Wednesday, May 26, 2010


What makes a mild-mannered biology professor call for a planned collapse of the economy?

Canadian scientist Bill Rees would know. He was an inventor of the ecological footprint concept, and has been measuring our impact on the planet for decades.

Now he's worried about survival. Ours - and all living systems.

I'm Alex Smith. As I welcome you to Radio Ecoshock, many capitals have been war zones. Not just in Somalia, but Bangkok, Thailand, Kingston, Jamaica and even Athens. Another is flooded in Poland. Most Western capitals wrestle with deep economic worries, as stocks drop daily, as cities and states totter on the edge of bankruptcy.

The largest American river delta is flooding with oil, during the warmest three months on record.

The causes are well-known, but why can't we solve anything? Is it possible technology has outstripped the slow evolution of human brains? Are we too stupid to survive?

In this program, you will hear a mile-stone lecture by Dr. Bill Rees. About our three brains: the reactive reptile stem, mammalian emotions, and the late-coming attempt at rationality. Which wins?

Rees was invited to address a meeting of World Federalists in Vancouver, Canada. Conspiracy theorists and New World Order freaks can relax. The venue was almost incidental, to this summary of four decades of research into the human predicament.

Even here, technology intervened. The mouse cord was too short to allow Dr. Rees to stand near his computer. The professor, inspiration to more than one generation of ecologists, stood by my bare microphone, speaking 53 minutes without notes. His delivery was perfect, the message pressing and clear.

From a room in the Unitarian Church in Vancouver Canada, April 15th, 2010, here is Dr. Bill Rees. The title is "Is Humanity Inherently Unsustainable?"


After explaining years of research showing humanity has passed a biological condition known as "overshoot" - Rees is examining an evolutionary weakness in the human brain, which may explain our failure to react to dangerous threats to our own survival.

That was Professor William Rees from the University of British Columbia. He is the co-inventor of the ecological footprint, and a Fellow of the Post Carbon Institute. This speech was recorded by Alex Smith of Radio Ecoshock, hosted by the Vancouver Chapter of the World Federalists, on April 14th, 2010.

As the BP oil sinks into the American shoreline, we ended this show with a new song by California song-writer Dana Pearson, heard first on Radio Ecoshock. "Black goo goo (is bad for you)".


Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Coming Greenhouse World

“Look. I’m going to do my best to end up in a kind of hopeful optimistic place. But – I am by nature, by sort of profession, I am kind of a professional bummer-outer of people. So we’re going to have to deal with that for a little while. Because there’s no use not. We need to figure out just where we are, in order to figure out where we need to go.”

Yes, it's ugly being Green these days. That was Bill McKibben, opening a speech in Colorado, touring with his new book "Eaarth", the post-Copenhagen capitulation to a new and damaged planet. Download the whole speech as an mp3 from our Climate 2010 page.

I'm Alex Smith. This is Radio Ecoshock, where reality becomes the new horror genre.

Not the oil blowing into the Gulf of Mexico. Not the BP dispersants, the largest chemical experiment on the ocean, ever. Not even the phony permits, non-existent backup plans, the cover-up.

The real unreported tragedy: nobody gets this story. Humans now know they are shifting the climate toward a Greenhouse world. We just had the hottest January to April global temperatures ever recorded. Over 200 scientists just put out a warning, that press didn't bother to print.

And yet the Green champions in the Senate still brought out a bill calling for more offshore drilling. The Canadian government still approves even deeper wells on the East Coast, drilling now as you hear this, with even less hope of recovery from an accident. And they want to do it in the Arctic, on the West Coast.

The shame, we say, is that we didn't get a chance to burn all that oil, to send the carbon into the atmosphere, where some will fall back into the ocean anyway, into the Gulf of Mexico, and all oceans, turning them acidic, killing off life at the basis of the food chain.

Nobody wants to say, if we cared for our children and grandchildren at all, if we cared about the world, we would stop all oil exploration, anywhere, today. Call it off! The atmosphere can't take another drop hauled out from under the sea, from under the land, from the Tar.

We will all drive away from this accident, as though the Greenhouse world isn't coming, arriving slow and almost unstoppable, visible and denied.

In this Radio Ecoshock special on the coming Greenhouse World, I'll interview Melanie Lenart, a scientist from the University of Arizona, and author of the intriguing new book "Life in the Hothouse - How A Living Planet Survives Climate Change."

Plus clips from a new speech by Professor George Kennedy from the University of California, Riverside. Title: "What Awaits Us In the Greenhouse World" (transcribed in the full blog entry below).

And I'll review a book "The Cretaceous World" - the time of the dinosaurs - which may give us a clue where we are heading next.

READ MORE (with loads of links)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

DEGROWTH - Planned Contraction

Today, more cars are sold in China than in the United States. Chinese companies, many state-owned, are traveling the world to buy up oil to power them. We are already going to extremes to keep our own fossil economies going - blowing the tops of mountains for coal, the horrible tar sands, and now super deep ocean drilling, like BP's Gulf of Mexico blow-out.

Ours is a fossil economy. Every day, humans burn up fuels made from 5 million years worth of solar power, stored by ancient plants. We are burning it all, at a rapid rate, loading up the atmosphere with greenhouse gases.

In fact, all our resources, from metals to rainforests, are being used up, turned into waste, at an incredible rate. Developed economies continue neo-colonialism, as multi-national corporations, larger than countries, drag out "unobtainium" even from war-torn, collapsed countries like Sudan and the Congo.

Meanwhile, thanks to the glory of television and advertising, far from developed countries, all humans struggle to join in the final party. If everyone consumed even as much as Europeans, much less North Americans, it would take three to eight planet Earth's to do it. Billions want more, and WE still want more. A collision of unimaginable proportions is coming.

Pretty well everyone senses a collapse is inevitable, as natural reality, and the laws of physics, interrupt our endless expansion of population and consumption. The only question is: will we drain Earth until it dies, or will we at least try to plan something else?

There is an alternative. It is called "Degrowth". A planned and willing movement to end the mad economic system of endless growth, based on endless consumption and pollution. An admission that really, to survive, humanity needs to shrink out demands upon the planet. To plan out a smaller economy, and lower personal ecological footprints.

It is time.

This is Radio Ecoshock. If you go over our past programs, you'll find dozens that lead to degrowth. Like Cecile Andrews on the "Simplicity Movement". Like everything we've ever done on climate change. I suspect most Ecoshock listeners, when they investigate degrowth, will feel like they are coming home. Finally, a name for what we know.

On April 30th, 2010 I attended and recorded one evening from a three day conference on Degrowth. It was historic, the first such gathering in North America.

European intellectuals and activists have been leading the development of Degrowth. They have a long history and much wider recognition. The first International De-growth Conference was held in Paris in April of 2008. There was another, the 2nd Conference on Economic Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity, held in Barcelona, Spain in March 2010. Each was remarkable for the wide range of academics, and even government officials who attended. The need to limit greed, and find alternatives to endless growth, is better known in Europe.

But a shrinking economy, even though that is obviously in the cards, is still shocking in the heartlands of buy-more, the United States and Canada. So it was a welcome beginning to find 300 people gathering in Vancouver, Canada, for the first Degrowth meet-up on this continent.

In this program, you will hear just a few samples from many presentations there, and nothing from the lively discussion circles hashing out the new vision, and new rules of living on a limited planet.

I'll start with a brief introduction by conference host and author Rex Weyler, a founder of Greenpeace, a member of the Vancouver Peak Oil Executive, and now the Degrowth movement. We'll also get a short impression of the Barcelona Conference, from Tom Walker.

Then it's time for heavy lifting. The ugly reality of our near total dependence on fossil fuels that are running out. Even without the tragedy of climate change, Peak Oil expert Dave Hughes should frighten us all into low-energy life with sustainable power. As a Canadian energy researcher and resource expert, (he worked for several decades for the Geological Survey of Canada) - Dave has many times given what is now known across North America as "the talk". As he makes numerous presentations, with his graphs and helpful facts, Dave is kind of an energy Al Gore, don't you think?

From many speakers, I've also chosen Jack Alpert from the Stanford Knowledge Integration Laboratory. He'll tell us how many humans could live sustainably on Earth with modern lifestyles. Wait till you hear that number.

One of the principal organizers was Conrad Schmidt, head of the Work Less Party. And job sharing is one of the tools available to keep people working, as we share sustainable life. Here is a short clip from York University Professor and no-growth advocate Peter Victor, as he suggest how to maintain employment in a time of economic contraction. You can also find that clip of Professor Peter Victor on You tube.

We only have time for one more speech from Vancouver's No Growth Conference. Remember, the idea is that we are headed for a collapse, due to over-use of the planet's resources, plus a sudden demand for equality of life from billions more people in the world. Should we wait for war and famine? Or can we still plan not just to limit our consumption, but to reduce it drastically? Collapse or degrowth seem to be the only options left.

Let's say we want to keep high-tech solutions like hospitals, and reasonable use of rapid transportation, like high-speed trains. And we want everyone on the planet to have enough to eat, without using up the soil, or poisoning the planet with pollution. How many humans can planet Earth really support in this way, for thousands of generations?

Jack Alpert has figured that out. The reality is shocking.

That short talk barely touches the depth of Jack Alpert's experience and thinking about humanity. For example, he's developed a theory that explains our inability to deal with long-term problems like limited energy or climate change. He calls it time blindness. Jack has agreed to do a future interview with Radio Ecoshock, but in the meantime you can watch a full-length video at the web site

We hardly covered the many presentations and discussions from the three day conference in Vancouver, at the end of April 2010. You can find a couple more speeches on the "Economic Crisis" page in our audio-on-demand menu, at These include presentations by former Shell International VP Anita Burke, and Vancouver alternatives architect Rick Balfour.

Conference organizers are also offering a DVD of the entire proceedings, with screening rights. Find the details at My thanks for permission to record and broadcast what you have heard today.

For a quick introduction to this movement, and it's intellectual roots look up degrowth, all one word, at Wikipedia.

I'm Alex Smith for Radio Ecoshock. I invite you to cruise our archive of past programs, at, for a lot more ideas about simple living, real sustainable energy tech, and ways to live in a just and lasting world.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Black oil, millions of years old, gushes out of a gash in the Gulf of Mexico. One of the world's largest companies, BP, formerly British Petroleum says it's 1,000 barrels a day, then 5,000. Satellite photos suggest 25,000 a day. In a closed session at Congress, BP admits they don't know - it could be 40 to 60,000. The Governor of Louisiana prepares for 100,000 barrels. The "spill" is really a man-made underwater volcano of oil.

I'm Alex Smith. This accident taps a primeval fear in the human mind. Something dark and uncontrollable rushes out of the Earth, poisoning the global oceans. Could that really happen?

Madness ensures. Right-wing radio's Rush Limbaugh suggests the giant rig Deepwater Horizon was bombed by environmentalists. Others say a North Korean submarine did it.

During two administrations, BP lulled regulators to sleep, with assurances and campaign contributions. All that dirt will leak out too.

Meanwhile, 20,000 feet below the Gulf Waters, the giant Macondo field spurts out a relentless wave of fossil carbon, suspected to equal a new Exxon Valdez spill, every three days.

So many victims, so many tales to tell.

In this Radio Ecoshock report you'll hear from the activists who knew this was coming.

* Riki Ott, marine biologist, fisherwoman, and the conscience of Valdez, Alaska, checks in from New Orleans.

* Antonia Juhasz, oil researcher from Global Exchange, introduces us to BP - and it's lobby in Washington. Antonia wrote "The Tyranny of Oil: The World's Most Powerful Industry – and What We Must Do To Stop It."

* Peak Oil guru Richard Heinberg looks at the big picture impact. His famous books are "The Party's Over," "Peak Everything," and "Blackout". Richard is a founder of the Post Carbon Institute.

* And former Shell Oil executive Anita Burke finds the inside track, and the real culprits.

We'll end with a new song, "Corporate Catastrophe", written about the spill by Dana Pearson, and heard first on your Radio Ecoshock.