Monday, May 27, 2013

WILD HUMANS (doing wild things)

National Geographic reporter Scott Wallace on trips to deep Amazon for his book "The Unconquered". How oil, gold, and illegal logging chase the last un-contacted tribes. Plus reports on Canadian Boreal failure, serial climate hacker Russ George, and shaping Nature in the city. Radio Ecoshock 130529 1 hour

Welcome to Radio Ecoshock. I'm Alex Smith with a packed show. Are you counting on off-grid humans to survive if we don't? We'll track the last wild humans in a report from South America. You'll hear an update on the reported collapse of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, the further adventures of serial climate hacker Russ George, and a debate on trying to re-make nature in your city.

Off we go.


The first 32 minutes of the show is a wide-ranging discussion with Scott Wallace, journalist for National Geographic magazine.

We talk through his book about the last Amazon un-contacted tribes "The Unconquered". Why oil, gold, and tropical timber are corrupting the Amazon, a fundamental source of biodiversity for the planet. Wallace made a three month trip to find signs of "the Arrow People" - plus multiple trips to the Amazon in Ecuador and Peru. At times it was pretty hairy.

I provide an update on the "collapse" of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement. Following my story 2 weeks ago on the green group Canopy withdrawing, this week the largest forest company, Resolute, quit. We hear from the remaining NGOs that the process may not be dead.

Serial climate hacker and plankton "farmer" Russ George was booted off the Board of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corp. The aboriginal Haida people say they have fired him, George says that's not possible, he owns nearly half the company. An update on the incredible disappearing $2.5 million.

We hear briefly from NOAA lawyer Richard Mannix on the need for an international agency to oversee geoengineering attempts like the Russ George/Haida case.

The show wraps with a sample from ""City Mouse, City Flower: A Discussion of Urban Nature." presented by Erik Hoffner of Orion Magazine.

Listen to/download this Radio Ecoshock Show in CD Quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)

Listen to/download my 32 minute interview with Scott Wallace in CD Quality or Lo-Fi



Waorani Hunters, Yasuni Rainforest, photo by Scott Wallace.

What if a solar flare knocks out power to the world? Or the latest disease escapes becoming a great plague? At least we have the consolation there are still so-called "wild" humans out there on the fringes to survive. Or is that just another strangely comforting myth?

We are joined by a man who knows, long-time international journalist and reporter for National Geographic Magazine, Scott Wallace. His latest book is "The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted Tribes".

We have a lot to talk about. There's Ecuador's promise to leave Amazon oil in the ground to save the rainforest and global warming. There is the whole issue of biodiversity and whether the great Amazon rainforest can survive - not to mention the last of it's unconquered peoples.

But first, why do we hear so little in mainstream media about South America? Here in the North, it's like the lost continent. Why is that?

Maybe most Western-style people are just interested in others like themselves. But I also wonder if the major newspapers and networks have owners who don't want to talk about very different political systems in South America.


Anyway, Scott brings South America into the picture with his articles in National Geographic Magazine. Check out his April 2013 feature "Mahogany's Last Stand".

In the interview, Scott explains mahogany was running so short in Brazil, that country banned further export of the product. The mahogany loggers moved across the borer into Peru, where central government contol of the Amazon is weak to none. They try. In his blog, Scott tells us the Peruvian cops just seized some illegal timber. But that leaves the local tribes fearing for their lives, afraid of the violent loggers.


We talk about the magnificent Yasuni National Park in eastern Ecuador. Scott writes:

"Downpours are a near daily occurrence throughout the year, and there are few discernible changes of season. Sunlight, warmth, and moisture are constants."

"Over the years, oil concessions have been drawn over the same territory as the park, as economic interests have trumped conservation in the struggle over Yasuní’s fate. At least five active concessions blanket the park’s northern section, and for a poor country like Ecuador the pressure to drill has been almost irresistible. Half of the nation’s export earnings already come from oil, nearly all of it from its eastern provinces in the Amazon."

"In a proposal first put forward in 2007, President Rafael Correa has offered to leave indefinitely untouched an estimated 850 million barrels of oil inside Yasuní’s northeastern corner in a tract known as the ITT Block (named for the three oil fields it contains: Ishpingo, Tambococha, and Tiputini). As payment for preserving the wilderness and preventing an estimated 410 million metric tons of fossil fuel-generated carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere, Correa has asked the world to ante up in the fight against global warming. He is seeking $3.6 billion in compensation, roughly half of what Ecuador would have realized in revenues from exploiting the resource at 2007 prices. The money would be used, he says, to finance alternative energy and community development projects.

Hailed by supporters as a milestone in the climate change debate when it was first proposed, the so-called Yasuní-ITT Initiative has been hugely popular in Ecuador. National polls consistently show a growing awareness of Yasuní as an ecological treasure that should be protected. But the international response to the initiative has been tepid. By mid-2012 only about $200 million had been pledged. In response Correa has issued a succession of angry ultimatums, leading detractors to liken his proposal to blackmail. With the initiative stalled and Correa warning that time is running out, activity on the oil frontier continues to advance through eastern Ecuador, even within Yasuní’s limits. Every day, another bit of the wilderness succumbs to the bulldozers and backhoes.

Read more in Scott's January 2013 article "Rainforest for Sale: The Story of Oil" in National Geographic Magazine.

President Correa of Ecuador is one of the few world leaders anywhere to offer to leave some oil in the ground, to reduce global warming. All countries will have to come to that position to stave off climatic disaster, that we know. The leadership apparently is in the global South.

There were two great droughts in the Amazon Rainforest, of all places, in the last couple of decades. Biodiversity is under threat or crashing. Some climate models show vast swaths of the Amazon rainforest converting to grassland, as a great drought develops there. First it would be logged or burn. If the rainforest goes, cloud formation will change, precipitation for Africa will fall (in another area slated for drought and desertification). Plus, a huge carbon sink becomes a carbon source.

Please check out our conversation with Scott Wallace on Radio Ecoshock.

Visit his web site at I recommend watching the little bio clip on that home page.

Find Scott's blog posts for National Geographic here.

Don't forget his book. Scott is a gifted story teller, with important issues to communicate. The book is "The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted Tribes"

You can take that Scott Wallace interview as the first installment in a series on human extinction. Next week, we'll investigate the growing chorus saying the human species will go extinct before the middle of this Century. I'll tell you who's behind it, and what real science says. It's a tale with a twist, tune in next week for sure.


Meanwhile I have to update you on stories you heard first on Radio Ecoshock. In our program on the first of May 2013, you heard Nicole Rycroft of the green group Canopy explain why they pulled out of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement. It was a key effort to preserve at least half of the necklace of slow-growing trees across the top of Canada - now being clear-cut logged by dozens of forest companies.

Listen to/Dowload the Nicole Rycroft interview (Canopy) 22 minutes in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Or watch the Nicole Rycroft interview on Youtube instead!

Rycroft told us after three years of direct negotiations with major logging companies, promises were not kept, deadlines were not met, and not a single hectare of the Boreal Forest was legally protected. Canopy is going back to the 700 companies promising to avoid old-growth timber from Canada's Boreal Forest.

Now the largest forest company, Resolute Forest Products, formerly known at AbitibiBowater, has pulled out of the talks.

Resolute says the environmentalists are asking too much. They would have to close mills, and the impoverished northern aboriginal communities would suffer, if they don't continue massive logging operations in the north of two Canadian provinces, Ontario and Quebec.

Some Canadian newspapers reported the agreement had collapsed, now that Greenpeace, Canopy, and Resolute pulp and paper were out. Other large timber companies have not announced they are leaving the talks, although they may, if they feel they will be at a competitive disadvantage. Three large environment and conservation groups said they will continue to push for protection of the Boreal Forest. One major funder, the Ivy Foundation, put at least five million dollars into this effort.

In the program, you hear a press conference statement by Tod Paglia, Executive Director of Forest Ethics, followed by Tim Gray, Program Director for the Ivey Foundation. I recorded this from a media conference call on May 21st.

Both groups still support the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement process, despite the loss of other major environment and company participants. I don't know if the process can continue, or if they can protect enough of the Boreal to protect the endangered Woodland Caribou.

The real issue, from my perspective, is not just the value of this intact ecosphere of the North - but the big impact rampant logging will have on climate change. The Boreal Forest could turn from being a carbon sink, moderating what is left of our climate, to a carbon source. This huge Northern forest could take hundreds of years to grow back, it it ever does.

Meanwhile, we witness another positive feed-back loop, heating the globe, and created by the human impulse to grab natural resources at any cost.

Environment groups like Greenpeace and Canopy will push Resolute Forest Products to meet the needs of nature. You can help by disinvesting in this rogue company, and making sure your pension plans and corporations are not supporting their products.


From Steve Krivit collection "Russ George Gives Vatican Certificate for Fictional Carbon Credits"

On to another story brought to light by Radio Ecoshock. Over the years I've investigated the claims and activities of Russ George. On September 7th and 14th 2007 I did a two part interview and critique of George's attempt to modify the climate by stimulating plankton blooms with iron. That effort failed. The multimillion dollar stock promotion of his company "Planktos" went bankrupt.

PLANKTOS: Offsets Real and Imagined Planting trees, seeding seas, grabbing CO2, for money. Full show interview with Russell George, CEO of Planktos, controversial carbon offset company. Part 1 of 2. Interview transcript here. Ecoshock Show 070907 1 hr 14 MB

Find a transcript of my full-length interview with Russ George in 2007 here.

PLANKTOS II: THE INTERVENTION Who are they, and will it work? Part 2: three critics respond plus Alex Smith's take. (Ecoshock show 070914 - 14 MB 1 hr) Greenpeace (9 min)Science Unit, ETC Group (9 min), and David Baines (16 min)(newspaper business columnist)

In the middle of October 2012, I did interviews and clips from a Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation press conference at the Vancouver Aquarium. Leaders from the Haida Village of Old Massett attempted to explain to the world press how and why they secretly performed a geonengineering experiment, possible the world's largest, in the Pacific Ocean near their home on the island of Haida Gwaii. The village spent 2.5 million on Russ George's dream to create carbon credits for sale, and allegedly replenish the failing salmon stock. No carbon credits were sold, and it appear the villagers lost their money to this scheme.

Here are the resources from October 2012

"Geoengineering Plankton at Haida Gwaii Serial climate hacker Russ George (Planktos) leads indigenous villagers to dump iron into the sea - a secret geoengineering project off Canada's West Coast. Press conference statements (recorded by Alex Smith) by the Haida Old Massett Village Chief, Ken Rea and Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation President John Disney (16 min) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi; statement by HSRC marine lawyer James L. Straith CD quality or Lo-Fi. See Radio Ecoshock 121024 blog here. Transcript of Chief Rea and Disney at Press Conference. Transcript of Question and Answer period Press Conf. (prepared by Alex Smith)."

Find all the links for that October special on this page.

On April 10th, I announced the offices of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation offices were raided by armed officers of the federal agency, Environment Canada. All computers and files were taken away.

Despite this, Russ George told the Times Colonist newspaper in British Columbia that he and the First Nations people would run a second experiment on the wild algae in the summer of 2013.


On April 30th, I attended an online briefing by the American National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration on marine geoengineering, and possible legal barriers against unilateral experimenters like Russ George. It was titled "Ocean Fertilization, Marine Geoengineering and the London Convention/London Protocol".

The audio quality is poor, but you can make out these two quick clips. First, Richard Mannix, a legal expert from NOAA's Office of General Counsel notes the Russ George/Haida Village experiment may have damaged clam beds on the island. The Haida had to dig them up. We don't have scientific proof that was due to the massive plankton bloom created off shore by the experiment.

Second, lawyer Richard Mannix points out there is no central legal authority to regulate or stop geoengineering experiments. Dumping iron into the sea should be controlled by the London Dumping Convention and the London Protocol. But there is nothing controlling who might spray sulfates into the atmosphere, or launch mirrors into space, to reduce sunlight arriving at our planet. Without such an agency, Mannix feels we are encouraging a "wild west" of geoengineering.

I managed to get in a question at the end, saying Russ George promises to repeat his ocean dumping scheme this year, and what could stop him? Mannix replied he was confident the Canadian authorities were investigating thoroughly, and it was possible Russ George could end up in "the slammer". His words.. "the slammer" is slang for jail. We'll see.


The story continues. On May 23rd, the Haida villagers announced on Canadian News Wire they were severing all ties with Russ George. The HSRC said, quote "it has removed Mr. Russ George as a director of the company. In addition, the HSRC has terminated Mr. George's employment as an officer of the corporation."

"Old Massett Village Chief Councillor Ken Rea stated: 'The board and our community has decided to recalibrate this business so that it moves forward in a constructive fashion and effectively responds to legitimate concerns raised by various stakeholders around the world'."

Sounds like Russ is out of a job. But not so fast! Russ George told the Vancouver Sun he can't be fired! George said the Board of the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation did not have the authority to remove him. We learn from Russ that he owns 48% of HSRC through his own company called "Ocean Pastures Corp." All along we were led to believe it was strictly a First Nations business (and that's why the company claimed it could issue it's own permits).

George promised to keep going on the project. That's moxy! His data and equipment were seized by the Canadian government, with likely legal action pending. The Haida villagers, a potent group to say the least, insist they have severed all ties with Russ George. Village Chief Ken Rea told the Times Colonist "We have parted ways". I would read that more or less as a ban from the island, especially since the senior governing body of the Haida already denounced the experiment. Ken Rea says no plankton seeding experiment will be done this year.

That should end the story, but Russ George never really goes away. He's back on his blog touting his other persona, the amateur physics experimenter with a world-saving technology in cold fusion. His former company D2Fusion went bankrupt years ago. On his blog, George says he's worked on cold fusion since its discovery in 1989. His "work" was making a documentary film about it.

Find a full record of the activities of the two Russ Georges on Steve Krivit's page "Investigations of Russ George's Low-Energy Nuclear Reaction Research (LENR) and Plankton Carbon-Credit Activities".

With the failure of his plankton scheme, again, Russ George could next reappear as a businessman advocate for Cold Fusion. It's never over for Russ George with his big dreams, and multimillion dollar losing schemes.


Moving on, I have one more recording for you. On May 16th, Erik Hoffner of Orion Magazine hosted a web chat called "City Mouse, City Flower: A Discussion of Urban Nature." Guests were Beatrix Beisner, co-editor of the new urban ecology guidebook "Nature All Around Us", Liam Heneghan of DePaul University/Chicago Wilderness Science Team, and Kevin Anderson, proprietor of the blog Marginal Nature.

Find out more about Liam Henegan, both a bio and a video of his talk at New York University, here.

I was intrigued with the struggles and ideas in the discussion between Liam Heneghan, working from an academic planning perspective, and Kevin Anderson, who by day is a water and sewage worker for the City of Austin Texas. Anderson definitely gets his hands dirty, and laments the trend of cutting down "foreign species" to create the imagined past landscape of "native speciers" - during one of the worst droughts in living memory.

We tune in as Erik of Orion Magazine brings up adaptation to urban conditions. Kevin Anderson weighs in with the hot debate: should humans try to engineer nature again, this time right in the cities where we live?

Find the full 80 minute discussion "City Mouse, City Flower: A Discussion of Urban Nature" as an audio file at

Next week we'll ask the question: are we humans doomed to an early extinction? I hope the answer is "no". You'll hear the arguments as Radio Ecoshock continues to cover the biggest pictures.

I'm Alex Smith. You can support my work at the show web site,

Catch up on any programs you've missed as free mp3 downloads at the site.

Please tell your friends about Radio Ecoshock and thank you for listening.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Who Will Control the Climate of the World?

Australian author Clive Hamilton on geoengineering & his new book "Earthmasters". Plots by big oil, Bill Gates & nuke scientists. Shocking new science shows Arctic could melt at current carbon levels. Plus world-wide growth of bike sharing with Janet Larsen of Earth-Policy. Radio Ecoshock 130522 1 hour

Welcome traveller. Can you handle the truth?

I didn't think so. Me neither.

But it will happen anyway. Science is beginning to prove we have already changed the planet's climate in dangerous ways.

A small group of climate scientists, backed by a billionaire and big oil, are considering taking over control of the climate, to stave off disaster. Then we'll find proof our current 400 parts per million will melt so much Arctic and Antarctic ice, warming up to 8 degrees C, flooding the world's largest cities.

We'll wrap that up with one of the few positive alternatives growing in this disturbed scene: a wave of bike sharing around the world. Includes Europe, U.S., Mexico, South America, China.


Listen to/download this Radio Ecoshock Show (1 hour) in CD Quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)

Listen to/download the Clive Hamilton interview on "EarthMasters" (geoengineering 25 min) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Listen to/download Janet Larsen from Earth Policy Institute on world-wide bike sharing (24 min) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi




Clive Hamilton

Gather round boys and girls as we tell the story of the Earthmasters - the men who would take over from nature, to run the climate of the world. Or do they mean to save us from our fossil-addicted selves?

For all who love a conspiracy, geoengineering has it all. The oil companies, far-right think-tanks, nuclear weapons scientists, and even Bill Gates. But you'll have to hang in, while we first look at a few small problems in their plans.

Our guide is Clive Hamilton. After careers in the Australian public service as an economics and resource advisor, and several stints at Universitites like Yale, Cambridge, and Oxford, Hamilton founded and ran a progressive think-tank called the Australia Institute. Now he's Professor of Public Ethics in a program run by two Australian universities.

You may have heard of books Clive's written or co-written, including "Growth Fetish", "Affluenza", "Silencing Dissent" and more recently "Requiem for a Species: Why we resist the truth about climate change." But his latest is "Earthmasters, The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering."

We reached Clive Hamilton in Canberra.

We cover a lot of important points. One of the big questions: if we start cooling the planet, say with Solar Radiation Management, what happens if we stop? Answer: the temperature goes up very quickly in a matter of months or even weeks, as the aerosols are rained out. It could be a jump of several degrees.

That leads to an absolutely key point: the RATE if temperature increase is possibly more important than the overall increase. If we gain a half a degree per decade, some plants, animals and ocean species will have time to migrate further toward the poles, or higher up mountains, to survive. But if there is a relatively sudden jump of one or two degrees global mean temperature, (more in some areas) - then mass extinctions will result. That is one of the supreme risks of geoengineering.

It's easy to picture a scenario where a fleet of aircraft spraying sulfates, or a fleet of ships spraying up salt water continuously, could stop. A financial crash, war, plague, or terrorism could end the program. Then all of the heating we've covered up with geoengineering would strike the planet. No one has a tenable answer for this problem.

A second key issue: who will decide when and how to start geoengineering? A single country could do it, like Russia, the United States, or even Malaysia. It's possible a billionaire could decide to cool off the planet, with no public consultation. In fact, we learn that Bill Gates, the Microsoft Founder, has been pouring millions into a research fund to develop science - and patents! - to cool the planet. Some businessmen hope to make money controlling the technology that could save us from extreme climate change.

The Gates foundation has been advised by two scientists in particular, Ken Caldeira and David Keith. These are highly regarded climate scientists, Caldeira from Stanford and Keith from Harvard. David Keith is a great example of a man who seems to deny climate change, or at least thinks it won't matter to humans, we can adapt - and yet he gets money from Canadian Tar Sands billionaire N Murray Edwards to further the cause of geoengineering. How can Conservatives have it both ways? Another important player in this "geo-clique" is Brad Allenby.

Gates has started several companies investigating geoengineering, one called "Intellectual Ventures". The CEO is Nathan Myhrvold, formerly Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft.

Another associate at Intellectual Ventures is Lowell Wood, a former nuclear weapons researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and protege of the late Edward Teller, inventor of the hydrogen bomb. Before his death, Edward Teller was promoting a scheme to launch millions of mirrors into space to deflect the sun away from the Earth. Teller was a Cold Warrior who also championed the "Star Wars" scheme under President Ronald Reagan. Wood is one of a collection of people who moved from nuclear weapons research into geoengineering. And why not? If you think humans should control the Earth by force, why not control the climate the same way? In fact, some of these men want to control Nature entirely. Former Vice President Dick Cheney or the current Dictator of North Korea would probably agree that's a good thing.

Such schemes reduce sunlight for all creatures on Earth, including our own needs for agriculture. And they do nothing to stop the equally deadly acidification of the oceans from our fossil fuel pollution.

Obviously, big oil and coal companies would love to have a technological solution that lets them burn even more of their polluting produces. In the interview, and in his book Earthmasters, Clive Hamilton tells us how Exxon/Mobil and Shell are investing in geoengineering schemes.

Strangest of all, the right-wing think tank the American Enterprise Institute also backs Solar Radiation Management, or geoengineering, to stave off global heating. The AEI was previously given millions of dollars, and acted to deny global warming was even happening. That's quite a switch, going from denial straight to demanding emergency action to stop climate change!

Clive Hamilton suggests the problem of global warming indicates a failing of the free market system - since the true cost of polluting the atmosphere was never factored in. But now, with geoengineering, the capitalists system tries to vindicate itself by converting a horrible problem into a wonderful victory with technology it controls.

Due to time limitations, we didn't cover technologies to suck carbon dioxide out of the air. People are going to have to buy the book to get that.

Part of the reason Clive wrote the book, and is now touring North America, is to wake up the public and get a real discussion going about who should control this tech, if we ever need it. Naturally, the far better solution is to drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions before we lose the climate civilization depends on.

Find out more at Clive's web site.

Now in fairness, we have to say there are genuine and worthy climate scientists who are terrified about the way the climate trap is going. They don't get money from the military or Bill Gates. They just see the Arctic meltdown and species leaving the stage forever, and think "we've got to do something fast". What could we do that isn't too crazy or dangerous?

I think there will be a "climate emergency". We get two years where crops don't grow. It could be floods or extreme heat, whatever. Millions die and there is a call for action. The geoengineers step forward with a plan. Will we be able to say "no"?

That's why I didn't ask Clive about international negotiations or laws. It's still the Wild West of the atmosphere, where just one determined dictator, billionaire, or president could decide to cool the world.


In the last year, scientists discovered a climate record going back over 3 million years - long beyond the ice core records of 800,000 years. Research led by Professor Julie Brigham-Grette, from the University of Masschusetts, Amherst drastically changes our understanding of the world.

Julie Brigham-Grette

She's been studying a meteor-impact lake called El' gygytgyn on the Eastern tip of Siberia.Drilling into a lake in the Russian Arctic, created from a meteor strike ages ago, she found several periods where the Arctic was up to 8 degrees warmer than today. That despite carbon dioxide levels thought to be similar to, or below, today's 400 parts per million. Zoom out on this Google Map to see where that lake is.

The Greenland Ice sheets have repeatedly shrunk to half current size. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet completely disappeared 1.1 million years ago. The sea level was tens of meters higher than today.

All this happened not with carbon levels like the 600 parts per million and above projected by politicians and planners, but at only 400 parts per million, our current level. It appears we may have already arrived at greenhouse gas levels sufficient to drastically warm the poles, make sea ice history, melt Greenland and parts of Antarctica, and flood coastal areas around the world. All that may be only a matter of time.

In the radio show I play a selection of key clips recorded from a You tube video presentation by Dr. Julie Brigham-Grette, at Amherst, in the summer of 2012 - almost a year ago, and yet hardly anyone has heard of these startling findings. Find out more at, hosted by University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

I highly recommend you watch this full Youtube video of Julie Brigham-Grette with all the graphs and charts. Scary stuff.


Quick quiz: what way of getting around is growing faster than "any mode of transport in the history of the planet?"

If you said cars, motorbikes, or skateboards... nope. The right answer is "bike sharing". It's almost enough to give us hope - and that's the intention of the the ongoing work called "Plan B" from Lester Brown's Earth Policy Institute.

Here to brighten our day with news about the wave of carbon-friendly bicycle travel around the world is Janet Larsen. She's the Director of Research for the Earth Policy Institute. Over 500 cities world-wide have installed millions of share-able bikes.

Janet Larsen, Earth Policy Institute

There's plenty of bike action in North America, but we start with Europe. They have been the world leaders in urban biking, other than China. A few of us heard about free bikes in Amsterdam back in the day, but those were stolen to be sold off in Eastern Europe. We talk about bicycle solutions today in Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

The Copenhagen "Bycyklen" system just shut down at the end of 2012, as part of "austerity". There was such a big public outcry, the government has now promised a new modern bike sharing system to replace it.

The French were never known for their biking, but Citi Group helped pioneer a sharing system in Rouen that was very successful. Now every tourist to Paris enjoys the great bike sharing system there.

I wince with pain when I think about what happened in China. In the early 1990's, we all saw video of throngs of commuters biking into work in most of China's cities. Now that's been wiped out by the same polluting car culture developed in America, and pushed by many of the same car companies, like General Motors. That car-culture is beginning to fail them. China is still the world's largest bicycle maker, and some Chinese cities have installed a lot of shared bikes, up to 90,000 in one city alone. There are lots of exciting things going on with biking in China.

In our interview, we also look at the challenges facing bicycle transport in Mexico, and innovative programs in Central and South America.


Another whole aspect of this is bike messengers and inner-city deliveries. We have a small fleet of tricycle "freight" bikes operating in downtown Vancouver.

Freight Tricycle Vancouver (photo Alex Smith)

No doubt you've heard that New York City will be opening a giant new bike sharing program later this Spring. The first 5,000 subscriptions for shared bikes sold out quickly. Other cities, even Tusla Oklahoma, are scoring successes with new bike paths and bike sharing.

The list of bike benefits is so long. They offer independence, even if the main grid goes down, or oil prices skyrocket. You help save the climate, and help save your health at the same time. I wonder, is anyone doing the calculations about how fast we need to develop the bicycle transportation network, to be energy secure, and to make a major dent in climate-damaging car emissions?

This bicycle update is part of a series on the positive news coming from the institute, covering everything from clean alternative energy to climate-friendly diet changes. It's called "Plan B" as advanced by the Institute's founder, Lester Brown.

Track it down at

============= Please support Radio Ecoshock if you can, at our web site, And grab lots of our free mp3 downloads of past shows.

Are we out of time? Find out next week, as I look into human extinction. I'm Alex. Thanks for hanging in.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Unburnable: Risky Fossil Fuel Investments Vs. Climate Crisis

Two new reports say climate change could cause the next financial crisis. From London, Bob Ward, LSE lead author of "Unburnable: Carbon 2013: Wasted capital and stranded assets." From Australia's Climate Institute, John Connor on coal's risky future. Plus Nancy LaPlaca: why does sunny Arizona burn so much coal? Radio Ecoshock 130515 1 hour.

Could climate change bring us the next financial crisis? Yes indeed, say two new reports. We'll go London to get the low-down on the new report from the Grantham Institute of the London School of Economics. Find out why big institutions like Citi Group, HSBC, the World Bank and the IMF agree: fossil fuel companies have developed a huge bubble based on carbon reserves they can never burn.

Pay attention. Your pension funds and banks are heavily invested in the next financial crash. Everybody is.

From the Canadian Tar Sands to Australian coal pits, energy companies are loading up with yesterday's fuel - until the climate crunch, which is already arriving. John Connor of the Climate Institute says the coal industry is ripe for financial implosion.

I'll wrap up with a quick answer to another bothersome question: why is the super sunshine state of Arizona still burning so much coal? With Nancy LaPlaca.

Remember the few people who tried to warn the world about the mortgage bubble. This is that show for you.


Listen to/download this Radio Ecoshock Show in CD Quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)

Listen to/download the interview with Bob Ward, Grantham Institute of the London School of Economics (24 minutes) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Listen to/download my interview with John Connor, Executive Director of the Climate Institute in Australia (19 min) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Listen to/download the interview with Nancy LaPlaca on solar vs. coal in Arizona (12 minutes) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Any intelligent observer can see we are on a collision course between increasing mega-projects to produce even more coal, oil and gas - and the developing disaster of climate change. Either we make adjustments to our energy system, or we risk trying to live through the planet's sixth great extinction event, without going extinct ourselves.

Why do so many investors, likely including your pension fund, bank, or government - keep pouring billions and billions of dollars or Euros into a fossil fuel industry which has no long-term future? Everybody's making big money - but is it a bubble?

No one doubted the strength of the American home mortgage market, before that fell apart in 2007. It almost took down the whole financial system. But can we really believe the most profitable companies in the world, the oil and coal industries, could collapse?

The climate threat to our financial markets and civilization is no longer a subject just for radical greens. There are ripples of concern right at the core of the largest trading systems, echoed by some of the world's biggest financial institutions. Some say the carbon bubble could bring on the next crash.

In January of 2012, a well-regarded list of power players wrote the British Governor of the Bank of England, warning the London exchange was at the top of a fossil fuel bubble that could break with disasterous consequences. Now Lord Stern and a team of analysts have released a new policy paper that explains the risk.


Bob Ward, Grantham Institute, LSE

In the spring of 2013 stock markets hit new highs. Leading the pack were the most profitable companies in the world, the big oil, gas, and coal companies.

At the same time, polls showed the majority of the public believe climate change is real. What happens when these two opposites collide? According to a new report from leading economists, the carbon bubble will pop, leading to another serious financial crisis.

To explain, I've reached a lead author of the report, "Unburnable Carbon 2013: Wasted capital and stranded assets." Bob Ward is Policy and Communications Director for the Grantham Institute, at the London School of Economics.

This new report is hard to believe. How could big money makers like Shell, Exxon/Mobil and the rest, lead us into the next economic crash?

We talk about this "carbon bubble". I ask how would it compare to the 2007 bubble of U.S. real estate prices, and all the securitization based on those mortgages? Ward says it is smaller than that bubble, because that 2007/2008 crisis involved all the banks, which are central to everything else in our economy.

Still, the over-valuation of these energy companies is not a small problem. Ward tells me the oil, gas, coal, and coal mining companies account for about 20% of the London Stock exchange, and similar numbers for other stock exchanges around the world.

If investors wake up all of a sudden and divest in a panic, say after more rounds of climate-driven violent weather, that could bring a very serious crisis. The Grantham Institute and Carbon Tracker hope their report will give the market time to make the necessary changes over time, rather than in a panic, and avoid a really serious crash.

The ratings company Standard and Poors is looking at how to re-evaluate the energy companies, given the claimed reserves can never be burned. The International Energy Agency (IEA) and the World Bank are now adamant that climate change is a real threat to the world economy, and are looking at action based on this new report. Even banks like HSBC and Citi agree this is a serious problem.

We are told the Bank of England was warned in January 2012 that big reserves claimed by the fossil fuel companies were a threat to the British economy, and the huge UK investment and banking industry.

Almost all of us are invested in fossil fuel companies one way or another. Certainly pension funds seek those big dividends and stock prices. Insurance companies, even our savings are loaned out by banks to big energy corporations. We are all at risk.

Naturally, I was skeptical that governments will act at all. Right now it looks like we'll just burn all the fossil fuels and to hell with coming generations. Literally. Bob Ward doesn't think so. For one thing, climate change is already interfering with the oil, gas, and coal business.

Consider rising seas and violent storms when it comes to offshore platforms and refineries. Think of the oil industry impacts of Hurricane Katrina for example. We also heard from Louisiana just the increased heat and changes in water flows are affecting pipeline operations. And we're just at the start of all that.

Add on the huge costs to government of storms like Hurricane Sandy ($60 billion on an already stressed United States) - and there is just no way our society and economy can go on with "business as usual" - especially if the global mean temperature goes over 2 degrees hotter. At some point, we don't know when, Ward says society will act to try to save what is left of the climate we need to survive. Taking action is not a "political" matter. It's physics and climate science that is based on what we emit. End of story. The fossil fuel companies might as well stop exploration to push up the supposed value of their reserves - because we can't even burn what we have already!

With Carbon Tracker, the Grantham Institute looked at the "carbon budget" - the amount of fossil fuels we could still burn and have at least a 50% chance of staying below the two degree danger zone. It's not much - and nothing like the reserves claimed by these big corporations.

I saved one last question from talking with Bob Ward from the London School of Economics. It's technical financially. I didn't really get it - until I heard John Connor say the same. Big pensions, insurance companies and banks are investing in the whole stock market, without being able to separate out the phony balance sheets of fossil fuel companies. That's a core risk which could shake the whole system. Regulators and analysts, even the ratings company Standard and Poors, are looking for a new metric, a new way to invest in a real future.


John Connor, Climate Institute, Australia

Naturally this affects oil, gas, and coal producers around the world. Australia is the world's largest exporter of climate-damaging coal. Australian mining companies recently announced even more grandiose projects to mine and ship still more.

From Australia, I've reached John Connor. He is the CEO of the Climate Institute in Sydney.

In the Guardian newspaper April 28th, John Connor told journalist Damian Carrington that Australia's coal industry is, quote, "ripe for financial implosion". We discuss how this carbon bubble could burst, and the impact on Australian economy, and the world economy. Find the Climate Institute "Unburnable" report on Australian coal here.

During the interview, John recommended these web sites to follow up:

The Vital Few - a site aimed at accidental climate change investors. That could be any of us, as our banks, pension funds (called superannuation funds in Australia), and insurance companies invest heavily in fossil fuel companies. Find out if your are involved and what to do here.

Connor also recommends the Asset Owners Disclosure web site and listings. It shows which investment companies are backing the energy sources that will wreck out climate. Check it out.


The way I see it, Australia endures another few years of climate extremes, whether it's super fires, record heat and floods. Millions of people call for action, in time with an election cycle. That could bring a crash of coal company share-prices, or even a major bankruptcy for an Australian coal company. Impossible you say? Remember Bear Sterns and Lehman Brothers were invincible too.

Here in North America, the gas industry is frantically drilling more and more fracking wells, even though the price is lower than production costs. I assume it's a scam intended to generate more investment money. Is it possible the same is happening with Australian coal?

Not likely, says John Connor. Unfortunately, there is far too much real coal in the ground. As he says "the Stone Age didn't end because they ran out of stones." In the same vein, Australia won't run out of coal before the climate is absolutely wrecked.

The Australian government is subsidizing the coal boom with extra infrastructure, hoping to generate more jobs and tax money. The government, and the public, are addicted to coal revenues, especially in Queensland. It's pretty much the same picture in Canada with the Tar Sands operations.

The Climate Institute, along with Carbon Tracker, put out their own report on the impacts of Australian coal reserves, versus a change in market evaluation of companies. The big coal companies are quite aware that climate concerns may drive more demands for carbon limitations or carbon taxes. Perversely, this may drive them to get coal out of the ground even faster, to make more money before the market shifts against them. It's the coal rush, and Australian corporations have announced fantastic new plans for mega coal mines and a half dozen new coal shipping ports (some in the Great Barrier Reef!)

The Climate Institute report found two important developments. First of all, the majority of Australian coal companies are NOT owned and controlled by Australian companies. International investors, some from China, have taken over in many cases. This is also a risk: because international money can leave just as quickly as it came. That might happen because regulations in the home country of the capital means coal is no longer attractive. Or the money might move away for other reasons.

Secondly, the Australian coal expansion plans wrongly assume that China and other Asian countries will burn an infinite amount of coal. However, that leaves aside three key developments. China has put in a cap on coal use. China is investing heavily on alternative energy at the same time. Third, the Chinese public is demanding measures to clean up the air, and coal is the main pollutant. For all these reasons, Chinese importations of coal may slow down or even go into reverse. And that doesn't even include the growing awareness in China of the huge costs of climate change.

We are talking about Australia, but this applies to the multi-billion dollar expansion in the works for Canada's Tar Sands. Or the big money bet on Arctic drilling, or dangerous deep-sea drilling. If we look at the huge position of these fossil fuel companies on world stock exchanges - but these two reports say the whole world financial system is at risk, while we gamble on burning more and more fossil fuels.

Big financial institutions like Citi Bank and HSBC publicly admit we face a hidden risk with over-investment in a dead-end economy, based fossil fuels.

Honestly I feel some relief that people in the financial industry are finally talking about the danger investing in climate-killing fuels. When our wallets and bank accounts look as risky as Cyprus, maybe there will be a move out of the fossil catastrophe.


Nancy LaPlace energy activist, Arizona.

In the U.S. Southwest, the State of Arizona has more sunshine than anywhere. It should be the American capital of solar power. But instead big cities like Phoenix are powered by dirty coal. To explain this crazy situation, I've reached Nancy LaPlaca. Nancy was policy adviser to a state Power Commissioner, and now she's looking at taking a run for the Commission herself.

Last year about this time, I visited Page Arizona on the northern state border. I saw the Navajo Coal Power station belching out smoke. The EPA says it's a dirty plant, and needs new pollution control. There is a huge battle over the controls.

Complicating the problem, that Navajo plant contributes millions of dollars to the Navajo tribe. Lots of native Americans work either with the plant, or in the coal mines of Northern Arizona. Can we shut that dirty coal plant down, without tossing even more native Americans into poverty? LaPlaca says yes - because alternative energy produces three times the jobs compared to fossil fuels. There is plenty of sunshine - and wind - in Northern Arizona.

But "coal electrons" are dirt cheap right now. That's partly because of the economic slow down, leading to overcapacity of all kinds of energy. The neighboring state of Nevada is getting out of coal. That means they will purchase no power from the Navajo Coal Generating station.

At the same time, California is also cutting back on coal power. The Los Angeles Light and Power company will stop buying electricity from the Navajo station around 2015. Instead, they are signing contracts with solar power companies in Arizona.

California has a requirement to get about one third of it's energy from renewable sources by 2020. Arizona is far behind, going for lower requirements by 2025.

As always, the big power utilities have a monopoly, and don't want change or competition. Solar power can go up anywhere, and is closer to the user, so there are fewer transmissions costs and losses. Nancy says if the big box stores and commercial buildings start mounting solar panels, the Arizona utilities, which are mainly state-owned, would be in serious financial trouble. In my opinion, if they keep counting on coal, the energy source with no future, Arizona will be in big trouble.

Nancy LaPlaca has been going around Arizona giving presentation to explain the facts of climate and energy life. The Republican Party just issued a press statement calling her "an extremist" because she is calling for renewable energy. I ask you, who are the "extremists" who don't notice Arizona has warmed up over two degrees since 1950. The rains this past year were about one third of normal. The place is drying out and heating up - and coal is the way to go???

Check out Nancy's interview. It's a quick education on coal politics and the reality of new energy systems. Find Nancy's Facebook page, as she considers a run for the Arizona Energy Commision here.


I hope you got the big picture need for a financial reform that protects investors from the fossil fuel bubble. The balance sheets of big oil, coal and gas are swollen with supposed carbon reserves we will never burn. Because the planet will heat up beyond any capability for business as usual, long before the oil, fracked gas, and coal run out.

More exploration is pointless for these companies. Nature and the human enterprise demand a business plan to phase out the fossil fuel economy.

Thank you for supporting Radio Ecoshock, at our web site With the help of listener donations, I've created two new You tube videos, based on interviews from this show. Just search Radio Ecoshock on You tube, and select the filter "by upload date" - to get the latest. Feel free to pass those along to people who need to know.

The latest is this You tube video version of my interview with John Betts, on "The Age of Super Fires".

I'm Alex Smith. Let's do it again next week, as we meet the men who want to run the climate of the world.

We end this program with a tune from Political Songwriter, Folk Musician & Union Activist Smokey Dymny. It's called "Talking Global Warming."

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Fracking: Sacrifice Zones of the American West

Fracking: Sacrifice Zones of the American West. What can other countries expect? Four voices from the Bakken shale lands. Polluting oil & gas extraction impacts in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana & North Dakota. The dark side of the fracking boom. Radio Ecoshock 130508 1 hour


Tonight and tomorrow, gas flares burn over the dry and dryer lands of the Western United States. There is a fracking boom exploding rock ten thousand feet down, and miles all around. In Colorado, North Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming villages become overnight towns, big trucks fill small roads, gas floats over prairie and foothills. The last waters in great rivers, reservoirs, and aquifers are poisoned, 50,000 years worth in ten years, billions of gallons a day. The frack water kills the ground it touches, or disappears forever into subterranean Earth.

As climate change works against the browning landscape of the American West, crazed humans use all the water they can find to make still more methane and carbon dioxide, to make more money with oil and gas.

We go to those sacrifice zones. You hear four voices. The ranchers and a native American woman are part of an organization calling for regulations and safety protection. Instead they have the enabling state where fossil fuel companies control the capitol, selling the dream of wealth to the people, while their environment careens beyond reclamation. Farming may collapse, and without drinking water, communities will eventually leave too.

It's happening all over the world, the invasion of the well-drillers, coming as close as 500 feet to homes, like-it-or-not. Ask the disgusted people from Queensland Australia about the fracking blight, or coal seam gas, as they would say. Get ready Britain, where the government sees fracking as salvation. Eastern Europe will be conquered and fracked. People all over North America, and all over the world, need to listen to our speakers today. Because when it's gone, it's gone.

Listen to this Radio Ecoshock Show right now, courtesy of


Listen to/download this Radio Ecoshock Show in CD Quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)

Free audio downloads: interviews with our guests -

Robert LeResche of Powder River Resource Council and the Western Organization of Resource Councils in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Bob Arrington, Chair of the Energy Committee of the Western Colorado Congress in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Pat Wilson, 4 generation rancher and member of the Northern Plains Resource Council in Montanna, CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Theodora Bird Bear, Fort Berthold Reservation & Dakota Resource Council in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


All music in this program is by the Desert Dwellers, from their new album "Far From Here" - courtesy of Black Swan Sounds. Find the band here.


Bob LeResche is a biologist with lost of experience in Alaska. He twice held cabinet level positions, being in charge of natural resources, executive director of Alaska's Power Authority, and then the state's coordinator for the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Now Bob and his wife are operating a small ranch in Northern Wyoming.

Bob speaks both for the Powder River Basin Resource Council - an area famous for giant coal mines, but now being flooded with rigs for hydraulic fracturing of shale gas and oil ("fracking"). LeResche also spoke for the umbrella group WORC, the Western Organization of Resource Councils.

Parts of Wyoming have become like overnight boom towns as the fracking rigs move in. Bob tells us the previous coal bed methane operations have mostly shut down because of gas fracking. That coal bed methane is mostly in shallower ground, and tends to reduce water in Wyoming's vital aquifers - as does fracking. Since 1992, when the State ruled water use for fossil fuel development was a "beneficial use" - the companies have been pumping "unlimitted" amounts of groundwater, with no accounting or cost. Nobody knows how much has been taken out, or what remains.

From 1997 to 2012, LeResche says a MINIMUM of 309 billion gallons of water was pumped out. Most of that was dumped on to the ground, with little being reinjected. The waste water was generally contaminated with various toxic materials, plus the salt from underground. Even some radioactive materials. Such water dumping destroyed pastures, croplands, and nature zones.

Some of these reservoirs recharge at 0.15 inches a year. That means it would take over 50,000 years to recharge what was taken out in ten years by the Wyoming energy industry. Bob LaResche worries agriculture may be harmed due to lack of water in the future. Even some communities may run out of water and have to "disappear".

About 300 deep horizonal fracking wells were drilled in the Powder River Basin since 2010, with thousands more coming.

After it's all done, Wyoming has at least 100,000 unplugged bore holes, which can lead back to contamination of the underground water supplies. LeResche feels Wyoming is a "sacrifice zone" for the energy needs of the rest of the country, and big company profits.

WORC, the Western Organization of Resource Councils, has put out a report on the misuse of scarce water supplies called "Gone Good, Fracking and Water Loss in the West" Find that here.


Bob is a retired engineer living in Battlement Mesa. That's in Colorado, where up to 200 natural gas wells have been proposed in that one area alone. Bob is Chair of the Energy Committee of the Western Colorado Congress. He testified before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Bob champions the health impact assessments of oil and gas, has led local air monitoring efforts, and takes international media around the gas fields. Or find the Western Colorado Congress on Facebook here.

Each of these deep fracking wells can use from 3 to 6 million gallons for every "frack job" - when the explosives shatter the rock below. A single well may be fracked several times. Add this all up for tens of thousands of wells and you get an idea of the tremendous amount of water required by this industry.

In Colorado, the MacKenzie Report showed health impacts from bad air quality up to half a mile away from a fracking operation. But since most land-owners in the United States do NOT own the sub-surface rights, an energy company has the right to come very close to your home and set up a noisy, dangerous, and polluting fracking well. In Colorado they just got legislation requiring a 500 foot setback from homes. Five hundred feet away from your bedroom window!

Some fracking wells are even closer, if the homeowner agrees. Remember, the energy companies do not need your permission to drill those wells. You could be on a peacful ranch, farm, or country retreat and suddenly find yourself in industrial hell for a decade or two. Many people give up and try to sell out - but who would want to buy. There is no compensation for those lost dreams and homes.

Air quality tests of fracking operations in Colorado found lots of volatile organic compounds - like the poisons benzene and toluene, and carcinogens like xylene. The University of Colorado is planning a 3 year study, but that's way too slow and too late. A NOAA study has already showed benzene coming from fracking sites. Some of the fracked water turns out to be radioactive, and contains heavy metals plus salt. Some of it is just dumped on the ground, killing the vegetation. Some is trucked as dangerous cargo over America's highways. Accidents happen.

Doctors in Colorado were poorly trained to recognize health impacts from fracking, and industry-friendly legislation makes it illegal for them to share information about cases.

None of this counts the masses of methane billowing out of fracking wells. Methane isn't harmful to health, but sure hurts the global atmosphere, being at least 20 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Colorado is drying out, with a recent record of super fires. It's also been hit with drought - even as the fracking industry drains it dry. The State of Kansas won a lawsuit against Colorado for withholding water. The Army Corps of Engineers has agreed to drain out some reservoirs to serve the energy industry.

P.S. Blogger Peggy Tibbetts has a few articles on the Parachute Creek spill and Bob Arrington here.


Next up is a long-time rancher along the Missouri River near Bainville Montana. Pat Wilson's family has been there for over a century. Pat can tell us about the oil and gas rush in the famous Bakken shale field, and draining huge volumes of water from the Missouri River. He is a member of the Northern Plains Resource Council.

Pat does get some money from oil wells right on his family land. But he still thinks the fracking boom is a danger to the community and the environment. He's particularly concerned that the State Legislature is allowing water allocated for agriculture to be used for fracking instead.

The oil-bearing shale in his area is about 9,000 feet (2700 meters) below the surface. You can't see the Bakken oil shale formations on the ground above. There are about 800 Bakken wells in Montana, and another 8,000 in North Dakota. Companies are proposing seven times more wells!

The region only gets ten to fourteen inches of rain annually, so water is scarce even without all this drilling. Even when the State of Montana found 13 illegal water depots, instead of leveling charges, they made it easier for energy companies to appropriate the water!

Pat tells us about the social impacts of having thousands of people showing up, many temporarily, in the area of his home village of Bainville - former population 300. Schools and sewer systems can't keep up. There are two "man camps" on either side of town. There is even talk of building a Marriot hotel there!

You can find a good film about the social impact in this film by the University of Montana.

Read more about plans for super-development of Bainville in the Billings Gazette here. (Plus there's a video of Pat Wilson)

Pat Wilson isn't sure if he is living in a dream or a nightmare.


Beyond the old-time ranchers, humans have been living in the American North West for more than ten thousand years.

Theodora Bird Bear is a lifetime resident of the Fort Berthold Reservation. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Dakota Resource Council.

This is a fascinating interview, for it's insight into how some Native Americans feel about the fracking boom. Theodora tells us some tribal leaders are also involved in businesses serving the fracking industry, so there may be a conflict of interest.

When she attends local meetings of concerned citizens, white people complain they feel like they are being "invaded". "Now they know how we feel" says Theodora, when a federal government is pushing a migration into the West.

We talk about the impact on wild animals. With all the noise, trucks, new roads - deer are hard to find. We don't know how many have been poisoned drinking dumped frack water. In fact, without telling local residents, one company was digging a big pit right near the town to dump oil drilling waste. That was stopped when word got out.

The Fort Berthold Reserve is under Federal Government administration, not State - but Theoroda tells us there is precious little regulation going on. Don't miss this interview! Plus - Theodora offers us some wisdom on how to cope with and get out of this fracking mess.


As the American West continues it's breath-taking drought, what could be crazier than draining away the rivers, reservoirs and aquifers to power the underground war of fracking. To poison the last of the fresh water, with the great rives of the Colorado and the Rio Grande already a dry gulch before they reach the sea. All to fill the sky with more oily carbon dioxide, and gigatonnes of methane, a more powerful agent of climate change.

This is also a human positive feedback effect. The West, which has a history of natural drying cycles, has been triggered into another event by global warming. At the same time, we remove billions of gallons of water from any human reach, and right out of the water table, by polluting it an injecting it deep underground. It's a suicidal reinforcement of the drought.

And of course the product is more and more fossil fuels to heat up the atmosphere even more. It's classic positive feedback cycle created by human industrial civilization Hell-bent on sefl-destruction.

WATCH OUT IN OTHER COUNTRIES: IT'S COMING TO YOU People in the UK, where Saint Maggie Thatcher saved the country with the "dash for gas' in the North Sea, are now being sold on the new miracle of fracked gas. Hopefully they'll hear about the American experience in time to avoid their own sacrifice zones. I'm asking my podcast and online listeners in Europe to pass this program around as well. We may even have some warnings for Canada and Australia, where fracking and coal bed seam gas capture are already well underway.

If you have oil or gas bearing shale deep beneath your country, act early to prevent this trans-generational tragedy. See the new film by Josh Fox, Gasland II. Organize your own groups. Find more info on industry push-back on this film, plus the trailer, here at DeSmog Bog.

Let your elected representatives feel the heat. Protect your water if you still can. Protect your climate. Stop this fracking madness.

I'm Alex Smith. Try out our library of files at They are all free. You can donate if you want to. Look for my interview with Robert Howarth - how fracked gas ends up emitting as much greenhouse warming power as burning coal. The Howarth interview and a speech he gave as ASPO (the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas) are both in my Radio Ecoshock Show for November 23, 2011 - found here.

It turns out "natural" gas as "clean fuel" is a bridge to the nowhere of extinction.


Thank you to the listeners who tune in each week, taking your chances on what you find. Opening your mind. I'm Alex Smith, and I am grateful you are there.

Plus a special thanks for those who donated or became a subscribing member for the show. (Find out about that here.) I've used a little of your money to get hardware and software to translate some Radio Ecoshock interviews and shows into Youtube videos - we'll reach a whole new audience.

Find my first-try video, Nicole Rycroft of Canopy on the Boreal Forest - right here.

Or if any problems, directly on Youtube.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Age of Super Fires

The new age of super fires in N. America, Europe, Australia, Asia. Silviculturalist John Betts explains strange unstoppable forest fires. Then Nicole Rycroft, Exec Dir of enviro group "Canopy". Why they quit talks with industry, as logging ravages the Canadian Boreal forest. Plus MD Donald B. Louria says loss of faith in the future can kill. Radio Ecoshock 130501 1 hour.

Listen to/download this Radio Ecoshock Show in CD Quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)

Listen to/Dowload the John Betts interview on super fires (24 minutes) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Listen to/Dowload the Nicole Rycroft interview (Canopy/Boreal forests) 22 minutes in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Listen to/Download Donald B. Louria on loss of faith in the future (11 minutes) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


In this program.... welcome to the new age of super fires. We talk with silviculturalist John Betts who explains the strange unstoppable forest fires rising up in the United States, Canada, Australia and even Europe.

Then we visit one of the last great intact forests on Earth - the Canadian Boreal. Loggers are chewing it up for paper, clothes, even cellulose in your ice cream. Now talks between industry and environmentalists appear to be breaking down. Nicole Rycroft from Canopy explains.

Top that off with Donald B. Louria, the medical doctor who says loss of faith in the future can kill. So think happy thoughts- or else! I'm Alex Smith, and this is Radio Ecoshock.



Are we entering the age of super forest fires? Our guest is John Betts, Executive Director of the Western Silvicultural Contractors' Association in British Columbia, Canada. He's in the gorgeous lake-side town of Nelson British Columbia - right in the path of the dead pines forest fire threat.

As a leader in an industry devoted to "managing" our forests, often by removing excess undergrowth, John advocates removing "fuel" from the forests before a disaster strikes. In years past, environmentalists have insisted such decay is natural and the woods should be left to their own devices.

Now it's different. With global warming and warmer winters, the Rocky Mountain Pine Bark Beetle has killed off entire valleys of pine trees. They will eventually burn - and some surround communities in the interior of British Columbia, and soon in Alberta too.

The same problem exists in the United States west, due to other bugs and general drying with climate pressures. Just consider the big fires in Colorado in 2012. The fires in Australia also look climate-related.

Betts adds a further cause: namely our success in stopping forest firest, (he calls it "suppression"). Most of these forests, especially in Western North America, were adapted to cycles of fires. The coniferous seeds could withstand a fire and regrow.

We know from studying forest soils there have been periods of fire for many centuries. But now with water bombers and new techniques, we stop them from burning, in our parks, on private lands, and around cities. John Betts says this means an abnormal amount of dead brush builds up beneath the trees. That's a recipe for a "super fire" - one we can't put out, until it burns out, or gets rained out.

In British Columbia, the dead pines can build into a kind of pyramid structure, just like you might build in a fire pit. That burns so hot it kills off any seeds. In fact, it can sterilize the soil even of helpful fungii and bacteria. So the forest doesn't grow back, and the ecology has been damaged.

Australia may or may not be a special case, with the eucalyptus trees and their oil, which act like instant torches. Note the Eucalyptus has been planted in California, in the U.S. South East, and around the Mediterranean. That could be a big mistake.

But with long drought, and excessive heat, we've seen many parts of the world burn as we've never seen in recent centuries. Consider the 2010 great fires in Russia which claimed hundreds of lives. Just previous to that, Serbia had giant fires, as did Greece and Spain. It's an ominous trend, which John Betts says is no accident.

As global heating continues, and the weather systems are thrown out of whack, we can expect a new age of great fires. Now you know the news before it hits your TV screen or headline. Expect it.

Betts advises communities how to prepare. Things like removing brush, or even if necessary, creating fire breaks around towns. And we should stop our home-building invasion of the woods, particularly in fire-ready areas. Having people living there drives more efforts to put fires out, which leads to the danger cycle again. Or people stay and try to fight the impossible flames, and die as they did in Australia. The government there has changed its advice - now telling people to get out, rather than remaining home with garden hoses against the inferno.

We need a lot of discussion and preparation to make sure our communities are safe, and our forests can return to some kind of natural cycle again - if "natural" is still possible in a big climate shift! It's possible some forests will never return, changing over to grasslands. We don't know yet, as we gamble away the future of the biosphere on a small planet.


The non-profit green group "Canopy" doesn't aim for high-profile public attention. Instead, it's been working behind the scenes with over 700 major corporations and media outlets, offering strategies to depend less on paper from old-growth paper. You would recognize big names, like the greening of the Harry Potter series, and major newspaper which are part of their efforts.

Canopy was part of the Great Bear Rainforest deal, and also joined a big initiative trying to save large tracts of Canada's Boreal Forest. That's the giant belt of a Northern forest type stretching from the Yukon to Labrador, but also dipping down into the U.S. mid-west and even New England. The big provinces of Ontario and Quebec hold vast swathes of Boreal forest.

Map of World boreal forest

Map of Canadian Boreal Forest (courtesy

This region is the last stop of serious forest growth before reaching the treeless tundra in the Arctic circle. The same eco-type known as the Boreal in North America is called the "Taiga" in Europe and Russia. It's a green belt of climate control and one of the biggest carbon sinks on the planet.

The Canadian boreal is one of only three great intact forests left in the world - the others being in Siberia and the Amazon. But it's being chewed up by dozens of forest companies doing clear-cut logging.

I asked Nicole, Executive Director and Founder of Canopy: if logging companies cut wood, and that gets sequestered as carbon into things like buildings, or even buried in land fills, that might actually reduce carbon emissions. Plus, we're told new trees growing during reforestation captures carbon. Couldn't logging in the Boreal be a good thing for the climate?

Her answer surprised me. I knew trees in the Boreal take a long time to grow back - as much as two or three hundred years to reach maturity. So the idea that new growth will capture anything like the carbon lost by logging is B.S.

But I did not know that trees change chemically when they are cut down. Living trees hold much more carbon than the lumber made from them.

Canopy has just withdrawn from the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement. That was a consortium of logging companies, environment groups, and foundations talking for the past three years, trying to protect significant amounts of this eco-system, home to the shy and iconic Woodland Caribou.

Industry suspended logging on almost 29 million hectares of Boreal Forest within their alloted areas, and most of that included caribou habitat.

But that "deferment" has expired, with no firm protection for any of it. The companies are talking (for three years!) while they log. Details of where they will log next are not forthcoming. Canopy decided it was time to go back to the paper market customers. Greenpeace made the same decision to withdraw several months ago. The process has lost a lot of claim to legitimacy, leaving Boreal forest protection stranded.

There's a lot more to all this, as covered in our interview. Your own climate could be at stake - give it a listen.

We did see a fairly successful agreement for the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, but will this Boreal failure cool the whole idea of negotiating directly with polluters and resource companies? Will we see a return to more public activism?


If we lose faith in the future, can that help bring about the catastrophe we fear?

One speaker at the March 2013 conference on Fukushima in New York caught my attention with his off-topic introduction. Donald B. Louria, a medical MD and member of Physicians for Social Responsibility asked "Are we losing our faith in the future? If we do, what are the likely consequences?".

Donald B. Louria MD

Louria was leading in to his studies of the impacts of pessimism, and his book titled “reThink: A Twenty-First Century Approach to Preventing Societal Catastrophes.”

First I play you four minutes from his comments at the "Symposium: The Medical and Ecological Consequences of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident". All the talks from that symposium are now online here.

I think Donald raises a deep problem for us all. To fill out his comments, I'm just going to read directly from Louria's explanation of his book "reThink", as published online in September 2010.


"In 2005 and in 2007, I and my colleagues carried out national studies to assess the perceptions of people about their own future, the future of their country, and the future of the world. The respondents were divided into four age groups – 18 to 24 years, 25 to 44 years, 45 to 64 years, and over age 65. In every age group, more than 80 percent were optimistic about their own futures, but, in every age group, the majority were pessimistic about the future of the United States and the world. Importantly, the majority in each of the four age groupings believed we are not able to solve or significantly mitigate the major problems facing us (such as terrorism, global warming, the potential for nuclear or biologic warfare).

These studies suggested strongly that Americans of all ages are well on their way to losing faith in the future. Since our last survey, more than two years ago, a number of events have occurred that almost certainly will accelerate that loss of confidence in the future, reduce optimism about one’s own future, and increase the pessimism about the future of the United States and the world.

There has been a severe recession and, with it, a terrible toll in lost jobs and diminished confidence.

There is increasing distrust of a Congress that seems unable to deal effectively with our most serious problems. The cynicism about our political system is likely to be profoundly magnified as a result of the Supreme Court decision to allow unlimited and uncontrolled direct political advertising by corporations and unions (and others) in congressional and presidential elections.

The countries of the world, including the United States, appear unwilling to take the necessary actions to avoid catastrophic consequences of global climate change.

We are told that unless health care costs are contained, our healthcare system will eventually bankrupt the country. Yet, despite an extended and acrimonious debate, there is nothing to suggest our government has figured out a way to cope with or prevent this looming disaster.

I fear we are now in great danger of a large percentage of the public having their hopes for the future battered, being overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness in regard to our ability to cope with the major problems facing the society. If that occurs, there are substantial societal and individual consequences.

* There will be a dramatic increase in the frequency and severity of anxiety and depression.

* There will be a much greater focus on hedonism with increased risk taking and pleasure seeking, including the use of mind-altering drugs, both legal and illegal (alcohol included).

* There will be little attention paid to preventing or mitigating future problems and threats; politicians, even more than now, will focus almost entirely on present issues, thereby making the future even more bleak.

* The depression epidemic will have physical and other consequences with increased incidence of suicide and heart attacks, marital discord, inability to function effectively, and overeating (a well known response to depression) that will exacerbate our obesity and diabetes epidemics.

Make no mistake about it. Loss of faith in the future is very serious business – if widespread enough, it is society threatening.

There is, in my judgement, only one preventive: people, especially young adults, must be convinced that we as a society are still meliorist, that is able to solve the major problems facing us by the dint of our own efforts. That, in turn, means our politicians and leaders must give the perception they are approaching major issues in potentially effective fashion. To do so, they must know when to use and how to use what I have called societally-connected systems thinking. That is why I wrote the book “reThink: A Twenty-First Century Approach to Preventing Societal Catastrophes.

========== end quote from Donald B. Louria

So stay positive - or else!

In my opinion, Louria's book is not aimed at the popular reader, but at experts and decision-makers. Someone needs to go through it a popularize his main thesis. Any volunteers to write a comprehensive review of this book?

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I'm Alex Smith, saying please join us next week, as we thrash through the big questions and the small answers.