via up-stream dams? Is precipitation lower? How much is "water politics" and how much real climate pressure? We talk that through.

It is fair to say the agricultural collapse in Syria was badly mishandled by the Assad regime. As Fezak tells us, the Assad government cut fertilizer subsidies, and subsidized prices for farm diesel, at the critical time, during the drought.

When rainfall is low, farmers all over the world try to pump up the difference from ground water. Why didn't that work in Syria? For one thing, as we've said, the subsidies for diesel fuel needed to run the pumps was cut. But the real problem developed over time. The Syrian government favored large scale agriculture of water-hungry crops. The irrigation system was often based on open canals, which lose far too much by evaporation in the hot desert sun.

All over the world, displaced peasants and farmers are moving toward cities that are not prepared to handle their numbers. One author described Earth as slum city. Why was this global movement so much more serious in Syria? That's because there were already over one million refugees from the Iraq war living in Syrian cities. That's added to hundreds of thousands of long-time refugees from Palestine. Even the slums were full when the Syrian families started pouring in from the countryside. They lived in tent camps on the outskirts with no services.

Do we know for certain that displaced Syrian farmers formed part of the opposition to Assad government, or added to attempted revolution? Those statistics are not available. We do know the farmers were very upset with the lack of aid, and the way most of the country's wealth was channelled toward an ethnic minority living near the coast. It was a tinder box of discontent. Some of those same families are now in tent camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Some of them made it to Greece, and on to Europe. Some of them drowned trying to get out.

When I study climate projections for the Middle East during the second half of this century, most sources predict even fewer water resources, greater desertification, and longer periods of dangerous heat. That heat, linked with humidity in some Gulf regions, is projected to go beyond the tolerance of humans to go outdoors. I wonder if we will see an even greater exodus, even more migration - to anywhere cooler.

We've had several guests who explain the medical consequences of a high heat-humidity index. But hardly anyone can explain the social impacts of finding more days too hot to go out, too hot to work, and nights too hot to sleep. This is a hidden factor that can drive individuals crazy, and societies to the breaking point.

Listen to or download this 21 minute interview with Shiloh Fetzek in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Before winding up, I would also like to point out this critical article at The Center for Climate and Security: "US Embassy in Iraq Issues Mosul Dam Failure Warning". It's incredible.

The dam in Mosul Iraq could break.

Here are some points from a Factsheet issued by the U.S. State Department, courtesy of the Climate and Security article: (any bold type is my addition)

"The State Department Factsheet lists a series of ways in which the failure of the Mosul Dam and the resulting floodwave will have catastrophic consequences in a region already facing significant threats, and gives new meaning to the concept of “cascading disasters.”

Here is a sampling of some of the potential consequences of a dam failure drawn from the factsheet:

The approximately 500,000 to 1.47 million Iraqis residing along the Tigris River in areas at highest risk from the projected floodwave probably would not survive its impact unless they evacuated the floodzone. A majority of Baghdad’s 6 million residents also probably would be adversely affected— experiencing dislocation, increased health hazards, limited to no mobility, and losses of homes, buildings, and services.

The flood will severely damage or destroy large swaths of infrastructure and is expected to knock offline all power plants in its path, causing a sudden shock to the Iraq electricity grid that could shut down the entire Iraqi system.

Two-thirds of Iraq’s high-yielding irrigated wheat farmland is in the Tigris River basin and probably would be heavily damaged.

Some parts of Baghdad would be flooded, which could include Baghdad International Airport.

Much of the territory projected to be damaged by a dam breach is contested or ISIL-controlled, suggesting an authority-directed evacuation is unlikely, and that some evacuees may not have freedom of movement sufficient to escape.

Evacuation warnings that occur in the narrow window between the detection of a breach and the impact of a flood wave would be subject to electrical blackouts, technical and bureaucratic delays, or rejections by communities that probably would not grasp the urgency and scope of the threat, suggesting that prior awareness of risk could improve mobilization time in the event of a breach...

It's huge, and so far, no one is acting to prevent this catastrophe!

It's not just Iraq. Check out this article: Peter Gleick on Syria: Water, Climate and Conflict. Climate Change and Trouble with Pakistan's Reservoirs and Dams"


Shiloh and her colleagues, including Francesco Femia, sent me a good list of articles for further research. Here are some of them. Surf and learn!

Syrian climate change, drought and social unrest. NOAA on climate change and Mediterranean droughts. April 2012: The Other Arab Spring: Tom Friedman writes an Op-Ed on the subject, citing the work of the Center for Climate and Security, and interviews with others.

February 2013: The Arab Spring and Climate Change: The Center for Climate and Security and partners release a multi-author volume on the subject, edited by Caitlin Werrell and myself and including a preface from Anne-Marie Slaughter. Our own piece in the volume includes a slight update of the 2012 article on Syria, as well as a look at Libya's post-conflict water and climate woes. Dr. Troy Sternberg writes about climate, China, Egypt and wheat prices, which builds on his previous journal article in Nature.

January 2015: Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought: Kelley et al publish a study in PNAS which makes an important contribution to the literature. While we had drawn a connection between the dramatic precipitation decline in the Middle East and Syria from 1971-2010, the drought in 2006/7-2010/11, natural resource mismanagement, and social unrest, this study demonstrated that the drought that lasted from 2007-2010 was "2-3 times more likely" because of anthropogenic climate change. Big deal.

February 2016: Spatiotemporal drought variability in the Mediterranean over the past 900 years. The recent study by Cook et al.

Still thirsty? Here are more key resources on Syria, and the climate change connection, from Shiloh:


There are institutes where top scientists regularly prepare projections of a world thrust into severe climate change. You can bet there are parallel "war-rooms" where the military plans out their role in a stressed-out warming world.

Here to tell us about preparations and planning in the American military is retired U.S. army Brigadier General Gerald Galloway. He is a Visiting Scholar at the US Army Corps of Engineers Institute for Water Resources. After 38 years in the U.S. Army, Galloway joined the faculty of the University of Maryland. He's worked at Westpoint and the White House, always with a focus on sustainable water use. Gerald has three Master's degrees, and a Ph.D. in Geography from the University of North Carolina. He is also a member of the Security Advisory Board at The Center for Climate and Security.

Gerald Galloway

There are plenty of high-placed politicians who continue to question the importance of climate change to our security. Does the Pentagon think it's real? Yes indeed, says Galloway. The American Military has involved climate change in all their planning. There have been a series of reports for the Pentagon, including this one which found that climate disruption is a far greater threat than terrorism.

Dr. Galloway specialized in water resources for decades. And for decades we've heard about the coming water wars, especially in the Middle East. Have they arrived? Surprisingly, the answer is "no" and "not yet". Galloway says that so far nations have managed to negotiate reasonable water deals with each other, realizing that water supply is so vital, the only other option is war.

Here is a fascinating Al Jazeera article, with excellent coverage by Mansur Mirovalev, explaining why Uzbekistan may be the location of the first real water war. I'd love to have Mirovalev on this show, but so far I've been unable to reach him.

It doesn't take an expert to see that many millions of people in Bangladesh are going to be displaced by sea level rise in that low-lying country. When they move, there is no where to go, in a region already heavily populated and impoverished. Could that become a military situation?

I'm also thinking of China, and their war on terror with the Muslim Uyghur people on their Western flank. That's also part of a region expected to be hit harder by desertification, and temperatures too high for traditional crops. I'll bet that's a watch-point for the American military as well.

But the classic cases so far are in North Africa and the Middle East. Libya is constantly water stressed. Egypt is barely coping, and now has to import most of it's grain. The drought that hit Syria for several years also impacted southern Turkey, Iraq, and the list goes on. Gerald Galloway gives us a tour.


On a tactical level, the armed forces have to work out how to power themselves in a world where fossil fuel use becomes constrained. I ask Gerald what the U.S. military doing to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. We are also told the United States military is the largest single user of fossil fuels in America. Is there an awareness that all those emissions are actually fuelling a more dangerous world, through climate change?

FYI, the US military was exempt from reporting on greenhouse gas emissions under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. They lost that exemption in the Paris climate talks of 2015.

It's fascinating to get Galloway's insider view of how the Pentagon is working to (a) adapt to a changing climate (b) reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and (c) think about how to protect America, it's allies, and American interests in the coming climate disruption. Despite the misgivings many of us have on all this, it's still true that when hurricanes or typhoons flatten a country, or millions of desperate people need aid, it's usually the U.S. military that shows up for large-scale food drops, evacuations, and medical aid. We expect the American military to be there to help.

Along those lines, the new Canadian government under Justin Trudeau has announced a return to Canada's long-term role of using their military for aid in emergencies, and peace keeping, instead of war. We'll see.


In the 1990's, Gerald Galloway chaired a report for the White House on the Great Flood of 1993, along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Parts of the south have flooded again this year. In fact, we've seen more extreme rainfall events in many parts of the United States. Galloway says we are NOT prepared for flooding well beyond the ordinary, and could do a lot more to prepare for that aspect of climate change. You can read Galloway's 29 page report here. A lot of military planning is necessarily kept secret. But I think climate response is not a good candidate for secrecy, because we all face a global problem. Is there a way for the Pentagon to involve the American public more on this issue?

I would like to thank The Center for Climate and Security for helping to arrange this interview with Retired Brigadier General Gerald Galloway.

Listen to or download this 19 minute interview with Gerald Galloway in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


One final word: background news reports indicate the Belgian/French terrorists were planning an attack on a Belgian nuclear facility on the outskirts of Brussels, but felt too pressured by police searches to wait. Washington had already warned Belgium of lax security at privately run reactors there. Footage of a Belgian reactor official was found in a terror hide-out. A security guard for a Belgian reactor company was shot dead on Thursday. Two employees with complete clearance to the Belgian Doel nuclear power station left to join ISIS in Syria in 2012. What did they tell ISIS?

Belgium is about the size of the State of Maryland, or one and a half times the size of Wales in the UK. A plane crashing into poorly stored spent fuel there, or a bomb inside a reactor, could irradiate the entire country. Instead of confronting the mega-risk, the government of Belgium keeps extending the life of already old and unsafe reactors. That's a kind of self-terrorism.

A dirty radioactive bomb, or even blowing up a working reactor, remains the golden dream of those who hate. The United States, Canada, pretty well every European country, and even dear old Australia are always prime targets for nuclear terrorism.

In her weekly nuclear update, Australian campaigner Christina MacPherson reminds us of this:

"Nuclear terrorism a possibility in Belgium – and elsewhere. But oh no, not in Australia! Except – has everyone forgotten Willy Brigitte? Brigitte was sent to Sydney in 2007 as part of a cell that trained terrorists in Pakistan, with a plan to bomb the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor, was convicted in France."

Keep up with Christina here on the Web, and here on Facebook.

We only have to slip up once, and they only have to win once, to illustrate why nuclear power is not safe for anyone. There is still time to shut down the nuclear industry.

Don't say I didn't warn you.


Assuming nothing too big blows up in the next week, our next program asks: in the face of government unwillingness to protect a safe climate, is revolution is justified? Stay tuned, and thank you for caring about our world.

I am fundraising partly to pay for a new web page and blog set up, which should communicate this important message better and farther. If you would like to help Radio Ecoshock keep going, please consider becoming a monthly supporter. Find out how here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


SUMMARY: Global heat Jan & Feb hits hard, worries scientists. Bob Henson from Weather Underground explores the loss of normal. Australian scientist Ben Hankamer on new study: world will warm faster than you think. Radio Ecoshock 160323

The jolt. That's what scientists are calling the absolute heat records set around the world in January and February of 2016. Expert meteorologist and climate science writer Bob Henson takes us on a tour of the new normal.

But hang around too for our second interview, with Australian scientist Ben Hankamer. He's co-author of a new peer-reviewed paper that says warming will happen much faster than you think.

Hankamer tells us:

"If what the models suggest are correct, then by 2020 we might have to have about emissions reductions of 50% if we want to stay below a 1.5 degree climate change level. And if we want to stay below 2 [deg C] it might be 50% by 2030. And it really depends if you want to go with this pro-growth strategy or whether you want to carry on with business as usual... Of course you can say 'we're not going to do that' but then you have to also make the assumption that you will keep people in poverty."

A fifty percent cut in emissions needed by 2020! That's a call for crisis-level action. Sure, we can continue to splurge on fossil fuels in the developed world, but keep in mind (a) we need almost half the world's population to keep living in desperate poverty (less than $2.50, a day) and (b) we accept a rapid transition to a ruined state of nature for all coming generations.

That's coming up in our second half hour. First, let's get past the weather porn, to explore another step up the staircase to climate catastrophe.

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"February Smashes Earth's All-Time Global Heat Record by a Jaw-Dropping Margin" That's the headline at wunderground, the influential Weather Underground blog. What does it mean? Is the new carbon-loaded atmosphere stretching it's muscles? Is this the new normal, or the end of normal?

Joining us to talk about all this is a seasoned meteorologist, journalist, and one-time storm chaser, Colorado's Bob Henson. Bob co-wrote one of the most widely used college textbooks on weather, "Meteorology Today" - now out in it's 11th edition this year. For more than a decade Bob had a front row seat as writer and editor for AtmosNews, from the National Center for Atmospheric Research. His articles are published all over the world, and his latest book is "The Thinking Person's Guide to Climate Change." Bob often teams up with Wunderground's Jeff Masters to bring out all the facts and figures about the strange changes we see today.

Bob Henson, Weather Underground

Let's be clear, we are talking about a global average temperature that in February almost reaches the 1.5 degrees C the supposed "safe" level raised at the Paris climate talks in December. Not in 2100, or 2050, but almost right now. NASA released their report forFebruary temperatures - the world is 1.35 degrees C above the baseline, which they choose as the period from 1951 to 1980.

But that's a recent baseline that minimizes real warming! There was at least a half degree warming from pre-industrial levels (say 1850). So we are already above the 1.5 deg temps agreed as really safe at the Paris climate talks.

Even taking the low-ball NASA starting point, as the Guardian newspaper reports, global temperatures in February 2016 broke all records not a little but, but by "a shocking amount".

The only good news is that we still have the rest of the year to go, which might cool down. Experts think the current El Nino is winding down over the next few months. For all we know, 2017 might be a La Nina year, and cooler. Henson says it takes a few years steady at 1.5 or 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels to qualify as permanent warming. He thinks we are several decades away from that point. I disagree.

It's also important to note that CO2 levels, as measured at the Mauna Loa lab in Hawaii, go up during an El Nino year, and never come back down. The reasons for that are complex. For example, drought during El Nino, coupled with climate-driven heat, causes more forest fires, which releases more CO2 into the atmosphere.

But the essential point is we are now well over 400 parts per million CO2, and much higher if we count the more realistic CO2 equivalent (which includes ever-increasing methane, plus rarer but more powerful greenhouse gases).

I remember the late Dr. Albert A. Bartlett of Colorado spent a lifetime teaching how important and threatening exponential math can be. That's where we get an increase on the increase. Is that happening now with greenhouse gas emissions? Sort of. Henson tells us CO2 was going up about 1 part per million a year during the 1960's. It became 2 parts per million annually during the early 2000's, and since 2015 has been hitting 3 parts per million increase. So yes, that is exponential, and ever-more dangerous.

Here's one of my worries. Every time the Earth takes another jump in temperature, a great number of irreversible feed-backs get a push. So we might be going up a stair-case, step-by-step, which only goes up. For example, what is the condition of the Arctic sea ice this winter? Yes, it is the lowest on record for February. The extent is low, and the ice is thin.

However, that does not necessarily mean we will hit a new record low sea ice level in the Arctic this summer, Henson says. The main factor that can break that record is whether it is cloudy in the Arctic during the key months of June and July, when the polar sun is strongest, or wide open and sunny. So we'll have to wait and see.

It's been just plain weird in the Arctic. It rained at the Pole in the December darkness, and there's been a lot of open ocean north of Scandinavia. Henson tells us about conditions around Svalbard for example. North of Norway, where the ice should be surrounding Svalbard, it the sea is open. And that northernmost city in the world (at 78 degrees latitude) has been strangely warm. Some days it was 20 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than usual. That's a huge jump!

Mark Sereze of the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center says this past winter is the strangest he's ever seen in the Arctic. For example, Anchorage Alaska had the warmest weather ever, with the least snow ever.


Did this El Nino manage to break the long California drought, as advertised? It did not go as expected. The big deluges from El Nino tracked hundreds of miles north of California, hitting Oregon and Washington State. At least there has been some snow in California mountains, which should ease water supplies somewhat. Water supplies for Sacramento and San Francisco have half recovered.

But it's an "ominous sign" Henson says, that this El Nino did not fully break the California drought this year. That's partly because projections are for the U.S. Southwest states, including California and Arizona, to get drier and drier as this century rolls on.


We've talked about heat records set on land. But it's not just there. Dr. Roy Spencer at the University of Alabama in Huntsville has persistently talked down the threats of global warming. He often interprets satellite data to find the lowest estimates. But even he reports the lower atmosphere is hotter than ever.


As Bob and Jeff Masters picture in their blog, there have been severe impacts of this combined El Nino and a jolt in climate-induced heating. Extreme drought has cost Vietnam and Zimbabwe at least 10% of their Gross Domestic Product. That has not been reported in mainstream news at all. We did hear about the strongest typhoon ever recorded hitting the Pacific island of Fiji. That country has continued it's state of emergency for another month, as thousands of people remain in temporary shelters. Their homes and businesses were demolished.

As Henson blogs: "For comparison, nine nations had their most expensive weather-related natural disasters in history in all of 2015, and only one did so in 2014."

Henson tells us scientists predict with the warming of the Pacific Ocean, there is a better chance we will get more El Nino heat years in the coming decades. You can guess what that means, from what happened this year. Our guest predicts we will see dramatic rises in temperatures, and surprising extreme weather, in this coming decade.

On another front, Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority has just issued an alert about widespread coral bleaching. Coral guru Thomas J. Goreau has been privately warning this could be another huge coral die-off.

Bob Henson is that rare combination of meteorologist and journalist. He's been published all over the world, but my favorite spot to find him is at the Weather Underground blog, at His Twitter handle is @bhensonweather.


Professor Stefan Rahmstorf, from Germany's Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research, told Australian newspapers "We are in a kind of climate emergency now." In the show, I run a few minutes from a short interview of Stefan Ramsdorf done by by Phil Stubbs of


Look out. The world may warm much faster than we thought. That could create an energy-squeeze. It's all in new a big-picture study from Australian researchers. Let's peer into a real future, with Professor Ben Hankamer from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland, near Brisbane Australia.

Dr. Ben Hankamer

Now we know the choices. Let half the world's people live in poverty, and keep up our energy-intensive lifestyles for an extra ten years. Then we all struggle to survive with rising seas, heat waves, drought, fires, and weather so unstable crops and species are doubtful. OR the world's leaders and people somehow wake up from the fog, to begin the war on carbon emissions, to make the transition to a low-energy, all-renewable world. We have four years to cut our emissions in half. It's beyond the days of worry,now. It's do or die.

The title of this new paper suggests giant topics: "Trading Off Global Fuel Supply, CO2 Emissions and Sustainable Development". It was published in the open access journal PLOS one. Anyone can read the full paper, and please do.

In the interview, we look more deeply into this concept of personal energy use. Here in North America, we like to think personal energy use is going down, as cars become more fuel efficient, bike use increases, and things like LED light bulbs slash utility bills. Is that assumption wrong? Yes and no. It's true many appliances, cars and stuff are becoming more energy efficient. But it appear we are using the saved money to buy still more appliances, cars and stuff.

One of the paper authors, Dr. Wagner says "“Simply put, as we get more efficient at manufacturing, goods get cheaper and we buy more." That sounds to me like a restatement of the classic Jevons Paradox, which was originally applied to coal. So it's still true.

I'm also assuming that a huge portion of demand for personal energy use will come as billions of people in the "developing world" get motorbikes, electric appliances and all the things we take for granted.

So here is one thing new in this study: previous studies did not include the relationships between energy use, climate and poverty. Add in population, and the amount of carbon left to safely burn takes a nose-dive. In my opinion, we don't have much of a chance of staying below 2 degrees C warming in the next 20 years. So buckle up your seat belts for world-changing extreme weather, and the relentless rise of the seas.

But Ben Hankamer is much more positive. He thinks there is plenty of solar energy to power the world. If global leadership recognizes the crisis in time, and organizes us all to act, maybe we can pull out before a real climate catastrophe is inevitable.

Again, most of our fossil fuel use is in liquid form, especially for transportation, I wonder how much renewable energy can really replace that? That is exactly the question being investigated at the Solar Biofuels Research Centre in Queensland Australia. It's co-ordinated by the University of Queensland, with major corporate partners. They are testing algae that grows in the sun, which can then be converted to a number or widely recognized liquid fuels.

Large-scale projections by necessity assume a future economy similar to what we have now. But I worry that the economy will slide into a Depression, where wealth shrinks instead of grows. That may come from unsustainable debt levels, and all countries will be buffetted by increasing costs of replacing infrastructure and crops damaged by an unstable climate. Most studies do not include that possibility.


The most dire prediction comes from Sam Carana.

The post in Arctic News is not a scientific paper, but a blog with some scientific contributors. This blog is sometimes too extreme, and sometimes spot on. I don't have the expertise to say what is right or wrong with Sam's calculation of 3.9 degrees C warming by 2026, shown in the graphic, part way down in this post. Sam Carana draws on a number of warming factors which I've seen listed separately in scientific papers, but which are too seldom brought together. I ask our guest Ben Hankamer if he thinks a warming of 3.9 degrees C by 2026 is possible. Ben says it could be possible!

Graphic by Sam Carana of Arctic News blog.

And that is Carana's low end number. His worst case scenario is so bad we can hardly conceive of it.

Mind you, one of the original climate change scientists, Dr. James Hansen, has just released a paper with a gang of other scientists warning that heating is coming, and seas rising, faster than anyone thought possible!


I'm Alex Smith. My thanks to everyone who has helped get this radio message out through social media, and especially the non-profit radio stations who tell the truth.

I also want to shout out my thanks to the supporters who donate $10 a month to keep this program going. You really do make it possible for me to continue doing these key interviews, and getting it out to a global audience.

And thank you for listening.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Do-It-Yourself God Power

Hey kids, let's go out to the garage and make some new life forms! Get ready, because it's already happening. We'll talk with Pat Mooney, founder of the ETCgroup about crazy new technology on the loose. Then well-known journalist Steven Kotler takes us on a tour of ecopsychology in ten easy steps. Is it a diversion for comfortable coffee shops or "the answer". Radio Ecoshock 160316

I'm Alex Smith. Welcome to Radio Ecoshock.

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

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You may be wearing clothes created with synthetic biology, and eating food laced with nanotubes. A weird future has arrived, without any warning labels. Our guest Pat Mooney will be your guide. Pat founded a group in 1977 looking into food, agriculture and commodities. In 2001 it was renamed the ETC Group, with offices in Canada, the U.S., Mexico, and the Philippines. If it's controversial, the ETC Group probably has a report on it.

Pat Mooney

If you really want to know what this interview is about, and get the details on scary tech you've never heard of, be sure and check out this ETC Group newsletter "ETC's Irreverent Review of 2015... ...and (possibly) Irrelevant Preview of 2016".


From the ETC Group newsletter:

"SynBio: During 2015, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity set to work monitoring and analysing biology and the panoply of new biotechniques. A multi-stakeholder working group met in Montreal at the end of the year and will report to the CBD’s scientific subcommittee this April. ETC’s Jim Thomas is a member of the committee. But, even as the UN inevitably concludes that CRISPR, synthetic biology, gene drives and everything else cry out for oversight, the EU Commission is expected to start 2016 giving a controversial legal opinion that at least some of the same techniques can enjoy a free pass – exempting so called ‘new breeding techniques’ from GMO legislation. (Incidentally, ETC together with Canada’s Bioeconomies media project and Germany’s Heinrich Böll Foundation published this year a video in several languages explaining SynBio).[xxxvii]

[xxxvii] ETC Group and Heinrich Böll Foundation, Video Animation on Synthetic Biology in 5 languages – French German, Spanish, Portuguese and Haitian Creole.

Here's another good ETC Group source on synthetic biology.


ETC Group and Heinrich Böll Foundation, “Extreme Biotech meets Extreme Energy”, November 2015.


I got an article from natural news saying "engineered nanomaterials or (ENMs)" are on the rise in food, including in allegedly "organic" food. Let me give you a paragraph from that article:

"A group called the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) established an inventory of consumer products [that]contain ENMs in 2005. After this list was presented by Mother Jones with over 1,000 entries, PEN ran too low on funds to continue by 2009. That list depended on food manufacturers' reporting ENM content. Nowb the food industry folks no longer report their ENMs at all because labeling ENMs is not required. Thus ENM food content remains shrouded in mystery even more than GMOs."

That's a quote from an article at

Here is more from the ETC Group newsletter:

"Nano NO More: Whatever happened to nanotechnology? ETC was the first CSO to take up the issue 15 years ago but, since then, dozens of other strong partners around the world have taken up the cudgels and are making progress (albeit belatedly) especially in the EU. But, nanotech is by no means gone away. The global market for nanomaterials is about 11 million tonnes projected to contribute to end products valued at €2 trillion in 2015.[xxxii] Six million factory workers will be handling nanoparticles by 2020. As we prepared for the Paris climate change negotiations, we learned that, for the first time, children in the city were found to have carbon nanotubes in their lungs.[xxxiii]

[xxxiii] Sam Wong, “Carbon nanotubes found in children’s lungs for the first time”, New Scientist, electronic edition, October 21, 2015."

Are there nano particles placed in our food, would Americans be told if there were, and will they migrate throughout our body? Is anyone testing them for safety, or do we just run the experiment on all humans and nature?


ETC Group staff will vehemently deny that Pat Mooney, when he retires at the end of 2017, will be replaced by a blockchain


The ETC Group is working with the UN to set up a group to oversee and possibly control technology. But when have we ever met a technology we didn't try, and eventually release into the real world? We can't stop North Korea from developing nuclear technology, what makes anyone think they can stop humans somewhere in the world from making anything, especially at things like 3D printing and computers make even the most complex ideas easy in somebody's basement or jungle? Pat Mooney gives us an update on efforts by the international community.


Outside the sci-fi products now arriving, let's relax a little in the world's forests. Except that news is hardly relaxing. Apparently satellites have been misreading the amount of the Amazon rainforest lost to agriculture. We also found out from another paper published in 2015, that new growth in the Amazon is storing about half the carbon scientists have assumed in so many climate studies.

Selections from the ETC Group newsletter:

"Unfortunately, other satellites have been misreading the Amazon forest cover underestimating the incursion of cattle, cane and soya and exaggerating the trees and their biomass. Instead of a forest loss reduction rate of 25% last year, the loss accelerated by 62%.[ii]

[ii] Do-Hyung Kim, Joseph O. Sexton, John R. Towshend, “Accelerated deforestation in the humid tropics from the 1990s to the 2000s”, 7 May 2015, Geophysical Research Letters.

Worse still, the trees are growing faster but dying faster too – and storing barely half the CO2 scientists have assumed.[iii]

[iii] Gautam Naik, "Study: Amazon's forests sequester less carbon", Wall Street Journal, electronic edition, March, 21 2015.

Meanwhile, the boreal forests of North America may soon become net-emitters of carbon dioxide rather than capturing a third of the world’s atmospheric carbon. New estimates suggest that the Yukon Flats forest has been a source of GHG emissions for half a century.[iv] Where the Yukon goes, Alaska and Siberia are likely to follow.

[iv] Ryan Kelly, Melissa L. Chipman, Philip E. Higuera, Ivanka Stefanova, Linda B. Brubaker and Feng Sheng Hu, “Recent burning of boreal forests exceeds fire regime limits of the past 10,000 years”, June 19 2013, Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Climatologists – and the rest of us – also learned as we left Paris that perhaps as much as 40% of global deforestation comes through slave labor and that most of the world’s 35 million legally-defined slaves are either the victims of ecological destruction or are forced to contribute to one third of global annual GHG emissions through illegal mining, fishing, brick making and lumbering.[vii] We must all worry about what we don’t know we don’t know but a drastic reduction in GHG emissions is urgent – and not just for the climate.

[vii] Kevin Bales, Blood and Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, and the Secret to Saving the World, Spiegel and Grau, 2016."

Pat Mooney has been looking into all this for decades. He's the Executive Director of the international Civil Society Organization ETC Group, based in Montreal, Canada, with branches in other countries, and co-conspirators all over the world. Keep up with latest developments at the web site,

Download or listen to this 26 minute Radio Ecoshock interview with Pat Mooney in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

You can Tweet this interview out with this tiny url:


We know the big problems threatening humanity and the natural world. We even have some affordable solutions. So why do we keep driving so hard toward the cliff of extinction? Maybe it's all in the mind. In this program, we'll add to my short-list of interviews on ecopsychology.

Steven Kotler is one of those endangered species called a real journalist. He's been published in The New York Times Magazine, Wired, and much more. His best-selling 2012 book, co-authored with Peter Diamandis, is "Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think".

From his dog rescue ranch in New Mexico, we welcome Steven Kotler to Radio Ecoshock.

Steven Kotler

I think the future is much worse than Steve thinks. But maybe that's my damaged mind-set. So we talk about the really fine article he published in Orion Magazine, "Ecopsychology in Ten Easy Lessons".

By all means, stop right here, and read Steve's article. It's entertaining, sure, Steven is a great writer. But it's deep, and well worth the time spent. I've been mulling it over ever since. And by the way, there's no question that climate change is wreaking havoc with people's mental health.

Steven tells us that's logical and real. For example, let's take James Lovelock's theory that all life is really one co-dependent organism, almost with a global mind. That is one interpretation of "Gaia". The late great Paul Shepard reasoned that when part of this great network is damaged, all feel it. Perhaps that's why we groan when another great swathe of the great coral reef die off, or an iconic animal is almost gone. Are we subconsciously attached to all of nature?

Steve puts it better than I can, writing:

"In 1982, the late ecologist Paul Shepard extended this theory into psychology, proposing that if there are innate links between the planet and the human species, then those links should extend to the human mind. Shepard feared that by wantonly destroying the former we are simultaneously ravaging the latter — quite literally driving ourselves mad one clearcut forest at a time."

For the record, paleontologist Peter Ward thinks the Gaia theory is dead wrong. The record shows life has barely stumbled along, surviving many of it's own suicidal tendencies. He calls it the "Medea Hypothesis". Even so, it's true we all feel nature's pain as though it was our own.

The idea that damage to nature is also damaging our mental health is gaining more and more ground. The U.S. National Wildlife Federation brought out an expert report on it in 2012. Maybe we are not as unfeeling about nature as we like to think, or at least, as corporate science has led us to believe? If human intelligence was developed over a very long time as hunters-gatherers, is it any wonder we have become so crazy living in concrete boxes where nature is more or less banned?

We also talk about Laura Sewell and her essay “The Skill of Ecological Perception.” We have to revive our senses, Laura tells us, in order to really conceive of nature at all.

Of course some readers in Orion Magazine questioned whether we really have to go to the ends of the Earth, as Kotler did in Patagonia, to find our ecological selves. Do you think it's become impossible for humans to recognize their true inner selves in a city?

Here's another paragraph from Steve's powerful writing that moved me (from his article "Ecopsychology in Ten Easy Lessons"):

"It all clicks into place — as I am watching the death throes of this iceberg. This is the real impact of industrial repression, the impact of our environmental arrogance. Once this meltdown is complete, it will not reverse. The freshly melted water will never become ice again, at least not in any time frame that is fathomable in human terms. What does it feel like to witness these end times? Awful. Like murder. Like I’m the one who is melting."

What about ecopsychology? There's no time to train a hundred million eco-counsellors. Is this marriage of psychology and ecology destined to remain a plaything of the inner circle? Will it be taught in schools? Will it ever reach the Republican Party. Where can it go?

Despite the title, there is nothing "easy" about ecopsychology.

Steven Kotler is also co-founder and Director of Research for the Flow Genome Project, which trains athletes and others to reach their personal best. But as he talks (including explaining where the expression "Three dog night" comes from) - we realize his heart is in his New Mexico dog rescue project. It's called "A Small Furry Prayer" and Steve has a book out all about that.

Keep up with all things Kotler at his web site You may also be interested in his book "Tomorrowland: Our Journey from Science Fiction to Science Fact".

Download or listen to this 28 minute Radio Ecoshock interview with Steven Kotler in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Or Tweet out this interview with this tiny url:


Last week's program on strange, record-breaking developments in the Arctic is still waving out into the Twittosphere, still heavily downloaded. You can listen for free at, or download any of our past programs from

This week's climate horror story was pretty predictable. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have reached new levels above 404 parts per million. Just ten years ago, in 2006, it was big news when CO2 hit a record high of 381 parts per million. Greenhouse gases are still climbing, and they are increasing faster than ever before. Scientists used to talk about 2 parts per million added every year. Now it's over 3 parts per million, for the second year in a row. From February 2015 to February 2016 CO2 levels jumped 3.76 parts per million.

The rate of carbon emissions increases is not constant. There is an increase on the increase every year. Unless we go into a crash program to save ourselves, catastrophe is right around the corner.

Despite the Paris peace agreement, government bragging, corporate propaganda and our own pride when we walking or turn off a light switch, humanity and all the species are hurtling ever-faster toward rising seas, an ocean more acid, crop-crushing droughts and extreme weather. Some plants and animals will not be able to adapt fast enough. Some humans won't either.

But climate change is just one face of a revolution in human interference in natural systems. Let's look into synthetic life, a plague of new nano-materials and the joys of gene-drives. We must not forget the dark side of technology, in our race to try everything.


Radio Ecoshock reaches out to you every week from over 90 non-profit radio stations in 4 countries, and countless Net stations. It ripples out to more to listeners in more than 100 countries weekly, via Soundcloud, and many other sites. Still, not enough humans know how dangerous these problems are, or how short our time to deal with them.

If you agree this program content is important, you can help. Please go ahead and forward the show widely, Tweet about it, get it on Facebook. Thank you for helping me get the word out, by extending the voice of our expert guests.

And thank you for caring about your world.


Our fake ad for Nature, as the new pharmaceutical wonder-drug, was created by the folks at Find the video version on You tube here.


We go out with a tune by Natalie Merchant called "It's a Comin'". I first saw this posted on Guy McPherson's blog, Nature Bats Last. Find all her latest works at

Here are Natalie's opening words:

Wild fires, dying lakes,

landslides, hurricanes,

apocalypse in store

like nothing ever seen before.

It’s a-coming.

Third-generation refugees,

street mob burning effigies,

revolution, civil war

like nothing ever seen before.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


SUMMARY: Abrupt warming in Arctic could lead to catastrophic consequences says top scientist Dr. Peter Gleick, ICCI Director Pam Pearson, and the founder of Paleoceanography, Dr. James Kennett. Three must-listen interviews.

"What is happening in the Arctic now is unprecedented & possibly catastrophic."

That's the Tweet heard around the world at the end of February. It was picked up by the Independent newspaper in the UK, and many other places in the alternative and climate-savy media. Robert Hunziker did a strong piece about it in CounterPunch called "The Arctic Turns Ugly".

The Tweeter is a world-known scientist. Dr. Peter Gleick is a member of the US National Academy of Science, he's a MacArthur Fellow, and President of the Pacific Institute. He was a guest on Radio Ecoshock in March 2014 (find the blog and links for that audio here).

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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now.


Why is it warming so much - is it just "El Nino" or is it really climate change? Generally, scientists say El Nino affects the Pacific, but not the Arctic. Most of the strange warming in the Arctic this past winter (with record low sea ice) is due to our heating the atmosphere, and not El Nino.

I ask Peter Gleick, why he is alarmed about this, and is that concern shared by other scientists?

Dr. Peter Gleick

The United Kingdom has practically been buried by storm after record-breaking storm this winter. Peter Gleick thinks abnormal weather is directly connected to big changes in the Arctic. That's the new understanding, led by scientists like Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University. The Jet Stream has been altered by the fact that there is less temperature difference between the poles and the equatorial zones. The oceans are hotter. The land is hotter, and in some places drier. All these things change the weather.

I worry an abrupt shift in climate could happen, and the corporate media would still bury us in Donald Trump and the Kardashians. Do you think climate silence is a conspiracy by a few major media corporations - or is it possible that all of us are so addicted to fossil fuels, we really don't want to know?

To be honest, I can barely bring myself to read the latest news. Maybe the problems in the Arctic are just too big to comprehend, or just too scary to face? Is it worthwhile to keep fighting, if all we can do is slow down the loss - and the damage, for the next generation?

There is, says Gleick, a big difference between a civilization facing severe challenges as the Earth warms, and a planet where climate changes so far and so fast that civilization cannot cope or adapt. We'll have to make major efforts to adapt to what we have already done. We can't continue to make it worse. So "yes" it is worth keeping up the fight.

Let's say Greenland ice loss doubles or triples, and the Arctic sea ice disappears for most of the year. Gleick agrees nobody knows what would happen. When we change the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, we are running a giant experiment on the Earth. It's already out of control.

Gleick is a senior scientist, recognized around the world. When he suggests a "catastrophe" might be developing, is that language too extreme? He tells us that again, no one can say for sure, but our current path is taking us to climate changes so extreme it could easily become a catatastrophe.

Find out more about Dr. Peter Gleick, at the Pacific Institute. The web site is Peter is author of many scientific papers and nine books, many of them reporting on world freshwater resources.

Download or listen to this 13 minute Radio Ecoshock interview with Peter Gleick in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

You can Tweet out this interview with Peter Gleik using this tiny url:


A surprising amount of Planet Earth is frozen. It's been that way for millions of years, all during our life and evolution. Last December, the world's leading experts on this frozen land and sea - warned Earth is heading into irreversible loss in the cryosphere. Nothing short of an ice age can avoid incredible changes that will re-arrange sea levels, cities, and life as we know it. Practically nobody heard them.

Scientists and civil servants who know this danger gathered into a largely volunteer group called the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, known as ICCI. They've issued a report called "Thresholds and Closing Windows, Risks of Irreversible Cryosphere Climate Change". We are joined by one of the co-ordinators of that report, Pam Pearson, the Director of ICCI. In fact, she founded this network of ice science specialists just as the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks failed.

Pam Pearson

Get an overview and link to download report "Thresholds and Closing Windows" here.

Here is what the ICCI says in a summary about this report:

"Policy makers and the general public alike now largely accept that the Arctic, Antarctica and many mountain regions already have warmed two-three times faster than the rest of the planet. What is less understood, outside the scientific community, is that the very nature of the cryosphere – regions of snow and ice – carries dynamics that once triggered, in some cases cannot be reversed, even with a return to lower temperatures or CO2 levels."

The Cryosphere breaks down into 4 important components, all acting differently on different time scales:

1. Ice sheets (polar land-based ice)

2. Mountain glaciers (retreating everywhere around the world)

3. Permafrost (up to 20% of the Earth's land mass is "permanently" frozen, except it's not. It's thawing.)

4. Arctic and Antarctic sea ice (floating on ice surface, does not add to rising seas, but does increase warming when melting back and exposing darker ocean water to sunlight.)

The report also covers Polar Ocean acidification.

I think the first thing to grasp is that politics and propaganda can't change a simple fact of physics: once the temperature goes over 0 degrees C, or 32 Fahrenheit, water changes state from ice or snow to a liquid. We can't talk our way out of that. The report says:

"Cryosphere climate change is not like air or water pollution, where the impacts remain local and when addressed, allow ecosystems largely to recover. Cryosphere climate change, driven by the physical laws of water’s response to the freezing point, is different. Slow to manifest itself, once triggered it inevitably forces the Earth’s climate system into a new state, one that most scientists believe has not existed for 35–50 million years."

The Arctic has been unbelievably hot this past winter. It rained in the dark of December, and I just read the Arctic February was more like the temperature expected in June.

But the ice-world is not just thawing at the Poles. I remember years ago the famous nature TV star Steve Irwin lamenting that tropical glaciers were disappearing. Now this report says that even if the Paris climate deal is carried out, we can still expect: "Complete loss of most mountain glaciers."


The Fifth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, DID say that many aspects of climate change are "largely irreversible on human time scales." But they buried that on page one thousand and thirty three of a fat report that hardly anyone reads!

About two dozen scientists published an open letter in the Guardian newspaper last December, urging more action to protect the cryosphere, at the Paris climate talks.

I found it fascinating that this ICCI report devoted a chapter to acidification of the polar seas. We know oceans become more acidic due to a chemical reaction with the carbon dioxide we keep adding to the atmosphere. But I haven't seen much about this at the Poles. It's happening even worse there, as colder water can absorb more carbon, which becomes carbolic acid. Northern fisheries and all marine life are threatened by this change.


I've done several shows on thawing permafrost. Scientists in Canada, Scandinavia, Russia and Alaska are most interested, but so are the people who live in those lands full-time. Is there a tipping point where once permafrost starts to go, it can fuel it's own further thawing? Apparently so.

The ICCI report says of permafrost thaw: "any carbon release [is] not reversible even with [a] new Ice Age, except on geologic time scales." I found that in a couple of places in the report. Even a new Ice Age may not be able to return Earth to the state known for millions of years! Most scientists say that the next possible date for an ice age, based on the tilt of the Earth's axis, - that ice age will not happen due to the warming gases we have already added to the atmosphere. So count that out.

You can find out more about melting permafrost as a driver to global climate change here.


One thing I found missing in this report is the threat of melting of frozen methane on the sea-bed, known as clathrates. Other scientists see clathrates as a likely driver in past extinction events. Why isn't it in this ICCI report? Pam tells us the science about clathrate melting is not yet sure. Some scientists say that for now, the methane released in Arctic waters is likely to be absorbed in the water column, before it reaches the surface and the atmosphere. Others, like Dr. Shahkova, say their research shows methane is already being released in the Arctic, more and more.

The authors of the ICCI report already had four irreversible certainties to report. They didn't want to add the clathrate problem until more finished science is in. Some of their scientists disagreed. It's not settled. See what our next guest, Dr. James Kennett has to say!


Here is one more paragraph from the stunning introduction to this report "Thresholds and Closing Windows":

"Adaptation to the levels of projected climate-related disruption, particularly sea-level rise that cannot be halted and accelerates over the centuries, simply will not be possible without massive migration and other changes to human centers of population and infrastructure, that will carry enormous economic and not least, historic and cultural costs."

Basically: humans will have to leave their coastal cities behind, and the some of the most fertile near-ocean river estuaries that now support many millions of people.

According to this ICCI report: "The only way fully to avoid these risks is never to let temperatures rise into these risk zones at all." After the climate is broken, and the cryosphere starts it's unstoppable melt, there is no way to "fix" it.

Find out more about the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative at

Download or listen to this 27 minute Radio Ecoshock interview with Pam Pearson in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

You can Tweet out this interview using this tiny url:


Just 10 years ago, scientists told me melting the world's ice system would take thousands of years. Since then, with the shocking ice loss at both poles, we're not so sure. Abrupt climate change is possible. We're about to explore what can happen within one lifetime - that has already happened in the ancient past.

To find the clues, we dig into the sea bed with a founding expert in the field. Our guest is recognized as the father of that science, called Paleoceanography. He started publishing in the 1960's. He wrote the standard college textbook "Marine Geology", and founded a journal on this subject.

Dr. James Kennett

Dr. James Kennett is Emeritus Professor of Marine Geology and Paleocoeanography, in the Earth Science Department of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

For me, the startling results of this study, published October 2015 in the Journal Paleoceanography, is what could happen in just 50 years, easily within a single lifetime.

The paper name sounds very technical, but don't let that scare you off this interview. Kennett explains things very clearly, and it's one of the most important interviews I've done recently. The title is: "Abrupt termination of Marine Isotope Stage 16 (Termination VII) at 631.5?ka in Santa Barbara Basin, California".

You can read about this Santa Barbara Basin research in this helpful AGU article by Julie Cohen.

We learn in this paper that about 630,000 years ago, there was a relatively rapid shift out of a cold glacier period, to an interglacial period that was a lot warmer. The whole process took about 700 years - BUT it started with an abrupt temperature rise in only 50 years! Kennett tells Julie Cohen:

Of the 13 degree Fahrenheit total change, a shift of 7 to 9 degrees occurred almost immediately right at the beginning.


What do catastrophic events in Yellowstone Park have to do with all this? Well first of all, Kennett has studied and written papers on the Yellowstone Caldera, the giant hole in the ground blown out in an ancient explosion. He told science journalist Julie Cohen:

Our tests showed that this particular ash was ejected from the Yellowstone volcanic caldera in Wyoming, which has exactly the same fingerprint. This huge caldera formed about 630,000 years ago, with most of the enormous volume of ash blown to the east. However, this eruption was so explosive that the ash reached the Santa Barbara Basin, forming a layer one to two inches thick. The discovery of this ash helped with dating the core.

Kennett tells Radio Ecoshock listeners there were in fact two gigantic blasts at Yellowstone, about 200 years apart. The first was followed by a cloud that rolled around the Northern Hemisphere, blocking out the summer sun, and creating an instant cooling, similar to a "nuclear winter". The second created an even longer constant winter.


Some of our listeners are deeply worried about much more global warming methane being released in our current climate shift. This paper talks about: "repeated discharges of methane from methane hydrates associated with both ocean warming and low sea level." Did that methane erupt from the West Coast of North America, or from the Arctic? Kennett says more methane has been measured all down the Canadian and American West Coast in recent years, bubbling up from the sea floor. Hotter oceans are already starting the first signs of clathrate melting. It's happening off the U.S. East Coast too.

This seasoned scientist is deeply concerned about the potential super warming effect of methane releases, as the oceans warm. He's not shy to tell us that, and you should listen. Dr. Kennett suggests that melting clathrates likely triggered the rapid 50 year warming found about 630,000 years ago. But we do not know for certain yet.

This paper did not speculate on a comparison of this 50-year shift a few hundred thousand years ago, and human-induced warming today. But personally, I wonder if we will see a similar deglaciation within a single human lifetime. Have we already entered this process?

I wonder what climate modellers like David Archer will think, after his book "The Long Thaw". Is there disagreement about how fast deglaciation can take place? Yes and no, says Kennett. Everyone who studies ice knows it can take hundreds to thousands of years for a giant glacier like the one covering Greenland to melt. On the other hand, he tells us, there is a big scientific consensus that quite rapid temperature changes have taken place many times in the past. It's both.

After the call, Jim told me that their research team wants to return to the Santa Barbara Basin to drill even deeper cores. These would tell us a lot about the history of Earth's climate and life, including methane releases, going back 1.2 million years. However, there is a lot of oil and gas drilling in that same basin, plus a very environmentally concerned community in California. So far, the scientists have not received permission to go back and open up this critical chapter in Earth's records.

Dr. James Kennett has published hundreds of papers, starting in 1962 right up to the present.

Download or listen to this 21 minute interview with Dr. James Kennett in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

You can Tweet out this Kennett interview using this tiny url:

Here is a You tube video on abrupt climate change: "Expecting the Unexpected" with senior scientists like Richard Alley warning us all.


Here's an important article in the UK Guardian newspaper "Earth now warming 50X faster than coming out of last ice age".

That article says:

"What humans are in the process of doing to the climate makes the transition out of the last ice age look like a casual stroll through the park. We’re already warming the Earth about 20 times faster than during the ice age transition, and over the next century that rate could increase to 50 times faster or more. We’re in the process of destabilizing the global climate far more quickly than happens even in some of the most severe natural climate change events."

This paper, led by R.E. Kopp, is covered here in the Real Climate blog here.

The full citiation for the new science is:

R.E. Kopp, A.C. Kemp, K. Bittermann, B.P. Horton, J.P. Donnelly, W.R. Gehrels, C.C. Hay, J.X. Mitrovica, E.D. Morrow, and S. Rahmstorf, "Temperature-driven global sea-level variability in the Common Era", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pp. 201517056, 2016.

The actual paper abstract is here.

That was one fully loaded Ecoshock show. I hope you found it useful. You can download all our past programs as free .mp3 files from our web site at You can also listen to our more recent programs, for free, using the player at our soundcloud page.

Alex Smith, your host and producer at Radio Ecoshock.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Food Shock

Summary: British & American scientists, including Joshua Elliot from Chicago, warn climate could bring "food shock" by hitting key crop areas. Will famine return? Maria Gillardin hosts reports from nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen from Fukushima Japan, site of world's worst nuclear accident.

Don't say you haven't been warned.

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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now.

If you can support this radio show, I can use your help now. Radio Ecoshock is developing new graphics, a new web site, and blog plus podcast feed - which should make these important themes more widely available. Check out ways to support the show here.


What if extreme weather events, made stronger by climate change, hit a couple of major world food-growing regions? We go into "food shock". Let's explore what that can mean.

On February 12th, 2016 in Washington DC, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancment of Science, a group of British and American scientists provided their latest report on the fragility, and resilience of the global food system. We are joined by one of the presenters, Dr. Joshua Elliot, from the Computation Institute at the University of Chicago.

Dr. Joshua Elliot

You can find these reports at the Global Food Security blog, at For example, here is the main report I used: "Extreme weather and resilience of the global food system" which comes as a handy .pdf file in your browser.

Try this blog entry on the program from Tim Benton.

And check out Tim Benton's blog post on UK food security here. I say that because (a) the UK government is a major sponsor of this study/report and (b) as Dr. Elliot tells us, the UK has only TEN DAYS worth of food supplies!

The long-time grain watcher Lester Brown warned for years that rice was within a half degree of it's upper growing limits already. What happens if the world rice zones become too hot for that crop? Joshua Elliot thinks the rice crop will be able to continue past heat limits, because it is generally underwater, which cools it.

This teleconference I recorded with Lester Brown, at the time head of the Earth Policy Institute is a good intro to his work, and continues to be heavily downloaded now 5 years later. Download full conference in CD quality (22 minutes) here.

Brown also warned that world grain stocks could only supply a few months of food at best. It appears we can't cover a whole year of bad crop losses. Should we be creating a long-term food reserve, as the ancient Egyptians did?

That turns out to be a very thorny idea. If there was a centralized food stock, maybe somone would use it to dictate political changes to a starving country? Anyway, most countries do not want to give up control of their own food sources. Remember when Russia experienced a huge crop loss in the heat wave of 2010, the Russians cut off food exports to make sure they could feed their own people. That was one driving factor in the "Arab Spring" revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, both of which import large amounts of grain, which is subsidized for the poor. When prices went up, the patience of the people went down.

So an international food bank seems unlikely at this time.


Unlike my guest, I am not a techno-optimist about our coming food supply. Just in: a new report says 75% of world crops depend on pollination. Yet 40% of pollinators like bees and butterlies are threatened by "total extinction". Bat and bird pollinators are also disappearing.

That is just one driver, not counting heat beyond crop limits, extreme weather events including floods and droughts, human encroachement on nature everywhere, expanding human population, the list goes on and on. Personally, I expect to witness mass famine again in my lifetime, as seen in the 1960's in China in 1959, and Ethiopia in 1984, but hitting more countries. Even in developed countries, it seems likely food will become a much larger part of our budget, and at times difficult to afford for millions.

I have food insurance in buckets in the basement which will last at least 30 years. We grow more of our own food every year. We are plugged into a network of local food producers and community gardens.

In the interview, Joshua Elliot mentioned the United Kingdom has a scant 10 days of food provisions. If the ships and planes stop for any reason, the country is in danger. Food backups in all countries have dropped dangerously low, just at a time of growing threats to agriculture as usual. I say: don't take food for granted.


We're coming to the fifth year after the start of the world's biggest nuclear disaster. In March 2011, three reactors at the sea-side complex at Fukushima blew up. I covered it extensively on Radio Ecoshock, and one of my best sources has been nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Energy Education. Find my 2014 blog summary of continuing Fukushima threats here, and you can listen to or download that feature interview with Arnie here.

Nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen

Now Arnie is back in Japan, checking out the radiation, the impacts, the human costs, and efforts by the operator TEPCO to stem continuing radiation running into the Pacific Ocean. His first telephone reports have been compiled by a hard-working California radio producer, Maria Gillardin. She hosts TUC Radio. Previously Maria was a leading producer at KPFA Radio in Berkeley, and was founding producer of the public affairs program "Making Contact".

Radio Producer Maria Gilardin

TUC Radio stands for "Time of Useful Consciousness". Be sure to support Maria as an independent radio maker, at You can find still more telephone reports from Fukushima by Arnie Gundersen at

Remember, the nuclear accident at Fukushima was not an event in history. Even now, five years later, this horrible outpouring of radiation continues.

It took four years for the government of Japan to admit that ALL the plutonium-laced nuclear materials in Reactor Three were blown into the air in the first days. That went to Japan, to the Pacific Ocean, and around the world in the stratosphere.

As Arnie tells us in detail, the human health impacts of the Fukushima disaster are still not widely known, and still covered up by the Japanese government. It's proving impossible to handle all the radioactive materials. Look for the government to start incinerating even more, which just means dumping dangerous radioactive particles over a wider area.

Every day a throng of workers try to find more space to store still more highly radioactive water. Every day they fail, and some drains into the Pacific Ocean. We have no idea how this will end, or if it will ever end in this century, or the next. A nuclear melt-down is forever in human terms, and this was three melt-downs.

As Helen Caldicott wrote in her book, nuclear power is not the answer to global warming or anything else.

I'm Alex Smith. Thank you for listening, and caring what happens to this planet.