Wednesday, September 28, 2011

How A Far Away Island Can Rock Your World


I'm hoping my bank will still be open next Monday. Most of us are trying to get through the next week. Half of us can't live without the next paycheck.

Will Europe survive? Despite the smiling faces of banking experts on TV, too many signs say "Wecome to the Great Depression". And some 1930's-style slowdown isn't the worst that could happen.

In the constant drum-beat of beat-down times, it's pretty hard to care what is happening somewhere else, in places we don't ever hear about. That climate stuff, that's years away too, except for the weird weather this year.

This is Radio Ecoshock. I'm Alex Smith. I'm going to convince you that a relatively small island on the other side of your world can break the climate wide open.


Strange fires in Asia helped start the hottest year on record, before 2010. They are burning again right now, blanketing South East Asia with acrid smoke. And loading up the atmosphere with a new burst of carbon, possibly as large as the exhaust from every car on Earth.

The tropical forest blaze, larger than Amazon fires, is on Sumatra, which is part of Indonesia. What happens there, could determine whether we make it, as a civilization, or eventually, as a species.

We'll hear from Dr. Florian Siegert in Munich Germany, who can see it all from space.

Indonesia is also the world's second largest coal exporter. That feeds the second largest coal power race on the planet: India. 173 new coal-fired plants have been approved this year alone. It's a mania that is already failing, even while it destroys so much.

Peasants and fishermen have been killed by police protecting coal plant sites from protests. The scale of ecological damage is amazing. The threat to our climate frightening.

We don't hear anything about this, as we pray our jobs will keep going, or worry we'll never get another one.

But we'll talk with Indian electricity expert Shankar Sharma to get the real picture. You'll hear the sounds of protests, and learn how this global coal resistance is hooking up Indian peasants to the poorest people in Appalachia, USA.


We won't have to wait until 2050 to find out what happens if the coal rush plays out. As Steve Connor, the Science Editor for Britain's "Independent" newpaper wrote July 5th, pollution from the one-new-one-a-week Chinese coal plants has hidden the true warming impact in a phenomenon known as global dimming. We started covering global dimming in this Radio Ecoshock show in 2006.

The new Indian coal plants, growing like mushrooms along the coast, will do the same. For a few years. But that protective smog lasts only a few years at most, and could clear in less than a month, if production suddenly stopped. Perhaps after a solar flare. Or a really big economic break-down. Or riots.

When the "wisp of smoke", as James Lovelock called it, is washed out of the atmosphere, we could experience a severe heating event. This could manifest locally, or globally. No one knows.

I asked Dr. Florian Seigert about this, but that was not his specialty.

We did discuss whether the peat fires of Indonesia in 1997 helped power the planet into the record-breaking heat of 1998.

[Siegert interview in audio]

Learn about peat fires and Professor Florian Siegert's work in this article.

These are my conclusions, based on Dr. Siegert's interview, but also on talks with other scientists.

* Indonesia is burning off tropical forests faster than anywhere else on Earth, including the Amazon. This releases vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

* even so, the carbon emissions from Indonesian peat fires is even greater.

* scientists calculated Indonesian peat fires amounted to 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity in 1997. A huge burst of carbon, that was measured immediately at the Hawaii measuring station. The rate of increase of CO2 doubled at the Manu Loa station that year.

* 1998 was the hottest year on record until 2010.

* this single "peat fire bomb" may have triggered the continuing increase of global warming gases around the world from other natural sources.

* research at the University of Exeter, led by Dr. Sebastian Wieczorek and Professor Peter Ashwin suggests that as global temperatures rise, peat can spontaneously catch fire, like an overheated compost pile. We don't know when that will happen.

* although up to a third of our carbon dioxide emissions has been sequestered by the ocean, the impact of carbon bursts from peat fires is more or less immediate. The greenhouse effect does not wait for years or decades. The existing carbon raises temperatures immediately, except for any temporary cooling effects from smoke.

* there is more tropical peat in the Amazon of South America, and in Africa. But we think Indonesia has the most by volume - up to 50 meters, or 164 feet deep.

* if the peat in the northern Permafrost thaws, dries, and then burns, a major extinction event is inevitable.

* more carbon is being released from forest fires in Indonesia and South East Asia than in the Amazon. Hardly anyone knows this. There is no campaign comparable to saving the Amazon.


According to Dr. Siegert, the biggest releases from Indonesian peat fires are caused by corporations and foreign investors.

Some peat forests have been drained and burned for palm oil plantations. That is supposed to create a so-called "green' biofuel, some sold in Europe, claiming to help the climate.

In reality, when we remember Indonesia, palm oil from peat lands is among the most climate damaging fuels on Earth. Palm oil biofuel taken from cleared peat lands releases 5 to 10 times more carbon dioxide than the fuel burned in the final car or power plant. This project is dangerously insane.


The peat fires are back in 2011. In mid-September, the Indonsian government acknowledged 1200 "hot spots" on their island of Sumatra. Thick smoke blankets Sumatra, and pollutes Singapore and Malaysia to the East. In desperation, Indonesia is trying to create rain. There is no other way to put the peat fires out.

Hundreds more fires have broken out on the nearby Kalimantan, which is Indonesia's part of Borneo.

That's a new name to learn: Kalimantan. Forests are being burned there to clear the land for more and more open pit coal mines.

A World Bank study in 2007 claimed Indonesia is the world's third largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

The government of Indonesia disputes and protest this. Since there is no true country-by-country measurement of emissions, beyond untrustworthy figures given by national governments, we don't really know.

We do know this: on top of those humungous peat fires, and record breaking burning of other tropical forests and deforestation, Indonesia provides enough coal carbon to reach a high rating among world polluters.

This is information you need to know.

If the latest flooding from extreme precipication events missed your area, lucky you. Maybe drought hasn't burned away your local agriculture. Maybe the freaky summer beach weather in early fall is fun.

But we are only part way there. I still hope to pursuade everyone that on this small planet, no matter what the headlines about the economic break-down may be, events in Asia are set to destabilize the climate for thousands of years.


Indonesia is the second largest exporter of coal in the world, following only Australia. Russia trails far behind at number three, with half the coal exports of Indonesia.

In 1985, Indonesia mined 2 million tons of coal. By the year 2000, that was 233 million tons. In 2010 it was 320 million tons, with 380 million projected for 2011.
Source here and here.

Indonesia depends on coal to power it's growing industrial base. In 2008, Indonesia burned 79 million tons of coal, mostly to produce electricity, and exported 160 million tons - twice domestic consumption.

The country's lower grade coal is only suitable for burning in power stations, so it is called "thermal coal". Indonesia is the world's largest provider of seaborne coal to power stations.


The government of Indonesia does not plan to cut back it's carbon emissions to save the climate.

Locally, Indonesia intends to expand coal as a source of energy from 17% to 33% by 2025. That includes replacing oil by liquifying coal, a horrible dirty way to get energy.
The country has 35 new coal-fired power plants planned, but only about half of them are being built so far, according to Greenpeace.

Greenpeace has released a report on the heavy impacts of this coal mining and transportation scheme on Indonesians. (In English) (In Indonesian)

The national energy policy is to double coal exports. Indonesia has mostly lower grade coal, which burns less efficently, and is used almost exclusively to fire electricity generating plants.

While there are plenty of coal ships running from Indonesia to China, Japan, and every Asian country, the biggest customer is India. India will drink up the coal of Indonesia, in a wild national dream to build hundreds more coal plants. Really, it's a dark nightmare. If the Indian coal plants become reality, life as we know it seems doomed.


This is Radio Ecoshock. I'm Alex Smith. Let us learn about India and electricity, with our next guest. I'll follow that with more coal activist news in India, our biggest hope at the moment.

[exclusive interview with Shankar Sharma in audio only]

I would like to thank Justin Guay of Sierra Club India for arranging this interview. This Justin Guay article in a Sierra Club blog has all the links to take you into the wild world of the Indian Coal Rush.

Pay special attention to this article from - associated with the Wall Street Journal. Big Indian banks are at risk, could even go under, due to the massive growth of loans to coal plant builders. More on that below.

Never mind that a political dispute on one Indian coal mining region (Telangana, formerly Hydrabad) has caused hours long blackouts in nearby States. Even the tech services out of Bangalore are threatened with blackouts due to lack of coal. There goes your tech support.


Let's get back to Indonesia, as the biggest provider of India's coal, and the CO2 emissions. Indoensia has big coal reserves on the tropical island of Sumatra. These are undeveloped so far. Most of their big mines are in Kalimantan, their part of the island of Borneo.

The Indonsian government owns the biggest mines. Some they run directly, others they contract out. The largest private coal miner is Bumi Resources. That company has two subsidiaries: Pt Artumin Indonesia, and PT Kalmin Prima Coal, called "KPC".

India's biggest corporate conglomerate, Tata, has purchased 30% of both these Indonesian coal mining subsidiaries. Tata has big coal-fired plants with more under construction.

The mad rush to build coal plants for India would blow the mind of any misinformed Western person. Because India is long past it's own peak coal production, the country must import from countries like Indonesia and Australia.

Coal plants require whole rivers worth of water for cooling, in those big towers. But India, as we heard from Shankar Sharma, is already parched for drinking water. The only solution is to buiild new power plants near the ocean. Part of the electricity generated would be used to power desalinization plants, just to get cooling water from the ocean. That uses a lot of energy, emitting still more carbon, before any power hits the transmission lines.

Take the single state of Andhra Pradesh, along the Eastern sea coast. Sixty three coal fired power plants, 8 times current production, 56 Gigawatts of coal powered electricity is planned.


In a country famous for corruption, environmental reviews and the rights of people already living in the area are thrown out the window. Seeing themselves thrown off, their agriculture and fisheries ruined, these poor people are fighting off the coal rush as best they can.

See this article, "The Struggle Against India’s Coal Rush" by Mary Anne Hitt in Grist.

Or listen to audio of the protest battles in this week's Radio Ecoshock show.

[clip from NDTV]
That report was from NDTV. Here is a bit more:

[more from the protests]

The coal companies claim to occupy waste land, but really it is thousands of acres of wetlands with villages and fisheries ages-old, being devastated.


Meanwhile, Indoensia decided to raise their coal prices to meet international market prices. Suddenly, the cheap coal supplies for India are not so cheap. As we heard, on mega-project has stopped dead in mid-construction. Another is only partly operating.

The coal builders want to raise electricity rates, breaking promises. Consumers are up in arms, the government is dithering.

There are signs this Indian coal plant building was a kind of real estate ponzi scheme. With set-backs from public protests, court rulings and escalating coal costs, some projects are heading toward bankruptcy. This could damage or break some banks in India, whose loans to power companies rose 47% since 2009. Bank loans doubled. Another banking scandal is brewing in India. Will they ask for a government bail-out as well?


Most of Indian power generation comes from State government owned operations. They will likely continue to try to satisfy public demand for more power. If they keep on with coal-fired electricity, we may all be fried by greenhouse gases.

As we heard from Shankar Sharma, there are plenty of other options for India. Solar power alone has a much greater potential than all India needs.

Lester Brown of Earth Policy Institute was on Radio Ecoshock discussing the problems of crop tolerance for climate change. Rice, he said, was already at the top of it's temperature range. Just two degrees added heating could threaten or end the Indian rice crop.

India is also dependent on the monsoon rains, which can be changed along with the climate. Northern India, and Pakistan, depend on the regular melting of glaciers. If those glaciers melt too fast, first floods, then an ever-lasting famine strike almost a billion people in the future.

India depends upon our climate of the past millenia, as much as well do. Coal cannot be the answer.


People in the West need to expand their view, to see a global problem. There is no part of the world which doesn't matter. Not now.

When I visited India, trains in the South were still running on coal.

When I landed in Jakarta, the capital and mega-city of Indonesia, there was a new reef. It was formed of all the human-power rickshaws grabbed by the government, and tossed into the sea. That was modernization under the dictatorship of the early 90's.

There were two roads into central Jakarta. One was a new toll freeway, almost empty except for the odd Mercedes. Below it, a constant traffic jam of the real Indonesia, on the pot-holed free road. At that time, there was a Western-style mall downtown. Inside there was everything you might find in Dallas, including a MacDonalds.

Outside, there were army men with machine guns to keep out undersirables, most of the people.

There has been a big change since then. Indonesia threw off the worst of it's censorship. The hated Dictator was replaced with a Democracy.

But Indonesia apparently cannot control the peat fires sending dangerous burst of carbon into the world atmosphere. Cannot control world-record destruction of their tropical forest.

Indonesia plans to flood the world air with even more coal and carbon, by increasing coal mining, exports, and local burning. That is their national plan.

What is our plan, to deal with it?

Global environment organizations like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club have recognized the danger of just letting countries like Indonesia and India plunge into a coal-based economy. Both write reports you should read. Both help organize protests, and work to empower the local people displaced and polluted to death by the coal industry. Sierra Club has organized a workshop to connect coal protesters in India with coal victims in Appalachia.

We must support their work.

But really, our plan so far is to remain ignorant. To pretend that what happens on one part of the Earth will not affect us here. To pretend there is nothing we can do about it.

Is that our game? To wait, to hold conferences, to make rules nobody follows, until the climate is wrecked for all generations?

I hope we can do better than that. We have the all the renewable tools we need - to forget coal, to leave it in the ground forever.

Please join, become aware, become active, care, and act on your caring.

Feel free to visit our web site at Download our programs and send them far and wide.

I'm Alex Smith. Thank you for participating in Radio Ecoshock.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


In this week's show, we hear about another huge rain disaster in Pakistan, Dengue fever panic, and how that tropical disease is coming to America, thanks to climate change. I've included a few survival tips for you.

Then a full 45 minute speech by Robert F. Kennedy Jr, the long-time "green Kennedy" and former host of the "Ring of Fire" show on the Air America network. Whether he's talking the evils of coal, or the stranglehold of corporate media on our news, Kennedy pulls no punches. It's a raw speech, delivered at the Commonwealth Club of California last June. I thought you should hear it.


The team of hurricanes and tropical storms working up the East Coast set a bunch of records.

Binghamton New York had an extreme rainfall event higher than ever recorded. The whole Susquehanna River flooded all the way down through Pennsylvania into Maryland. Spring floods? Sure we expect that. Now we have fall floods?

A couple of weeks ago, it was wet, wet, wet all around the D.C. area. As the Chief Meterorologist for the Capital Weather gang reported, the rain in the first and second week of September was just off the charts.

How about September 8th, at Fort Belvoir, the Army base in Fairfax County, Virginia. The National Weather Service reported 7 inches of rain in 3 hours, quote "off the charts above a 1000-year rainfall."

There was a one in 50 to 100 year rainfall near Elliott City, Maryland. 5.47 inches in 3 hours near Franconia in Virginia - a once in 500 years rainfall event. The whole DC Baltimore metro area rainfall hit levels that might be expected every 10 to 25 years.

Joe Romm at the Climate Progress blog reminds us of Nashville's "Katrina" - the one in 1000 year crazy flooding there last year. And Coastal North Caronlina experienced a second one in 500 year
rainfall, two in just the last 11 years!

Don't forget that deadly flood that hit Queensland Australia in January 2011 - after a long, long drought. People, cars, and buildings were washed away. The barely reported floods in China this year. And record flooding in Rio de Jainero last year. I've already mentioned one fifth of Pakistan went under water in 2010 flooding.

These are called "extreme precipitation events". We need a better popular name. How about "drowners"?

We have changed the atmosphere. Globally warmer air now holds 4% more water vapor. That doesn't sound like much, until it falls on your head and home.

Likely it's a similar amount to the entire contents of the Mediterranean Sea being added to the atmosphere. That's not a scientific statement, just a wild example from me, trying to wrap my head around what 4 percent more water in the air means. And it will keep going up, as the atmosphere warms. Maybe it won't be rising seas that drown civilization first - it could be rain falling from the sky.

If the local weather is cold enough, the extreme moisture falls as snow. Not that anybody on the East Coast and Washington would remember last winter's unusually heavy dump. Only the idiots who deny climate science thought it was a sure sign of "global cooling".

We'll hear the truth from someone living it in Pakistan.

But first, a little blast from the past, as Radio Ecoshock reaches back to a program called "The Unknown Climate" on April 9th, 2010 warning listeners about "global wetting" - the new hard rains predicted by science. In fact, as you'll hear, we asked American climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh about extreme precipitation way back in 2007.

From the 2007 Radio Ecoshock show "Hard Rain Gonna Fall":

Alex Smith: "And in 2005, your team released one of the most detailed climate predictions for North America. Can you tell us about that?"

Dr. Noah Diffenbaugh: "We found that elevated greenhouse gas concentrations substantially increase the frequency of extreme precipitation events, and also the contribution of those events to the total annual precipitation.

So, not only do the heaviest events become more frequent, as greenhouse gas concentrations rise, but they also represent a larger fraction of the total precipitation that comes during the year.

Maybe you saw Dr. Diffenbaugh on Al Gore's "24 Hours of Reality" broadcast last week. If you missed that, just go to

Now that many Americans have been washed out, and a few drowned, by extreme rainfall - it's a good time to understand this under-reported story coming out of Pakistan. And yes, there is plenty to learn about what can happen here or anywhere.

You remember the TV footage from 2010, when about one fifth of Pakistan simply went underwater, and stayed that way for over a month? Over 2,000 people died. About 20 million of the poorest people on Earth were left homeless. Aid was difficult and slow. The country has not really recovered even yet.

There are still an estimated 800,000 people homeless from that flood.

Now it is happening again. Monsoon rains, pumped up by climate change, have flooded the Southern part of the country, the Sindh area, next door to India's Punjab.

I didn't really hear about this in the mainstream media. It broke into an email discussion I was having with a Radio Ecoshock listener in Karachi, the port city at the very south of Pakistan. Thanks to the magic of podcast and download, we have listeners all over the world.


Eco-activist Khalid Hasan wrote me about a new documentary, the first green documentary released in Pakistan. It is called "Murder of Mystic", and shows another disaster: the fast disappearing Mangroves.

As in most places of the world, the weathly people, and the top Middle Class, want to build new houses on oceanfront. So they chop down the Mangrove "swamps" to create a clear view and maybe some beach front.

The land grabbers in Pakistan just hack down these low-lying trees of many roots, which are the spawning grounds of loads of marine life, including the fish supporting some of Pakistan's poorest people.

Mangroves also deflect the first signs of rising seas, because they buffer the coast. They help hold the coastline intact during storm surges.

A mangrove forest does a much better job protecting the shore than somebody's lawn and palatial home. The irony is: millionaires, (who produce so much more carbon emissions than the rest of us), will lose all that valuable oceanfront first, as the sea rises.

In the film "Murder of Mystic" by Outfield Productions, we also learn that Mangroves are very tough to replace. After the real estate moguls hack it down, along come well-meaning environment groups to "replace" them. There was even a contest in the Sindh area of Pakistan, and nearby India, to replant the most number of Mangroves, for the Guinness Book of World Records.

Few of those plantings survived. Mangroves take years to establish themselves, and Nature is complex. Mangrove forests cannot be easily "replaced". The best way is to save what exists. But that kind of anti-real estate activism can be dangerous in Pakistan. We need to keep a careful eye on the
safety of those who speak out.

Find a few brief clips from the film "Murder of Mystic" on You tube.


While Khalid and I discussed this, he wrote with amazing news: the streets of Karachi were flooding as never before! Sure, it is common for some flooding during Monsoon Season. But this was something else.

The whole Southern state of Sindh was just coming off a punishing twelve month drought. The Monsoons were hoped for as a relief.

Torrential rains started in August, and got worse in September. On September 14th rains beyond belief descended.

Hundreds drowned. At least two million people are homeless in Sindh and Baluchistan provinces. The United Nations is again appealing for aid, even as 800,000 people remain homeless from last year's floods.

Karachi is Pakistan's largest city, with somewhere around 25 million people in the greater metropolitan area. It was more or less shut-down by flooding. Schools and government buildings closed, along with the shops. The lights went out in many places. Transit stopped.

Then the refugees from the drowned rural areas came in a human flood toward the city.

Find the latest news at


Pakistan's greatest weather and climate scientists have no doubt this latest extreme flooding is another result of climate change.

We find this quote from an article September 18th, by M. Waqar Bhatti.

"'Rains in Sindh are the highest ever recorded monsoon rains during the four weeks’ period. Sindh this year received 270 percent and 1,170 percent above-normal monsoon rains, respectively in August and September,' he said, adding that in just four weeks, the otherwise dry, arid region received rainfall which was close to what it got normally in five years.

'Though sometimes it is difficult to relate extreme weather events to climate change, if we look at the frequency and the trend of the extreme weather events happening in Pakistan during the last two decades, it is easy to find its connection with climate change,' said Dr Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry, Adviser Climate Affairs and Vice-President of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), Asia Region, on Thursday."


And now the kicker, which warns everyone of the many nasty side-effects of climate change. Dengue Fever has hit the flood victims of Pakistan.

You may not know about Dengue Fever. This formerly tropical disease is hovering around the Southern United States. There have been 12 cases this year in Florida and a few more in Texas. The Bahamas has an outbreak of Dengue Fever right now.

If you need a dose of celebrity news, singer Rihanna's father was just hospitalized with Dengue Fever, picked up at Rihanna's home in Barbados.

On September 15th, the Los Angeles Times reported the tropical mosquito that can carry Dengue Fever, (as well as West Nile Virus and Yellow Fever), - was found in the San Garbriel Valley, right near Los Angeles, California.

You might want to take a minute to learn to recognize this bug. The scientific name is "Aedes albopictus". Most people call it the "Asian Tiger Mosquito". It's a "Tiger" because the more you swat it, the more it attacks. And this one bites in the middle of the day, not in the early morning or evening as most Northern mosquitos do.

Those are two of the signs: aggressive, and bites in the daytime.

This insect is easy to identify. It is a smaller mosquito, but the legs and body are black with white patches or stripes. If you see little white markings on the legs of a mosquito, you've found it.

In the recent Pakistan floods, in Karachi and all around, extending even to Lahore, there is panic now that Dengue Fever has set in. Trying to cut down the mosquitos, the government has ordered all public fountains and swimming pools to be emptied. But with flood waters all around, it's a hopeless task.

That's a disease you'll want to learn about, as our climate heats up.

Dengue fever has been called "bone-break" fever. It hits very hard. People feel like they are dying.

So they flock toward medical help, toward the hospitals.

Here is a short news clip from Al Jezeera September 15th, on the Dengue panic in Pakistan.

[news clip][hundreds flooding a Lahore hospital, fearing they have Dengue fever. The rumor in the country was that thousands were dying from it. Only 17 out of over a hundred patients tested had it.

The hospital was overloaded, and perhaps could not handle other injuries....]

Part of the point is most victims do NOT die of Dengue fever. Although you can die, most people survive, after a violent illness. Keeping hydrated, lowering the temperature with Apirin or Tylenol, that is the treatment.

Remember, antibiotics do not work on a virus, only on diseases caused by bacteria.

We can expect a similar panic if Dengue fever breaks out for real in North America or Southern Europe, where people are fearful of this unknown tropical disease.

If there are mosquitos in the hospital itself, as happens in some less developed countries, then those flocking to hospitals may be at greater risk.


Dengue fever is transfered by mosquito bites, and cannot otherwise pass from person to person.

Close the windows, or put up screens, and you are safe to treat your loved one.

Learn to recognize the mosquito and the disease. Avoid panic.

The real solution, is to limit the amount of climate change we cause. Maybe we can prevent tropical diseases from arriving. That is our goal at Radio Ecoshock - to limit the climate crisis.


Did you know your body is already toxic with mercury from coal plants? why doesn't the media tell you the truth about climate change? Get ready for a blockbuster speech from Robert F. Kennedy Jr., courtesy of the Climate One project at the Commonwealth Club of California.

Find more at

The Commonwealth Club of California invites special guests and let's them speak their minds. Check out their Climate One series, it's excellent. In this talk from June 16, 2011, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. pulls no punches about the dirty coal industry, and the outright failure of corporate media to inform the public about the dangers of climate change.

But he does have a vision to get us into a sustainable future.

Here are just a few quick quotes from the speech (which is packed full of notable quotes):

"Coal claims to be cheap, but actually it's probably the most catastrophically expensive way to boil a pot of water that has ever been devised."

He describes his 6 week jury trial in West Virginia on mountain top removal mining. He won "the biggest judgement in the history of the state." Of course that's in Appeal now.

Just one of those costs: many roads in West Virginia have 22 inches of asphalt - the taxpayers have to build super roads to support all the heavy coal trucks, which weigh 90,000 pounds.


RFK Jr.: "Last year the National Academy of Sciences said that - a ten year study that they completed showed that every single fresh water fish in America now has dangerous levels of mercury in its flesh.

That mercury is coming from coal-burning power plants.

One out of every six American women now have so much mercury in her womb, from eating those fish, and from other vectors, that her children are at a grim risk for a grim inventory of diseases - autism, blindness, mental retardation, heart, liver, and kidney disease.

I have so much mercury in my body, I got my levels tested recently. I fish a lot, I eat the fish. My levels are ten times what EPA [the Environmental Protection Agency] considers safe.

I was told by Dr. David Carpenter, who is a national authority on mercury contamination, that a woman with my levels of mercury in her blood would have children with cognitive impairment, with permanent brain injury.

Today, according to the Center for Disease Control, there are 647,000 children born into this country every year who have been exposed to dangerous levels of mercury in their mother's womb.

That a cost on our country, that they don't tell you about when they say 'Oh, it's just 11 cents a kilowatt hour.'"


RFK Jr.: "They've flattened an area of Appalachia larger than the state of Delaware.

If you filled twenty five feet of a Hudson River stream, we would put you in jail. If you blew up a mountain in the Sierras, or in Utah, or in Colorado, or the Berkshires, or in Appalachia, you would go to jail, or you'd be put in some place for the criminally insane.

But in Appalachia, they are able to cut down five hundred mountains, and it's all illegal.

They are able to bury not 25 feet of stream, but 2500 miles of rivers and streams. And they do it by subverting Democracy... and by hiding what they're doing from the public."

There's much more on coal.


R.F. Kennedy Jr. takes us on a tour of other countries who are developing sustainable energy rapidly.

They will leave America behind, he thinks, since once these plants are built, there is no need to buy dangerous and poisonous energy, like coal and oil.

Fossil fuels, he argues, only continue in America because of the huge subsidies still given to the coal and oil industry (and gas as well). That keeps going, because RFK says fossil fuels, along with the nuclear industry (he calls all these old fuel corporations "the incumbents") - have openly bought off both the Congress and the Senate. Corruption is keeping America polluted and backward, Kennedy tells his audience at the Commonwealth Club of California.

Otherwise, the U.S. would invest in a new energy grid, and renewables on a massive scale. Kennedy outlines how this could be done, even in very tough economic times. Instead of wasting trillions on foreign wars, build a new green energy system at home - and create millions of jobs.

Even though major investors want to build wind farms in North Dakota, there is no efficient way to get that power to the Mid-West (where it could replace coal), Kennedy says. That is just one reason a new national power grid is needed.

The new grid could also avoid the most expensive part of power, supply during peak demand periods.

A smart grid could cycle off millions of hot water heaters, for just 15 minutes, and save building a peak demand coal plant, for example. It would also democratize power development, since even you and I could mount solar panels and sell the excess electricity into the grid.

Kennedy is an investor and a principal at one of America's biggest green investment companies, Vantage Point Capital Parners.

Among other things, they are promoting a big solar thermal plant in California, through investments in a company called Brightsource Energy.

However, I have since read in the news that the solar thermal idea is being dropped, because new photovoltaic cells are coming in much cheaper now (especially from China). So the project may become a solar panel farm. I'm not sure where it stands.

Kennedy also mentions an online service called "Cha Cha" which lets mobile phone users dial just those letters, ask any question, and get an answer within one minute.

He thinks this is an example of how information has become rapidly free and democratized. He says energy will go the same way, being virtually "free forever" from the Sun, wind and geothermal - instead of making wealthy oligarchs who pervert our politics and our media.

I'm not going to try and cover the rest of the speech, which is loaded with a combination of bitterness and hope, in my opinion.

Kennedy is very critical of current politicians, saying they have been bought off, that Democracy is on it's last legs, especially after the recent Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to pour millions into politics. That was the "Citizens United" case. "...corporate wealth is now flooding into the political
process, and is going to dictate the direction of this country..." Kennedy says.


From a radio perspective, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was co-host on a popular show called "Ring of Fire" on the lefty Air America network. He says that network went broke not because they couldn't draw an audience (their ratings were good, even in the Republican strong-hold of San Diego for example) - but because the network could not get any major corporations to advertise.

Air America was more or less boycotted by big companies, leaving the lowest type of advertising as the only option. This reminds me of Betsy Rosenberg, the former host of "Ecotalk" having to hawk "green" kitty litter, trying to save one of America's few environment radio shows.

It gets worse.

Kennedy notes that Canada has a law prohibiting lying on television news. He says that is why there is no Fox News in Canada (and why Canada did not join in the Iraq war).


: "The pharmaceutical industry has under its control all the news organizations. Seventy percent of advertising on network news now comes from pharmaceutical companies.

Do you think that they are going to support something that damages their interests?

The rest of advertising is coming from the automobile industry and the oil industry."

My comment: funny, I have noticed all those pills for ills I never suspected I had. And the big trucks with even bigger motors. That's why I seldom watch network propaganda, - I mean "news".

LET US ENTERTAIN YOU (while the world goes to Hell)

RFK: "They are now serving their shareholders' interests. They do that not by telling us the issues that we need to understand to make rational decisions in a Democracy, but rather by entertaining us.

By appealing to the prurient interests that all of us have in the reptilian part of our brains for sex and celebrity gossip. So we know a lot about Charlie Sheen. And we know a lot about Brittany Spears gradual emotional decline.

But we know very little about what's happening in Appalachia, or about global warming, or about the things we need to know.

We're the best entertained, least informed, people on the face of the Earth.

We cannot keep our international leadership, or our Democracy, if we don't have an informed public that is capable of recognizing all the milestones of tyranny, and capable of telling the truth from fiction."

That is just part of this speech from Robert F. Kennedy Junior, at the Commonwealth Club. My thanks to their Climate One project for permission to rebroadcast it. Find a longer version, with audience questions, at their site, by clicking on the "Play Now" button under "Related Podcasts".

Please note that just because I run a speech, that doesn't mean I agree with everything in it. Our guests and presenters speak for themselves. Still, I found it refreshing to hear a member of the wealthy class speak so candidly about the corruption and killing of the Earth.

Over and out, from me, Alex Smith.

Radio Ecoshock

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Notes and links for weekly Radio Ecoshock show, broadcast by over 41 college and community stations.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fighting Fossil Goo

Radio Stations: includes brief clips from song "Beds Are Burning" by Midnight Oil.

To get the full blog for this show, check on Thursday.

This program features environmental activists and action.

We begin with iconic anti-globalist author Naomi Klein, interviewed by Daphne Wysham from Earthbeat Radio. Naomi was outside the White House, September 2nd, on the Indigenous Peoples day of protest against the Keystone XL Pipeline proposed to carry dirty Tar Sands oil to refineries in Texas.

Klein outlines the long-standing plot by the Canadian government and the Tar Sands oil companies to export oil to Europe. The Europeans are discussing whether this will be allowed.

But Americans are being sold on the project as boosting "energy independence" and "security" as though the Tar Sands are good for everyone. People are not being told the heavy oil sands product will be turned into diesel fuel to be sold to Europe (with Italy a major buyer) and to South America. It has nothing to do with replacing oil from more dangerous sources in the Middle East.

You must hear the analysis put forward by Naomi Klein.

Then I interview Tzeporah Berman, one of the more famous environmentalists produced by North America. She rose to international attention as a primary spokeswoman at Clayoquot Sound, trying to prevent clear cutting of that ancient temperate rainforest. Over 700 Canadians were arrested at Clayoquot.

Berman was hit with 857 counts of assisting in criminal action. Her lawyer argued her rights to free speech, and won.

After a key position in the environmental group Forest Ethics, and a long battle to help save the Great Bear Rainforest, Tzeporah Berman is now the co-director of the Climate and Energy Campaign for Greenpeace International.

After our in-depth interview, on how and why someone becomes an activist - I play you a clip recorded at the launch in Vancouver of her new book "This Crazy Time". On stage, Berman was questioned by the editor of the online magazine "The Tyee" - David Beers.

You hear about the new campaigns Greenpeace is developing. For example, Volkswagen, through a business lobby in Europe, is stalling on new fuel efficiency regulations. Using a parody of their successful advertising video, Greenpeace calls on VW to come back from the Dark Side.

There is also a campaign on Facebook against.... Facebook. Unlike Microsoft, which just opened a new server farm in Ireland powered by wind, Facebook uses tremendous amounts of coal-powered electricity. It's all in the Greenpeace report "Dirty Data" which is available free online.

We learn that the electricity required to keep one personal Avatar going is equal to the power consumed by the average family in Brazil. Even this blog is creating climate emissions, no doubt.

Following that book launch clip, we go back to Daphne Wysham and the Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, Tom Goldtooth - speaking outside the White House. He asks President Obama to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, and to stop the poisoning of the land and its people.

At the end, there are more passionate please from aboriginal speakers, including those Cree people who live right next door to the Tar Sands. Many of them have cancer at a young age. It's a sad story that needs to be told, before this fossil madness goes further.

Again, my thanks to Daphne Wysham, the long-time host of Earthbeat Radio, for this special contribution. She never gives up on the cause.

I'll write more in my blog tomorrow, at Meanwhile, those radio stations who receive Radio Ecoshock by podcast will get this feed. We are up to 41 stations now - thanks to many long-time listeners who have recommended us to local non-profit radio stations.

Alex Smith
Radio Ecoshock.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Growing Through The Storm

What can we learn from the storms and fires? Will gardening still be possible if the climate is disrupted? Where will fertilizer come from after Peak Oil?

In this Fall 2011 Kick-off show, we have three interviews.


"Peak Oil Shrink" psychologist Kathy McMahon starts out. Watching the TV reports, and being kind of a "prepper" - Kathy got caught in Hurricane Irene in Vermont.

As the roads washed out, making a strange journey home, Kathy learned to watch what is developing in the actual emergency around you, rather than going by TV forecasts. What wasn't predicted: the real problem in New England was not high hurricane winds, but the extreme rainfall event.

You've heard Vermont was very hard hit. Not just the mountain roads, but even parts of the Interstate system were flooded out, along with bridges. The Interstate is supposed to be built for the "100 year flood". I guess we just had that.

Kathy has a lot more to tell us about our psychology in an emergency, how we handle ourselves in stressful times. I think this is a really useful interview.


Jules Dervaes and his family started growing food on their standard city lot (1/10th of an acre) in Pasadena, California - because they needed the food. That was about 10 years ago.

Now they produce record "crops" from their home garden, over 7 tons of produce in 2010. They did it even with the usual asphalt driveway, and even a bunch of cement in the back yard.

You will hear how container gardening can be mixed with in-ground to find just the right conditions for each plant. How to save water and weeding by the way you plant. Some tips on keeping the garden alive during high heat waves. That is surely necessary knowledge as global warming develops.

In fact, this year of 2011 was a real challenge for Jules and his three adult children. There was a long period of heat and poor growing conditions in California, and even experienced gardeners are struggling. The Dervaes family will still feed itself handsomely, but they may not have the extra income they hoped for selling the extras to organic restaurants. Nature is always teaching us how to adapt.

Jules has a wealth of knowledge, which the family freely shares on their various web sites.

Start out with their main page at:

Read the family daily blog at:

The Dervaes family also runs a store at:

Or find people in your area through the social network at:

And finally, for those who want to talk about raising chickens, bees, or larger animals in the city, try:

Lots to chew on there! Everybody should hear this interview with Jules, to know your prospects for feeding yourself or family, should the need arise. Self-sufficiency is coming to the city.


Richard Heinberg is one of our favorite guests. He's the Senior Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute, and author of so many seminal books. Find his web site here.

Richard is also featured on a news site I check daily, the really helpful Energy Bulletin. Bookmark that.

I really "grokked" Peak Oil by reading Heinberg's book "The Party's Over." He made the case that our energy supplies are limited, and what that means for society.

We last talked to Richard on Radio Ecoshock about his book "Blackout". That one is kind of a sleeper, I think. Not that it puts you to sleep! Not at all.

The book is mostly about coal. You have been told over and over we have enough coal to last a thousand years, or at least 250 years. Now they are saying 80 years, and Heinberg says we'll feel the coal pinch much sooner than that.

The real kicker in "Blackout" (and the reason for the title) - there is no other mass power option waiting, to provide electricity to the world. Unless we can get a solar and wind revolution going now - civilization could "blackout", perhaps in 40 or 50 years. Lights out?

In his new book "The End of Growth, Adapting to Our New Economic Reality" (which follows his previous "Peak Everything") - Richard Heinberg looks at all the lies our politicians and economists tell us: "we'll get back to growing jobs and the economy any day now..."

No, this "recession" is not a temporary blip. The whole model of endless growth was a Ponzi scheme from the start. It is bound to fall into bankruptcy, unless we provide some new models for living.

Richard did a lot of radio interviews about the book. I tried to pick up on three things the others did not cover, that should interest you.

First: it turns out a vital nutrient for all agriculture is also very limited: phosphorus. We minded out half of central Florida to get it. And stripped the South Pacific Island of Nauru until it looked like a moonscape. Now we are getting phosphates from North Africa (what could go wrong there?!)

Heinberg explains how peak phosphates could prevent the world from feeding our current billions, and lead to social unrest.

One solution is self-sufficiency, developed in a network of people who care about one another (also known as "community".) The trouble is, we are just recovering from a pattern of corporate job-moving. A huge number of North Americans have moved around, some every few years, as part of their jobs. That breaks up community.

The extended family has also suffered, for reasons you know well.

People in cities and small towns are now looking to rebuild community, outside the former institutions like the family (or even the church). The Transition Movement is certainly part of that.

In his book "The End of Growth" Richard Heinberg also gives some good solutions, including the "Common Security Clubs" (which are now renamed as "Resilience Circles". Google either of those to find out more. They are frameworks to help one another in difficult times.

In the interview Heinberg gives us a lot of other clues and tools about what we need to do, to survive better in climate disruption, energy decline, and social upheaval.

Three interviews this week - and a lot more to come! My inbox is already filling with interview requests. As usual, I'm also out looking for new things you'll want to hear.

Radio Ecoshock is now broadcast on 41 stations (we just added another college station from Canada this week, CKUW 95.9fm at the University of Winnipeg. We'll be continuing on WPFW "Jazz and Justice" radio in Washington D.C., a long-time 50,000 Watt station I want to support.

Please check out our list of radio stations here, and turn your friends, co-workers, even your family (if you dare) to Radio Ecoshock on a local station. If we are not in your area, and you like this program, I need your help to write or call the nearest community or college station to get deep green radio on the air.

Thanks to all our listeners.

And a special "hello" to Khalid and friends in Pakistan. I will cover the Mangrove problem there. We also have a special guest from India coming up. If we learn anything from the environment this year, it is: the whole world matters.

Alex Smith
Radio Ecoshock

Friday, September 2, 2011


Welcome back to another season of Radio Ecoshock. I'm Alex Smith.

A few years ago, one of our guests suggested as the climate destabilized, the world economy could go down with it. With one weather disaster following another, it costs more trying to recover than a country can produce or tax. Eventually, decades away, there would be no money for recovery. Governments would become incapable and bankrupt.

That time is now.

After a year of record snow storms, record drought and fires, record tornadoes, and now a hurricane of the Century, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, is broke. Already, municipal and governments were teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. They sold more bonds this year only due to Federal guarantees. Now after the debt ceiling fiasco, and a downgrade by Moodys, even the mass media admits
America is broke.

Lurking behind, driving energy and extreme rainfall into the clouds, while drying a quarter of the nation into worse than Dust bowl times, the carbon engine of climate change continues to power up.

Next week we'll do our official kick-off for the Fall Season of Ecoshock. I've got a line-up of guests with gusto and guts.

This week is really for our dedicated fans, and anyone else who will listen. We have a new speech by the world's most influential climate scientist. He works with European heads of state. He receives delegations from China. Recently he advised the White house.

This is a powerful mind, at the vortex of the most recent and urgent scientific research into the new climate we are making. He was a chief organizer of the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. For all the institutions and panels he heads, most North Americans have never heard his name. Unless they subscribe to a You tube uber-conspiracy channel, where he is villainized.

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, known as "John" to his English speaking friends. Among other things, he Research Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in Britain. An awe-inspiring position. Now he is the Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, also known as (PIK), and, on the side, a Chair for Theoretical Physics at the University of Potsdam, Germany. Schellnhuber advised the German Chancellor on climate science.

In September 2009, John Schellnhuber was a presenter at the first conference convened to consider the worst, a world where temperature rise beyond our current ecology. A world without ice, anywhere. It was called "Four Degrees and Beyond" at Oxford University.

In July 2011, Schellnhuber gave two keynote speeches for the second such conference, this time in Melbourne Australia. His public speech is available with video on the Net, at Make sure you see it. There is a lot of important information you have not heard, partly because it is so new.

But I want you to hear the speech he gave to the University Conference audience. It is raw and disturbing. I'm almost hesitant to pass it on. But we all need to know. To know where we are going, when we set out for drive, flick a switch, use the buried fossil power from the distant past.

Dr. Schellnhuber tells the audience the browning of vegetation in the Southern United States is visible from space. America has suffered "traumatic impacts" from climate change already. And the wild ride toward four degrees higher global mean temperature has just begun.

You hear the same disturbing assessment John Schnellnhuber has given directly to many heads of government.

Without a major change, to slash our emissions, we are heading over a climate cliff that will not return to our "normal" for the next 50,000 years or more. We are tipping it, and we are tipping if faster every year.

From the "Four Degrees or More" conference in Australia, courtesy of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute and other sponsors to be named later, this keynote address for experts has been lightly edited for time.

The title: "Strange Encounters Behind the Two Degrees Firewall."

I filled half a binder with notes from this Australian conference. You can find all the Conference speeches, including two important videos, at the web site. Help yourself, at

We all need to go back to school. To learn, and then to pass it on, to teach others, while there is still time to save our climate.

And there is still time, if we can make a miracle. If we can change.


This two and a half day conference, from July 12 to 14th, began with an acknowledgment of the original owners of the land, the Aboriginal People.

Just three days before, on a Sunday, the government of Australia announced a comprehensive climate change plan.

Keep in mind, the country had been battered by lethal fire storms (almost beyond imagination), a decade-long drought that drove farmers to suicide, and then extreme rainfall events with flash floods never seen or expected.

Despite Australia's total dependence on coal for it's own electric generation, and coal exports to Asia as a mainstay of the economy, a multiparty panel agreed on a plan including:

* a mild carbon tax
* a new climate regulatory body called "The Climate Authority"
* plans to cut emissions by 5% by 2020, or up to 25% if other major developed nations took greater steps to cut their emissions
* changes the tax structure of Australia to discourage the carbon path
* mandates a review in Parliament of progress and news aspirations by 2014.

The press dominated by Rupert Murdoch fought this plan. It is possible a new more conservative government could overturn it. There is a strong climate denial club, almost an industry, in Australia.

Australia joins Canada and the United States as the highest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases.

That is the background to this conference, to examine the possibility that global mean temperatures may rise to 4 degrees above pre-industrial levels, and perhaps more. What would that mean for Australia, and for humanity? How likely is that climate disaster? Could temperatures go even higher? We heard estimates that at 11 or 12 degrees above "normal" - human physiology can no longer function. The remaining humans would have to cluster in Canada, Sweden, and Siberia as the only habitable places left on Earth.... Just as Sir James Lovelock warned some years ago.

Professor Hans-Joachim Schellnhuber, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany, gave 2 lectures, one for the Conference audience (mainly of scientists and experts) and another for the public, with a video online.

The start of the conference keynote address was a little slow, as "John" warmed up and judged his audience. I did not include that in the radio broadcast. He warned Australia was "the most vulnerable continent" to climate change, and we'll hear more about that.

Then Schellnhuber introduced Germany's energy revolution, including a decision after the Fukushima accident to
phase out nuclear power. He returned to that subject more fully in the Q and A, and I included that version in the Radio Ecoshock broadcast.

Two degrees is not a good landing place for our climate, he said. It was picked as a compromise between feasibility and desirability. Two degrees he calls "a firewall" to protect us against the disaster of total melting of the polar ice, and all world glaciers.

Even at two degrees, the South Pacific Islands, like the Maldives, would be lost, along with the entire Great Barrier Reef of Australia.

So far, we have only raised the global mean temperature by something less than 1 degree. (And look what has happened already). 2010, he notes, was the warmest and wettest year on record. And despite economic troubles in the developed countries, 2010 greenhouse gas emissions set a new record high. He expects 2011 will be even greater.

Based on our current emissions, other scientists, like Professor Malte Meinshausen (also of the Potsdam Institute) calculate our best case scenario for the year 2300 would be 420 to 450 parts per million CO2 equivalent. The worst case would take Earth up to 2,000 parts per million, a level not seen in millions of years.

The temperature increase over pre-industrial levels could go to 7 or 8 degrees C higher by 2300. That would mean at least a 7 meter sea level rise by the year 2500. The most heavily populated parts of the Earth would be underwater. Later, Schellnhuber considers studies in physics that show the temperature is unlikely to stay anywhere around 7 degrees. Simple calculations about the wave patterns of matter suggest the temperature would either rest around 5 degrees, or keep migrating up to 10 degrees, where there is another natural plateau.

Even half a degree (Celsius) above the pre-industrial world, says Schellnhuber, is like the world catching a fever.


At the 36 minute mark of the speech as posted at, Schellnhuber predicts 15 centimeters higher sea level by 2050. To reach that estimate, he includes news scientific studies about ice melt not included in the last IPCC report. He thinks that science may not even be included in the next IPCC report, because that body is by it's make-up of total consensus by all countries (including oil producers like Saudi Arabia) far too conservative.

Once the climate reaches levels above 2 degrees, Schellnhuber suggests (and science supports) - the process may be unstoppable. We may already have changed the climate for good, in human time scale. (42 minute mark). Even with efforts to remove carbon, it may take thousands of years for the atmosphere to recover. The next best chance to reverse a climate gone to hot would come in another 50,000 years, when the long-term wobble in the Earth's orbit would naturally favor the beginning of another ice age.

The two degree "firewall" could hopefully prevent such a big hit, with runaway ice melt at the poles.


Here is an interesting note. Schellnhuber was part of a group of scientists who produced a climate change document for the Pope of the Catholic Church. The Pope, it seems, is worried about the injustice of rising seas.

Because innocent nations, who produced very little greenhouse gases, will suffer worse than those who continued to pollute the sky.

Many estimates, based on a combination of climate models and real-time monitoring of Greenland ice melt (from the two GRACE satellites I presume) suggest that runoff will raise the global mean sea level by one meter (39 inches) by the year 2100.

But the sea is not level. We all talk about "sea level" but that does not exist in reality. The sea can pile up in some places, according to the gravitational pull of the sea bed, such as the mass of the rocks underneath, or the mass of continents. This operates just like the gravitational pull of the Moon, which causes water to pile up in tides.

But Schellnhuber warns if Greenland loses mass (as it loses that huge mound of ice), the sea level around Greenland, and even along the U.S. Northeast Coast may remain the same, or even go down a little. The extra
water may go around to the Pacific islands, further drowning them.

After all, the Northeast Coast of North America is already drawing as much water as it can. That won't change.

Greenland will draw less, because with less ice, it has less mass, less gravity. Why the excess water would go to the South Pacific, Schellnhuber did not say.

But again, there will be "sea level injustice" as South Pacific and some Asian nations are flooded with rising seas, with less impact on parts of the developed world.


In various parts of both presentations, John Schellnhuber talks about the "traumatic impacts" of climate change on the United States, already. At 52 minutes, he says satellites can measure the browning of vegetation in the American South West, and the West generally. From space, the vegetation is dying from drought.

Ironically though, rainfall drawn from the driest parts, may fall more plentifully on other parts of the U.S. He predicts American agricultural production could initially go UP as the temperature rises 2 or 3 degrees. Then it would crash with higher temperatures. So Americans might not see their food crash coming.

Schellnhuber participated in the production of 10 papers for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (U.S.) on the various tipping points of climate change.


It is much harder to predict the reaction of whole ecological systems, such as the Amazon rainforest. Most studies suggest that great carbon sink will convert to grasslands, but not all scientists agree. The issue, says Schellnhuber, is not settled.

And here I inject an issue raised later by Schellnhuber. Namely scientists realize there is still a great unknown.

Scientists try to talk about a degree of certainty, while recognizing there is always a degree of uncertainty. There is room for error, and science tries to be a self-correcting system.

Schellnhuber contrasts this to the attitude of climate deniers, who remain absolutely certain they are right, and who do not adjust their positions when facts intervene.


In more new science, just now coming out, climate projections show the development of "oxygen holes" in the Pacific Ocean, and elsewhere. The mechanics of both warming of the seas, and acidification, can lead to conditions where there is no more available oxygen. These become "dead zones" - and they are already appearing. "The oceans rise, warm, turn sour, but also lose breath" under climate disruption, he said.


Schellnhuber tackles the question about whether there are upper limits to global heating. Or could the atmosphere just boil away, as it appears to have done on Mars? (My comment, other scientists such as NASA's James Hansen, who specialized in the study of the atmosphere of Venus, also express this question and fear.)

Schellnhuber says it is doubtful that humans could trigger such an extreme reaction. However, we don't know what will happen if warming melts the frozen methane at the sea bottom ("clathrates"), or if the stored carbon in the frozen soil of the Arctic is released.

It is here, at 1 hour, 4 minutes of the web presentation, that Schellnhuber suggests there are energy bands in solids. "...warming may stop at 5 degrees C. or may go to 10 degrees, with self amplification." Seven degrees above industrial levels is not a likely stopping point due to physics. And Schellnhuber is a master of physics.


Starting at Copenhagen, and signed by most nations of the world at Cancun, there is an agreement that we should not exceed 2 degrees of climate heating. With that goal, scientists can calculate how much carbon we could still release, namely 750 gigatonnes between 2010 and 2050.

We already burned about 30 gigatonnes in 2010 and 2011, he says.

He presents two scenarios to stay within the 750 gigatonne level:

1. At our current rate, if we wait until 2015 to take significant action (as Australia has just proposed, and the U.S. too...) - then we have to cut back the overshoot "by one Kyoto Protocol per year".

2. If we wait until 2020 to take action, we have to cut all greenhouse gas emissions by 9 percent per year. (My comment, imagine getting 9 percent less fossil fuels every year...)

But, if all we have is 705 gigatonnes, Schellnhuber says it must be distributed with justice to all the people of the world. Everyone who breathes has an equal right to the atmosphere. If we applied that principle, giving an equal share of the remaining fuel to every person in India, as much as to Americans, developed countries would have to cut back so drastically they would quickly crash.

The U.S. would be carbon bankrupt by 2020. (My comment: not only is America facing economic bankruptcy, but now carbon bankruptcy as well). But India, given it's current low per capita consumption of fossil fuels, could go on burning carbon for a few centuries.

Since that is not realistic (my comment, in part because of who holds military power) - Schellnhuber says a global carbon trading system is the only way to save the climate. North Americans, who need lots of carbon while they adjust away from fossil fuels, would buy credits from less developed countries.

Yes, it would be a massive transfer of wealth from North to South - about $100 billion dollars a year, to achieve carbon equality by the year 2050. Schellnhuber said that is not a lot of money in the global economy (my comment: it is less than 10% of the real military budget of the United States alone).


Schellnhuber, who has advised the German Chancellor Angela Merkl (who is also trained in physics), notes that Germany is doing very well economically, compared to most other countries. Yet Germany is committed to 40% reduction from 1990 levels (my comment, not from some year after 2000, as the Americans always propose) - by 2020 (less than 9 years away).

And they will do it without nuclear power, since the Fukushima multiple melt-down, on top of previous radiation from Chernobyl, has convinced the majority of the German people that nuclear is just too dangerous to use.

Germany is already well on its way, with large installations of solar, even in a country which has much less sun that Australia. He talks further about the "German energy revolution" in his public keynote address, also online in video, at

In the question and answer period, Professor Schellnhuber says a large delegation from China recently visited Germany, to confer on converting from the carbon economy to renewables. China wants to join Germany in forming a kind of "carbon fitness club".

For this and other reasons, Schellnhuber wanted his Australian audience not to depend on selling coal to China for too much longer.

That ends my notes on the first keynote presentation by John Schellnhuber at the Four Degrees or More conference in Melbourne Australia, July 12, 2011.



I begin with my own comments, as an introduction.

This is one of the biggest questions in scientific circles, and by those curious about the strange climate events of 2011. The proposal is that China has built so many new coal plants, so quickly, that their pollution is acting like a shield against incoming sunlight, retarding the warming that was expected.

The problem comes because calculations of the current carbon in the atmosphere suggests we should have warmed more than we have. It sounds simple in physics, with a calculation of watts per square meter of sunlight hitting the Earth, and a formula for the heating retained because of carbon (discovered over a century ago).

We know that coal plants without scrubbers, and especially those of lower efficiency of burning, emit tons of sulphates into the atmosphere. That caused "acid rain" in the United States, Canada, and Europe in the 1970's, until most coal plants installed scrubbing devices.

Many of the new Chinese coal plants were built hurriedly with no pollution controls. Scientists calculate that a new coal plant adds to cooling of the planet for the first seven or eight years, due to sulfates, which reflect sunlight back into space. After that, the sheer volume of carbon emitted overwhelms the cooling effect, and the plant then continues to warm the planet for the rest of its operation (often 40 to 60 years).


The same cooling effect can be caused by volcanoes, which also toss sulphates into the atmosphere. In his public presentation, John Schellnhuber says "the biggest volcano on Earth is Chinese industry". (20 minute mark).

He notes that the world-recognized expert on cooling by air-borne particles, known as "aerosols", is Dr. "Ram" Ramanathan of the Scripps Institute. Ramanthan suggests human air pollution (from all sources, including cook stoves in India, and industry all over the world, not just China) - is masking a rise of 2.6 degrees C. The world could be over 2 degrees hotter already, if industrial pollution stopped today.


If true, this is disastrous news. We have already gone passed the compromise "firewall" of two degrees, and all that heat will become apparent if we either clean up pollution (a current high demand in China), or run out of fossil fuels. James Lovelock said we are protected only by "a wisp of smoke" which could disappear in just a few days.

For example, if we experienced a massive solar flare, like the "Carrington effect" which hit the Earth around 1854 - then all electronics would be damaged. Industry might stop for months or years, and the true warming level of the atmosphere would be experienced, without our protective blanket of pollution.

THE STEPHEN H. SCHNEIDER SYMPOSIUM (talks on aerosol cooling).

However, other scientists are not so sure how great this masking effect is. On Thursday August 25th, 2011, I recorded presentations by scientists at the The 2011 Stephen H. Schneider Symposium at Boulder, Colorado.

There were three morning presentations on the impact of aerosols on climate, by

1: Phil Rasch (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory);
2: Alan Robock (Rutgers University); and then
3. Veerabhadran Ramanathan (University of California, San Diego).

I listened intently for an assessment of the impact of Chinese coal plants. But did not find that discussion. What I did learn is about the huge uncertainties we still have about both the role of clouds, and of our aerosol pollution, on the climate. This is still one of the great frontiers of science.

Worse, another byproduct of pollution (other than sulphates) - is the black carbon particles. A major source remains primitive cook stoves in India. These particles landing on ice, like the great Himalayan glaciers, can speed ice melting, and increase warming.

But I did not learn more about the impact of Chinese coal plants from this seminar.

If you want to learn more, Prof Robert Kaufman, at Boston University has done a study, with other scientists, saying the Chinese coal plant emissions have masked the real heating of the Earth. Try this article, "Sulfur from Chinese Power Stations 'Masking' climate change" in the Guardian newspaper published July 4th, 2011.


There is so much more to learn from the online speeches given at the Four Degrees or More conference in Australia. Go to the web site given above, and explore.

We must learn a lot quickly, and pass it on very fast, to create public action. After hearing the small amount of carbon we can still burn and survive in a sustainable climate - I am amazed to look out on a roadway to see all the humans, one to a car, burning away the future, with no knowledge of what we are creating. And apparently we have no will to stop.

Alex Smith
Radio Ecoshock