Thursday, January 29, 2009


[opening Quote from John Kerry on the looming catastrophe in climate change]

That is Senator John Kerry, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This is Radio Ecoshock. I'm Alex Smith, and you are about to get 20 minutes of the latest from Al Gore. In our second half hour, I'll interview Pieter Tans, one of the top scientists measuring greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. In fact, he is Chief Scientist at the Earth Research Lab, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, known as NOAA. I'll ask him about the state of the atmosphere, and who's watching the store.

Surely this is the worst time to talk about climate change. According to the IMF, the international banking system is teetering on the brink of disaster. Really, we're just propping up the illusion. 65 thousand Americans laid off in one day. Now, predictions that 50 million humans will lose their jobs in 2009. Where I live, construction crews have walked away from unfinished buildings. The government is rushing in to operate a bankrupt pulp mill, with no visible owner, before the chlorine blows up. The Jack Nicholson golf course and condos will never open.

Britain is going bankrupt. Who can compete with a headline like that?

Top world scientists now tell us the natural world is dying. In just one example, trees in the Western United States are dying from climate change. In fact, the whole West is heading into a drought that may last hundreds of years. Cows are falling over dead in Texas, finding nothing in the dried up vegetation. Bush's home state is headed into climate disaster.

The Obama administration is rushing to undo the damage of eight years of denying science. Of muzzling, firing top scientists. Of wantonly lying to the public, about the bankruptcy of our atmosphere. In a flurry of appointments, the deniers have been cast out, and actual scientists and experts appointed to a wide range of posts all pointing to climate action. Even foreign affairs, as we'll now hear from John Kerry, depends upon saving the climate.

[Kerry explains military experts say that climate disruption will lead to disturbances, failed states, wars and terrorism.]

That is why the Senate Foreign Relations Committee invited former Vice-President Al Gore to testify on January 28th, 2009. He spoke for 27 minutes, and then answered questions for another two hours. We'll just hit the highlights. You can download the testimony, and the Q and A, as free mp3 files, from our web site, I'll give you the links in just a moment.

After Kerry's introduction, Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana spoke. Now that the public knows climate change is real, Lugar can't trot out a denial. Instead, he promoted big bucks for biotech. Lugar said Africans will starve without biotechnology. He wants America to pressure Europe, forcing open their markets to lab-made food. Just a lobby announcement.

Let's clear our palates, with a taste of Al Gore.

[listen to a digest of Al Gore's key testimony, and answer to questions, in this week's Radio Ecoshock Show]

Remember, I'm just playing you selected clips from 2 and a half hour of testimony. Get the real thing from our web site. Here is the testimony link (6 MB, 27 min), the first hour and 24 minutes of Q and A with Gore and the Foreign Relations Committee (20 MB) and the last 37 minutes of Q and A. A lot of questions you would ask, along with political considerations, i.e. how can this transition to green energy happen in the real world.

Mr. Gore goes on to explain that the Arctic Ice remains at the lowest levels ever seen since the last great ice age. West Antarctica is also warming up. As it melts, along with Greenland, each 1 meter rise of sea level means another 100 million climate refugees. He showed new maps of huge horrible dead zones developing in our oceans.

But you know that. You know.

Naturally, the Committee wanted to know what we can do. Al Gore did offer a range of solutions. He said solar thermal energy alone could meet the electricity needs of America, with just a hundred square miles of desert.

But we're going to focus on the step he thinks need to happen first: the construction of a unified national smart grid to distribute the power of renewable energies. Here is John Kerry in dialog with Al Gore.

[in the Radio Ecoshock Show]


Although he has supported a revenue neutral carbon tax in the past, Mr. Gore testified he thought the cap and trade system was the most viable option now. Some European countries, and two Canadian provinces have already brought in a carbon tax. The revenue is not kept by the government, but returned to taxpayers. Some Americans are not ready for that, or don't trust the government.

We also need to realize that Al Gore, in addition to his famous role as climate educator, is now a multimillionaire successful businessman in the green energy field. The industry alliance he represents wants cap and trade - they think they can make money in a pollution market. Given the collapse of self-regulated capitalism, many environmentalists don't trust cap and trade either.


Part of the focus of this testimony is preparation for the climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2009. That will be the first international opportunity for the new Obama administration to work for a climate solution. However, Al Gore suggested that the U.S. should be negotiating an agreement with China, even before Copenhagen. If the two biggest polluters can really reduce carbon, the worst of climate disruption might be avoided. And Gore says China has seen the green light, and is willing to reign in their greenhouse gas emissions. We shall see.


While Gore brought out a lot of technical solutions, he made surprising emphasis on the role of protecting the last great forests of Earth. Deforestation causes 20 percent of our emissions. Gore also wants to see a program where the world's farmers can get credit if they capture more carbon in the soil. There is four times more carbon in the soil, than in all the trees.


Al Gore told the Senate that top scientists are screaming from the roof tops: this is our last chance for action to stop a massive heat shift on planet Earth.

Dr. James Hansen of NASA wrote to President Obama, saying the climate will be saved, or lost, in the first four years of this administration. Other scientists from Germany, Australia - many parts of the world, have the same angst, the same conclusion of deadline, the need for swift action.

The most dire comes from one of the oldest voices: Sir James Lovelock. The inventor of the Gaia hypothesis, that living things regulate their own climate, told New Scientist magazine that we have, quote, "one last chance."

In fact, Lovelock worries it is already too late for emissions reductions. He doesn't trust carbon trading at all, and has even given up his love for nuclear power. The only hope he sees is a giant program to bury charcoal in the Earth, agrichar. But Lovelock doesn't think that will happen either. He expects a cull of human population, dropping down to perhaps a billion or less surviving.

Lovelock told Gaia Vince of the New Scientist, quote:

"We have the example of the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum event 55 million years ago. About the same amount of CO2 was put into the atmosphere as we are putting in and temperatures rocketed by about 5 °C over about 20,000 years. The world became largely desert. The polar regions were tropical and most life on the planet had the time to move north and survive. When the planet cooled they moved back again. So there doesn't have to be a massive extinction. It's already moving: if you live in the countryside as I do you can see the changes, even in the UK."

I'm Alex Smith, and this is Radio Ecoshock. Did you want me to lie to you? To sugar coat the facts?

The climate situation is far more serious than any banking scandal. That is why Al Gore went to Washington.


At the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, you heard Senator John Kerry ask Al Gore the perennial question: why hasn't safe renewable energy taken off? The obvious reason is opposition from an entrenched oil and coal oligarchy. But is that really all? Are we innocent?

Here is a quick quote from next week's Radio Ecoshock Show. The speaker is Martin Burger, CEO of Blue Energy, and a campaigner for tidal energy. We'll examine power from the tides, but Burger raises a deep and difficult point. Just how does a society transform itself? Can any amount of money from the Federal Government, or even mega-corporations, really change things? Or does it take a tidal wave of consciousness in humanity?

Let's listen to Martin Burger for two minutes.

"And this is a long talk, in of itself. And we are in the infancy of our consciousness evolution as individuals, but in this collective mind field.

Our Western perspective has not, or has failed to integrate the quantum perspective, and field effect. There is a fundamental truth, in physics and in reality, to what Chief Seattle said, when he talked about the web of life, that how all the animal kingdom - the birds, the forests, the beasts, and all of us - are all connected at some dimensional root level.

And out of that arises a signal that generates and manifests our shared experience called our future.

If we haven't contemplated the possibility of a low-cost clean sustainable energy future, that signal is presently weak. And that signal is displaced and dominated by those with an agenda that serves a narrow element and segment, rather than the broader segment of society.

So consciousness is really more important in creating this future, and in realizing the opportunities of significant efforts that have come long before this one [referring to tidal power]. But this one is still under the same limits of a feeble signal to the future.

Meetings like this, your book, your effort, the New Energy Movement, creates that monkey [the "hundredth monkey"] that has to ride that what-could-be train. And every one of the efforts needs that hundredth monkey.

So they [the public] will behave quantumly until that quantum mass is achieved in attention and consciousness. But then there's a tipping point where they can't be stopped.

Money won't do it. Money will take - and you can put something into a technology, and have a great flurry go on, but if it's going to change the world it has to occur with consciousness, before the money will make it stick.

So there are other technologies out there, raising more money. But when you look at it from a vision, versus a good idea, most of them are just good ideas. They're not going to change the future. They don't have a future."

What is he talking about? Einstein conceived the field theory of physics around 1905. You could say that each of us is less a distinct body, and more a collection of atoms held together by a field. These fields interact, forming larger fields.

Biologists such as Rupert Sheldrake opened the idea that animals really operate as large groups. You've seen large flocks of birds wheel in the sky as one, like schools of fish in the sea. Next week we'll hear about the hundredth monkey theory - that groups of animals reach a critical mass, where change occurs.

99 monkeys may not bring alternative energy to our lives, but the hundredth adopter might be the tipping point where suddenly everyone realizes the route to sustainable power.

Money can't do it. A change in mass consciousness needs to happen.

We'll explore all that next week on Radio Ecoshock, along with Burger's inside look at the state of tidal power around the world. Yes we could power everything using the gravity of the moon and stars, as they pull the ocean surface.

Oh yeah, we'll also take a trip into other engines and technologies waiting in the wings.

Don't miss the interview with top Earth Research Lab scientist Peter Tans in the audio of this week's Radio Ecoshock Show. We start with his ability to really speak the truth, without government interference. I ask how we know humans are altering the atmosphere, for sure. It turns out there are several ways to prove that, including a different form of carbon that humans emit when they burn fossil fuels.

Near the end of the interview, Tans worries that there is a chance, perhaps even a one in six chance, that the average temperature over land could increase by as much as 10 degrees Celsius (!!!!) due to feedback effects which we are only beginning to realize.

That is what we are trying to stop now, as each of us rises to consciousness about the danger, and the solutions just waiting for our eyes to see.

Listener tips make this almost a group project. This week "jon q public" tipped me to the Laurie Anderson live performance on You tube. The song "Only and Expert (Can Deal With a Problem)" contains a great verse about experts denying climate change. Sadly, due to time limitations, I had to cut another powerful verse about countries that bomb other countries. Listen and watch the whole song here.

Our background music at the half time break is "Clubbed to Death" by Rob Dougan.

A half hour cut-down version of Radio Ecoshock plays every Saturday morning at 11:30 on Green 960 Radio in San Francisco. In America only, you can hear it live on the Net.

I'm Alex Smith. Write me any time. The address is radio [youknowwhatgoeshere]

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Final admission by Int Energy Agency: oil is running out & climate change is real. Speech by Fatih Birol at Council of Foreign Relations on IEA report, with my analysis.

Interview with
Christine MacDonald on book "Green Inc" claiming big enviro groups greenwashing.

Short Testimony to Congress by
Van Jones on Green Jobs to rebuild minorities.

Plus my climate & economic news.

Ecoshock 090123 1 hour
CD Quality 56 MB or Lo-Fi 14 MB

Production Notes: Music bed for quick local Station ID at 29:41-30:30. If more time needed, cut end song at 58:13. Song "Good Planets Are Hard to Find" by Steve Forbert.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Can a city really work without oil? How will we ever make the transition?

I'm Alex Smith for Radio Ecoshock - and you are in for a treat. Professor Peter Newman has designed public transport in Australia, and studied sustainable cities all over the world. Now we'll hear his first speech of the book tour for "Resilient Cities - Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change."

The one hour talk, on January 9th, 2009, was hosted by Anthony Perl of Simon Fraser University, in Vancouver Canada. Professor Perl is the co-author of "Transportation Revolution" and a driving force in new city design.

In this speech, Peter Newman acknowledges the possibility of city crash, the "Mad Max" movie scenario as oil and the climate decline. Perhaps the rich will retire behind armed eco-friendly barracks. One of the best aspects of this speech: Newman doesn't gloss over the recent economic crash, or human nature under capitalism, as though city planners acted in a vaccume. He admits, we may well go down in a messy way, and outlines what that might look like.

But Peter Newman also sees a better way out. I dared to hope, after hearing him - which is a dangerous emotion in these times.

The place was packed to standing room only, mostly young people. There was a definite buzz.

Peter is no mere theorist. He's headed up sustainable city design in Australia, and is now an adviser for a 20 billion dollar fund for a green rebuild of Australia's infrastructure. He is plugged in to city designers all over the world, and much in demand.

In this program you hear the complete kick-off speech for his book tour. The title is "Resilient Cities - Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change." just published by Island Press.

Just when you think freeway dead-zones have conquered the world, Newman tells us about Seoul, South Korea. The city built a multi-land freeway right over the central river, which was considered sacred for centuries. A consumer-based political party got elected - and demanded the freeway be torn down! Within 5 years the huge mass of concrete was carted away, the river exposed, and redeveloped into green spaces and cafes on either side. The result changed the city and society for the better by far.

You'll hear about another city in Europe that made itself famous by "re-discovering" a buried river.

Peter Newman is huge on trains. He's instigated a few in Australia - and they've been packed from day one. More than that, new planning calls for "Transit Oriented Destinations" - a kind of complete walking suburb our on the rail lines. Developments happen around rapid transit nodes.

Newman also gives examples comparing American cities with European and Asian ones. Among all major cities, Atlanta is the most unsustainable city in his charts, with Houston not far behind. But it doesn't have to be that way, as he explains how to get out of the deep oil hole. Again, there is an example of Tyson's Corner in the U.S.A.

The book is not an academic dead-weight - it's quite user-friendly and compact. You want to skim though it, but get caught up in fascinating examples of how we can save cities, despite giant challenges. It hits you where you live.

You can download this speech, and the previous Radio Ecoshock on "Transport Revolution" by Perl and Gilbert from our web site at Select Transporation from our audio on demand menu. The whole site is loaded with free mp3 downloads.

A realistic but hopeful speech, definitely the best so far in 2009.

The Radio Ecoshock Show 090116 1 hour
CD Quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)

Recorded by Alex Smith.

Friday, January 9, 2009


Jack Nicholson: "You Can't Handle the Truth"

All right, I admit it. I can't handle the truth. Friends and family losing their jobs, and their self respect. Even German billionaires are throwing themselves under trains.

It used to be so easy out on the edge. Nobody took the truth seriously. Economic doomsayers were just nuts then. Now they dominate prime time TV.

In last week's show I did a feature on tools for tough times. Now I open up a blog on Wired magazine and they do the same thing - except their includes an Apple Ipod instead of my axe and shovel.

In just a few minutes we're going to three features on the biofuel mess. I know how boring that sounds - that's what I thought too. Then I get audio that turns our cosy green vision right upside down. It seems the big agribusiness corporations couldn't make enough monopolizing the world's food production. They decided to become energy companies too. Wearing green overcoats, they stomped into the last remaining reserves of biodiversity, hacking it down to grown palm oil, and the soy beans we displaced with corn ethanol.

Did I mention this great green rush may have caused the hottest year on record in 1998? You'll hear how tiny Indonesia passed the world's largest carbon polluters, in a climate tipping tsunami of greenhouse gases. We'll hear voices from the Amazon and Asia, where biodiesel production has replaced food for indigenous people. And Dr. David Pimentel of Cornell University explains how we use a gallon and a half of ordinary oil, to produce a gallon of ethanol. It's just a bubble, a magic machine that transmutes oil into taxpayer subsidies and dead zones on the coasts.

President Bush made so-called biofuels boom. What could go wrong?


First I want to get you a bit of the news that gets buried.

Here's a surprise. Carbon emissions to the atmosphere are still going up. Last summer, Kevin Anderson from the Tyndall Centre told a stunned conference that carbon dioxide emissions were rising faster than anybody predicted. He thought it "improbable" that levels could be kept to 650 parts per million, the doomsday scenario. That means at least a 4 degree centigrade average rise, and likely the tipping point at which ancient climate shifting mechanisms take over. I'll get back to that in a minute.

Governments are doing next to nothing about it. Two European groups, Germanwatch and Climate Action Network Europe, have measured the Climate Change Performance Index. It shows which countries are actually working to save the climate. Sweden, Germany and France are in the top ranks, while the U.S. comes in 58th. U.S. emissions are up 20 percent since 1992. Canada's are up more than 26 percent. Canada is the 59th worst performing country, second worst only to Saudi Arabia at 60th.

On the positive side, some OPEC countries are cutting oil production, trying to get prices back up. But the drop isn't enough to stop spiralling carbon emissions. Still, Goldman Sachs analysts say the low price of oil may halt development of expensive sources, like Brazil's Tupi, billed as the largest oil find in the Americas since 1976. Also endangered are other deepwater drilling projects around the world, including one off Angola.

Development of Canada's oil sands is also slowing, but not stopped. The Norwegian company StatoilHydro and Royal Dutch Shell has put off investments in Canada's tar sands.

Too bad! Too good for the climate.

The train to climate change is still rolling along. We've just slowed it down from 180 miles an hour to 175. Still, the economic crash could give us a little more breathing time, before we run out of livable weather.

There is a lot of debate about the cooler weather in the Northern Hemisphere this year. Climate deniers say it's the coming ice age. I just saw Lou Dobbs on the infamous CNN looking very wise, as he explained the melting glaciers around the world come not from us, but from sun spot activity. Television loves the car ads so much, they'll spit out anything.

To show the depth of interdependence of televison and auto advertising, here is a clip from a press conference given by the National Auto Dealers Association:

[NADA clip][a car honcho explains to camera crews covering the event that car and truck advertising is the largest single source of their paychecks - if car ads go, so do the television stations...]

Get it? If the Big Three go bankrupt, and the Asian companies can't afford to advertise, commercial televison may disappear. What a shame that would be. Think of the propaganda we'd miss. Oh wait, the government would nationalize TV too. Knock out the middleman - those wise corporate heads like Rupert Murdock - and get your government pablum directly. Although non-commercial stations worked out OK, in the UK, Canada, and other countries. At least you don't get 10 minutes of commercials every half hour.

Back to the winter storms. We don't really know what caused this burst. It is compatible with scientific predictions in one way: the appearance of extreme precipitation events can appear as rain, or if the temperature is cold enough, as snow.

Most of the media is blaming the storms on the appearance of the Pacific ocean cooling phenomenon known as La Nina. Last April, NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab rats announced that the Pacific has entered a ten-year cool phase - after 29 years of warmer currents. The ocean has occillated between those states for a very long time.

The combination of La Nina, with warmer currents in the Atlantic, may lead to drying in parts of South America, but more rain and flooding in the Pacific. Planting in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines could be affected. Weather instability may add to growing world hunger. Our friend on Climateer Investor blog says "um foks, maybe we should start thinking about rebuilding our grain reserves."

My thoughts exactly.

Despite the snow storms in North America and Europe, 2008 ended up in the top ten warmest years, according to various climate centres. Remember, we are talking about the GLOBAL average temperature, which includes the other hemisphere we seldom hear about. Even here in Vancouver, we had one of the warmest Novembers on record. 2008 is likely one tenth of a degree cooler than last year. Back when Bill Clinton was inaugurated, the 2008 average of 57.9 degrees would have been the warmest year on record.

As you heard in our two interviews last week, papers presented at the American Geophysical Union conference in December show climate change is hard upon us, no matter what the doubters say.

Here are two clips from a speech by Dr. Graeme Pearman of Australia

Find his presentation in Australia last summer on Youtube. Search for pearman and climate.

A growing chorus of scientists think it is already too late to save the climate as we know it - unless humans take over management of the atmosphere. That is geo-engineering.

One of the biggest worries: the Earth's covering of ice is disappearing. You have seen the comparison photos of various glaciers all around the world, retreating or disappearing altogether. Even Glacier National Park may have no glaciers in just a few years.

But now a NASA satellite can measure the loss of ice in places like Greenland and the Antarctic. The GRACE satellite is actually a pair of insturments which can determine changes in mass below. As reported by, the latest data shows "over 2 trillion tons of ice has melted since 2003." That's the headline to Google.

The Environmental News Network has the story as well. NASA geophyicist Scott Luthcke told them "'More than half of the loss of landlocked ice in the past five years has occurred in Greenland, based on measurements of ice weight by NASA's GRACE satellite."

There have been many signs that Greenland is melting. Instant lakes on top in Summer. Rumblings the size of earth quakes. No we know for sure. The world's largest supply of ice is melting fast. It guarantees the sea level will rise, endangering major cities and crop deltas. Changes to climate and ecosystems as far away as the U.S. SouthWest result from the loss of the Arctic ice. The process may be irreversible.

Here's a human view of that debate, in a curious setting. One of the world's top climate scientists and modellers is Stephen Schnieder. A couple of years ago, Schnieder found out he had a rare and deadly form of cancer. With little hope from existing treatments, he decided to apply the decision and risk models from climate to his own medical case. That resulted in a new approach of aggressive maintenance, rather than a cure. It has kept him alive so far.

Here is a quick clip from Schnieder's Youtube video - which is a 68 minute comparison of risk decisions for the world's climate, and for himself as a man with deadly cancer. It turns out there are many parallels between his disease and ours.

[Schnieder clip]

If you get time to view the video, you will appreciate why we need the mind of Stephen Schnieder to keep going.

Over in Britain, the former head of the IPCC and now chief scientist for the UK environment department, warns the world needs to prepare for a 4 degree centigrade rise in global temperatures. That means get ready for millions upon millions of climate refugees, countless climate caused deaths, and possibly extreme shortages of food and water.

Watson said: "We must alert everybody that at the moment we're at the very top end of the worst case [emissions] scenario. I think we should be striving for 450 [ppm] but I think we should be prepared that 550 [ppm] is a more likely outcome."

Australian economist Ross Garnaut, hired by the government, also predicts future climate agreements will struggle to accept 550 parts per million as a goal!

In Britain, the Independent newspaper carried an article January 2nd, 2009 titled: "Climate Scientists: It's Time for Plan B". They continue "Poll of international experts by The Independent reveals consensus that CO2 cuts have failed – and their growing support for technological intervention."

Just like Stephen Schnieder, some scientists are now calling for a maintenance mode. They want geo-engineering projects, on a mass scale to protect us against the worst heating, until we can transition our energy economy to safe and renewable sources.

Good God. We're back to fertilizing the oceans with algae blooms, as Russ George tried to do. Or spraying ocean water into the air to create more cloud cover. Hopefully, the idea of launching a billion tiny reflective mirrors into space has died a quiet death?

Anyway, the Independent newspaper surveyed 80 international climate scientists, and found that 54 percent, quote, "agreed that the situation is now so dire that we need a backup plan that involves the artificial manipulation of the global climate to counter the effects of man-made emissions of greenhouse gases. About 35 per cent of respondents disagreed with the need for a "plan B", arguing that it would distract from the main objective of cutting CO2 emissions, with the remaining 11 per cent saying that they did not know whether a geoengineering strategy is needed or not."

Politics has failed. Our own social network has failed. The corporate system has failed. We are killing off the climate system that supports us, while continuing to shop at the mall. We still hope for a new car, or a vacation get-away.


OK. We need a little less of this (scream from the Wall) and a little more of this... our Radio Ecoshock Special on the biofuel scam, and how it warms the world while talking green.

There follows a digest version, from a longer speech, by Dr. Ted Padzek of Berkeley - on why biofuels could never power our civilization. Full speech available at in the alternative energy section of the Audio on Demand menu, of from Unwelcome Guest #443.

Next on Radio Ecoshock: Cornell's Dr. David Pimentel will explain the cruel idiocy of burning corn for car fuel. Dr. David Pimentel quickly laments the 5 billion dollar fuel fiasco in America, courtesy of alternative radio, Unwelcome Guests.

Then the radio premiere from the Canadian National Film Board. You'll hear voices from the global South, where biofuels displace local humans - and Nature's last reserves.

We wrap up with 15 minute podcast from the National Film Board of Canada. They've recorded some voices from the global South, where the poorest of people are pushed off land by our schemes to fuel cars.

Next week we'll look at better solutions: cities that work. I'll be out recording Dr. Peter Newman, author of the new book "Resilient Cities". His interesting theory: the Peak Oil crisis, the first wave of high energy prices, exposed all the cracks in our rotten urban design, and transport system. THAT triggered the fall of the finance Ponzi system.

That it for Radio Ecoshock this week. Find our web site at Alex has left the building.