Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Planet Shift - No Return

Twenty one scientists say Earth approaches a "state shift". The ecosphere may change rapidly, never to return. Interview with Dr. Arne Mooers. Planetary boundary talks at Rio+20 w. Oxfam's Kate Raworth, & Johan Rockstrom of Stockholm Resilience Institute. Interview w. Australian green home builder John Morgan. Radio Ecoshock 120627 1 hour. Listen to/download this 1 hour program in CD quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)

Welcome, welcome to a full helping of warnings, despair, good humor, and one man's example to the world.

I'm Alex Smith, with so much audio we must orient and load up quickly. Direct from the alternative presentations at the Rio Plus 20 conference, you will hear two short hot speeches on the economy that's never counted, and the assault on a new science of planetary boundaries. Independent environmental journalist Stephen Leahy sent us the exclusive audio of Kate Raworth and Johan Rockstrom in Rio.

Then we'll journey to Australia. The self-sufficient John Morgan tells us about his 9 star home that needs no furnace or air-conditioner. Plus a look at Australia's new carbon tax, coming into effect July 1st.

But first, a group of 21 scientists, from very different fields of study, produced a special briefing for the Journal Nature, ahead of the meeting of world leaders in Rio de Janeiro for the second Earth Summit. They concluded Earth, our planet home, could be heading for a massive shift, a new state not seen for millions of years. It's spine-chilling, so I'll need to call on my radio side-kick for this program, none other than Charles Prince of Wales.

[Charles quote one] That is from Prince Charles, as he addressed the Rio leaders by video link, on June 19th, 2012. Watch it on You tube.

Charles demanded scientists and other experts come out of their silos to assess what is really happening in the world. That is exactly what happened when a group of scientists were organized by the Berkeley campus of the University of California. We go now to one of the participants, Arne Mooers of Simon Fraser University.


Listen to/Download the Arne Mooers interview (18 min) here in CD quality or Lo-Fi.

The technical review of the paper published in Nature is here.

Here is a quick summary about this paper, from the Simon Fraser University Press release:

"Study predicts imminent irreversible planetary collapse

June 06, 2012

Using scientific theories, toy ecosystem modeling and paleontological evidence as a crystal ball, 21 scientists, including one from Simon Fraser University, predict we’re on a much worse collision course with Mother Nature than currently thought.

In approaching a state-shift in Earth’s biosphere, a paper just published in Nature, the authors, whose expertise spans a multitude of disciplines, suggest our planet’s ecosystems are careering towards an imminent, irreversible collapse.

Earth’s accelerating loss of biodiversity, its climate's increasingly extreme fluctuations, its ecosystems’ growing connectedness and its radically changing total energy budget are precursors to reaching a planetary state threshold or tipping point.

Once that happens, which the authors predict could be reached this century, the planet’s ecosystems, as we know them, could irreversibly collapse in the proverbial blink of an eye.

'The last tipping point in Earth’s history occurred about 12,000 years ago when the planet went from being in the age of glaciers, which previously lasted 100,000 years, to being in its current interglacial state. Once that tipping point was reached, the most extreme biological changes leading to our current state occurred within only 1,000 years. That’s like going from a baby to an adult state in less than a year,' explains Arne Mooers. 'Importantly, the planet is changing even faster now.'

The SFU professor of biodiversity is one of this paper’s authors. He stresses, 'The odds are very high that the next global state change will be extremely disruptive to our civilizations. Remember, we went from being hunter-gatherers to being moon-walkers during one of the most stable and benign periods in all of Earth’s history.'"

One of the take homes from this key interview is this: many of us (including myself at times) believe we can stop polluting and things will go back to "normal". The campaign seems to imply this as well: if we remove CO2, we can go back to Nature as it was.

This new study by the 21 scientists points out a grave risk: in fact Nature makes sudden shifts for which there is no return.

Arne Mooers gives the simple example of the cod fishery off Canada's East Coast. Everyone presumed if we stopped over fishing the cod, they would return. It didn't happen. Why? Once this upper predator fish was removed, a completely different ecological system moved in, with different species. Things don't go back to where they were.

It's a sobering thought. Mooers says their work cannot absolutely predict a planet-wide ecological shift will happen, or when. It has happened rapidly in the past. We may be seeing some signs, but scientists are not even sure there are a series of warning signs. We may not be able to predict it.

The main idea is a big game changer. Previously, even in reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate models assumed incremental change. For example, if you know sea levels are rising 3 centimeters a year, you can say what the sea level will be in the year 2100.

This paper suggests natural systems don't work along nice predictable curves like that. Things go along in one way, as they have more or less for the last 10,000 years - but then the climate can experience a big shift, along with the whole ecosphere. Some species disappear, as they are now. Others replace them. Nothing returns the same.


In the campaign to stop or at least limit climate change, what about the economy? Why is Europe skirting collapse? Why are billions of people starving while the rich dine sumptuously on the consumer buffet?

Here is 8 minutes with Kate Raworth of Oxfam, explaining her growing "doughnut" campaign at the Rio +20 side conference. She was recorded live by independent journalist Stephen Leahy, who sent the audio directly to Radio Ecoshock. Thank you Stephen.

Kate explains three giant loop-holes in the way economics is taught in schools. For example caring for families has no economic value (they say). The environment is not factored in. Listen to her short speech - it got enthusiastic applause from the inspired crowd.

Listen to/download these two Rio +20 speeches (17 minutes total) in CD quality here or Lo-Fi here.

Find Kate Raworth's blog on "Doughnut Economics" here.


But wait. There's more. No doubt you've heard scientists led by the Stockholm Resilience Institute have compiled a chart of 9 planetary boundaries we must not cross, if our civilization is to survive. The citation for the original article published in Nature in 2009 is here.

Get the real goodies direct from the Stockholm Resilience Institute here.

That includes an embedded video of Johan Rockstrom explaining the concepts in a TED presentation. It's all just common sense, backed up by the work of thousands of scientists. Yes, there are limits to what we can do to Nature and still survive as a civilization. Is anybody surprised by that?

Apparently "yes". The science of planetary boundaries is now under attack by pollster Ted Nordhaus and the hostile mis-named "Breakthrough Institute."

Here is the Breakthrough Institute attack.

Be sure and read the comments below, which trash this release.

We uncovered Ted and former green cross-over Michael Shellenberger in two Radio Ecoshock specials back in 2007, as this duo proclaimed "environmentalism is dead". Here are the links to programs exposing these two, their alleged "institute", and their funding.

Plotting the Green Death 1

Plotting the Green Death 2

Keep in mind that Ted Nordhaus is not a scientist. He is a pollster. But hey, that's good enough to unseat years of scientific work by some of our best! Just sow a little doubt, delay some more, and keep those corporate mega-profits rolling in.

As Stephen was recording Johan Rockstrom of the Stockholm Resiliency Institute, backroom dealers were stripping out any reference to "planetary boundaries". Lazy leaders were quick to jump on the anti-science being pedaled by the Breakthrough Boys. Anything to keep the killer society going. Listen in, as Johan Rockstrom speaks in Rio.


Now, off to Australia!

I really like this interview with John Morgan. In a rural area outside Victoria, in South Eastern Australia, John built a comfortable and affordable home that requires no furnace, no air-conditioning, and no power lines.

Listen to/Download the John Morgan interview in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

In a recent Radio Ecoshock interview with Dr. Guy McPherson, we learned maintaining a comfortable shelter for human bodies is a principal driver for the continuing use of fossil fuels. We create a lot of climate damage just to keep our homes cool in the heat, and warm in winter.

Despite a reputation as a coal exporting country, Australia is stimulating better housing as a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions. With the farming industry and the fabulous barrier reef threatened, Australia has developed a Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme.

Our next guest is going to explain it, and how he gained 9 out of ten stars in his owner-built home.

John Morgan's eco-house is found in a rural area near Victoria, in South Eastern Australia. As we spoke at the end of June, John is dealing with the cold of the Australian winter.

Morgan house in Australia

This is Morgan's next generation experimental home. He's been working away at this since the late 1960's, and people are still talking about his previous homes, like his self-sufficient house located at Musk near Daylesford in Central Victoria.

As he explains in our interviews, John doesn't want to be dependent on the grid for electricity or water. He says things like:

"My electricity falls down on me from the sky, so I store it in batteries".

"My fresh water falls down on me from the sky, so I store it in tanks".

"I live with high levels of comfort and low levels of cost".

"I generate zero carbon emissions - so why doesn't everyone do this?"

"It is not rocket science".

John is a physicist, and has taught electronics and technical trades, so he does have expertise, even though he is not a rocket scientist.

A whole host of consideration goes into building this latest home. For one thing, John reverses the Australian trend of putting brick or stone on the outside of a house, and then timber framing inside. His wood and lots of insulation are on the outside. The inside walls have lots of masonry, to build up thermal mass to store the heat or cold.

There is a greenhouse tucked on one corner of the place. When needed, he can funnel heat generated there, even on a sunny winter day, into the main house. John is also growing seedlings to reforest part of his 20 acres (formerly a sheep paddock) - plus some of his own food.

John has over 3,000 Watts of solar power on the place, and enough battery power to keep him going for several cloudy days.

The bonus of this place: it isn't all the expensive. I ask John if we need to be millionaires to be self-sufficient. Not at all. Morgan estimates his place cost about $165,000 Australian dollars in 2008 - about the same now in American dollars. That would be considered low cost for a new home anywhere, and it includes his solar power kit and giant water storage tanks (fed by roof collectors).

To meet that price, which he hoped would encourage others, John did away with anything fancy in the way of architecture. His home isn't meant to look impressive. It just leaves him comfortable, with no bills to pay - not bad in these deteriorating economic times, with ever-rising energy prices.

You can find out more about John from his contributions to this blog from the rural Australian town of Ballarat.

Here are some more super-efficient Australian home projects to check out.

Building Our 9 star home (blog) in Preston, Melbourne Australia

See also the Permablitz, a permaculture blitz "Eating the suburbs - One backyard at a time" in Melbourne

Here is another one, built in Vale, Perth

Another one in Perth

Here is a quote to explain the Australian rating program:

"What is a 9-star energy rated house? According to the NatHERS scale – the federal government-administrated Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme that was introduced to assess the potential thermal comfort of Australian homes on a scale of zero to 10 stars – occupants of houses rated at or around the 10-star mark are unlikely to need much, if any artificial cooling or heating. At the other end of the scale, a zero-rated house means the building shell does practically nothing to reduce the discomfort of hot or cold weather.

As the NatHERS website points out, houses built in 1990 averaged about 1 star on the scale. And before the introduction of national energy efficiency regulations for houses in 2003, less than 1 per cent of Australian houses achieved 5 stars. These days, however, the average “well-designed home” is now being built at around 6 stars."

We are out of time. I'm Alex, saying thank you for accompanying me on this hard journey. May we meet in a better world.

For more free green audio, visit our web site.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Still Walking Away From Empire

It's beyond the point where a few doomer voices says our way of life is rotten, that industrial civilization is driving straight toward catastrophe. Most of us can see the signs ourselves.

But we are addicted to fossil power, sliding back daily into the easy life. Why can't we change, or at least walk away?

Dr. Guy McPherson did just that. He left his position as a Professor of Natural Resources and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona. Guy is now a focal point for people searching for survival, transition, and a reality-based way of life.


Before we get into this program, here are some helpful links:

Guy McPherson’s blog “Nature Bats Last”.

For the movie "Somewhere in New Mexico, Before the End of Time" on You tube, or Indiegogo.

Mike and Karen Sliwa were inspired by Guy McPherson, but decided to take a different route, touring the world working on organic farms. These labor exchange stays are called "WWOOFing" (World-wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). Mike and Karen talk about their encounter with Guy in this You tube video. Follow "Chasing A Different Carrot' for the WWOOFing adventures of Mike and Karen Sliwa. Mike Sliwa says he doesn't agree with McPherson about how soon the industrial system will fall, but knows an alternative society must begin to grow right away.

Guy tours around the U.S. giving lectures, mainly for college audiences. He is after all a well-known and respected Professor. For example, watch Guy McPherson lecture on the "Myth of Sustainability" at Muskegon Community College, Feb 15, 2012 here. (1 hour 23 min)

There are lots more Guy McPherson videos and audio interviews on the Net.

For years I've been a fan of McPherson's blog "Nature Bats Last". I almost made it to his experimental acres in the New Mexico hills. I hoped to interview him at home, as one of his tourists, but we ran out of time and gas money on the northern edge of Arizona. It was over 100 degrees there, 38 degrees Celsius in the shade, in early June. There was a huge coal plant nearby. My first question for Guy: can Arizona survive without air conditioning?


McPherson says Arizona will do just fine, but he has doubts that most Arizonans could make it without artificial cooling. Of course people could design homes to protect them from extreme heat, which includes things like lots of insulation, proper window placement and covering, fans and "swamp coolers" running on solar power, and the old standard: cool basements.

Forget about Arizona. With places like Chicago and Toronto hitting 35 degrees C. (95 F.) on the first day of summer, with super-high humidity and awful pollution - pretty well all Earthlings will have to learn the basics of staying cool in a heated world. Even the Arctic can get too hot for comfort during the summer.

Maintaining an operable body temperature is one of "the four basics" that Guy McPherson says we need. The others are clean water, safe and nutritious food, and a supportive human community.

I think the question of "body temperature" is one of the biggies in our fossil fuel dependency. In the South people need to keep cool enough. In the North it's a matter of getting through the winter. As far as I know it's not really possible to heat millions of homes in Chicago or Toronto with solar or wind power.

I have to wonder, can we really keep hundreds of millions of North Americans, Russians, or Northern Europeans alive without fossil fuels? I doubt it, and so does McPherson. Our cities are unsustainable when we factor in dwindling fossil fuels (appearing as higher and higher prices, with more and more environmental risk in production.


There are signs we are already past peak oil. For example we are forced into greater and greater environmental risks... like the Tar Sands, Gulf of Mexico spill from deep water rigs, Arctic drilling, gas fracking, and mountain top removal coal mining. If we had plenty of easy oil left in the big reserves, or were discovering major new fields, none of those risky and expensive energy plays would be happening.

Guy McPherson learned about Peak Oil in the early 2000's, when he was still a Professor teaching at the University of Arizona. But when he began to tell is students about the huge social risks of Peak Oil and climate change - he was asked to stop teaching.


Listen to the interview to hear a classic story of how truth-telling is silenced in American Universities. Professors have freedom of speech - as long as they don't use it to tell an anti-corporate narrative, or warn students about the big challenges coming.

The University started paying McPherson to stay home, without teaching - that is, to shut up. His own department banned him from teaching.

When McPherson became "Emeritus" (a former Professor), and moved to small acreage in New Mexico to experiment with "agrarian anarchism" - a strange rumor surfaced at other universities that Guy McPherson suffered from a mysterious brain disease. That disease was never named, nor was the rumor backed up by anything.

Guy says anyone leaving "normal" life is labeled crazy. But what happens when "normal" is crazy? When our daily actions contribute to a system that is driving a couple of hundred species into extinction every single day? That is melting the Arctic ice, wierding out weather beyond crop limits, killing off the bees, introducing more plastic than plankton into the oceans, and endangering entire nations with blown up nuclear reactors?

If we leave that dangerous "normal" behind - that makes us officially "crazy"? It all sounds like old Stalinist times to me. We know who the real crazy people are - the billions who pollute the Earth, driving mass extinction.

More than a decade ago, Guy McPherson began to suspect the trends and risks of extinction are so great that humans likely will not survive for many more generations.


The only practical solution, McPherson says, is a wide-spread collapse of the global industrial system. Only a giant economic Depression, where trade stops and banks close, could possible cut emissions fast enough to save us. Only an end to the consumer society could save enough of the natural world to continue supporting large mammals like ourselves.

Keep in mind that McPherson is a published scientist with specialties in biology, the environment, and evolution. Find his blog "Nature Bats Last" at

With his knowledge, to be able to "look at myself in the mirror", Guy left one of the most protected and financially rewarding jobs: being a tenured university Professor. For the last four years, he had to learn a whole new skill set.


You may not be surprised to learn that a lifetime in academia teaches a person nothing about erecting small buildings, growing food, or caring for animals. Life many back-to-the-landers, Guy had to learn all that from scratch, with some help from neighbors who knew.

That is one reason I encourage listeners and readers to start learning those skills now. It takes time, and some mistakes, to learn how to provide off-grid shelter, to feed yourself and family, and to build community. Start now, as much as you can, where ever you are, even in the city. Grow in pots on your balcony. Become part of a community garden. Take those building supply company free courses, and volunteer where you can, building your repertoire of real survival skills. Given the instability of the financial world, starting in Europe, but maybe going global, now is the time to start.

You can learn a lot by just reading through Guy McPherson's blog. Go back through the years, looking the photos and videos, reading how he prepared gardens against pests, the outbuildings, the water sprinklers, the solar powered wells. Lots to learn there.


McPherson captured some his life journey in his latest (2011) book, "Walking Away from Empire: A Personal Journey".

The word "empire" is not accidental. In the interview Guy says his former city of Tucson is "at the apex of empire". Why? All the city's water comes in by canals through the desert hundreds of miles long. All the food is trucked in. The energy comes down long power lines. Without the whole industrial complex, Tucson cannot survive.

The energy supplies, and all the consumer products, depend ultimately on the vast network of military bases built up by America, now dedicated to protecting its corporations and their harvesting of both resources and cheap labor from around the world. That empire, now copied by many other nations, including Europe, Brazil, Russia, and China among many others - it a pattern of living that presupposes killing off the natural world as a consequence.

Personally, I don't see this as just an American empire. Canada has its own imperial activities. For example we direct major mining companies all over the world. Of course most of the European countries still have not just the history, but the corporate activities of empire as well. It's kind of an industrial mega structure, where half the world's people live in endless poverty, while we take their resources or even their working lives. What is the future of the industrial empire?

McPherson says there are other ways to live, and our needs are far less than what the average Western person demands. His experiment in living, along with his neighbors, is an attempt to live in a sustainable way.

The use of "clean" energy like solar power is just a bridge to true sustainability, says McPherson. When we add in the energy needed to make solar panels, and the toxic batteries, they are not a viable long-term solutions.


McPherson has become an inspiration to hundreds if not thousands of people. One visitor in 2011, Mike Sosebee, was inspired to make a film about Guy and his neighbors. The film "Somewhere in New Mexico, Before The End of Time" is due out this fall. I've played several clips from the movie in this Radio Ecoshock show.

One important clip is with Mary Burton Reisly. Several decades ago she purchased 18 acres of New Mexico highlands - with an all-important right to 2 acres of water - for about $68,000. You couldn't hope to buy it for that price now! Mary Burton allowed and participated in the development of a series of communal buildings and self-built homes on the property. It was developed as a land-trust as an ideal, until recently Mary Burton formed the land trust for real.

This communal experiment has really flourished. There was some debate about putting in electric power, but that was rejected, making everyone too dependent on a dangerous industrial system. You'll find out more about this in Mike Sosebee's film, but I do run one clip in the Radio Ecoshock show with Guy McPherson.


Guy turns us toward the work of one of our previous Radio Ecoshock guests, Dr. Timothy Garrett from the University of Utah. Garrett has done studies and calculations showing only a complete collapse of our industrial economy can save us from a climate catastrophe.

We did two interviews with Tim. The first interview in 2010 is here. Or watch a You tube video version of one Garrett interview here (prepared by Khalid Hassan of Outfield Productions in Pakistan). In the second, he told us about doing more study, and writing a second paper, because he couldn't really answer a question I had asked him before. Even a humble radio interview can stimulate new science. Find that second Garrett paper here. That second Garrett interview is embedded in this Radio Ecoshock show titled "An Atmosphere of Crisis".

Here is an easy to understand lay summary of Garrett's theory in an article "Is Global Warming Unstoppable?" McPherson admits it is hard to call for the pain and suffering of what amounts to a Great Depression, and almost unimaginable social dislocation - as a good thing! But our current suffering, and the suffering of all the other species, is worse - and getting worser, if you'll pardon that abuse of English.


Now I'm going to ask a hard question. It is based on my own experience as a back-to-the-lander and self-sufficiency guy. In the late 1970's, I thought the whole thing would collapse or blow itself up with nuclear war. I had ten great years growing our own food and heat, without electricity. But the system carried on, killing off even more of the planet. What happens if industrial civilization surprises you too, if it keeps going another hundred years, while you are waiting out in the hills?

There is a lot of flexibility and wealth built into the Western-style industrial culture. Industrial society might last much too long, right until the horrible eco-crash. The other reason people leave rural self-sustainability is because they become old and need medical care. How will people in these off-grid communities handle that? Do survivalists, catastrophists, or self-styled "doomers" really count on the hospital system to somehow be there? These questions are hot button issues in many off-grid and experimental communities.

We don't have answers yet, other than to hope that better food, a lower stress life with regular exercise will mean less need for the old medical system. Many believe in alternative holistic medicine anyway. And we know hospitals themselves are dangerous places to be these days, with people catching diseases they didn't come in with.


Guy McPherson also talks about Sherry Ackerman being in the film, along with others leaving "normal" lives. Sherry and Guy write for Transition Voice at

Find Guy's regular columns at Transition Voice here.

His post for June 11, 2012 "The Age of Consequences" might serve as a good summary for the basis of this Radio Ecoshock interview. It begins:

"As we continue into the centuries-old, but only recently acknowledged era of destruction and extinction, it’s apparent the current model is not working. Largely too fearful of individual retribution to disrupt the industrial culture that's making us sick, making us crazy, and killing us, we hang tightly to the only system we’ve ever known. Pathetically reluctant to consider what lies beyond the omnicidal industrial machine, we cling to a system that has failed to nurture the living …"


Total communes are very rare in America. Most of the rural communities I've visited seem to be composed of self-contained homesteaders who meet up to exchange skills and produce. In our interview, Guy advocates and explains "agrarian anarchy". The agrarian part is pretty easy, but most Americans have been terribly propagandized against "anarchy".

Anarchy doesn't have to mean masked people breaking windows in some urban protest. Agrarian anarchy has a long history in practice, and in literature, in Europe, South America, and North America. Some agrarian anarchist names you may know are Henry David Thoreau, Edward Abbey, and the alternative historian Howard Zinn. Read Guy McPherson's defense of this way of life here.


Part of my unpleasant job, as an alleged truth seeker on Radio Ecoshock, is to ask questions at the back of people's minds. Here is one. If the biosphere is crashing, along with the climate, as you say: why not just live the good life as long as we can? If it's so hopeless, why not party, or at least live comfortably, until we can't?

Guy says lots of people ask that question, and it's not easy to answer. We have to dig deep inside to decide what kind of people we are. Can we really live without a conscience toward the rest of the creatures, the Earth, and all future generations?

Anyway, McPherson points out, Americans are already leading pretty selfish "Hedonistic" lives. Most of us do whatever we want, no matter what the long term consequences may be. It's already the big party, the bonfire of the vanities, so maybe we need to try another option, like living sanely, alongside others trying to do the same?

It seems to me, part of the function of what Guy is doing, and his local community is doing, is to seed a lot of necessary ideas into the rest of the hive. People come, and they go, but they go with experience of living off the grid, with ways to grow our own healthy food, to make do if the corporations don't provide a pre-packaged life. Is your community a kind of transition nursery?


One of the things I really like about Guy: he doesn’t stop communicating. There is a whole school of survivalists who sneak off to some secret bunker, while writing off all the blind ants living Wal-Mart lives. Guy has not given up on reaching the people still stuck in the dying paradigm. And he says he's not interested in the "Mad Max" fantasy of the future.

People suspect they are part of the killer system, maybe even keeping it going with their jobs. If they want to walk away, how do they start? We talk a bit about that.

In this feature length interview, we share time with a person I consider a kind of soul-mate, even though we have never met in person. Dr. Guy McPherson is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Arizona, now living in rural New Mexico, experimenting to find a truly sustainable life.

Despite our shared pessimism about the industrial system, this turned out to be a positive encounter. There are alternatives, and Guy McPherson wants to do more than find them - he wants to live them, passing on what he discovers.

I'm Alex Smith, for Radio Ecoshock.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Time of the Technofix

Welcome to Radio Ecoshock. I'm your host Alex Smith.

Before we begin, here are a couple of links you may want, to follow up on this week's show:

This week's Radio Ecoshock show (1 hour) in CD Quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)

The Extraenvironmentalist podcast Episosde #37 (1 hour 54 minutes)

David Barsamian speech in Vancouver, Canada April 15, 2012 as recorded by Radio Ecoshock 1 hour 16 min - in CD Quality (70 MB) or Lo-Fi (18 MB)


Regulars may have noticed I've been a day late posting new shows at our web site Or the program blog at is not as full as usual. That is because I've been on the road in the United States for the past few weeks.

As a person concerned about carbon emissions, I've avoided long distance travelling since 2003. That's hard for a natural gypsy and world-traveller. I settled in a relatively energy efficient condo, in the progressive city of Vancouver, used mass transit, and made a once-yearly pilgrimage to a camp site in the mountains every summer.

Now I'm a carbon super-sinner just like you, and I'm not totally sure why. We left the city to go back to the land in the late 1970's, living without electricity, growing most of our own food, and all of our own heat. That was before we knew about climate change. Few followed that example.

Again, I can see that humans are not responding even to the simple idea of minimal human living in cities. Sure we recycle, maybe turn off a few lights, cycle or walk more.

In winter, the cities could not exist without fossil fuels. In the Southern U.S. - where record heat came again this spring - millions depend on air-conditioning to survive.

There are much better alternatives. We've covered quite a few on Radio Ecoshock - like the "Passivehaus" homes that need no outside heat or cooling. I'll be talking to such a home-builder in Australia in a couple of weeks. Our pioneer ancestors obviously lived without fossil fuels or chemical pollution, but with much smaller cities, and most folks in rural farms.


In my latest tour, I asked Americans if they thought the climate was changing. I was unable to find a single person who doubted it. People became very alive talking about the strange weather. Many had experienced storms, droughts, floods, fires, heat waves in March, and so on. Only a few wondered if it was just a passing phase of Nature. Most believed humans had triggered a change.

You would never know it; from reading the local papers which I purchased everywhere we went. I found crime stories, hatred of the poor, hatred of the government, and no inkling of a serious problem, other than reports of odd weather.

Nor did I see any significant signs of change in the dozen Western States I visited. Twice we saw wind farms. Once I saw solar panels on a single building. Big cars and trucks are plentiful, while people complain bitterly about the cost of gas. People are worried about the economy, but not about the environment. They don't seem to see the big changes ahead for all of us. Gas will not run out. Most people think we'll still farm as usual, buy whatever we want at the supermarket. It's too bad the river is too polluted to swim in. But really, those environmentalists have gone too far, making it harder to fish and hunt, making crazy rules, making us all feel guilty. That is what is out there.


In Southern Utah there are natural wonders of red sand stone: the deep canyon walls of Zion, the amazing hoodoos at Bryce. All of that comes from the time about two hundred million years ago when the hot house world was encircled by tropical deserts. Eventually, the giant sand dunes hardened into stone, were uplifted, and then eroded by water.

Climate scientists and those who study deep time warn we can return to those giant deserts. In fact, there are already slowly forming, as the Mediterranean area dries out, the forests die and burn, to become like the Sahara to the South. Scientists like Jonathan Overpeck from the University of Arizona has already warned, on this program and in many papers and reports, that a long-term drying has struck the U.S. Southwest. It could last hundreds of years, or thousands of years. Australia also has vast areas formerly farmed that are now drying and burning. Desertification is the curse of China. Even the Brazilian rainforest experienced two massive droughts in the last 15 years.

Long-time listeners will recall Dr. James Lovelock's summary of British climate models which predict a band of desert dry lands stretching around the globe in a few centuries, as the world heats up at a record rate.

All this has happened before, but never so fast, and never triggered by the actions of a single species.

It's not just the climate. In a recent show we covered the damage to plants by our industrial pollution, a chain of nitrous oxide producing low-level ozone. One of my long-time correspondents, and music contributors, Dana Pearson, was discouraged. Like many, he thought we could transition a modern society using solar power and other non-fossil energies. Find Dana's music at or just search for vastmandana.

I've just had a different sad report from another show volunteer, Kris Kanaly who is helping improve the graphic design of our Radio Ecoshock blog. With no budget at all, Radio Ecoshock couldn't function without our volunteer help.

I wrote Kris about my climate pessimism. I said considering our utter dependence on machinery and electrons, we will likely burn everything, all the oil, all the gas, all the coal, no matter how dirty, destructive and expensive the methods might be.

His reply surprised me twice. First, at the Arkansas River, where he likes to camp, swimming has been permanently banned. The culprit is not climate change. The cause is water polluted to toxic levels by agricultural runoff. You know, excess nitrogen, animal dung, pesticides and other nasties. They can't or won't stop it. The pollution is just part of our massive Confined Animal Feeding Operation food system. You want it at the supermarket, cheap. Forget about swimming or drinking in another big river. Too bad for the other species killed off. It's another case of our systemic destruction of Nature.

The second surprise was just as extreme. Where I found Arizona drying up, this Spring Oklahoma is inundated with rain. This in a state which experienced several years of record droughts, along with neighboring Texas. Sure, climate change should really be called climate disruption. Swings in rainfall should be expected, with severe precipitation events becoming the world-wide norm.

But Kris is suspicious there are other causes. He sent me the Weather Modification Annual Meeting Program Agenda, held in Las Vegas, Nevada, from April 25th to 27th, 2012. This is not about conspiracies to change the weather using the secretive HAARP antenna farms in Alaska. Nope, and we are not talking about Chemtrails either. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss making rainfall in the Southwest. It's the first step of local geo-engineering. These scientists, government reps, and corporations hope to contradict the trends of climate change, or at least adapt the atmosphere to fit the needs of industrial agriculture.

We hear about using aerosols - airborne particles, to add rainfall in Colorado. Or "Low-level Atmospheric Stability during Icing Periods in Utah, and Implications for Winter Ground-Based Cloud Seeding." Wyoming has a pilot weather modification project.

There seems to be an attempt at regulation, through the Atmospheric Water Management Standards Committee. I have no idea how much, or if any, public protection, or protection for nature, is built into that community. Frankly, I'll bet most of you had no idea weather modification is being employed in the Southwest. I didn't know.

The grand-daddies behind a lot of this rain-making seem to come from Texas. You've heard how the last few years of drought, especially in 2011, killed off the range cattle industry, dried up lakes and reservoirs, and cost many billions of dollars of crop losses in this mass producing agricultural state. Everything from rice to carrots went downhill when the rain just stopped in Texas, to be replaced by unbelievable record heat waves for not weeks, but months.

There are massive cloud seeding operations in Texas. Everything from satellites to "duel polarization radar" are used to measure and time things. It's a big and growing industry, which fully acknowledges the climate is changing, and drought is part of the picture.

Those crazy Americans? Not really. The Las Vegas conference heard reports on weather modification in Canada, Australia, Japan, and France.

It's called the technical fix. Like all technical fixes, there are always unforeseen consequences. Kris in Oklahoma believes their unusual spring rains are the result of Texan weather modification being a little too successful, right at the moment. The intended rain may be blowing into Oklahoma instead. Thanks for this heads up Kris. Find his excellent graphics work at

So the boys are playing with the sky, trying to fend off what Texas refineries and all our fossil dependency will bring. I'm going to play you part of a long podcast about the problems of depending on a technical fix. It's from Justin Ritchie and Seth Mozerkatz hosts of "The Extraenvironmentalist" Episode number 37. The dynamic duo interview Michael Huesemann. Huesemann and his wife co-wrote the book "Techno-fix" - the antidote to the whole movement of techno-optimism.

At the end of the program, I'm also going to play you a slice from long-term lefty broadcaster David Barsamian on what we can do. You can download his whole speech as I recorded it in Vancouver, from our blog or our web site.

Like me, Barsamian is no wild optimist about our chances. Here is a teaser from the question and answer period I recorded.

[Barsamian on doomed future and possible socialism]

First, let's go to Arizona, the end of my journey, to hear from Dr. Michael Huesemann, the research scientist, in an interview for The Extraenvironmentalist. As that interview is almost two hours long, we'll go for some of the juicy bits about the belief that technology can save us from the death spiral of technology.

[Techno Fix Part One]


A group of 21 scientists have just published a grim forecast in the journal "Nature". Using various models, and the science of times past, the group concludes we are headed for an environmental melt-down of epic proportions. I'll be interviewing one of the paper's authors in a coming Radio Ecoshock program.

This study is just one of many warning us our fossil-based industrial civilization is not just unsustainable, but suicidal for ourselves and the whole range of planetary life. Sure something will survive, but life as we know it seems like a temporary burst, like a bloom of algae that chokes off its own oxygen. The road-side fast food joints, long-distance golf and sex tourism flights, everything trucked in from everywhere - it's a thin veneer of a life form that is unlikely to last more than a few short generations.

Or will humans pull out a technical miracle, like a pill that cures some complex fatal disease? That's the subject of this week's program, the dogged belief that technology can save us. Back to Dr. Michael Huesemann as interviewed for The Extraenvironmentalist.


If we are waiting for a predictable collapse of an unstable financial system, a toxic regime of food production, and the inevitable end of affordable fossil fuels - what should we do in the meantime?

That's the questions I asked long-time alternative broadcaster and author David Barsamian when he spoke in Vancouver on April 15th, 2012.

David Barsamian has many claims to fame in the counter-culture. He transcribed a series of long interviews with popular social critic Noam Chomsky into books standing the test of time. In fact, over several decades, Barsamian interviewed social historian Howard Zinn, the late Edward Said, and many of the underground heroes of our time. His latest books are "How The World Works" with Noam Chomsky, and "Occupy the Economy" with Richard Wolfe.

Barsamian was also a pioneer in using small radio stations to broadcast the news and views silenced by the mainstream press. In the mid-1980's he developed the syndicated weekly series called "Alternative Radio", based out of Boulder, Colorado and carried by 125 stations in the United States and Canada.

Barsamian was sponsored in Vancouver at the downtown campus of Simon Fraser University, by the South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy. The topic was "Media and Democracy". His speech covered current issues in the Middle East and a refreshing update on the continuing difficulties of covering sensitive problems in alleged Democracies. Over decades, David has covered India where most reporters seldom ventured. On his latest visit, trying to document the discovery of mass graves in the disputed Kashmir region - Barsamian was immediately deported on his arrival in India.

I recommend you download Barsamian's speech from the Radio Ecoshock features page at - or find a link in my blog for this program at As far as I know, Radio Ecoshock has the only online recording of this speech.

Keeping within the themes of our program, I'm going to skip ahead to the Question and Answer period. After David outlined the many reasons for the decline of the West, and the developing twilight of the American Empire, he suggested a new dream is developing.

Here is the end of that April speech in Vancouver:

[Barsamian quote, another world is on its way.]

Given all the problems we've covered in this Radio Ecoshock program, and more than a hundred previous shows, I had to ask the obvious question. It the West, and the American Empire are tottering toward decline or collapse, what should we do in the meantime?

[Alex and Barsamian exchange]

Google David Barsamian or "Alternative Radio" to hear more. And check out

I began this program by thanking two show volunteers, Dana Pearson and Kris Kanaly. I'll finish with a huge thanks to Carl Hartung, who saved the Radio Ecoshock website from extinction, and keeps serving up terabytes of free downloads for all the listeners, from Find a like to Carl's site at the bottom of every web page at our site.

We are out of time. I'm Alex Smith. Join us next week for more of the awful truth.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist

Has environmentalism failed? If so, what do we do next? That's the question faced by three panelists, former Ecologist magazine deputy editor Paul Kingsnorth from the UK; American deep green activist and writer Lierre Keith; and eco-philosopher David Abram. The host of this web conference is Erik Hoffner of Orion magazine.

In this week's program, three deep green activists ask and answer the perennial question: what are we supposed to do in a world hell-bent on destroying Nature.

We are playing "Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist" - a three way discussion organized by Orion magazine's Erik Hoffner.

Please don't assume I agree with everything said. This discussion, from a web-chat hosted by Erik Hoffner of Orion Magazine, made me think hard. It uncovered both dark and light hidden in our daily worries. Let it work on you.

The discussion is based on Paul Kingsnorth's seminal article of the same name, "Confesssions of a Recovering Environmentalist" published in Orion Magazine. Basically, Paul explains why he thinks the environmental movement has failed, and why he can no longer be a part of that. But that is far too simplistic a summary. Paul's analysis is deep and striking.

I won't try to summarize Lierre Keith's contribution (that would be hard!) - other than to say she takes the more radical position that we should stop this killing civilization in it's tracks, before it wipes us - and all the other species - out.

Lierre advocates activism something along the lines of Earth First! and suggests that violence may even be necessary, if nothing else works, to save the Earth. Lierre has some of the passion of youth, the generation that really will suffer the consequences of our actions, and the further perspective of feminism (much needed).

David Abram is one of the most interesting green thinkers anywhere. He's been going at this since the 1970's, mixing therapy, Jungian thinking, Gaian theory and aboriginal knowledge to find new paradigms for human existence on Earth. David recoils from the idea of violence. He, like myself, feels the current system is already based on extreme violence, and would react even more harshly. Non-violence is what Abram wants, and he sees it could work, as it worked for Ghandi in India.

Here is David Abram's web site at Wild Ethics. We've had Paul Kingsnorth on Radio Ecoshock in our December 2009 show titled "Uncivilized". Here is that 28 minute interview with Paul as an mp3 in CD Quality (25 MB) or Lo-Fi (6 MB)

Here is a link to Paul's web site, and more information about his "Dark Mountain Project".

In a critical exchange in Grist magazine, Paul recently announced he is withdrawing from the climate movement. I can't do that. My kids and grandson need me to keep trying. To go down in defeat if I must. (Our end music theme for this week is "White Flag" by Dido).

My thanks to Erik Hoffner and Orion magazine for putting together this brilliant discussion. I listened to this discussion at least 6 times, making tons of notes. You might want to do the same.

In addition to Orion Magazine, you can also find Erik publishing eveywhere from Grist to Common Dreams. Or check out his photography. Stay tuned to other Orion Magazine web events, both upcoming and archived, here.

I'm Alex Smith for Radio Ecoshock. Thank you for listening, and caring about your world.