Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Transition Yourself - Part One

Ideas from America on starting a Transition Town. Ruah Wennerfelt, Steve Chase & host Mark Helpsmeet in live stage conversation. Plus Greg Pahl, author of "Power from the People, How to Organize, Finance, and Launch Local Energy Projects." Max Keiser & Stacy Herbert on corporate corruption. Music: "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel. Radio Ecoshock 120926 1 hour.

The climate has gone rogue, energy prices are threatening, and the economy sucks. You know the elections aren't going to make it better. Why wait for government? You can protect your community and yourself by helping your town withstand the shocks.

Download/listen to Radio Ecoshock for September 26, 2012 in CD quality (56 MB) here.

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RADIO STATIONS Two 29 minute segments allow time for station ID and announcements.

Radio Ecoshock 120926 Part 1 and Part 2

This program is about the Transition Town Movement and local power.

We begin with a half of an hour-long dialog with Ruah Swennerfelt and Steve Chase on the Transition Town movement in New England.

It's a rebroadcast of "Sprouts", radio production by independent community media. Last July, host Mark Helpsmeet of "Spirit in Action" hosted a live event Transition Town dialog in Rhode Island at the University of Kingston. It was originally broadcast on WHYS-LP in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, as part of Northern Spirit Radio. WHYS also broadcasts Radio Ecoshock.


The opening of the Sprouts segment contains part of the song "The Turning of the World" performed by Sara Thomsen (written by Ruth Pellam) & "I Have No Hands But Yours" by Carole Johnson.

The show closes with the Peter Gabriel classic "In Your Eyes" (this You tube from a live concert from the 2003 Growing Up Tour in Filaforum, Milan, Italy. Or try this live classic recording Papa Wemba & Peter Gabriel


Our discussion of Transition in New England and Europe was recorded in front of a live audience, in early July, in Rhode Island at the University of Kingston.

One guest speaker is Ruah Swennerfelt, former long-time General Secretary of Quaker Earthcare Witness. She is currently involved with the Transition Town implementation in Charlotte, Vermont. Find her Transition US blog here.

Both our guests are involved in Quakers in Transition.

Steve Chase is Director of Advocacy for Social Justice and Sustainability at Antioch University New England. Steve talks about the Transition Town in Keene, New Hampshire, where their slogan is: "for local people concerned about peak oil, climate change, and a dysfunctional and unjust global economy - who want to respond with vision, courage, and creativity."

Helpsmeet asks how people who have very different political beliefs can work together in a Transition movement. One way is to stress "resilience" rather than the eco word "sustainability".

For the Quakers, the prospect of "energy famine" (as fossil fuels decline, become too expensive, or are taken over by others) can easily lead to resource wars. In this way, Peak Oil can really be a "peace" issue.

In Europe, some Neo-Nazi's took up the name "Transition" applied to their town. Partly in response to austerity in some European countries, this group agreed we have to learn to live on less, and so there is a need to keep immigrants out, using racist rhetoric.

In response, Transition US posted some core values, including posting local group constitutions on the Transition US web site.

It's ironic, because unlike the Nazi leadership cult, Ruah says success comes because Transition is a leaderless movement. Leadership is shared as well.

Having fun together is "a really core principle" says Ruah. Have fun, not long dreary meetings.


Keene New Hampshire had a ground-breaking for a new food coop in mid-2012. It already has a thousand members in a town of 25,000.

They have around 20 community-supported agricultural projects in their area, which allows for more local food production. They now have a farmers' market and a winter farmers' market.


What's the hurry? asks host Mark. Is it just concern with oil supplies?

There are many reasons, says Ruah, but she doesn't think of it as all doom and gloom. In permaculture, she says, the solution is found in the problem itself.

Ruah still has a car, but is always aware of her pollution, that she is helping cause more global warming. She wants a group to help develop less harmful local transportation schemes. Like biking to a collector bus van, which leads to a larger bus to the city of Burlington, Vermont.

Central is the idea that we will have to learn to live well on less. Perhaps much less. Fossil fuels will be less available, cost more, and the damage they cause will become more and more apparent. But also, the idea of global equity, which is central to global peace, demands Western people use fewer resources, allowing the poorest people to get the basics.

In most cities, there is only 3 to 5 days’ worth of food. After that, if the trucks don't roll in, people run out of food. Local food production increases the ability to absorb coming shocks in the food production and delivery system, for whatever reason.


Ruah describes how to start a Transition Town. There are three books now available to help: the first one was "Transition Handbook" by Rob Hopkins. You'll have to get that one used from online services, as it is out of print. The Transition Culture blog now advocates buying "Transition Companion" also by Rob Hopkins. There is a third: "Transition Timeline" by Shaun Chamberlin published in 2009.

Here is the description of "Transition Timeline" from

"The Transition Timeline lightens the fear of our uncertain future, providing a map of what we are facing and the different pathways available to us. It describes four possible scenarios for the UK and world over the next twenty years, ranging from Denial, in which we reap the consequences of failing to acknowledge and respond to our environmental challenges, to the Transition Vision, in which we shift our cultural assumptions to fit our circumstances and move into a more fulfilling, lower-energy world. The practical, realistic details of this Transition Vision are examined in depth, covering key areas such as food, energy, demographics, transport and healthcare, and they provide a sense of context for communities working towards a thriving future.

The book also provides a detailed and accessible update on climate change and peak oil and the interactions between them, including their impacts in the UK, present and future. Use it. Choose your path, and then make that future real with your actions, individually and with your community. As Rob Hopkins outlines in his foreword, there is a rapidly- spreading movement addressing these challenges, and it needs you.

Also see Rob Hopkins in a 17 minute presentation "Transition to a World without Oil" at TED, on You tube in 2009.


In 2011, Ruah visited Transition communities in 10 different European countries, as well as a "Transition France" conference and a "Transition UK" conference. All the communities took different steps, or in different order, to adapt to where they lived.

There is even Transition Paris. They broke down into smaller transition communities within the larger city. They had a central hub to serve these smaller groups.

They do the same thing in Transition Los Angeles and Transition Barcelona.

Find Transition Barcelona in Spanish or in English.

One group in England had members map out where food trees, like peak and apple trees, were accessible and perhaps not harvested. They asked homeowners for permission to harvest the fruit, rather than let it be wasted.

In Charlotte, Vermont they have an "Asset Directory". They took a survey of community skills, to allow skill-sharing. It also hooks up people who want to learn skills, whether it's canning, small scale farming or whatever.

Steve Case points out that social movements are not like corporate franchises. You don't buy a license to become a Transition Town. There are about 1,000 formal transition initiatives around the world.

They have workshops on how to deal with difficult people. We are a "cussed species" and sometimes the culture doesn't help us.

We need an outer transition to reconfigure our communities with resilience, an energy descent plan, to live without damaging the climate, and live on less and less.


When Rob Hopkins wrote the Transition Handbook around 2008, he advanced "the theory of anyway". Even if climate change isn't as serious, or oil continues longer than thought, or the economy limps along - we'll still be living and eating better with the transition town, with a more resilient economy. You'll feel better with more local democracy, more skills, and more community involvement - no matter what happens.

The international site for Transition Towns is here.

The local producers and buyers try to reduce food miles, and the use of pesticides and fertilizers which are petroleum based. Like Ruah, Steve Chase says the challenges of energy depletion and economic downsizing also contain the solutions. For example, one water treatment plant in New England was getting swamped by sudden inflows of water. This problem was solved by installing micro-generators on the intake pipes. Now that plant is self-sufficient, generating its own energy from the former "problem".

They plan to have about 12 transition trainers in New England this year, to offer weekend workshops. Beyond this basic training there is a new training workshop called "Transition Thrive" (what to do next, after getting your group going).

Transition groups in Scotland are incorporated to do community business, like community bakeries. Ruah recommends the book "The Town That Food Saved". It's about Hardwick Vermont.

It's important to partner with town or city government. Their local government had one immediate problem: too many parents drove kids to school even though school buses are provided. It caused dangerous congestion, and more climate change. How to make riding the bus cool for kids? Now that's a challenge!

Transition may say "don't wait for government" but groups still work with existing governments to get things done, says Steve Chase.

In Keene, they have awareness raising "Transition Tuesday". One success was showing the film "A Convenient Truth" about Curitiba Brazil. That town transformed itself. See a short trailer for A Convenient Truth here.

People need to see examples of what is possible, Chase says, rather than only hearing the dire consequences if we don't do something. Once you begin to think creatively, all the problems seem like opportunities.

For the second part of this program "Local Power" with author Greg Pahl, click here.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Heading to Air Conditioned Hell

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Stage one: the Earth gets hotter and hotter due to growing greenhouse gas emissions.

Stage two: humans cool themselves artificially with machines.

Stage Three: air conditioning makes the world even hotter, until we run out of fossil fuels to run the machines, or extinction takes us down.

It's an obvious progression, another adaptation to what we've done. I counted air-conditioning as a minor factor, another irritant to living systems. Now I've learned it's a major vector, a force that could help tip us into runaway climate change.

Everybody knows air-conditioners suck up lots of energy, most of it powered by coal. We've heard rumors a billion people in Asia are buying them. I've known for 20 years the refrigerants are super global warming gases - but those tiny amounts hiding in the back of our refrigerators and air-conditioners can't amount to all that much...

Wait until you hear the truth about air-conditioning. We've got three powerful interviews. Stan Cox is author of the best guide, a book called "Losing Our Cool". His latest article in the Guardian newspaper gives us the global picture.

Dr. Guus Velders is from Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, and he advises world bodies on ozone depletion and climate change.

Dr. Michael Sivak from the University of Michigan wrote the best studies on the global growth of air-conditioning.

We wrap up with a new song from The Dave Matthews Band which captures our situation so well. It's called "Mercy" - hear the whole song at the end of the show.

Are we heading to air-conditioned Hell? I'm Alex Smith. Tune in to our guests this week, and find out for yourself.


This week we're looking at air-conditioning. Are we heading into artificially cooled caves as the outdoors becomes unbearably hot? In some places, anyone who can has already abandoned the summer streets, travelling between air conditioned rooms in air conditioned cars. If the grid fails, or electricity becomes too much, what then?

All the while, the gases used to cool your food in ships and trucks, in a billion refrigerators and hundreds of millions of air conditioners for homes, malls, offices and factories, is escaping into the upper atmosphere, like a blanket warming the world.


In November 2010, Radio Ecoshock interviewed Stan Cox, author of an excellent book on the over-all impacts of air-conditioning, titled "Losing Our Cool". We mostly talked about the United States, how air conditioning has changed the way people interact, and the huge amount of energy wasted.

Stan's authority on air-conditioning has gone global, just as air-conditioning is exploding in the developing world, including China and India. His most recent article for Yale 360 was republished in Britain's Guardian newspaper. It's a scary read, with a little known twist that could help tip us into runaway climate change.

Stan Cox is a senior scientist at a non-profit agricultural research institute in Salina, Kansas.

This past June I was in Page Arizona. It has hardly rained there for two years. The temperature was 104 degrees in the shade - 40 Celsius. It was punishing. When people stopped for coffee, they left their vehicles running to keep them cool. The streets were deserted by ten in the morning, it was just too hot. Everyone spends the day hiding in some air-conditioned building.

I asked whether there will be a mass exodus of people from the American South, when electricity prices get too high. Now we're into a series of record hot years, the hottest July in American records - how long can the Sun Belt residents keep their cool?

Stan's article for Yale 360 - I read it in the Guardian - took us out of America, and into a whole new world of air conditioning. Where is the big growth of air conditioning now?

Northern India just suffered the world's biggest power blackout. Electricity for 700 million people went off, for a few days. A lot of that was due to demand for air conditioning. We talk about India's love-affair with cooling, powered by coal.

Then we cover the growing A.C. giant of the world: China.


Of course, we could always listen to Rush. Maybe he's not high on a hundred painkillers any more, but Rush Limbaugh's brain takes him on some strange excursions. I play you a quick clip, as Rush explains how air conditioning makes you think global warming is happening, even when it's not.

Thanks Rush. It just FEELS hotter because we have air-conditioning...Never mind all those temperature records measured by new-fangled thermometers. Or the melting poles. Who needs science when we've got you! Try Radio Ecoshock instead.


Why are we using super global warming gases, thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide in air conditioners? Let's find out, from Dr. Guus Velders.

I found out about Guus from the Guardian article by Stan Cox.

Let me give you one astounding paragraph from that article in the Guardian newspaper published on July 10th 2012. This blew my mind:

"According to a recent forecast by Guus Velders of the Netherlands' National Institute for Public Health and the Environment and his colleagues, refrigerants that accumulate in the atmosphere between now and 2050 (increasingly HFCs, mostly from refrigeration and air conditioning) will add another 14 to 27 percent to the increased warming caused by all human-generated carbon dioxide emissions. "

So we're not talking about all the greenhouse gases coming from generating electricity to power billions of air conditioners, as frightening as that is. No, this Dutch report is just about the refrigerants, the chemicals hiding in the back of all our refrigerators and air conditioners - adding as much as another 25% to all our warming of the planet!

Could the cooling chemicals in your refrigerator or air conditioner help tip the world into massive heating? "Yes" says expert Guus Velders, as billions more units are sold in the developing world, using the same chemicals.

Dr. Guus Velders is an expert's expert. He works at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency as a senior scientist on ozone depletion, climate change, and air quality. Velders advises the Dutch Government, the European Environment Agency, and makes assessments for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations Environment Program and more.

As you know, the science of how small amounts of a chemical can radically change the heat-trapping ability of the atmosphere isn't new. The Irish scientist John Tyndall made this discovery as early as 1860. But now we are using relatively new chemicals, known as CFC's and HFC's. Perhaps we should lay the groundwork with CFC's, also known by the DuPont trade name "Freon" - and their role in damaging the ozone.

To stop this ozone damage, the Montreal Protocol, first agreed in 1987, called for a ban on CFC's, with some exceptions for developing countries. The cooling industry provided a replacement that was safe for consumers, but not for the climate.

Moving to 2009, in this You tube video Velders said the Montreal Protocol accomplished more to control climate change than the first stage of the Kyoto Protocol. But he warned we needed to reign in HFC's or lose any progress. At that time, Velders reported HFC emissions could be the equivalent to 6 or even 8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, by 2010.

In my reading of graphs presented in his 2009 paper, HFC consumption by developing countries appears to reach the same levels as developed countries around 2015 to 2018. The radiative forcing from HFC use in developing countries equals all developed countries a little later, around 2025 to 2030 - but then takes off upward in a very steep curve, indicating big impacts on the climate. We talked about how these refrigerants escape. Velders gives the example of the hundreds of millions of car air conditioners. Because there is so much shaking during travel, about 15% of car refrigerants escape into the atmosphere every year.

Refrigerators and air conditioners are always being replaced. While some European countries have strict provisions for recapturing the coolants for incineration, most of the world just dumps the old machinery. The refrigerants escape into the atmosphere, adding super warming gases.

Dr. Guus Velders is also a published expert on the relationships between ozone damage and climate change. In fact, he was a lead author in an IPCC special report on ozone depletion and climate change.

That's a subject that stumps many people. Countless well-meaning people say we have to stop the ozone hole to save the planet from climate change. The public gets the two issues confused, and they are very different.


Dr. Michael Sivak is the director of Sustainable World-wide Transportation at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. He's looked at the energy we use to heat and cool, coming up with useful suggestions for where you might want to live, who's next for the air-conditioning boom, and how the world should count carbon emissions.

We take a lightening tour through three of his papers. The earliest is called: "Where to live in the United States: Combined energy demand for heating and cooling in the 50 largest metropolitan areas."

It's intriguing. Energy costs, with the exception of natural gas, just keep going up. Around 35 million Americans moved around last year anyway, according to the U.S. Census Bureau 2011.

Where should people go to pay the lowest energy bills, and reduce their climate footprint? Sivak found people in San Diego have the lowest energy footprint, while places like Milwaukee have the highest.

That paper was published in 2008. Since then, we've had some scorching years, with milder winters - with more to come as the climate changes. According to Sivak's work, from Florida right across the South, Americans already use more energy for cooling than heating. If the world warms a few degrees, places like New England might require less energy?

Then we move to the global scale, with Michael Sivak's article titled "Potential energy demand for cooling in the 50 largest metropolitan areas of the world: Implications for developing countries."

In the U.S. Sivak found heating homes still using more energy than cooling. Does that hold true for the biggest world cities? Not at all. The developing mega-cities are toward the south, with much hotter climates. Cooling demands must have been a factor in last summer's world's largest blackout across Northern India.

Now more people live in cities than in rural areas, and that trend is accelerating. We know leafy, natural landscapes add cooling, while cities develop a "heat island" effect which raises temperatures several degrees. Add in the trend toward higher incomes, and global warming - I worry people will need air conditioning in cities, just to survive. That will make climate change and energy shortages even worse.

Perhaps you've seen rankings of countries based on their emissions per capita. Michael Sivak says those aren't fair, unless we also count each nation's real need for heating and cooling. That's in a recent publication in "American Scientist", written with Brandon Schoettle. The article is called "Accounting for Climate in Ranking Countries' Carbon Dioxide Emissions". In a way, Michael, is building on his earlier studies.

He seems to be saying, people in other countries have a right to be as comfortable as we are. If we ever agree on a fair distribution of greenhouse gas emissions, we have to count that in. That isn't necessarily bad for developed countries. Americans may have a right to a certain amount of energy because their climate demands it - while a balmy Pacific island state does not.

Calculating carbon allowances based on heating and cooling needs seems like common sense. We'll see if international negotiators pick up on this.


Remember, in our current rush to air-condition everywhere, Dr. Gus Velders estimates that by 2050, the burst of energy use combined with super warming gases in the refrigerants, could add up to 20% of our current total emissions. It doesn't take much to tip a climate into a new hothouse age. Maybe that will do it.

In the movie sci-fi movie "Brazil" by Terry Gilliam, every home and indoor space is climate controlled by machines. Otherwise, who could stand what is lurking outdoors. We may be there already. As our first guest Stan Cox told us, it took a generation for Americans to install 100 million air-conditioners. Fifty million were sold in China in 2010 alone.

The strange thing is: as Elizabeth Rosenthal makes clear in her excellent series in The New York Times, we have much safer alternatives. Commercial installations (like shopping malls!) could use ammonia as a coolant. They just have to keep the ammonia outside.

Watch this New York Times video with Elizabeth Rosenthal to get the images and facts on the cooling mania.

Even carbon dioxide itself can be a refrigerant, and there are others. Greenpeace developed a "green fridge" that was manufactured in Cuba. I've seen one and it works great. The industry could switch over tomorrow if there was enough public awareness and demand.

You can even find You tube videos of how to hook up an air conditioner to as little as 600 watts of solar panels, keeping a house cool enough for comfort without burning fossil fuels.

As we feel the rumble of the on-coming climate train, I'm not going to count on prayer alone. Activism and action can preserve a livable world. Next week, we'll hear about the beginnings, in localization and the transition movement.

I'm Alex Smith. You can contact me through our web site at I always appreciate your feed-back, tips, and ideas.

Radio Ecoshock isn't a music show, even though good sound often sustains me. But when I heard this new song by The Dave Matthews Band, I had to share it with you. It's called "Mercy".

Monday, September 10, 2012

ARCTIC MELT DOWN Scientists Speak Out

In 2012, the Arctic Sea Ice hit a stunning new record low. Rutgers scientist Jennifer Francis explains how this changes weather for billions of people in the Northern Hemisphere. Plus the Director of the Snow and Ice Data Center, Mark Serreze on record and what it means, and analysis from polar scientist Cecilia Bitz, U of Washington. In depth, direct from top scientists. Radio Ecoshock 120912 1 hour.




It's been called the Arctic Death Spiral. All time-lows for polar sea ice have been shattered this year.

A new record Arctic sea ice melt-back occurred in August 2012 ( a month earlier than ever before), with more to come in September. To me, this may be the largest single impact of human activity on the planet. It's hard to exaggerate how big this story is.

In early September, it looks like the last of the Arctic ice is hovering around the large chain of islands in the Canadian Arctic, to the West of Greenland. The West side of the Arctic Ocean is wide open, the fabled Northwest Passage along the Canadian Coast is clear with some ice around McClure Straight. The sea ice has melted away from the entire Russian coast along Siberia.

Sooner or later, there will be no sea ice in the Arctic in the summer months. Professor Peter Wadhams of Cambridge, previously a guest on Radio Ecoshock, now predicts we could see that open Arctic Ocean as soon as 2015.

All the 24 hour power of the summer sun will pour into the polar ocean, instead of being reflected back into space. A new article in the Journal "Nature" reports parts of Arctic Siberia are already releasing far more carbon dioxide and methane than previously thought.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center says lack of sea ice could drive heat up to 900 miles further inland, threatening to melt the Permafrost. Most scientists agree that would trigger runaway global warming, well beyond anything humans could do to stop it.

It's an Arctic Emergency, plain and simple - a warning sign Earth's climate is tipping into a new hothouse age.

We need all the facts we can get, and I've lined up three of the best scientists for this week's show. We'll talk with atmospheric scientist and polar expert Dr. Cecilia Bitz from the University of Washington. We'll get the latest figures, and tips for tracking the polar ice yourself - from the Director of the National Sea and Ice Data Center, Dr. Mark Serreze.

But first, I want you to hear the Rutgers University scientist who is stirring up meteorologists, TV weather people, and government insiders. Dr. Jennifer Francis says the melt-back of Arctic sea ice is already affecting the climate of the whole Northern Hemisphere.



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Jennifer Francis is a Research Professor at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, at Rutgers University, in New Jersey. She is an atmospheric scientist who specializes in the Arctic. Dr. Francis has many published papers, and don't miss her important presentation on You tube from the Weather and Climate Summit, held at Breckenridge, Colorado in January 2012. The New York Times also interviewed her about a new observation: melting Arctic Sea Ice has changed our weather further south.

The idea that sea ice could modify weather in the American Mid-West, the UK, or China, is hard to grasp. In school, we were never taught about waves and rivers in the atmosphere, like the Rossby waves, or the Jet Stream.

Spend the time on this in-depth video: Jennifer Francis presenting at the Weather and Climate Summit last January. Pretend you are going back to college - to find out how the world works now that global warming is melting the Arctic. You'll be surprised how much sense strange winters, and the daily weather forecast starts to make sense, after you've seen this.

One big surprise for me in this Jennifer Francis interview: I assumed that the summer sea ice melt would be a driving factor in things like the record heat waves in the U.S. this past summer, the big drought there, and the wet summer in the UK and Northern Europe. But Francis says the main impact of less sea ice comes as the ice refreezes. That releases heat, builds up a big high pressure zone around the poles, and impacts WINTER WEATHER in the Northern Hemisphere.

The summer weather, Francis suggests, is more changed by the record early snow melt in Arctic lands this spring and summer. Mark Serreze confirms there was a record snow melt this year, exposing a lot of land, across Russia, Canada, and Alaska, to much more heat. That is one of the biggest unreported stories of this year. We've all be staring that sea ice melt, without also looking at the huge melt back of snow, much earlier than normal, on land.

We've heard warnings that retreating ice means a change in the salt content of the sea, which could produce more climate changes, if the Gulf Stream warming New England and Northern Europe weakens. Jennifer Francis says that is such a slow long-term process, we don't have to focus on that now. It can be a positive feed-back loop as changes in the ocean develop, but not a big change. The movie "The Day After Tomorrow" looked impressive, but it's simply not possible to see such a big change in a small time scale. We can dial that down - for now!

Finally, I asked Dr. Francis how other scientists are receiving the theory her group proposed. She replied it's not so much a "theory" as a paper of observations. That is, their science is not based on models, but on actual reporting of events in the Arctic, and the behavior of the Jet Stream.

Frankly, this year's record melt of the summer sea ice leaves me with a sense or horror. Dr. Francis says we should all be shocked and worried about such a big change in the way Earth systems work.


When it comes to the Arctic, one of the first stops for both media and scientists is the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder Colorado.

Radio Ecoshock is pleased to have as our guest the NSIDC Director and Senior Research Scientist, Dr. Mark Serreze.

The capability scientists ask for most is for better ways to measure that ice thickness. Is the United States working on improved ice monitoring? Yes, Serreze tells us - but the most useful satellite for measuring Arctic ice is no longer there - and the next one won't be launched until 2016.

We also discuss the fact that America has only one operational polar class ice breaker. Russia has about 17. The U.S. rents a Russian icebreaker just to reach their Antarctic base. All the scientists I talked to would like to see at least one more Arctic icebreaker - especially if there is going to be more ship traffic and oil drilling in the Arctic.

You might think with less ice we need fewer icebreakers - but Serreze explains why the need is greater than ever. To build a new icebreaker could cost as much as half a billion dollars - money that might be hard to find in these fiscally challenged days. It's possible there might be no search and rescue, security patrols, or oil spill cleanup help from the United States.

Way back in June 2008, the NSICS warned heat from the Arctic Ocean could penetrate up to 900 miles inland! Let's take a snip from that release.

MEDIA ADVISORY: Permafrost Threatened by Rapid Retreat of Arctic Sea Ice, NCAR/NSIDC Study Finds

"The findings point to a link between rapid sea ice loss and enhanced rate of climate warming, which could penetrate as far as 900 miles inland. In areas where permafrost is already at risk, such as central Alaska, the study suggests that periods of abrupt sea ice loss can lead to rapid soil thaw.

Thawing permafrost may have a range of impacts, including buckled highways and destabilized houses, as well as changes to the delicate balance of life in the Arctic. In addition, scientists estimate that Arctic soils hold at least 30 percent of all the carbon stored in soils worldwide. While scientists are uncertain what will happen if this permafrost thaws, it has the potential to contribute substantial amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

As wrap up the Serreze interview, he gives us all helpful tips on how to use their fabulous web site to keep tabs on the Arctic. There are easy to click maps and information sheets for the non-scientist. If you have the expertise, you can even download their raw data to run your own models. It's a tremendous resource.


Our last guest on this Radio Ecoshock Arctic special is Dr. Cecilia Bitz. At the University of Washington, she is Associate Professor in the Atmospheric Sciences Department, an Affiliate Physicist for the Polar Science Center, and part of the Program on Climate Change.

Dr. Bitz studies the role of sea ice in the climate system and its impacts on wildlife. She's also investigating Arctic ice in past climate change, and works with models attempting to predict the future.

I ask her how we know global warming is causing this Arctic ice disaster, and not some other force, like Sun spots, or natural ocean changes. It turns out about 30% of the record melt of sea ice is due to natural causes - particularly the North Atlantic Oscillation.

But the other 70%, according to Bitz and many other experts, is due to human made climate change.

I find it interesting to note another scientist at the University of Washington, Jinlun Zhang, points out Antarctic Sea ice has NOT retreated, and temperatures have not risen there very much. Why is the Arctic experiencing astonishing change, while most of Antarctica is not? Bitz says the West Antarctic Peninsula is experiencing extreme warming and ice loss. But the main part of the Antarctic continent is surrounded by oceans, unlike the Arctic Ocean surrounded by big land masses. That is the principal difference. The details also include the different mixing patterns and currents around Antarctica. That Southern Pole will lag significantly behind the Arctic, when it comes to global warming.

I know Cecilia Bitz works on climate models. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was not alone in missing how quickly this sea ice melt happened. If climate models serve as our eyes into the future, why did they fail us, and what can we do to improve them? We discuss that.

It's a pleasure to talk over the whole Arctic situation with such a scientist.


Arctic methane - new study says methane from the Arctic "an order of magnitude larger" than previously estimated, from Eastern Siberian sea.

George Monbiot has some really handy Arctic facts in this column in the Guardian newspaper (UK)


Is the Arctic Ocean set to warm and change the world climate? Never mind. Big oil is getting ready to party. Greenpeace warns Arctic drilling will tip the planet into weather extremes, and spills there can never be cleaned up. I play a quick clip from Greenpeace saying oil drilling in the Arctic, now that oil burning has destroyed the summer sea ice, is "obscene".

That is followed by a slice from Democracy Now, as host Amy Goodman interviews Greenpeace Director Kumi Naidoo. He is live on the deck of the Russian Gazprom Arctic drilling rig, doing what Executive Directors never do. Naidoo is hanging under a high pressure fire hose, as the activist group protests that ice-hardened Russian drilling rig.

Greenpeace protesters were also arrested in Moscow, in a concerted effort to wake up the Russian public to the threat of Arctic oil drilling.


We're out of time. Maybe really out of time - for the sea ice, for the polar bears, for the Arctic environment, for the climate as we know it. I urge you to wake up your neighbors, your local and regional politicians, your national candidates. Don't shut up. Pass on the news, talk it up, blog it up, use social media and all the media.

Make copies of this program, to play for groups, or just hand them out on CD. Download it free from the Radio Ecoshock web site at

See you next week, as we head to air-conditioned Hell. Then we'll transition to real local solutions where you can play a big part.

I'm Alex Smith. Thanks for listening, and caring about your world.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Looking For An End

Waiting for a resolution to the triple crisis of climate, energy and the economy? Alex interviews Gareth Renowden, co-host of New Zealand's "The Climate Show" on the big stories. From Beijing, Li Yan, Greenpeace East Asia climate coordinator on China's emissions and coal dependence. Plus "Tip of the Iceberg News" points you to important blog posts and audio you may have missed. Music from Deva Prewal. Radio Ecoshock 120905 1 hour CD Quality 56 MB or Lo-Fi 14 MB.

Radio Stations: Ecoshock 120905 Part 1 29 minutes

Ecoshock 120905 Part 2 29 minutes

Welcome back to another season of Radio Ecoshock! I am your tour guide, Alex Smith.

In this week's program we travel the world. From New Zealand, we'll hash out our disturbed weather, with the co-host of The Climate Show, Gareth Renowden.

Then it's off to Beijing, for a report straight from China. Greenpeace Asia Campaigner Li Yan is our guest.

We'll cap that off with "Tip of the Iceberg News" - my welcome back round up of world-shaking developments, pointers to great audio, blogs and articles, and four big trends in the alternative/activist scene.

Our music artist this week is Deva Premal. Find her at White Swan Records, or at her web site here.


Coming back from my annual vacation, I find the world as mad as ever. So much happened, I need help just trying to grasp it all. Who better than Gareth Renowden, co-host of "The Climate Show" out of New Zealand? Gareth is a climate blogger, truffle specialist, farmer, radio personality, and now author of a new sci-fi book titled "The Aviator, the Burning World".

Gareth and I agree the top story is the record ice melt-back in the Arctic. We'll be doing a special on that next week, with super specialists like Jennifer Francis from Rutgers, and Mark Serreze from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Tune in next week for that on Radio Ecoshock.

We also talk about another under-reported story: the serial drowning of major cities in Asia by extreme precipitation events. In the Philippines, Manila suffered a major flood, and then Beijing China got six months of rain in 24 hours. Even the capital of the African country of Niger ended its horrible drought with half a year's worth of rain in a day.

I raise this question with Gareth? I've just been going through a study which shows humans tend to be pessimistic about other people, but optimistic about themselves. We worry about an unstable climate, but think it won't really affect me that much. That may be one reason why even developed countries refuse to plan for things like heavy rainstorms or rising seas. Do you see signs we are getting ready for what is coming?

Gareth replies, no, not for what he thinks is coming. But some countries are adding risings seas into their planning process - unlike legislators in one southern U.S. state which specifically prohibited including any global warming planning. New Zealand for example, is looking at how they might protect their coastlines from rising seas.

"The Climate Show" has been out of production since last spring. Co-host Glenn Williams, formerly a radio reporter for Radio New Zealand, has moved with his family to London England. His broadcasting gear has just arrived in the UK. Gareth expects they will work through the technology needed to hook up again (each in a different day, spanning the globe) to produce more Climate Shows. It will be tricky, considering the pair do both an audio and video recording at the same time, but all things are possible in the Skype world. Regular guest John Cook of will join them as well.

We move on to look at Gareth's new science fiction book. It's now on and, as well as Smashwords, with more outlets to come. From the book's web site:

"Here’s how cover designer Dylan Horrocks described The Aviator on Facebook.

"Gareth Renowden’s novel The Aviator is a light-hearted journey (by state-of-the-art airship) around a world transformed by climate change and subsequent political collapse. Rock God Evangelists, super-rich survivalists, back-to-nature primitivists, heavily armed luddites, goats with the secret of eternal youth, and a horny artificial intelligence with a taste for bluegrass and classic Hollywood films; The Aviator is a Gulliver-esque romp through a future we hope won’t come to pass. It’s out soon, with a cover by yours truly."

Find out more here.

I think science fiction is a great medium for trying to pull together a future no one has ever experienced. We are heading into decades of fundamental changes in our climate, our energy and resources. It's going to be hard to understand, and very disruptive to our economy, agriculture, everything we do.


Toward the end of the interview, I ask whether New Zealand might be one of the best places to escape to, when climate change hits in full force. Renowden says their location, and the surrounding cooling sea currents, should keep their two big islands habitable. But no country is an island, as they say. If the rest of the world becomes destabilized, life in New Zealand will be hard as well. At least they still have a large farming industry. Maybe New Zealand could still feed itself.

Gareth says he thinks Al Gore may have started the idea that South Sea Islanders forced out by rising seas would relocate in New Zealand. There have been some discussions, but it's not as settled as that. However, just because of the economics, there are more New Zealand citizens on some Pacific Islands than original Polynesians. In any event, as the largest and wealthiest country in the region, it does seem likely people from atolls that flood as the seas rise will become climate refugees to New Zealand.

You can listen to/download my interview with Gareth Renowden (25 minutes) here.


It's hard to believe a hard action organization like Greenpeace could even exist in state-controlled China. But Greenpeace China has been there since 1997.

Let's face it. Emissions have dropped slightly in the former biggest polluter, the USA. The largest global warmer is now China. Maybe that's not surprising as the world's most populous country industrializes. Not only are they bringing their own people up into middle class lifestyles we all wanted here - there continue to be "the world's workshop" producing consumer goods as well.

What can we do? I had an illuminating talk with Li Yan. She's the East Asia coordinator for the Atmosphere and Energy Campaign, based out of Beijing.

I'm sorry I don't have time to transcribe this important interview. But you can download or listen to it separately here (20 minutes long).

Coal continues to be the big reason China's emissions are so high. Western media, and too many bloggers, keep plugging the meme that "China is opening one new coal plant a week". Li Yan says about 52 coal plants did open during the peak of electrification back in 2008 or 2009, making an average of one a week - but coal plant construction has dropped since then. It's no longer true.

The government is also taking steps to close the smaller and older inefficient coal plants. Those produced way too many emissions compared to the energy produced.

China has also become the world leader in production of alternative energy. They have installed more wind power than any other country on the planet. However, Li Yan says even though China is also the world's largest maker of solar panels, only about five percent of that production is installed in China. The rest is exported to Europe, North America and the rest of the world. Greenpeace is calling on China to install more solar power at home.

We had a fascinating discussion about the way state-run media reports on climate change. In North America, we hear lots about the strange weather, and weather disasters, while reporters and weather people studiously avoid saying the words "climate change" or "global warming". We even take bets when watching TV, to see if they can get through a whole story about the drought, or record heat waves and fires, without ever mentioning the underlying cause. Some of the talking heads we do get, especially on Fox, are only there to deny there is any climate change.

Li Yan says state TV, radio and press accepts climate science, without a doubt. China has suffered terribly from drought, heat, and floods. In July, the capital city of Beijing got about 6 months’ worth of rain in just 24 hours a day. It was the heaviest rainfall in Beijing in 60 years, with 10 killed. The streets and homes were flooded. If this can happen in the most developed city in China, the capital, people there are wondering how bad it will get.

Climate change is often given as the reason for these weather disasters on state TV, but Li Yan say, they do not go all the way and connect the cause to coal burning. That could be improved.

Coal is one of the number one targets of Greenpeace's atmosphere campaign in China, and throughout Asia. The Chinese people are suffering from terrible air pollution, and coal is the main culprit. It also helps poison both the soil and the water. This localized pollution, as opposed to global warming, is one of the primary concerns of the Chinese people.

We hear a lot of third party opinions about China, and some outright hostile propaganda - so don't miss this chance to hear straight from Beijing, with Li Yan of Greenpeace.


Pointers to hot material you may have missed...

There's no way to do anything but skim over some world-shattering news, along with developments in the alternative movement. And's time for..."Tip of the Iceberg News!...!!"


The macro-economy is sinking. The United States is set for a leveraged buyout, Bain Capital style. That's where you raid a company, or country with a few million in campaign donations, load up the victim with unrepayable debt, while paying out big-time fees heading for a tax-free trip to the Cayman Islands.

Get the details from one of the best pieces of American journalism in a generation, Matt Taibbi's article "Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital" in the online version of Rolling Stone Magazine.

In Europe, Spain is going down. So far about 17% of all the money in Spanish banks has left the country. One bank has already been nationalized. The others bought billions in Spanish government debt with bail-out money poured in by the European Union.

Spain makes Greece look tiny in comparison. Spain's collapsed economy and real estate is a sink-hole threatening to drag down the even larger magnificent Ponzi debt scheme of Italy - and then it's a sleigh ride all the way down for the European Union.

China is holding a garage sale, and still can't get rid of overstocked warehouses. It seems their overseas customers are broke. The government has announced more money printing to save their economy once again. Production is down, people are losing their jobs. It's very serious - for China, and for the whole world economy.

In the U.S., helicopter Ben Bernanke has already offered bailout number 3 - billions more dollars hot off the government printing presses and into the hidden accounts of bankers and hedge funds. You know it's bad when the bailouts come. Don't sit up late waiting for your check.

Despite all that, I don't expect a big crash any time soon. Remember, even after the 50 billion dollar Ponzi fraud by Bernie Madoff was exposed and documented, it took another 8 years for the man to fall. See the documentary film "Chasing Bernie Madoff" with whistleblower Harry Markopolos. You'll see how the system never works to protect you.

Here's a link to the trailer.


While the big news is about the melting Arctic, runner-up is the giant drought this year in America.

When the Mississippi dries up, so that barges can't make it up the river, you know we are in trouble. Cattlemen sold off their beef, as feed prices soared. Expect cheap meat now; stick it in the freezer, because next year is going to make you want to become a vegetarian. Do it! It's good for you, and good for the planet.

America is the world's grocery store for the over-populated poor. Even though food prices are already rising, the Obama administration has not changed the policy of diverting huge amounts of corn into ethanol production. We'll burn up some family's dinner, just getting to the corner store for a soda.

Get ready to grow your own, or at least make friends with farmers.


Hey, Fukushima is so yesterday. Except this Japanese triple nuclear melt-down just keeps ticking along, like a slow motion atomic bomb.

Check out this collection of You tube clips from the Japanese news service NHK. It's hard to believe how poorly the Japanese are responding to the world's worst nuclear accident.

This same source, listed as NibiruMagick2012 also does an interesting news update, which includes things like volcanoes, storms, and climate change news. Don't let his nickname throw you off. I've got some good tips from his You tube channel, with pretty well daily news blasts that ordinary news doesn't carry. His channel is here.

The Japanese government announced they will study the health impacts - great idea, starting only 18 months too late. The government is also going to allow foreign experts to offer ideas. They are negotiating with the International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA is the body responsible for pushing nuclear power around the world, so they should unreliable. But it's better than just relying on Tepco and the government in Tokyo.

In a surreal move, various government agencies are already planning an alleged "clean-up" of the Fukushima region, even though radioactive cesium has a half-life of 30 years. The other elements released in the accident, up to an including both uranium and plutonium, last hundreds of thousands of years. We are already seeing artist's conceptions of green spaces and new industries in the radioactive hot zones. It's pathetic, a terrible lie for Japan.

According to nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen of, the reactor cores are likely no longer molten, just brilliant hot metal blobs that ran way no one knows where. The 3 reactors buildings are still unapproachable without risking lives. They are still building up explosive hydrogen daily, and require nitrogen to be pumped in to avoid more explosions. An earthquake or any technical problem with the pumps, the gerry-rigged pipes, or the electricity supply, could still lead to more radioactive explosions.

Tepco, the operator, has attempted to strengthen the Reactor Four fuel pool building, also wrecked in the explosions. All that fuel, from 40 years of operation, plus the hot fuel bundle just removed before the accident, is still balanced dangerously several stories above the ground. Another major earth quake could drop all that fuel, likely poisoning central Japan, including Tokyo, and likely the whole northern hemisphere. They've had plenty of earthquakes since. The government is moving far too slowly to get the fuel out.

Radioactive water is still leaking all over the site, including into the turbine halls. We don't know how much has reached the water table, or the Pacific Ocean. The Japanese government either doesn't know, doesn't want to know, or doesn't want to tell you.

Other than that, Fukushima is doing fine. You must listen to a great radio podcast with anti-nuclear campaigners Helen Caldicott interviewing Arnie Gundersen, in the free August 20th podcast. Download it from ITunes, or from this page at Just right click the red arrow at the bottom of the page to download this essential podcast of "If You Love This Planet".

I play a short excerpt in this Radio Ecoshock show where Helen calculates up to 3 million people could die from the Fukushima accident radiation. Gundersen counters it might "only" be 1 million, since about two thirds of the radiation was blown out into the Pacific, instead of back on to the Japanese mainland. Lucky weather saved many Japanese people, but huge numbers will still die prematurely due to radiation. The damage will pass down through several generations.

And don't miss this article in Counterpunch. It details how the Japanese Yakuza - the gangsters - are providing disposable workers for TEPCO to help "clean up" Fukushima. According to the article, Japanese criminal organizations have been involved in the nuclear industry for a long time.


I'm seeing four big trends in the alternative/activist/Occupy scene.

A rising tide of people realizes climate change, energy depletion, and economic collapse are inevitable.

Trend One: there is a chorus of famous writers, bloggers, and scientists who are publicly mourning the passing of the Holocene age, and our descent into the Anthropocene - the age brought about by humankind. Many of our favorite plants and animals will not survive the change. Everything will shift underneath us, like a climate quake.

Author Chris Hedges, returning as I am from a summer get-away in Nature, has a touching piece titled "Life Is Sacred". Find it at the truthdig blog at the Rolling Stone Magazine web site. Or find the link in my blog at Hedges knows we are already on the path toward ecological destruction, at least in human terms. Like me, he fears for the times of his children.

Trend Two: As I've covered in past Radio Ecoshock shows, with guests like Paul Kingsnorth - there is an even louder chorus calling for a quick downfall of the industrial system. As one of my listeners wrote in email, many believe human extinction is on its way. We need to consider a hospice society, making the way out less painful, perhaps even more joyful.

Carolyn Baker of "Speaking Truth to Power" has written a great article on Collapse Fatigue. Lots of commentators on blogs like Zero Hedge are becoming jaded about any predictions of a financial collapse. The whole mad Ponzi system, which Max Keiser calls the "Casino Gulag”, just keeps on dancing in midair. Until, like Bernie Madoff, some outside force or even intervenes, and the music stops?

Trend Three: Some fairly famous figures and movement leaders are bailing out. It's not just that people are burned out, hitting their heads against the immovable wall of human insanity. They are going quiet, moving to rural areas in some cases, or just hanging out in cities. It's like an "Atlas Shrugged" - abandoned but not by industrialists, an extinct breed supplanted by corporate raiders - but by those seeking an alternative.

Michael C. Ruppert was the subject of the movie "Collapse".

Last April Ruppert left the online community he helped found, at Collapse Network is still going, check it out. I subscribe to their pay news service, and find it really handy.

Now Ruppert has gone to Colorado with his dog. Mike hasn't exactly gone silent. He still has his popular radio program at PRN on Sunday evenings. But he's out of here.

I know others. It's a really bad sign when activists and leaders decide it's futile.

Trend Four: Related to all the above, many people are now seeking out spiritual practices as way to cope with the unbearable weight of knowing. Ruppert is trying a mix of American Indian shamanism and Alcoholic Anonymous.

Two leaders from Transition US, Michael Brownlee and Lynette Marie Hanthorn are proposing "Deep Transition". They are seeking ways to digest our lurch into mass suicide. It is really a new beginning, a hard evolution into a type of humanity that can live in nature?

Download that Lifeboat Hour show on Deep Transition, September 2nd edition guest hosted by Carolyn Baker here.

I'm worried, in our distress, some people will turn away from science and activism, toward ancient superstitions that took us centuries to overcome. There's a lot to talk about here, and we will, in the coming season of Radio Ecoshock.


In our next Radio Ecoshock show we hear three top scientists on the record melt-down of Arctic sea ice. One guest will be Jennifer Francis, the Rutgers University atmospheric scientist who leads observations on the way the sea ice melt is changing our climate, throughout the Northern Hemisphere. It's some of the most urgent science on the block, with your life in the balance.

We'll also hear from Dr. Cecelia Bitz, helping us understand how the Arctic climate works, and why it matters so much. Plus Mark Serreze, the Director of the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center - explaining the new record low levels of ice. It's the biggest story in many thousand years.

After that, you'll get a surprise special on the unbelievable tipping point developing as we air-condition the planet. Followed by a whole program on developments in what I see as our only response for now: the transition town movement.

Personally, I spent a month at our rural village retreat. We added more insulation, 120 Watts of solar power, a handy garden shed, and a large garden fence - six feet high to keep out the deer and other pests.

My most important time was spent getting to know more of my neighbors there. Small communities are still functioning, with people helping people. I like it, and hope to move there.

It's not much, but that's about all I can do at this point. I'm back in the city, diving through news, reports, and truly helpful tips from listeners like you. Write me any time. The address is radio [at] ecoshock dot org.

Gear up for another nail-biting season, with Radio Ecoshock.

I'm Alex Smith. As always, I thank you for listening, and caring about your world.