Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Extreme Rain and Climate Collapse

The biggest climate-driven extreme weather event since Katrina - Boulder's Carolyn Baker reports on fracking leaks, climate, economic hit. Plus Calif. songwriter Dan Imhoff on new album "Agraria".


Make it rain for those in drought, but make it stop for those in floods, from Colorado to Taiwan and China. I'm Alex Smith.

We open with one of the big stories of 2013, the unbelievable tropical-style rains that flooded Boulder Colorado and points north. More than a foot of rain in 24 hours in some places, in an area that doesn't get that much in the average year.

The Boulder story has everything - climate change, the way higher energy costs to rebuild could break budgets, and lessons in how unprepared we all are. Could the triple punch of climate, economic woes and escalating energy be the pathway toward the collapse of industrial civilization? In just a moment we'll talk with Boulder resident, Carolyn Baker. She's a published expert on collapse and getting ready, inside and out.

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality 56 MB or Lo-Fi 14 MB


Two weeks ago we got an update on the continuing nuclear accident at Fukushima Japan, from Arnie Gundersen. This past week Tropical Storm Man-Yi was headed straight for the crippled nuclear reactors, just as many feared.

No worries. The utility operator, TEPCO had it all under wraps. They tied down the octopus of make-do piping with ropes. Good, good. And they put some weights on the cranes, hoping they wouldn't topple into any of the blown-out reactor buildings, still carrying tons and tons of highly radioactive fuel bundles in their upper stories. That should do it.

It would all be funny if the Fukushima site wasn't so dangerous to the whole Northern Hemisphere. I doubt even their thousand bolt-together tanks holding highly radioactive water could have withstood the 230 kilometers-an-hour, almost 150 miles-per-hour, super winds of Typhoon Usagi that hit Asia later last week.

Both of these typhoons missed hitting the Fukushima plant directly. When will it happen? I think the make-shift badly engineered cover-over by TEPCO will be blown away. At the very least, we can expect one of the buildings to collapse into the already soaked sub-soil. Tons and tons of the most radioactive materials are bound to flow right into the Pacific Ocean, while more will blow over Japan, and possibly the West Coast of North America.

What is your government doing about this world-class disaster risk? Absolutely nothing. Say it again. Absolutely nothing.

Let's run away to beautiful Colorado, a great retreat zone, where mother nature is always kind.


The recent flash floods around Boulder Colorado have been compared to a Hurricane Katrina moment for America. No matter where you live, this mega-event tells us so much about climate, energy, and preparedness - or lack of it. There's nobody better to cover all this than Boulder resident Carolyn Baker, author of "Navigating the Coming Chaos", and a new book coming out in November titled "Collapsing Consciously, Transformative Truths for Turbulent Times".

Listen to/download this 38 minute interview with Carolyn Baker in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Regarding the impacts on our society and economy, I think Boulder will turn out to be more significant than just another disaster. I'm hearing comparisons to Katrina already. The Governor says "we will rebuild" as they always do. But like New Orleans, some things will not be, and cannot be "rebuilt". Like the treed stream banks, now turned into unstable, undercut sides. Like places that are obviously set to flood again.

Let's talk about the energy involved. all that infrastructure, including mundane buildings, roads and bridges, were built with oil that cost between $15 and $35 a barrel. Now oil is over $100 a barrel, meaning everything costs 3 to 6 times more, just for the energy. Ditto steel and other components. Events like this will eventually break many cities, states, and even countries.

Keeping with energy, the group East Boulder County United published photos of fracking tanks full of God-Knows-What sitting in flooded fields, tipped over, and even floating down swollen rivers. This fracking equipment was never designed for floods.

I've seen photos in Colorado of fracking towers right beside suburbs, school yards, and even kids playgrounds. We all know fracking operations vent tons of noxious gases. How is that possible?

The Colorado floods also showed the world the unpreparedness of the average citizen. I saw news footage of people desperately being air-lifted away from completely undamaged homes after just four days. It was early September in Colorado. They were in no danger of freezing to death. Didn't they have some food and water stored for emergencies?

Boulder is among the more advanced communities in Transition, or at least a progressive place. We talk about some of the positive things that are going on there.

For one thing, the main folks in the Transition Colorado movement decided their main emphasis had to be on developing local food production and consumption. So they began a new organization now found at

This case of sudden floods in Colorado also reminds us there can be knock-on effects from climate-driven mega weather, a year or years later. In New Jersey, officials are now saying the huge fire that burned down the rebuilt boardwalk was likely caused by electrical systems damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. You have a similar delayed impact in Colorado.

Carolyn explains how last year's giant fires in Colorado added to the flood damage this year. There was no vegetation to soak up the rains, or to hold on to the river banks. Parts of the landscape have been changed never to return.

The widespread damage, and the nearly impossible cost of rebuilding, also point us to a pathway of economic collapse. In this scenario, we just keep getting hit with climate-driven disasters, until we are far too broke and broken to rebuild. Roads don't get rebuilt, bridges stay out, some communities are abandoned.

Everybody should read Carolyn's article "All Dress Rehersals Are Over" published from Boulder on September 16th, 2013. It's powerful and inspired many of the things we talked about today.

Get Carolyn's newest stories and her news service at

I also recommend this article: "Paradigm Shifts And Tipping Points, Part 2", By Gary Stamper And Michael Wolff, published in Carolyn's blog on September 18th, and in Gary Stamper's blog,


Listen to/download this interview with Dan Imhoff, complete with song samples, in CD Quality or Lo-Fi (but CD quality is recommended, since you'll get the best sound for Dan's music.)

We interviewed Dan Imhoff about the book he edited on CAFO, the Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories. Listen to/download that 2010 interview with Dan here. Sadly it's all still happening, and we talk about that again in this show.

But there is a whole other side and talent to Dan Imhoff. He's been a musician for years. Now Dan got together with a hugely talented crew all from Sonoma County California. It sounds so good there I want to move to Sonoma Country, the way Dan tells it.

The Agraria Facebook page is here. You can sample the tunes and buy them here.

Or try out this You tube video of Dan's modern re-write (complete with GMO's) of "Cluck Old Hen".


We've got some great guests coming up, including Nicole Foss (a.k.a. "Stoneleigh"), Richard Heinberg, J.B. MacKinnon (co-author of the 100-Mile Diet). Plus some exciting interviews with young people just starting out on the road to battle climate change, and heading to the Powershift 2013 conference this October in Pittsburg.

Thanks for listening folks! And thanks to everyone who supports Radio Ecoshock with a donation or monthly membership.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Can We Escape?

From U. of Arizona, Gary Nabhan growing in hotter drier times. Ecoshock correspondent Gerri Williams on getting out of town. From Boulder, Carolyn Baker on the flash floods. Radio Ecoshock 130918 1 hour. Plus Voices for Climate Change from Jamaica.

Ready for climate change? Ready or not, it's here.

Maybe you are dreaming of leaving the city for a more sustainable life. We'll talk with our Radio Ecoshock correspondent Gerri Williams about her adventure leaving Washington D.C. for the Mid-West. What does it take to really get out of town?

We'll also touch base with Carolyn Baker, from her home in Boulder Colorado. That's the scene of the latest amazing extreme rainfall event. Last year it was fire. This year floods.

Download or listen to Radio Ecoshock in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

But first...


Gary Nabhan

How can we feed ourselves as the climate becomes unstable? Let's find out more with Gary P. Nabhan. Gary is a research scientist at the Southwest Center at the University of Arizona. He's the author of the new book “Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land: Lessons From Desert Farmers in Adapting to Climate Uncertainty.”

Gary's book about adapting to a hotter, drier world comes out of a combination of his writing and his own practical experience growing. He tells us about their experimental farm.

A few years ago, James Lovelock released a map of the world in 2100. It was based on climate projections made by the Tyndall Centre in the UK. Giant bands of deserts appeared around the world in the sub-tropics. Southern European countries like Spain and Italy became more like North Africa. China's deserts expanded, as did the dry hot weather of the U.S. South West, and Mexico.

Do you see Arizona growing conditions becoming more prevalent in the world? Gary cautions not all places will become hotter and drier. Some will become much wetter. But those people will also have to adapt their growing conditions.

He hopes to see a network of grass-roots food producers sharing information about what plants survive extreme weather and climate the best. Part of that is ensuring the widest possible biodiversity. Nabhan suggests we could start by saving the hundreds of thousands of varieties of seeds and seedlings found in all the catalogs, before they disappear. We never know which we will need.

What kind of things can we do to adapt for food production in uncertain times?

The big issue in the Southwest is water. But that's huge in northern India, the whole Middle East, and North Africa.

Gary Nabhan, did research in the Middle East. He raises the solutions used by farmers around an oasis in the desert. Air temperatures can be up to 140 degrees Fahernheit, and soil temperatures even hotter. And yet there are layers of plants, from the high palms or date trees, down through layers of shade and cooling, perhaps to low berries at the bottom.

That gave me some hope. We can grow food, if less of it, in a hotter world.

The Saudi's were using lots of oil to desalinate sea water, and them pumping vast amounts into fields to grow their own wheat. That is hardly a sustainable path.

Sticking with the Middle East for a minute, it's one of the world's population hot spots. At least half the population are kids under 21. Can those countries feed themselves in the future without fossil fuel revenues? If we go off oil to save the climate, what happens to those places and peoples?

Gary Nabhan sounded the alert about seeds - not just farm seeds, but plants we need to stabilize the soil and the ecosystem. Gary co-founded a non-profit devoted to saving seeds. And we talk about the pollinators who help us produce fruits, nuts and vegetables.

I ask Gary about food forests. What are they?

One big problem that concerns me is when the temperature gets too hot for the needs of our food plants. Hot nights in the spring can prevent fruit setting, or the recent flash-drought in the mid-West reduced crop yields. How serious is this?

At what temperatures do plants stop growing and start dying? You'll be hearing more about this on Radio Ecoshock.

Some scientists worry we could see a quick jump in temperatures. For example, flipping to an El Nino cycle could release more heat from the ocean, or we could get a methane burst from the Arctic. What would happen to our food production? Gary sees this as a real possibility, and a major risk which demands we become more prepared, if we can. His book can help.

And I ask Gary: What changes can we make as a society to help us get food production ready for climate change?

When you think of how deeply invested we are in agri-business, and the tools of the mid-1900's, we have to consider some harsh questions. Do you think humans can avoid a period of mass starvation in the coming decades?

Listen to/download the Gary Nabhan interview here.


Before we talk with Gerri Williams, who left the busy capital of America - let's look at the latest climate-on-steroids rainfall event in Boulder Colorado.

Extraordinary extreme rainfall events are popping up all over the world. The latest was an astounding dump of water and severe flooding in Boulder Colorado.

Here is a report from Weather Underground weather historian Christopher Burt, published September 12th:

"An all-time 24-hour record rainfall of 9.08” (as of 6 p.m. 9/12 MT--almost double the previous record) has deluged the city of Boulder, Colorado resulting in widespread flash flooding and the deaths of at least three people so far. 12.27" has accumulated since Monday 5 p.m. (September 9th). Needless to say, these are numbers that surpass most tropical storm events. Other locations in the Boulder and Rocky Mountain Front Range have picked up over 11” of precipitation in just the past 24 hours.

According to the Western Regional Climate Center’s historical data set, Boulder’s former 24-hour precipitation record was 4.79” on July 31, 1919. The September record was 3.05” on September 4, 1909. Records began in October 1893 with some months missing.

Boulder is the most at-risk city for flooding in Colorado, due to it's position. There have been at least a dozen major floods over the past 100 years. This was rated as a 1 in 100 year flood by the National Weather Service. Still, the rainfall was DOUBLE the previous record for 24 hours."

End quote from Chris Burt.

And this wasn't just Colorado. One place in the New Mexico's Guadalupe Mountains got 11 inches of rain in 24 hours. Incredible.

Here is more from Radio Ecoshock guest Jeff Masters at

"Devastating flash floods swept though numerous canyons along the Front Range of Colorado's Rocky Mountains Wednesday night and Thursday morning, washing out roads, collapsing houses, and killing at least three people. The flood that swept down Boulder Creek into Boulder, Colorado was a 1-in-100 year event, said the U.S. Geological Survey. A flash flood watch continues through noon Friday in Boulder.

According to the National Weather Service, Boulder's total 3-day rainfall as of Thursday night was 12.30". The city's record rainfall for any month, going back to 1897, is 5.50", so this week's rainfall event is truly extraordinary. Some other rainfall totals through Thursday night include 14.60" at Eldorado Springs, 11.88" at Aurora, and 9.08" at Colorado Springs.

These are the sort of rains one expects on the coast in a tropical storm, not in the interior of North America! The rains were due to a strong, slow-moving upper level low pressure system to the west of Colorado that got trapped to the south of an unusually strong ridge of high pressure over Western Canada.

This is the same sort of odd atmospheric flow pattern that led to the most expensive flood disaster in Canadian history, the $5.3 billion Calgary flood of mid-June this summer. The upper-level low responsible for this week's Colorado flood drove a southeasterly flow of extremely moist tropical air from Mexico that pushed up against the mountains and was lifted over a stationary front draped over the mountains. As the air flowed uphill and over the front, it expanded and cooled, forcing the moisture in it to fall as rain."


We just have time for a quick check in with a favorite Radio Ecoshock guest, Carolyn Baker from Speaking Truth to Power, based in Boulder Colorado. Carolyn is an experienced news person, with her own private need-to-know news service.

She was right at ground zero for this extreme rainfall event and reported as the rain continued to fall, with the number of dead and the total damage still unknown. We get a quick glimpse of this major weather event and tragedy for the residents of Boulder and Colorado.

Carolyn will be back next week. I think this extreme event is close to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans for it's local damage, but also the international implications. The Governor promises to rebuild everything. We'll talk about what can be replaced, and what is changed forever.


Then we talk with long-time Radio Ecoshock and Earthbeat correspondent and volunteer Gerri Williams. Gerri has left Washington D.C. for the Mid-West. She left a job at a local college, with good roots into alternative agriculture. Why?

What does it take to leave the big city? Many of us dream about it. We'll be hearing from those who do. Gerri does a great job of raising the difficult issues - both personal and social, involved in changing our lives toward sustainability and survival.

I should be out of Vancouver by October 1st. Radio Ecoshock will continue from the mountains.

We finish up with a bit of Jamaica. This climate music is from a You tube video posted by undpjamaicatv. It's called Voices for Climate Change with various Jamaican artists, directed by Robin Chin.

I'm Alex Smith, that's it for Radio Ecoshock. Let's meet again next week.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Where Are We Really? Radio Ecoshock returns.

Analysis of climate situation by Paul Beckwith, U of Ottawa. Plus Arnie Gundersen updates Fukushima leaks and radioactive plume in the Pacific, heading for the U.S. Radio Ecoshock 130911 1 hour.


Welcome back to the Fall 2013 season of Radio Ecoshock, broadcast on more than 70 college and community stations around the world.

This is Alex Smith. Big news continues to pour in from around the world. We've got a lineup of guests, experts and activists, waiting to make sense of it all.

As I left for a break in July, I issued a special podcast on the global heat wave. If you missed that, join the thousands who download it from our web site at At the time of broadcast, the heat wasn't quite complete around the Northern Hemisphere. The Russian Arctic seemed still coolish, and no word from China, although Japan was suffering through record heat.

One week later, Siberia went into an extended heat alert with hundreds of fires. South East China went down to a killer heat wave, setting the highest coastal temperature records ever seen on the Pacific Coast of Asia.

So the circle went complete. I'm not sure if this is absolutely new, but in 25 years of reporting climate news, I can't remember a super hemispheric heat wave like this. We can't call it a global heat wave, because of course it's winter in the southern hemisphere. But we can call it global warming, and 2013 is the year when we entered into a certain phase of climate change.

It's still cooking, with the hottest days of summer in Toronto Canada striking in mid-September (beach time!) and more records expected in Vancouver. Strange... what could it be? I'll have lots more on all that later in the program, as we do a climate run-down with Paul Beckwith, a postgrad climate scientist at the University of Ottawa. Paul is a favorite climate correspondent, really linked in to the latest in both extreme weather events and the latest science behind them.

Download this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)


No doubt you've heard more about the continuing nuclear disaster at Fukushima Japan. Three reactors melted down in March 2011. A fourth had a fire and explosion in the fuel storage area. Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, has been struggling to contain radiation leaks ever since. Is Japan safe? Is the Pacific being polluted with radiation? What about the whole Northern Hemisphere?

I'm Alex Smith. Radio Ecoshock welcomes back nuclear expert and whistle-blower Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Associates.

Arnie Gundersen

Here is a brief wrap up on what I think is the world's worst nuclear disaster. Three reactor cores have escaped out of the containment. Nobody knows where this glowing hot stuff is.

Thousands of tons of groundwater are passing through the highly radioactive melted "corium" every day. Some of that is being captured by TEPCO and put into an endlessly growing tank farm. The rest is leaking into the Pacific Ocean.

In August TEPCO admitted it was missing 300 tons of highly radioactive water from one of it's tanks. You see, they only had two men checking all those tanks, which are hastily built (and not ready for any earthquake). The people checking the tanks did not even wear a dosimiter, so there is no way of knowing how much radiation they were exposed to.

Now with the leak exposed, TEPCO has promised more inspectors. It's a joke. This Japanese utility, as Arnie Gundersen tells us, is a nuclear plant operator (and not a very good one) - not a world-class engineering firm. Plus, they have gone more or less bankrupt, and don't have the budget to handle this situation.

Finally, after a lot more press and international concern, the Japanese government is going to add more fund, but not much more, because they are broke too.

If these tanks rupture in a big way, or if the fuel rod storage ponds suspended in the damaged building Four at Fukushima Daiichi collapse, the whole Northern Hemisphere will be bathed in radiation. Surely this is an international issue which requires a huge response. But both our media and our governments are downplaying the risk.

What a joke that Tokyo, which was bathed in radiation that will last at least 50 years (during the March 2011 accident) was awarded the Olympics! Tokyo, the city that shines at night! If there is a major leak at Fukushima, Tokyo will be evacuated by 2020 anyway. Even during the 2011 accident, the government considered evacuating the city.

In a previous Radio Ecoshock interview, Gundersen said the Japanese should start unloading nuclear fuel bundles from Reactor 4, before that building collapses. TEPCO has been building a stronger outside structure to hold the heavy cranes, after the original cranes collapsed.

Arnie is a nuclear fuel rod expert. He worked as a nuclear engineer and executive in exactly that field. Gundersen warns the fuel rods have likely been damaged during the accident. One or several may break during attempted extraction, releasing highly radioactive gases. The whole site would have to be evacuated for a time. Expect more air-borne radiation releases, for Japan, and for the whole hemisphere.

I asked Arnie when the plume of radioactive water that has been leaking into the Pacific non-stop since the accident two and half years ago - will reach the west coast of the United States and Canada. Maps of ocean currents show the worst radiation will hit California and the Baja Peninsula. Arnie thinks it should arrive sometime in late 2014 - and he says that radiation in the ocean is 10 times more than we got from all the atomic bomb testing. Sure it will be diluted in the Pacific, but a whole ocean has been poisoned. Meanwhile, all the fish that bioconcentrate radioactivity, predator fish like salmon and tuna, are feeding out there in the Pacific. Do you think we can get either the American or Canadian governments to test our fish for radioactivity? Canada promises it won't do testing. If the U.S. is testing, they are not releasing the data. Consumers don't know what they are getting. It's time for a little transparency, and governments that protect their people rather than the nuclear or fishing industries.


Arnie Gundersen has repeatedly been an expert witness in the effort to get the dangerous and aging Vermont Yankee reactor closed. It's located on the sea, 5 miles south of Brattleboro in New England, and owned by Entergy Corp.

Just like Fukushima, the Vermont Yankee plant is an old-style General Electric boiling water reactor. Under the thick concrete pipes are leaking. It's damn dangerous.

Finally, Entergy has announced that in 2014, when the current batch of nuclear fuel would have to be replaced, the Vermont Yankee reactor will shut down instead. That's great news for New England and the planet.

The sad news is Entergy wants to wait 60 years to decommission the plant! So this radioactive mess will sit there for another generation. Our grandchildren will pay huge costs for the power we used today. That's an inter-generational crime.


Climate change has certainly shown up on planet Earth in a big way these past few months. Records are falling so fast, with so many new changes, its beyond our ability to track it all. Let's do a recap of some big climate news with one of our popular guests, Paul Beckwith.

Paul is a PHD graduate student in the Laboratory for Paleoclimatology and Climatology, and part-time Professor, at the University of Ottawa in Canada. He has a Masters in Physics as well.

We start with Paul's prediction that the Arctic sea ice could break up this year, if there was a significant Arctic storm as well. That didn't happen. Although the ice retreated to levels that would have been astounding a decade ago, it didn't meet last year's record.

Paul says the climate is zig-zagging back and forth unpredictably. Last year temperatures over the Arctic Ocean were quite high, while land temperatures up north were cooler. This year was the opposite. It was coolish over the ice itself, while land temperatures in Alaska, Canada's north and Siberia hit new records in some places.

Science, Beckwith says, will have to be flexible, learning from the instability.

Methane was quite high over the Arctic again this year, more than double the pre-industrial levels. There was no mega-burst (yet). Most of the methane came from melting of permafrost on land where snow cover was lost very early in the season.

We talk about the grossly under-reported floods in the Russian far east, especially along the Amur River. These were floods not seen before. President Putin flew out to speed up some action to help the many evacuees. The worst hit area was in the republic Buryatia, located in the south-central Siberia along the shore of Lake Baikal and on the border with Mongolia.

At the same time, there were hundreds of forest fires ranging in Siberia.

Of course, most of us are only interested in our local area. Fires in Yosemite California get lots of coverage. Fire and floods in Russia? Not so much. Paul points out that's a huge problem when we are trying to deal with global climate change. People push their local politicians for action (or maybe they will eventually) but only if they get hit themselves.

There's lots more to this interview with Paul Beckwith, as we cover some of the extreme weather events this past summer, and in fact this past week. Nobody can keep up with it all. That alone is further evidence that climate change has arrived.

Beckwith is breaking the mold of the climate scientist who keeps quiet for years, and then releases a paper with results. He's more like the communicator the late Stephen Schneider suggested in his book "Science As a Contact Sport". We can't wait 6 years for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to publish out-of-date results says Beckwith.

One of the best ways to keep up with Paul is through his Facebook page. He also blogs for Arctic News, Sierra Club Canada and others.

I agree. I'd like to see buildings full of full-time scientists on every continent charged with the duty of tracking climate change, today, and in the distant past. This is a planetary emergency, and so far we have a tiny budget, volunteer scientists, and governments who are out promoting fossil fuels as the next big job wave! It's like planned extinction.

On the other side, millions and millions of people know the climate is not right. They are waking up. Will a demand for change come in time?


Many thanks to all the people who donated or signed up for our monthly Radio Ecoshock membership at our web site, I haven't had time to thank you all personally.

This past month has been almost constant turmoil for me. Aside from vehicle breakdowns, we are renovating and preparing to move out of Vancouver, to a rural village. More about that in coming shows.

One week ago, the main hard drive on my production computer died. I'm working on the fly from an ancient box out of our basement. Without the help of Radio Ecoshock listeners I'm not sure we could afford the repairs.

The refurbished audio computer should be back online in a week or so. My next show may be right out of a moving van.

These changes in my personal life seem to echo from the big changes happening on the planet, and in our society. I tell myself we are all going to need fall-back plans, preparation, and an ability to adapt or move, perhaps on short notice.

Our parents and grandparents went through two world wars and a great depression. If my reading of the climate, energy, and economic scene is correct, they had it easy. Expect to enjoy life, sure, but expect to struggle as well.

I'm Alex Smith. Thank you for joining me in this new season of Radio Ecoshock.

Our music clips this week came from the marvelous Suvarna, plus "Till the Day Is Done" by REM.