Thursday, November 25, 2010



It has come to my attention that last week's show was a bit of a downer, leaving some listeners depressed.

A scientist showing a savage economic collapse in a red-hot world by 2100. And a food expert predicting global famine. Come on.... is the future depressing?

The Management has asked me to read the following statement:

"Everything is fine. The future will be fine too. The scientists you may have heard are just egg-heads with a horrible agenda to enslave us all.

There is plenty of oil for all of us. Plenty of cheap food, eat your fill.

Just relax and go to your job, if you have a job, or stay home, if you have a home.

There is nothing to worry about. I am sorry if the future frightened or offended anyone.

Alex Smith

According to a pseudo-scientific study, as reported by the Washington Post and the New York Times, alarmists - like Alex Smith! - are causing more people to disbelieve in claims of global warming, (or Peak Oil, they might have added). The Post's headline: "Gloom and doom on climate can backfire, new study says."

Actually, as Joe Romm points out in the climateprogress blog, the study doesn't say that, and the testing was on just a small sample of college students.

But the study by UC Berkeley does show most people believe the underlying narrative of life on Earth is positive, essentially that God is Just.

In the program, you hear a clip from Representative John Shimkus of Illinois, speaking to a House Energy Subcommittee on Energy and Environment hearing in March, 2009. He first quoted from Chapter 8, Verse 22 of the Book of Genesis:

"Never again will I curse the ground because of Man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood, and never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done."

Speaking of rising seas, Shimkus said the Bible shows "The earth will end only when God declares its time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood."

On carbon Shimkus said: "Today we have about 388 parts per million in the atmosphere. I think in the age of dinosaurs, when we had the most flora and fauna, we were probably at 4,000 parts per million. There is a theological debate that this is a carbon-starved planet - not too much carbon."

More here from the Daily Mail. Hear the full audio in our Radio Ecoshock program.

Science shows the contrary. We are already entering a time of mass extinction, like the five previous great extinctions. And there may be no force to stop heating of the planet, once we give it a big kick-off. Science conflicts with, and loses out to, this deeply held religious belief.

Therefore, the mainstream media and climate doubters tell us, we should limit our talk to the positive side of the story.

I'll take a shot at it.

What a wonderful world it will be, lit up by LED lights! You will enjoy the ocean more, now that it's closer. Most people will save on clothing, now that Summer lasts most of the year.

How am I doing?

[The radio program has some funny clips about a future that sucks, taken from Bobs Slacktime Funhouse: BSTF 840 - "The World Of Tomorrow Will SUCK!" as broadcast on WREK Atlanta.]

But let's say, just as an act of imagination, that fossil fuels do run out. James Howard Kunstler has brought that future into print with his latest book. You'll hear that interview next. And we have Tracy Mayor on the program, the self-styled "Armageddon Mama", with the age-old problem: how to talk to your friends and family about the coming Apocalypse.


Authors and artists often express the future, years too soon for our own comfort. James Howard Kunstler is like that, and worse, he's one of the best American writers of the day. Some people love to read his articles, while hoping he's wrong as Hell.

I was honored to have James Howard Kunstler join us, to discuss his new novel "The Witch of Hebron" - and what it means for our future. It's a look at life in the post carbon age. How will we survive without oil?

As Kunstler points out, this is not another total doom story, like Cormac McCarthy's book "The Road". Jim Kunstler thinks humans will work out some new ways of living. In some ways, life may become more real and enjoyable than our complex, corporate, globalized high-stress experience. Local food, community and cooperation share the stage with a return to agriculturalism, and likely male-dominated hierarchies of local power. That last projection doesn't go down well with some of the ladies, and we talk about that too.

In his 1994 book "The Geography of Nowhere," Kunstler describes the modern landscape of strip Malls, anti-social architecture, and badly functioning suburbs. Perhaps we more ready to dream along with him, into a simpler world, precisely because we feel so little love for our present surroundings.

In 2005, he made a new mark in Peak Oil prediction, with his book "The Long Emergency". That began a movement. The International Energy Agency finally just admitted Peak Oil may have occurred in 2006, - and that may push more people into taking post-carbon novels seriously. Jim talks about Peak Oil and the economic disaster, in this interview.

We discuss how imagining the future can help us prepare for the many difficulties facing our economy and society now. Personally, I see a fairly long-drawn out series of shortages and Depressions, with some recovery now and then. James Howard Kunstler sees a devastating crash within the next 10 years. I ask him why. His answer is so well spoken, you have to hear it.

Stimulated by a question from a San Francisco city planner, I ask Kunstler how we can remold existing institutions, toward a softer landing. Jim talks more passenger rail, of course, but also localization, and new expectations.

I read James Howard Kunstler's blog at every Monday morning. You should too.


Kids today learn gaming skills for play, and keyboard skills for jobs. They'll all be virtual workers - unless the world doesn't turn out that way.

Under the shadow of ever-rising oil prices, an unstable climate, and an economy held up by magic balloons, - how should we prepare our kids?

Tracy Mayor is a parent who writes for a living - her work appearing in such diverse publications as Salon, Computer World, and the Boston Globe. Her latest book, "Mommy Prayers" captures the humorous desperation of motherhood.

I found Tracy through the New York Times, under the headline "Preparing Kids for the Apocalypse". That was kind of a steal from Tracy's original work in Brain, Child magazine, which she edits, - titled "Armageddon Mama, Parenting toward the Apocalypse."

Helpful comments on the article are here.

With my own family, I often wonder, what the Hell should I tell the kids about all this? Should I try to aim them toward college, or learning to make their own shoes?

Tracy's article in Brain, Child magazine wasn't the puff piece we so often see. She did the homework, and tracked down some useful information. For example, I didn't know about Sean Brodrick's new book "The Ultimate Suburban Survivalist Guide."

We also discuss the persistent narrative about the coming breakdown. Brave men, followed by their hard-cooking women, take off into Montana, to defend the compound, with high-powered guns. Is that what really happens, when society goes into a period of stress? Not likely, not for most of us.

We talk about the best survival strategies, used by families in the Great Depression of the 1930's. And new developments of community-building and localization, today.

Another good resource is Rebecca Solnit's book, "A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster (2009)".

At Kathy McMahon's recent talk about Peak Oil Blues, I was surprised to find so many women in the audience. They were quite educated about our dependence on oil, and the fact it will run out some day. I asked Tracy Mayor, "How is your family taking your conversion to 'Armageddon Mama' - and how do you handle the relatives, fixed in what McMahon called, 'pathological optimism'?"


There is some savage financial news out there. I've linked to just a half dozen stories you might have missed. (With a hat tip to the blog Automatic Earth) Consider these your homework assignment.

"Road map that opens up shadow banking" - by Gillian Tett of the Financial Times . You won't believe what these geniuses were up to.

The extent of the fantasy and fraud. Which leads up to a piece from the Wall Street Journal: "U.S. in Vast Insider Trading Probe".

The best may be an excellent expose by Jake Bernstein and Jesse Eisinger of Pro Publica. The title is "Banks’ Self-Dealing Super-Charged Financial Crisis." It is a long piece, with a complete explanation of the fraudulent Collateralized Bond Obligations, the CDO's, trillions of dollars of fantasy money stashed away in bank vaults as "assets." The Federal Reserve, on orders by George Bush, and then Obama, has purchased up to 40 billion dollars worth of these worthless papers from the banks, and they are still sunk. As the truth comes out, banks world-wide will collapse, in my opinion. It may take years, or it may take just days.

Here are the rest. Read it and weep.

Prime U.S. Mortgage Foreclosures Hit Record as Unemployment Hurts Finances
by Kathleen M. Howley - Bloomberg

U.S. Homeowners Drop Out of Foreclosure Program Amid Record Defaults
by Lorraine Woellert and Clea Benson - Bloomberg

Unemployment benefits to end for 2 million Americans
by Steve Nuñez - KGUN9


Shed a tear for the Irish people, who just found out what a bank crash looks and feels like. A scallywag named Sean brought the Allied-Irish bank from just 8 employees, to a giant empire of debt, which just collapsed. Seventeen percent of the banks deposits were withdrawn in the past two weeks alone.

A foolish or corrupt Prime Minister guaranteed all the Irish bank debts, with the people to pay for a generation or more. When the cupboards ran dry, the German and British debt holders brought in the International Monetary Fund, and the European Union, to enforce the debt. Now the poorest people will pay, as the government slashes social programs, while keeping taxes high.

Look at Ireland, and watch, for that is the future of many countries, a ripple of consolidation of the remaining oligarchs, unless they tumble as well.


There are drops of good news. Despite the collapse, some of the world's largest solar plants are now starting operation. SunEdison claims the largest single solar facility in Rovigo, Italy, at 70 megawatts. Germany has the largest over-all, with several linked solar farms. In fact, Germany and Spain lead the world in solar power.

Here is a web listing of the largest solar plants installed - and check out the photos.

Canada seems to have set a new record, opening an 80 Megawatt solar farm in Sarnia, Ontario.

The U.S. is way down the list, with the largest being a 25 megawatt solar plant in Arcadia, Florida. But Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced approval for what will be the world's largest Solar-Thermal plant, the Blythe Solar Power Project in the Mohave desert.

As fossil fuels run down, and as the public experiences their climatic danger, we will operate the remaining civilization on whatever cleaner power we have installed. That does include nuclear, but in the long run, the sun, the wind, the tides, and geothermal will provide.

We have taken the first baby steps.

But the road is long and dangerous. The U.S. government reported recently that nearly one in five Americans experienced some form of mental illness in 2009. Modern, disconnected life, with it's giant fears, has taken a brutal toll on us all. Check out our recent Radio Ecoshock programs on the psychology of climate change and Peak Oil awareness.

GARDENING TO SAVE SANITY (and maybe your life)

Part of the great healing is to re-establish our relationship with growing food. The process is good for us, as is the organic produce.

Like a great ice field cracking open, the impregnable icon of the lawn is starting to fall. In just one example, the City of North Vancouver is encouraging residents to tear out their lawns, and plant food gardens. City Councilor Craig Keating has raised bed gardens in his front yard.

The City even allows commercial farming of home yards. One company, "City Farm Boy" leases yards, and even roof-tops, to grow vegetables. Homeowners get a share of the fresh goodies, as do 38 shareholders, paying an annual fee for their weekly basket of veggies, from May to October.

This is Earth Shaking. People can stop poisoning their lawns, start composting their waste, and begin tasting real vegetables, that didn't travel thousands of carbonated miles.

I'm going to play you a clip from the radio show Unwelcome Guests, hour two of #523.

It is an interview of critical mass biker and 'Frisco life-changer Chris Carlsson. He is talking about his book "Nowtopia: How Pirate Programmers, Outlaw Bicyclists and Vacant Lot Gardeners Are Inventing the Future Today."

We tune in as Chris explains the urban gardening scene in the United States.

Find Chris Carlsson's blog at, and read more in the zine "Processed World."

Growing food helped save me. It can help you too. Start small at home, find a community garden, find a community, right where you live.

We're going out with a music mix that's hard to beat. The famed Gospel Singer Mavis Staples, produced by master musician Ry Cooder. "Let My Little Light Shine" gets rocked, on the album "We'll Never Turn Back".

I'm Alex Smith. Don't tell me you are down and out. Not when you've got the light inside. Let it shine.

Radio Ecoshock

Thursday, November 18, 2010

An Atmosphere of Crisis

This week on Radio Ecoshock - we give it all.

There are two hot interviews.

Julian Cribb tell us about his new book "The Coming Famine. The Global Food Crisis and What We Can Do to Avoid It."

I had a major realization myself, during this interview, and we'll talk about that shortly.

Then, Dr. Tim Garrett from the University of Utah blew my mind (again). I interviewed Tim back in February 2010 - after he published a peer-reviewed article suggesting that utter economic collapse, world-wide, might be the only way to avoid punishing climate change.

He applied physics to develop a formula which accurately modeled the relationship between energy use and wealth, as well as emissions of greenhouse gases. The model works backwards on historical figures, and makes sense. If it's true, we're in big trouble.

Garrett has a new paper out in the journal "Climatic Change". During our interview, he suggests one of my questions stimulated the new work. Namely, what would it take to keep emissions to the relatively safe 450 part per million CO2 level?

The new paper not only suggests that isn't going to happen, not with all the good will dreams and schemes in the world. It goes further. Using Hurricane Katrina as an example, Tim explains why the on-going pounding of our civilization by a disturbed climate will lead to horrible inflation. How does climate change lead to inflation? I asked, he answered. You must read the whole transcript here.

We wrap up with a French flavor of climate denial/doubt. I went out to record the latest climate news from the Arctic, and there is lots of it - but got a boatload of doubts and long-disproved theories from Marie Francois Andre. She's a Geomorphologist, not a climate scientist.

I speculate on why this gaggle of doubters develop spontaneously out of other disciplines, as the climate threat grows. Read it all here (with some links to real science of the Arctic, and other helpful stuff).


But let's get back to Julian Cribb. I just ran out of time to transcribe this important interview. If any of you can do it, please send an email to radio [at] Especially those who email me about missing out on the importance of population! Cribb's book is all about population (though he accounts for strong climate change, and Peak Oil, as well).

Here was my own discovery. I had already listened to an online lecture by Julian Cribb, given at the University of Melbourne. Highly recommended. It is 85 minutes, where he punches you with facts you vaguely knew, or never knew, that should rock our world.

If you have any trouble understanding the lecture link above, check out this page.

As I listened to Cribb's lecture, a little voice inside me rebelled. "The world will never reach 9 billion people, or 11 billion people! A plague, a war, some energy die-off will trim us back first...."

It wasn't until our interview, that I realized: I suffer from a from of Population Denial. There is Climate Denial (beliefs contrary to established facts) - but I had Population Denial (belief contrary to observable reality.)

Yes there may be a smaller chance that some disaster will stall world population growth. But for this century at least, it is much more possible that we will reproduce ourselves to death - going for 12 billion, maybe 15 billion humans on Earth.

I used Pessimism to protect me from that horrible prospect.

Julian Cribb does not. With his long-time agricultural experience (he won awards for his agricultural journalism) - Julian figures out our chances of actually feeding the coming generations. Where are the bottlenecks. What happens?

Until we get a volunteer transcript, you'll have to listen to the powerful interview, at the opening of this weeks' Radio Ecoshock Show, to here the awful truth from Julian Cribb.

Top that up with a synopsis of his arguments, found here.

Julian Cribb also has a blog (intended for food wonks, but all welcome) here.

Julian also asked me to point out this little detail in the great machine that feeds you and I.

I've got more coming up on food, plus a new interview with James Howard Kunstler. Tune in next week, as we travel beyond the oil Apocalypse.

I included two tidbits of songs this week. "1999" by Prince, and "The Dream Before" a 1989 tune from Laurie Anderson's "Strange Angels" album. Plus two quick clips from the CBC and BBC.

Alex Smith
Radio Ecoshock

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Trouble with Billionaires

Welcome to Radio Ecoshock.

I've got two tasty speeches for you: why the billionaires are taking over, and what we can do about it.

A quick note on this week's program. More than half of Radio Ecoshock listeners are American. Although we do have people grabbing the podcast from all over the English-speaking world, and beyond.

Our topic this week: a new book ""The Trouble with Billionaires, Why Too Much Money at the Top Is Bad for Everyone." You'll hear directly from the authors, tax Professor Neil Brooks, and journalist Linda McQuaig.

Some of the following speech is about Canada. But wait! Most of the examples of billionaires, and studies of what people really want, are American. You'll hear plenty about Wall Street, the greedy Hedge Funders, and why Bill Gates doesn't deserve his billions.

That is because many developed nations suffer the same disease: a collection of billionaires have taken over the financial system, the political system, and social discourse via the mainstream media - which is also controlled by billionaires. As we'll hear, it's an unannounced coup. Welcome to the Plutocracy, where Democracy used to be.

You'll also hear how other countries, like Sweden, deal with the same problems, to create a fair society. Horrors!

The event at the Vancouver Public Library November 3rd, 2010 was sponsored by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. This recording is by Alex Smith of Radio Ecoshock.

The whole event went way beyond what I can broadcast in a one hour show. For the radio program, I've zoomed in on the part of Neil's speech where he outlines the seven premises of the book. Then I've picked out "the best of" from Linda McQuaig's speech. I hope you'll agree I've picked the most important parts of the speech, but if you'd like the whole thing, find it in these two files:

#1 Speech by Neil Brooks with introduction by Seth Klein of the CPPA - 43 minutes, 10 megabytes

#2 Speech by Linda McQuaig, plus their responses to audience questions - 52 minutes, 12 megabytes

Should society be more equal, more fair in the distribution of wealth, created by a civilization in which we, and all of our ancestors, have built? Or should billionaires run the whole show?

Neil Brooks has been teaching tax law at the Osgood Hall school, part of the University of Toronto, for the past 35 years. In the speech, he begins admitting the book is another failure in a long string of failures. Brooks has been trying to get the Canadian government to introduce a more just society by taxing the wealthy more. Instead, the government has reduced taxes on the wealthy, and got rid of the estate tax, otherwise known as the Death Tax, altogether. This favors the concentration of wealth at the top.

Ironically, much of what Brooks teaches enables lawyers to go out and get even more tax breaks for big corporations. Neil says that at least one third of the wealth by the top 1 percent is never taxes or even calculated, as it moves through various loop-holes and off-shore tax havens. His book has a remedy for that.

In the radio segment, Brooks gives a quick overview of the general health of our society since the 1920's. That was the gilded age, when "Robber Barons" were well known. The 1930's Depression, followed by World War II, reduced the overwhelming fortunes of the very rich, and brought about a larger Middle Class. That balance stayed until around 1980's - when the return of Neo-liberalism, Reganism, and the alleged "trickle down effect" got money trickling upwards, and then rushing upward, into the very top one percent of the population. Poverty returned to more people, especially in America.

Actual experience, in North America and in other countries shows that taxing the wealthy less ends up creating a less just, and a poorer society overall. The economy suffers when wealth concentrates. There is much more to it, some of it shocking, but you need to listen to the Radio Program.

The second speaker was co-author Linda McQuaig, the long-time business columnist, author of a string of Canadian best-sellers, and social critic. She questions why Bill Gates, or any billionaire, should have money worth many lifetimes of work by the average person. And why have the rich taken over since the 1980's? Isn't it a coup?

In the radio program, we cut in as McQuaig talks about the former media baron Conrad Black, who once suggested Linda should be, quote, "horsewhipped." Black later hired McQuaig as a financial journalist at his newspaper the National Post. She currently writes for The Toronto Star.

That is the thorn in the side of wealthy, journalist and author Linda McQuaig. She was speaking at the Vancouver Public Library, with tax Professor Neil Brooks to announce her new book "The Trouble with Billionaires, Why Too Much Money at the Top Is Bad for Everyone." McQuaig is feisty, lively, and one of the best informed about the wealthy.

There is much more detail in the book, with names named. I could say the author's suggestions for higher taxes for the rich are spot on, but just a part of the solution. (No, tar and feathering is not the other part...)

Just look at the social disruption caused by Meg Whitman's pouring $143 million of her own money into the election for California Governor. Democracy bought out. Or the multi-billionaire Koch brothers pushing their right-wing agenda, and the Tea Party, in the U.S. While fighting off any action to limit climate disruption. Billionaires are a much great threat than we know. And we don't know, because they control the mass media.

Now, thanks to Neil and Linda, you know. And knowing is half the battle. The other half is to reclaim our Democracy, and social justice.

My thanks to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, for organizing this event, and allowing me to record it. Find them out more at

You can download the full speeches by Brooks and McQuaig, plus the Question and Answer period, as free mp3 files. Look for the "Economy" in our Audio on Demand menu, at our web site,

I'm Alex Smith. Thank you for caring about our world.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Radio Ecoshock Show November 5, 2010

SHOW CREDITS: (for radio stations)

Jeff Tumlin recorded by Alex Smith, at the Gaining Ground Summit, Vancouver October 7th, 2010.

Odd clips from "Telstar" by the Tornados (1962); the Discovery Channel special (2006) "Perfect Disaster: Solar Storm"; global warming song (via You tube) from FLEP09, The Family Life Education Pasefika, New Zealand.


There is optimism - and then there's the facts. Welcome to Radio Ecoshock. We have a triple-header for you this week.

The Watchman is going to rattle out danger - with a brain wave escape hatch - as I interview California author Rebecca Costa.

Transportation planner Jeff Tumlin gives a short, stark warning speech about how cars make us fat, sick, and dead. Good commuting fare.

And we'll wrap up with happy bad news for the inner Doomster - NASA's new project to blackout your city, before the next Solar Storm starts the Long Emergency. Could it be the knock-out blow?

I don't mind if the future is scared and miserable. I just want my toilet to keep on working - and now the Sun wants to screw with my plumbing!

Do you think I'm crazy? NASA said so!

Keep listening.... and reading.

READ MORE - for all the links, my comments on this show, and the Solar Storm script, with more links to follow.