Thursday, April 29, 2010

From Occupied Earth

This Ecoshock program features two interviews. We start out talking about South America, and how changes to the Amazon rainforest could impact the climate of the whole world.

I also cover two jaw-dropping stories this week:

#1. the complete fake-out as General Motors claims to pay back billions to the American and Canadian governments. Wow, car sales must be great! Nope. The whole thing was a sham, as GM used some TARP money to repay the government. Kinda like paying your mortgage with your VISA card.

#2. the giant Canadian media chain Canwest failed to report it’s paper the National Post, and denialist “journalist” Terrance Corcoran – are being sued by Canadian scientist Andrew Weaver for libel. Details below – but the point is, we hear all about the opinions of the pro-fossil fuel guys, but not the news they are being called liars by top scientists. It’s more media censorship on climate affairs, in my opinion.

Then we switch gears, looking at how the evolution of our brains has failed to keep up with the problems generated by technology. Meanwhile, brain and psychological research is being used against us, in the consumer society. Don't miss this important interview with Dr. Deirdre Barrett of Harvard, as we discuss her new book "Supernormal Stimuli."

Let's start with the situation in South America, touching on the recent Cochebamba climate conference, the drought situation in Venezuela, and then the Amazon climate debate.

Avatar director James Cameron was just in the Amazon, meeting with tribes people who will be displaced by a new dam slated for the deep jungle.

I'll give you the links you need to track all of this. And we feature a new Earth song by Vanessa Richards, called "Occupying Army."


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Black Carbon = Fast Warming = Early Death

If I feel a strain this week, it's not because of the volcano blowing planes out of the sky over Europe. Unless the larger Icelandic volcano nearby goes off, scientists say the dangerous ash will not really cool the planet much. It may damage our economy more in the short run.

But the biggest-ever suspension of air travel reduced carbon emissions for a few days, and taught a few people how to take a train, or use video-conferencing. Every cloud has a silver lining.

No, my worry is about this week's program. All I have is an interview with a top scientist, a recording of Congressional testimony, and a reading from James Hansen's latest book.

Sounds less exciting than a volcano, or Tiger's latest mistress expose...

But wait, what if I told you half of the recent ice melt in the Arctic was not caused by extra greenhouse heat? What if rivers running dry, and people dying by the millions, all came from the same cause?

Did you know there is fast-warming, and slow warming? That smog could be heating and hiding warming at the same time? So much, that we could experience a permanent burst of heat, taking us past the 2 degree safety mark, in just a matter of days?

Science can be way ahead of Hollywood when it comes to danger and mystery. Welcome to the Radio Ecoshock special on BLACK CARBON.

It is as evil as it sounds. Black carbon comes from incomplete combustion. It happens naturally from forest fires - although some of the great fires are not so natural. Warming has already shifted rainfall patterns and brought earlier dryness - from Australia to California to Greece and Africa.

A lot of black carbon comes from diesel engines - the highway trucks, public buses, construction equipment, generators and trains. These particles are too small to see. Photo blow ups reveal diesel carbon looking like tiny meteorites, with rough surfaces and pock-marks. Those surfaces get coated with pesticides and other toxic chemicals, making it directly past our body defenses, into our blood streams. You can find out more in my Radio Ecoshock special for April 25th, 2008 "Highway to Hell, How Smog Kills". Grab that free from our archives at

The short story is low-level smog greatly raises the number of heart attacks. As Dr. Joel Schwartz of Harvard reveals, patients die quickly in their homes, or on the streets, DOA before they reach the hospital. This happens all over the world.

But black carbon haze goes much higher than our office towers. It floats up into the atmosphere, browning out the Sun - over New England in the Summer, over the West Coast cities, over the whole of Pakistan and Northern India, over much of China. And, as we'll learn today, these dark particles absorb heat directly from the Sun, helping to overheat the world.

The haze also reduces the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth, reaching our crops, by as much as 10 percent. A huge loss of agricultural productivity.

Even when they land, most often collecting on mountains, and in the Arctic, black carbon speeds up melting of snow and ice. That change of Albedo adds to warming, and the abnormal run-off adds to both drought inland, and rising seas everywhere.

And strangest of all, we could probably fix the black carbon problem comparatively cheaply. But if we fix it quick, the climate could suddenly turn on us, heating up the world. Damned if we do, and damned if we don't. Welcome to the ironic universe.

I'm Alex Smith. Let's find out about black carbon, before it kills us.


including all the links you need plus...

* a quick summary of expert testimony on black carbon to the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, chaired by Representative Ed Markey.

* and clips of what the world's biggest coal companies told Congress about global warming.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Back to the Land!

Radio stations: you can also get Radio Ecoshock as two 29 minute segments, leaving time for station ID and announcements, or even as a 24 minute opener, followed by a 29 minute second part, for those who need lots of extra time for news, fundraising, Democracy Now! etc. Write me, for details.

Bumper music credits:

Crow Black Chicken Ry Cooder, album Boomer's Story; Barnyard Dance Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson, album A Prairie Home Companion; Henry Hall & His Orchestra - The Teddy Bear's Picnic (1932); Songs from the Wood Jethro Tull, album: Songs From the Wood; "Back to the Land" (WWII Bedfordshire Women's Land Army) performed by Alison Young, accompanied by Kenneth Young, 2006.


Get back to where you once belonged. Get your hands dirty, with this week's grow-op on Radio Ecoshock.

We'll hear from the young farmers movement, with film maker and dirt farmer Severine von Tscharner Fleming of Greenhorn Radio. Community supported agriculture, organic, getting out, or grow where you are, feed the city, from the city.

Our second guest, Sharon Astyk, says we need a nation of farmers. As the oil and fertilizer get scarce, as climate disrupts the rivers and the crops, we all may need to know, how to feed yourself from the ground up. Places to start, ways to get going.

Radio Ecoshock digs in.

"Greenhorns" - it's an old term from the American West, meaning a beginner. And Severine is part of a movement of new farmers. Many have not come from farming families, and so they need to start from scratch.

Severine describes many ways to get started. She took courses at an agricultural college, while working each summer on an organic farm. The Severine went around the world "WOOFING" - Working (Willingly) On Organic Farms. It is possible to follow the crops, learn from many different farming techniques, and get "free" room and board, in return for your hard work.

Severine also decided she was an animal person. Some folks specialize in raising vegetables, others fruit and nut trees, but our guest felt most at home with animal husbandry. So Severine traveled to Switzerland, where some of the world's best small-scale dairies still operate. Learning to make cheeses in the old ways, and how to handle cows, in humane ways.

She also worked at Community Supported Agriculture (CSA's). This is an excellent way for beginning growers to get going. Expensive land can be a barrier to new farming. You'll need some capital to prepare and plant, and banks don't want to lend to greenhorns.

But CSA's can be set up on leased or rented land, or even, as we'll hear, on state or city owned land (where available). You get the end consumers, the "eaters", to pay for the coming crop up front. Then, as various crops come in, the customers get a box of the freshest organic food anywhere, every week.

There is another variation, for those with access to a producing orchard, where customers (usually in the city) pre-pay for the crop from a specific tree. When the fruit comes in, they often pick it themselves, getting bushels of fruit the day it ripens.

I expect, as the economy tightens (and it will), and as more unemployed people want good food, that governments everywhere will look for plots of land that could be used for local food production. CSA's could be the way to go - unless you have that lucky inheritance, or hard won savings, to buy your own property.

Either way, as Severine tells us, only 6 percent of farmers are under the age of 35 in America. The vast majority are around age 57, and want to retire soon. That is going to leave a huge gap in food production, and a possible loss of knowledge. And that is why the Greenhorns movement is finding new ways to support young people who want to get growing.

For example, when I was doing subsistence farming in Canada, I was lucky to find the very last of the old-time farmers still around. I went out to help them, herding in cows, or shoveling shit, which is honorable work on the land (especially if you get a pickup truck load of manure for your own big garden - that's gold!). But we didn't have a Wiki or contact with like-minded folks around the country.

Now the Greenhorns and many blogs provide that. You'll find a country growing knowledge Wiki at - plus a lot of other resources.

And maybe keep your eyes out for collections of old Mother Earth News magazines, plus the Rodale publications.


What a great resource we find in Sharon Astyk. Here is a young woman who can grow things, explain matters well, stimulate new thought, and still admit life isn't perfect or easy.

I've followed Sharon's blogs (she has two) for over a year. There is her main growing blog ( and another at the science blogs collection (

Sharon, husband, and child moved to a country property in New England. She dug in with subsistence farming, starting from scratch. Eventually Sharon had a CSA feeding about 20 families, but then had to decide between having time to write, or having time to feed a lot of other folks.

We're lucky she chose to write, now with three books from New Society Publishers. There is the classic "Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front", "A Nation of Farmers, Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil" (written with Aaron Newton), and now "Independence Days, A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage & Preservation".

All of them are tips on surviving with style, as you grown your own food and medicinal herbs.

We also talked about the relationship between city folks and those who go back to the land. Not everyone can just take off to try growing food. But everyone can help support community agriculture, buy only local organic food, and start growing right in the city.

When the oil was cut off to Cuba, the people of Havana started planting gardens everywhere. Eventually, the city largely supported its own need for produce.

Peak oil is upon us, and sooner or later oil and gas based fertilizers and pesticides will become very expensive, or hard to get. So it's past time to get cities into growing mode.

We should tell that to the dunces at the University of Victoria, in British Columbia, Canada. A group called "Food Not Lawns" dug in some raised beds at the lawn outside the university library. They planted good food and Permaculture shrubs. But the Administration had all that bull-dozed! Way to go, recognizing your students who know what is really happening! Way to support young people in their need to grow food! Idiots...

The students returned, replanted, and that was bull-dozed again. Now there is a fence around the site, with warnings to stay away. An institution firmly planted in the last century, holding on to lawns, not food.

But things are going much better in many parts of North America, Britain and elsewhere in Europe. Cities are re-evaluating their anti-growing attitudes.

Here in Vancouver, the local council has just passed a by-law making chicken-keeping legal in the city. You must have a little room for them, and no roosters please! Roosters keep everyone awake, and are not needed to get eggs. It's a progressive move, by a citizenry that are waking up to the need for local food production, and good farming practices.

Anyway, there is a lot for you to chew on in this Radio Ecoshock "Back to the Land!" special. I wouldn't trade my ten years growing for anything else on Earth. And some day, I'll get back to it.

Alex Smith
Radio Ecoshock

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Unknown Climate

Music Credits: "Slow Me Down" by Emmy Rossum, Album: "Inside Out" 2:34; "White Flag" by Dido, Album: "White Flag EP" 4:00

In the Spring of 2010, the East Coast of the United States was nearly drowned in an extreme precipitation event. Ditto parts of Australia, and Rio in Brazil. This is the other half of "global warming" - global wetting. Scientists have been warning about it for years - now it's happening. Can anyone say "Extreme Rainfall Events?"

Right afterwards, Eastern Canada went way above any temperature records, hitting summer beach weather, the eighties - 25 degrees C - in the first week of April. Still, hardly a single Network weather person mentioned "climate change". That's because a George Mason study shows that 67% of "weathercasters" believe that global warming is a natural event, and 27% think it's just a scam that isn't happening at all.

About half of those authoritative (but good looking!) faces on TV, telling us about the weather, have a degree in Meteorology. The other half just have the pretty or handsome face. Practically none have any scientific training in climate - but they talk like experts anyway. It's very damaging.

Our first guest says humans are very close to climate collapse. David W. Orr is a Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics, at Oberlin College, in Ohio. He's been a pioneer in greening higher education. He advises many leaders and foundations. His latest book is "Down to the Wire: confronting climate collapse."

Gaia theorist James Lovelock has just given another disturbing interview to the BBC in London. Lovelock claims it's too late, we shouldn't waste our money on things like wind energy, but spend it all on adapting to the inevitable climate shift. How do you answer that?

Another worry proposed by Lovelock, is that climate change may not develop as a steady rise in either temperature or sea levels. It might happen as sudden jumps and reversals. He says previous climate records show a long-term heating can include intervals - perhaps decades or more - of cooling as well. Given all the global cooling nonsense from last winter's snowfall in the U.S., can any climate action plans can survive unsteady weather?

But Lovelock is making increasingly bizarre statements as well. Like this one: China is planning on moving it's population to Africa. Really? In this show I look into "Twelve Batty Things About James Lovelock".

I raised Lovelock's worries about irregular progression of climate change, partly because of another paper almost unknown to the general public. A theoretical ecologist at University of California Davis, Alan Hastings, says that climate tipping points may not be predictable at all. According to his work, there may be no signals or warnings, before a radical shift. For example, temperatures could go up rather suddenly, and stay there.

Hastings' paper didn't get much press, but it's quite important. As far as I can tell, Radio Ecoshock has the only original interview on the new paper from this distinguished scientist.

I'll send out a second blog entry, with more links for you to follow.



Thursday, April 1, 2010

Gimme Shelter - blog and links you need


How to make buildings that use 10% of current energy needs.

Here is a bonanza of links you want for this Radio Ecoshock special on Passivhaus and Net Zero construction, including two free workshops.

[The full workshop by Guido Wimmers on Passivhaus, held at the Sustainable Building Center in Vancouver, is just over 80 minutes long. You can download the whole recording by Alex Smith of CFRO, here:

Part 1 49 min CD Quality 46 MB or Lo-Fi 11 MB; Part 2 CD Quality 39 MB or Lo-Fi 9 MB

Guido Wimmers Ecoshock interview from 100402 show, 21 min CD Quality 20 MB or Lo-Fi 5 MB

BUILDING SANITY An earlier one hour workshop on super-low energy houses, office & municipal buildings with Dr. Guido Wimmers. Over 12,000 already built in Europe. Reduce Fossil fuel consumption, bills & emissions (!) by 90%. Ecoshock Show 080613

A blog where you can see photos of Austria House, Canada’s first true Passivhaus building. (Takes a minute or two to load all the photos, be patient, wait before scrolling down…)

#2 Jamee DeSimone on Net Zero construction building in Ontario, Canada. Straw bale insulation, sustainable materials. Vancouver 100313 1 hour CD Quality 56 MB or Lo-Fi 14 MB

Tom Pittsley solar mass windowsvideo page. Tom’s web page.

Another you tube video on passivhaus, this time from
Nabih Tahan, a Berkeley architect, explaining the theory behind a "passive house".

Here is what this show is all about: (READ MORE)


It Takes More Than A Hammer And Nails, Jesse Winchester, Let the Rough Side Drag 1976, 4:33

The House That Dirt Built, The Heavy, The House That Dirt Built, 2009, 18 sec

Building A House, The C.R.S. Players, If You're Happy And You Know It, 2005, 56 sec

Hammer and Nails, The Staples Singers, Freedom Highway, 1965, 2:25

Gimme Shelter, The Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed, 1969, 4:30