Thursday, October 29, 2009


Bill Rees, originator of the ecological footprint, says we are already into overshoot. We can plan to reduce our use of Earth's resources, or plunge through a series of disasters.

Full keynote speech from "Resilient Cities" 091021 plus Q and A with Warren Karlenzig on Post Carbon Cities, including China's "eco-cities". That presentation, with host Daniel Lerch from the Post Carbon Institute, was October 20th, all at the Vancouver Convention Centre, Canada.

Breakthrough information.

Ecoshock 091030 1 hour CD Quality 56 MB or Lo-Fi 14 MB

Production notes: end music clip: "99 and a half won't do" by Mavis Staples (cut if you need time for station ID; break-point with re-intro at 39:37)

Friday, October 23, 2009

RESILIENT CITIES for Transition Times #1

THIS WEEK: The latest speeches from the "Gaining Ground/Resilient Cities" conference in Vancouver, Canada October 20-23.

You'll hear Post Carbon Institute fellow, and green city guide author Warren Karlenzig - plus former Shell Oil executive (now turned anti-corporate activist) Anita Burke. Much more in the coming weeks, as we hear from Paul Hawken, Richard Register, Bill Rees and more. This is the latest on the latest, from people struggling to plan for the "long emergency" facing our cities and our society.

Here is how I started off the show, before out two main speeches:

Don't you sense the artificial calm?

Every financial loss and boon-doggle is translated into the language of recovery. A monster company losses 27 percent of it's business, but that's "up" from 30 percent lass month.

Wells Fargo bank, sitting on a pile of mortgages you could smell from the Moon, reports a billion dollar profit from, quote, "hedging mortgage servicing costs". Which sound to me like betting on your own bad assets.

While we enjoyed our Summer holidays, during the slow news cycle, over 900,000 more homes were foreclosed in America. That's a lot of kids and old folks with broken lives and broken bank accounts, with lots more to come.

It's always the slow news cycle now, in the mainstream media. The real reporters have been sent home, as advertising revenue crashes. Magazines and magazine stands are closing. Even major TV networks are slashing and teetering on the edge.

The fog machines are rolling. Everything, even the worst, is just part of "the recovery". Everyone admits government advertising, stories planted by the CIA, and Wall Street bull is messaging us, pleading with the masses, to keep on shopping. It's propaganda.

I'm not buying it. I'll bet you aren't either.

One spooky side effect: as government tax revenues fall off a cliff, and corporations slash their good will community lending - countless non-profit organizations are also struggling, or quietly closing up. A ballet company folds, after-school volunteer programs can't get bus money, personal assistants for the severely disabled can't get paid.

I don't know about you - but I've received dozens of desperate appeals from well-known bulwarks of social change - threatening to disappear without my immediate financial donation. The fabric and richness of our society is coming apart.

What's left is an eerie silence. We know something is going on, but we don't know what it is.

Just one example: part of my mission is to record the brightest minds for Radio Ecoshock listeners. A couple of years ago, we had a regular parade of authors and lecturers rolling through town, many funded by book publishers. This Fall, there was a drought of speeches. The last of the struggling book publishers slashed speaker tours in favor of Web promotion. That's good for the atmosphere - less flying around - but bad for all that personal interaction, when people educate themselves with events that enrich their brains and hearts.

This past week, a whole crowd of climate, sustainability and green city folks descended upon Vancouver. Three conferences, plus added shoulder events, gathered around the 6th annual "Gaining Ground: Resilient Cities" conference, offering "Urban Strategies for Transition Times".

Finally, a forum for answers. How are we going to live in cities, with dwindling energy supplies, an economy in need of serious remodeling, and a food system in dangerous disrepair? Can we plan for rising seas, storms and heat events - now that 4 degree global warming seems almost inevitable?

Some of the great names, people who have labored at these questions all their lives, showed up, pouring out their hearts and brains. People like Paul Hawken, Richard Register, and Bill Rees. Plus the new crowd, break-through women, two green mayors, and authors galore. They spoke, I recorded, and you get the green gold for the next few weeks of Radio Ecoshock.

In one week, this meeting of the minds tried to plot out a survivable direction for world cities, the place where more than half of all humans now live. "Sustainable" is out. They called it "Resilient Cities" now - because everyone knows we are coming in for some hard knocks. Nobody knows how to stop the financial hurricane or the rising seas. We just hope to organize for the long emergency, to develop our ability to bounce back. To be resilient.

In the same October week in Vancouver, The Canadian Society for Ecological Economics held their 8th Biennial Conference. Plus another meeting, dubbed "Resilient People Plus Climate Change". Did I mention the panel held by the Vancouver Peak Oil group, or the evening presentation by the Post Carbon Institute?

It was a flood of enviro's, would-be green politico's, iconic authors, scientists and energy specialists, in three crazy days and nights.

Maybe this is the new paradigm, as green conscious activists organize to hold several conferences at once, exchanging speakers, saving carbon spewing air flights. One thing for sure: it felt like a movement, a gathering of the wise heads, a mixture of panic and determination, to steer a different course.

Welcome to Radio Ecoshock. I'm Alex Smith.

My hard drive is sagging with super audio for you. Later in the show we'll hear a former Shell executive demand an end to the fossil fuel regime. But our first guest speaker will set the stage.
That's Warren Karlenzig.

The buzz these days is greening big cities. New York rediscovers EcoDensity, while West Coast mayors vie for title of most green.

But most North Americans don't live in big cities. The vast majority live in suburbs, or just beyond in the exurbs, the land of mini-estates and 3 bay garages.

I learned that, and much more about the real struggle of car-dependency in America - from Warren Karlenzig. He's the author of "How Green is Your City? The SustainLane US City Rankings" - the book used by citizens and planners alike to measure real livability.

Karlenzig is a recognized figure in the California sustainability movement, an advisor to governments and big corporations, a media spokesman. I'd characterize him as ubiquitous, a specialist in facts, often reporting on green success in many parts of the world. He's the President of Common Current, and a Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute - which hosted the speech we're about to hear.

In October 2009, Vancouver Canada hosted the conference "Gaining Ground, Resilient Cities". The Post Carbon Institute organized an evening with Warren Karlenzig, along with authors Daniel Lerch and Bill Rees. From "Urban Resilience in a Post Carbon World," here is Warren Karlenzig, recorded October 20th by Radio Ecoshock.

We also heard an impassioned speech from Anita Burke, a former Shell Oil exec, now an activist for change. Anita rocked the room by calling for an end to our current economic system, and most of our social models - all leading to catastrophe.

Not everyone agreed with her solutions - maybe not the mayors for rebuilding green cities. The nice Nike woman talking climate safe running shoes didn't say that either.

Bill Rees would have cheered on Anita Burke. Bill is the professor who invented the "eco-footprint" concept - and he's on a rampage. Apparently, the business-as-usual world is headed for breakdown - as we'll hear from our Bill Rees special, next week on Radio Ecoshock.

Don't forget our web site: The Resilient City speeches will be appearing on our "Cities" page over the next few weeks.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

NATURE AS KILLER: The Medea Hypothesis

From the edge of the Earth, broadcast, podcast, by cable and satellite, this is Radio Ecoshock with Alex Smith.

Gaia - the great interconnected force of living things on a minor planet called Earth. British scientist James Lovelock wondered how life created it's own space, with the oxygen and nutrients we all need. It's a soothing idea. Some Greens took it further, suggesting Gaia is a super-consciousness that watches over balance and survival. A few worship Gaia.

Dr. Peter Ward, a deep time digger and climate investigator says Gaia, if there is one, can also be a mass murderer. The rock record shows at least 5 great mass extinctions before us. Ward offers us a different Greek myth: Medea - the wife of Jason the Argonaut, who swiped the Golden Fleece. In a fit of rage against her husband, Medea killed her own children. In a new book, the Medea Hypothesis, Peter Ward says Gaia is out. Bountiful Nature can become ecocidal, and only intelligent life can stop the death cycle we are now approaching.

Peter always stuffs us full of the latest science. He's not well-known to the public, but other climate scientists are listening closely, as this brilliant mind sparks off a new paradigm for life and death, Earth-style. But can we trust a creature with obvious pathological flaws to save the species? Should humans try to replace Nature?

Following our interview with Peter Ward, I answer a few questions about Radio Ecoshock, as a local college stations turns the tables, to interview the elusive Alex Smith. We talk the future of food, the economy, and radio itself. You'll also hear the new climate anthem, a re-worked "Beds Are Burning" from a host of celebrities. Plus "Fear Itself" from Loudon Wainwright III.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Beyond 4 Degrees

What will our grandchildren experience in the year 2080? Or will some of you feel the heat, the climate and social disruption as soon as 2060? Scientific studies are pouring out their warnings - we have already passed the danger levels. And there is no sign of action to stop horrible climate change.

What if the politicians fail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep the Earth's climate from warming? What if the people of the world keep on pumping out carbon dioxide, as they now do? Can we survive? Will the Earth hit runaway climate change, morphing to another Venus?

The widely accepted danger line is 2 degrees Celsius, that's 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit, global mean temperature rise over pre-industrial levels. We have already warmed at least .7 degrees C. Counting the masking effect of other pollution, the warming in the pipeline may already be around the 2 degree level - and the major polluters show no sign of agreeing on steep cuts at the Copenhagen climate treaty talks in December 2009.

So what will happen?

In this program, we're going to cover major new scientific reports about our climate situation. Then, almost as a relief, we'll go to an interview with one of the long-time activists with solutions, from the UK, Dr. Jeremy Leggett. He's an oil expert who crossed over to Greenpeace, before becoming a solar energy entrepreneur.

I also have some new climate music for you.

Right now, we'll get hot and heavy with an international climate conference held at Oxford in Britain from September 28th to the 30th. The title is: 4 DEGREES & BEYOND. We'll hear the results of some of the first scientific studies of a failed climate world. I have a digest of a speech from Professor John Schellnhuber.


"Radio, Radio" by Elvis Costello
"Don't Kilowatt" by Seattle group Million Dollar Nile

LINK FOR AUDIO AND SLIDES FROM "4 Degrees & Beyond" Conference:


1. Prof John Schellnhuber, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research "Terra quasi-incognita: beyond the 2 degree line. (past director of Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research)

2. Dr. Richard Betts, Met Office Hadley Centre "Regional climate changes at 4+ degrees"

3. Prof Nigel Arnell, University of Reading 4+ degrees C: impacts across the global scale

4. Dr. Pier Vellinga, Wageningen University, "Sea level rise and impacts in a 4+C World

5. Prof Stefan Rahmstorf, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, "Sea-level rise in a 4 degree world

6. Prof David Karoly, University of Melbourne "Wildfire in a 4+ C degree World

7. Dr. Fran├žois Bemenne, Sciens Po Paris "Cimate-induced Population Displacements in a 4+ degree World

The conference opened with one of the top climate advisors in the world. Professor John Schellnhuber is from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. He is a past director of Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. The German version of his name is Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. He has directly advised many heads of government, including Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, and even Barack Obama. The title of his talk: "Terra quasi-incognita: beyond the 2 degree line."

This was a presentation to fellow scientists, so part of it is heavy going for the rest of us. It was accompanied by slides, and I'll give you the web address for those.

In order to hit some key points from this speech, and several others from the 4 Degree conference, covering several hours of audio, I'm going to attempt a digest of this latest science.


Thursday, October 1, 2009


[Production Note: no copyright music this week]

Everything in the techno-capitalist society forms us into separate atoms. We demand our own space, travel in personal metal boxes, and struggle as individuals.

When disaster strikes, hardly anyone remembers how to respond. How will your community react to a major threat? Will it fall apart, or grow stronger? Is there anything you can do to prepare?

This is Radio Ecoshock. I'm your host Alex Smith.

It's a real shock when those lonely atoms, conversing through electronic screens, realize their real community is endangered, or falling apart.

The cause may be economic. A major employer, or a whole industry like the auto sector, shuts down. Or maybe gas prices collapse real estate prices in a former commuter haven.

Communities can also be hammered by a climatic event: long-term drought, burned over by fire, drowned by super-floods and storm surges, or hit by a devastating storm. The disaster can even be environmental. A nuclear plant or a pesticide plant blows up, or a super-tanker spills it's oily guts.

Not to mention the possibility of a terrorist attack, like a dirty bomb or a biological release. Did I mention earthquakes?

In this program, I'll interview Riki Ott, THE Exxon Valdez spill expert. Her town of Cordova Alaska became an early case study in how a community reacts to disaster. Still fighting the big corporation who ruined their fishing industry, and split the townsfolk, Dr. Ott has developed a program to help damaged communities anywhere in the world. She gives us practical tips you should know BEFORE your community gets hit with the unexpected.

We'll follow up with a speech by Dr. John Helliwell. He's an economist called in to an audience that included mayors of towns experiencing near total loss of employment, after major forest mills shut down. I expected a pep talk about business plans and government rescues. Helliwell surprised us all, with a new way of looking at success - one not based on wealth and more production. Instead, John Helliwell is part of a growing consensus that our economic emphasis is all wrong. We should be aiming for Gross National Happiness. An economist who sees the community links becoming more valuable than business, a voice long overdue.

First, let's talk with Riki Ott.

[Ott interview]

I want to add to Riki's Ott's response about the role of women when communities hit a calamity, whether it's natural or human-made. Riki explained that women took up a leadership role in organizing not just meetings, but the networking and re-organization that helped partly heal the community. Women tend to be experienced in both communication and working co-operatively.

The darker side is this: when things go badly, women can also be further victimized by the despair and rage felt by men. I've lived in a town where the mine closed. I reported on the increased domestic disputes, growing alcohol and drug abuse, and outright beating of women by their spouses. If a factory or a mill closes, or natural events wipe out jobs - the community will have to increase services for women, at the very time when there are fewer municipal resources to go around. A women's shelter, or at least a network of safe-houses, may be needed quickly. Keep that in mind.

In an ideal world, both men and women would find some kind of counseling for the loss of value which accompanies unemployment. Without a job, many lose their sense of self definition and worth. We can't count on higher levels of government to provide this. People need to self-organize to talk to one another.

It's my observation that larger governments are beginning to fail. They spend themselves into bankruptcy, and over-build into huge bureaucracies that are unable to respond in any meaningful way. This is true in the most advanced countries, as the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Mississippi showed. If your community is struck, don't wait around for the government to save you. Organize and act locally.

There are also a few cases where the community fails, and nothing can really save it. There are plenty of ghost towns where a big mine closed, and the economy shut down with it. People just moved on.

I can foresee similar situations coming from the developing economic meltdown, coupled with climate disruption. Take the Ohio rust-belt, where heavy industries fled overseas. Former CIBC investment guru Jeff Rubin predicts they will rebuild, because soaring oil prices will make shipping from China too expensive. Others calculate that ocean shipping will remain far cheaper than trucking, so imports of Chinese products will continue.

I say the Ohio and Indiana area will not re-industrialize because they are 95 percent powered by coal. As climate change becomes too obnoxious to deny, and carbon pricing clicks in, new industry will only locate where renewable power is available. The Mid-Western states will either have to enter a crash program to find carbon-free power, or face a permanent loss of population.

Sometimes communities do survive to find new and safer economies. It's happened many times, in many places. In some cases, though, it's better to get out, no matter what your loss in real estate, hopes, or good memories.

Let's get into a different kind of optimism, built from a different kind of economic world view. This speech by Dr. John Helliwell was recorded by film maker Clancy Dennehy on September 17th, 2009 at the Forestry building, University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. While it contains some references to B.C. towns devastated by mill closures - this speech is really about a global movement to redefine what an economy is. Does it produce happiness?

The introduction is by Jack Saddler, Dean of the UBC Faculty of Forestry.


You have just heard the 2009 Forestry Lecture in Sustainability, presented by economist Dr. John Helliwell. The speech was organized by the University of British Columbia Faculty of Forestry on September 17th, 2009.

The lecture was followed by an eminent panel including two top government officials, Doug Konkin, Deputy Minister of Environment, and Dana Hayden, Deputy Minister of Forests and Range. Plus Don Roberts, Managing Director, CIBC World Markets, offering a business critique.

You can download a full one hour presentation, which includes the panel comments, from the Brownbagger radio show archive, located at That's a free mp3.

My thanks to Clancy Dennehy for his recording. Look for Clancy's upcoming art film simply titled "Vancouver".

So what have we learned?

If a major disaster strikes your community, at some point you have to decide whether it's time to pitch in and rebuild - or to leave. There's an old saying, which is only true half the time: "The strong give up and move on. The weak give up and stay." I'm just saying.

If you decide to fight on - don't wait for an outside savior. Big government can't create community. Lawsuits can take 20 years before they let you down.

Big corporations can leave or fail. Build a local economy.

Redefine who you are, and include everybody. Listen to each other. Organize. And if you can, it before disaster strikes.

I'm Alex Smith for Radio Ecoshock. Write me any time. The address is simply radio at

Thank you for listening this week.