Thursday, May 26, 2011

Flood Fire Wind - Climate Shift

Welcome to Radio Ecoshock, and a special welcome to Earthbeat listeners. This is Alex Smith.

We've been broadcasting to college and community radio stations for over 5 years. Now I'm filling in for Earthbeat host Daphne Wysham while that great American green radio "Earthbeat" reorganizes, and seeks new funding. Find out how you can help bring Daphne back by going to

Meanwhile, the weird news about this Earth of ours keeps pouring in. We have a lot to cover, and some great guests to be our guides.

Now that Japan admits the Fukushima reactors are just a triple-melt down, leaking out radioactivity for years or maybe decades, we can look back to the United States and Canada, where wild weather has turned deadly.

We'll start with one of the Net's premier meteorologists, Dr. Jeff Masters from the Weather Underground. Are tornadoes another sign of climate change? How can we have record floods in the Mississippi, while just next door Texas burns through a record drought. It's all going to raise food prices even higher.

Then Dr. Joseph Romm steps in from Joe was Acting Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy during the Clinton Administration, with a specialty in clean energy. His blog is consistently named in the top 25 best climate sources on the Net.

In 2006, after a family member was hit by the Hurricane Katrina tragedy in New Orleans, Joe Romm wrote the book "Hell and High Water" in 2006. Now we are living it. Plus we talk new science on "salt surges" and climate solutions waiting in the wings.


The Salt Surge hit the Mackenzie River Delta in 1999. In that remote Arctic outlet, from Canada's longest river, nobody knew about it, except the Inuit, the original people of that land. When scientists heard about the wave of salty sea water that washed over a maze of lowlands and small lakes, they investigated. It was a perfect chance to study what we can expect all over the world, as sea levels rise.

They found that about two thirds of the shrubs (there are no trees there) along the Delta died over the succeeding years. In the Delta lakes, salt water species started to take over from weakened fresh water types. It was a big and permanent change to the ecosphere.

As climate change progresses, we can expect similar surges of sea water all over the world. Where will a salt surge hit next? In Nova Scotia? Chesapeake Bay? San Francisco bay?

We all pictured rising seas as a gentle increase, perhaps a few millimeters over a decade. Now we know it will be storm surges that announce the rising levels, due to excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Joe Romm describes the new science well.


Our third guest is Dr. Mike Flannigan, one of Canada's top wild fire experts. You'll hear why wildfires are doubling in the boreal forests in Canada, Alaska, and Russia. And a surprising new threat to the fragile balance of our climate.

We knew that the Boreal forests which cover the top of Canada, Alaska, and Russia were becoming a source of new carbon, rather than a greenhouse sink. Check out my 2007 Radio Ecoshock interview with scientist Tom Gower for more on that. And we knew big fires burn out of control ever year in the North.

The community of Slave Lake in Alberta was just evacuated, with one third of the town, including the municipal buildings, the radio station and library, burned to the ground. It was a sudden nightmare for the inhabitants.

Again various pundits have suggested humans will just move North as climate change develops. We also thought that the increase in rains predicted for the Arctic might stop forest fires. We learn from our guest Mike Flannigan that even a wetter forest can burn with just a few dry days, the northern soil is so thin. That's a nasty


Even more serious, Mike tells us about the Tundra - the area so far North it's too cold for tree seeds to germinate. So no trees. But there are hundreds of thousands of years of carbon stored in the Tundra, mostly as peat. If that burns, the whole climate of the world will change.

For example, there was a big burst of carbon into the atmosphere in 1997-98, when peat fires in Indonesia were burning out of control. Scientists estimate those peat fires along may have contributed from 20 to 40% of all the greenhouse gases produced globally - from the whole world, all sources - from just that one source. It may be no coincidence that 1998 was also one of the hottest years on record.

Now imagine that type of peat fires multiplied by a thousand, in the world Arctic. Peat fires can continue burning underground, even in winter, under the snow. There is no practical way to put them out. Some Arctic peat fires have already occured.

I presume the only solution is to bring our greenhouse gases back under 350 parts per million, as scientist James Hansen says. That is a level where ice forms, returning us to a world where the Arctic is carefully buried in ice. If we let if all melt, then no one knows how high the carbon may go - not from human sources, but from positive feedback loops, like Arctic peat fires.

You can learn a lot from just the short interview with Mike Flannigan, and I encourage you to find out more about this issue.


Last weekend I went to our mountain retreat. The local river was raging, thundering down the canyon, carrying 80 foot trees like match-sticks. We had near-record snowfall, more moisture in the atmosphere, this winter.

I felt the power of the river, and I felt small.

Food and energy prices are cutting into all of our lives. Governments at all levels look bankrupt and powerless. And we are well off compared to the 2 billion of the planet's poorest. The seasons are getting out of sync, the weather is breaking down. Somewhere across the planet three nuclear reactors have melted down out of control.

We are small, you and I. But we can be a lot bigger together. Check out our shows on building local community, the transition movement, and living happier with less.

Please support your local radio station, we're going to need the alternative to big corporate press. If you can, send a letter, an email or a phone call to your local station, asking them to carry Radio Ecoshock. While the Earthbeat show reorganizes, we need to keep green radio going, to carry the real environmental news. Let folks know you want more environmental coverage, with Radio Ecoshock.

Find our web site, with all our past programs as free mp3 downloads, at Radio Ecoshock is made for the love of the planet - no advertising, nothing to sell, just keep that news and hope alive radio.

I'm your host, Alex Smith. Write me any time at this address: radio @

Our music this week was Joel Zifkin, "High Water Rising" (courtesy of and Shane Philip (Canadian) "Mother Earth"

Thank you for listening, and I hope to find you here again next week.

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