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.

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