Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"Green Illusions" - Ozzie Zehner

Are we suffering from illusions about alternative energy? Have solar panels become a pointless fetish that could make climate change worse? What about electric cars? Is the whole "green energy" game just an extention of the fossil fuel industry, dressed up in green clothing?

Those are the claims made by a California engineer, and student of alternative energy. Ozzie Zehner published all this in his 2012 book " Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism". The book has won awards and caused a stir.

For this radio program, I'm going to run you a talk given by Ozzie on September 19th, 2012. It's part of the "Authors at Google" series - and there were green energy techies from Google in the audience. We'll get some questions from them.

Download or listen to this program in CD Quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)

Or listen on Soundcloud right now!

Before we start, let me say categorically that I agree and disagree with Ozzie Zehner. He gives us fundamental truths about the need to stop wasting so much energy. Reducing energy cuts our impact on the planet and cuts the risks of climate change like no other strategy. Of course, we haven't cut back at all, and global greenhouse gas emissions are increasing every year.

But then Ozzie tries to tell us solar and wind power can't work. In fact, if applied in a wide-spread way, Zehner claims that would destroy civilization as we know it in one generation. So here's the deal. This week I'm going to run Ozzie Zehner's Google talk. Next week, I've got a green tech expert to give us a different view. And I'll present my own research into all this. Before you give up on green energy, be sure and listen to next week's Radio Ecoshock show as well.

Ozzie is introduced by a Google software engineer, Valera Zakarov.

Ozzie talks about the problems with electric vehicles, based on his article "Unclean at Any Speed" found here.

You will also find a reference to studies by the National Academies on the hidden costs of renewables here.

The collection of papers is: "Hidden Costs of Energy, Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use" authored by the Committee on Health, Environmental, and Other External Costs and Benefits of Energy Production and Consumption, of the National Research Council.

There is a newer paper from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science on electric vehicles here. They still criticize them, but find EV's are beneficial when the electricity comes from wind or solar power. Find that paper here.

This week you heard Ozzie Zehner, author of "Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism". This talk was lightly edited for radio, and due to time limitation, questions about health care and population control had trimmed. You can view the full talk on You tube. Find more on Ozzie Zehner at his web site here.

We are out of time this week. But don't give up all your green hopes just yet. Next week I'll be back with green tech investment guru Dan Miller. He thinks Ozzie is just plain wrong. I'll add my own research into this; some very different conclusions reached by other scientists and Radio Ecoshock guests; plus ideas on where we go from here. Don't miss next week's Radio Ecoshock show.

As we wrap up the year 2014, likely the hottest ever recorded, there are a couple of bits of good news. First, the Catholic Pope is starting a campaign to raise awareness of climate change in his flock, and to get action in the Paris climate negotiations in 2015.

Second, one of the most dangerous reactors in America began the shutdown process this week. Vermont Yankee went off line. It is one of those dangerous GE Mark I reactors. Like Fukushima, the fuel rods in this flawed design rise from the bottom, meaning any melt-down leaks out of containment. One down, a dozen more like it in the U.S. to go.

I'm Alex Smith. Thank you for listening, and thank you for caring about our world.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

WE CAN'T ALL GO BACK TO THE LAND (or we'll kill what's left)

SUMMARY: A journey to the "Ecoreality" post-peak-oil community, with UBC Campus Radio. Plus rap star Baba Brinkman's new album "The Rap Guide to Wilderness".

We begin with a slice from the new album "The Rap Guide to Wilderness." It's called "Tranquility Bank" with guest artist Aaron Nazrul. But the genius rapper behind the whole project is Baba Brinkman. I'll be talking with Baba from New York, a little later in the show.

Baba suggests we can't all head to the wilderness, without killing what's left. Along those lines, I'm going to play you a radio documentary which takes up where the film "Escape from Suburbia" left off.

Long-time listeners may remember my interview with the Director Gregory Greene.

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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now!


In this radio documentary by Gordon Katic, we find Jan Steinman. If the film, Jan and his wife sold their suburban home in Portland, Oregon, and travelled to British Columbia. They were seeking a safe haven to prepare their lives to live without oil, after peak oil threatened a decent from civilization. How did that work out?

We find out, in this program called "The Terry Project", which broadcasts on radio station CiTR on the campus of the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver Canada.

We are going to travel to the "EcoReality" intentional community on Salt Spring Island, a mild climate spot in the Strait of Georgia near Vancouver.

Our host at the station is co-producer Sam Fenn. Our tour guide is journalism student Gordon Katic, a dedicated environmentalist who seldom leaves the big city.

In this interview we hear the song "The Mary Ellen Carter" by Stan Rogers, 1979. It's classic. Watch it on You tube here.

That's real radio. The producers were Sam Fenn and Gordon Katic. As you heard, you can get more of this program, "The Terry Project" at

Find more photos of the EcoReality intentional community here.


A listener sent me a link to something called the "Rap Guide to Wilderness". I was dubious, but I listened, and I was astonished. Where did such high quality lyrics - and music - come from?

The artist and possible founder of a whole new branch of green rap is a Canadian, Baba Brinkman. While planting over a million trees in British Columbia, he got a Masters of Arts Degree. That was partly by writing a rap version of "The Canterbury Tales" by the medieval author Chaucer. He's performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, on "The Rachel Maddow Show" and at the Sydney Opera House.

The conservation group "The WILD Foundation" asked Baba to create an album, and it's here.

I reached Baba in New York, where he is touring with his off-Broadway show, a complete one-man show, called "The Rap Guide to Evolution".

Frankly, after listening to so much bad rap from somebody's You tube, I was stunned at the quality of Baba's work. Check it out!

For me one of the biggest stories in the world continues to be the way humans are creating a more sterile world. There are only 5 Northern White Rhinos left on the Planet, after a 44 year-old creature died in a zoo this December. Where is "the WILD Foundation" on the need for nature to survive?

The Wild Foundation is advocating the "half for nature" concept promoted by the famous biologist E.O.Wilson. OK, we are going to take up vast amounts of the planet for our cities and our agriculture, but to protect ourselves and biodivesity we need to plan to leave half for nature. Imagine if a developer proposes to pave over 300 acres for a new suburb. The law should require 150 acres to be left in its natural state. Who wouldn't want to live there?

Find out more from the Wild Foundation web site.

Baba Brinkman isn't just a rah-rah green cheerleader. His lyrics take us deeper into the problems environmentalists must wrestle with. In just one example, Baba finds we shouldn't try to promote a big back-to-the-land movement. Dense cities actually allow more room for nature. There's several controversial issues in his rap music - including the idea that science should use DNA tech to revive some extinct species, like the carrier pidgeon and more. Not everyone will agree that humans should tinker with species creation, or recreation (especially since the original biosphere conditions supporting those creatures may be gone now...)

In our interview, I also asked Baba why he didn't do more on climate change. I know you are tired of hearing my complaint there isn't enough good climate change music. In this case, Baba takes climate change seriously, and hopes to find a sponsor or venue to help him present a whole new rap album and show just on climate change. I'm thinking the Paris climate negotiations in 2015 would be perfect. Now we just need to find a big green group to help fund the development and staging of a new "climate rap" show!

Find Baba Brinkman at his web site, on Facebook, and Twitter.


My holiday thanks to a ton of people who send in news links, tweet about Radio Ecoshock, write in with guests and generally keep this program going. N. in Boston, I got your letter and your ideas.

Hello to my listeners in Zurich and Sweden.

To my Australian correspondents, keep it coming. I love the feed-back from the UK.

I appreciate all my online friends in California, Arizona and New England. Carl, you saved the Ecoshock web site.

Hello to my informers in Colorado, and my friends in India and Pakistan. And of course, all the Canadians who gave birth to the show, and Kelly who keeps it on the air in Vancouver. My gratitude and best wishes to all.

Alex Smith

Radio Ecoshock

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


SUMMARY: Sandy, climate & coming superstorms: Kathryn Miles & Dr. Adam Sobel. Plus new science says our carbon hits in 10 years, not a generation later. Dr. Katharine Ricke.


Dr. James Hansen wrote his pivotal book "Storms of My Grandchildren". But in 2012, the Atlantic experienced the largest storm ever recorded. It was Hurricane Sandy, the most expensive storm ever, causing billions of dollars in damage. Manhattan was flooded. Parts of the New Jersey shore were demolished. Two hundred and eighty five people were killed. It was also the big new show-case for both rising seas and storm surge.

Was Hurricane Sandy a freak once-in-century storm, or can we expect more and worse as planet Earth heats up? What about Asia and the Pacific, where Japan was raked by a series of tropical cyclones this fall. A giant storm just battered the Philippines - again. Are those climate related? Radio Ecoshock investigates.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality (55 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)

Or listen on Soundcloud right now!

KATHRYN MILES: "Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy"

These days, you and I face situations we've never encountered before. It's climate change, terrorism, a new disease, or maybe an economic crash . But humans and their governments act on experience, not the future. As our next guest can tell us, responses based on the past can fail badly.

Kathryn Miles has an exciting new book out about Hurricane Sandy. That's the monster storm that flooded New York City, and wrecked much of the New England shore, in late October 2012. Miles tells the gripping tale in "Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy." But I think the storm and the book are also a lens for looking at preparedness during a time of climate disruption.

Kathryn has written several books. She's a science writer published in Outside Magazine, Popular Mechanics, and many other periodicals. Miles is currently writer-in-residence at Green Mountain College in Vermont.

Kathryn explains this was the largest Atlantic storm ever, at over 1,000 miles in diameter. Operators in the International Space Station were amazed to see a continent-sized storm. It was larger than all of Europe.

After Hurricane Sandy raked the Caribbean Islands, 39 out of 40 weather models showed it spinning harmlessly out into the Atlantic. That's normal, as both the prevailing winds, and the spinning of the Earth, takes storms toward the East. I didn't know, until Kathryn told us, that hurricanes do not have much propulsion on their own. They more or less float with the prevailing wind and pressure systems.

The European weather modellers said Sandy would take a left hook into the area around New York City. Kathryn did exhaustive research with weather and climate scientists for this book. She says a combination of factors, including hotter seas, and a blocking high pressure zone over Greenland, pushed Sandy into combining with a different type of storm known as a "Nor'easter".

When "Hurricane Sandy" became this hybrid - the National Hurricane Center stopped sending warnings to top government agencies. Their aging software couldn't handle this hybrid, and they are only directed to work on "Hurricanes". So warnings fell to local stations of the National Weather Service.

No wonder then that various authorities fell into confusion! In this interview we cover the big difference between the approaches taken by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and then New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Having been stung by unnecessary evacuations for the previous Hurricane Irene, Bloomberg held a press conference telling New Yorkers not to worry. Then a 34 foot high wall of watery storm surge washed over the city, flooding downtown Manhattan, subway lines, businesses and homes.

By contrast, Chris Christie told people in no uncertain language to "get the Hell off the beach" and evacuate. No doubt he saved some lives. But even so, and this is critical in evaluating human response to extreme climate events: 70% of the people told to evacuate did not. They stayed put, were flooded out, and some died.

Author Miles looked into that too. It turns out humans need at least three days of warning, with repeated warnings, before they will really act. Apparently it takes us that long to believe. Maybe that applies to government officials as well? I'm thinking of the terrible fires in Australia - "Black Saturday" in February 2009. The government wrongly advised people to stay and defend their homes, facing an incredible climate-driven firestorm. 173 people died.

In the story of the late Robin Waldridge, the Captain of the sailing ship "The Bounty", Kathryn brings out a case study of our weakness in judging risk. That human flaw in risk judgment applies directly to our ability to survive a lot of things, including droughts, heat, storms, and fires. If we haven't seen it before, or we were always fine in the past, we don't get out of the way, or change our behavior. You can expect to see this time and time again. It may even happen to you!

Predictably, the only fiery criticism Kathryn received after writing "Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy" was from Meteorologists! Some weather specialists still don't get the long-term storm implications of climate change. Some continue to deny climate change plays a role.

Others, and certainly the climate scientists she interviewed, are certain a warmer world plays several key roles in extreme storms.

1. this warmer world holds at least 4% more water in the atmosphere. That gives storms more power, and can cause extreme rainfall events, as happened during Hurricane Irene.

2. the oceans are measurably hotter. It turns out, the ocean off New England is quite bit hotter during the last few years. That also adds to the power of extreme storms.

3. the seas are rising. I'll talk more about this with our next guest Adam Sobel. The water around New York City is about one foot higher than it was in the year 1900. There are several reasons for that, it's not just climate change. But a higher sea adds to the storm surge, and that was the most damaging part of Hurricane Sandy.

Climate scientists are less certain about other impacts of a warming world. Most think we may get fewer hurricanes or tropical cyclones, but the ones that do come will be more powerful. There's a lot we don't know for sure about that.

The U.S. currently has 500 un-staffed positions in the National Weather System, including staff needed to run radar and work. Their budget cut by 8.5%. America has Doppler radar that crashes, satellites beyond their lifespan. The Hurricane warning service has to borrow from other countries, including some excellent work done by Cuba. This weakness in predicting extreme weather is a national crisis, and a personal threat.

Aside from all the science and research in Kathryn Mile's book, it's a terrific drama, wound around a series of personalities well-drawn by the author. It's literally hard to put down.

You can download or listen to this interview with Kathryn Miles in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


We are lucky to have an extreme weather specialist and atmosphere scientist here to help. Columbia University Professor Adam Sobel just published his new book "Storm Surge: Hurricane Sandy, Our Changing Climate, and Extreme Weather of the Past and Future".

Adam wrote me saying he's just returned from the Eighth International Workshop on Tropical Cyclones (IWTC-VIII) organized by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). That was held at Jeju Island, South Korea. It's invitation only for the world's top forecasters and researchers. They go over the past 4 years of new science on tropical cyclones (which are also called hurricanes or typhoons).

The Philippines was just rocked by cyclone "Ruby" also know in Asia as "Hagupit". I'm beginning to wonder if some places in the world will be so badly damaged by repeated storms that people will abandon coastal settlements. Certainly some Pacific Islands are already threatened, with Kiribati likely the first to go underwater during storms.

But will we have more storms due to climate change? I remember back in 2006 when the New England scientist Emanuel Kerry produced papers saying hurricanes would be more frequent due to climate change. Then he backtracked, and it seems to me they haven't been more frequent since the year 2000, compared to the late 1900's. Adam Sobel agrees, but cautions we don't know how this experiment with climate will translate into weather. Some scientists think we will see more large storms. Forget the "storm-of-the-century" lable. We'll see plenty of them.

Let's talk about the sea level around New York City. Sobel says the water is about one foot higher now than in 1900. Like many coastal cities, New York was actually partly build on former swamps and lowlands. Some of it is extended with landfill into the former ocean. Adam says about 2/3 of that foot higher water around NYC is due to rising seas, due to simple expansion of the hotter ocean, and new water pouring in from Greenland and Antarctica. The other 1/3 of a foot is due to a pattern of sinking coastlines, as a slow reaction to the retreat of the heavy glaciers thousands of years ago. It's called subsidence, which means the land is sinking.

Our guest last year, J. Court Stevenson from the University of Maryland explained that for 10 billion dollars New York could build tide and surge control gates at the three entrances to New York harbor. These would be like the surge gates on the Thames in London, or in the Netherlands. So far, following the Bloomberg lead, this is not part of the plan. I think it's only a matter of time before the next Sandy floods New York.

We also got a harsh lesson on the real value of coastal real estate. There's no doubt that during this century, humans will have to exercise a planned withdrawal from many parts of the coast-line. That will include from parts of mega-cities from New York to Shanghai. As Dr. Peter Ward warned, sea level rise will reshape geography and economies around the world. (Ward's You tube lecture on his book "The Flooded Earth, Our Future in a World Without Ice Caps" is here).

It seems strange that many New Yorkers think more about a single day terrorist attack on their city, than they do of a coming century of floods and multi-billions of dollars of damage from climate change. In 9/11 we found out how critical New York City is to our economic system. I think if New York is faced with rising seas, high storm surges, and probably killer heat waves, that is also a national security issue.

Here is a climate central article on new wave of research into impact of climate change on severe storms.

You can download or listen to this interview with Dr. Adam Sobel in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

If you want to get more detail on the damage to New York City during Sandy, try this fascinating interview by WNYC Pacifica host Leonard Lopate, talking with Dr. Adam Sobel.


Every now and then there's a game-changing scientific paper about climate change. I saw this one , and right away invited our next guest. Katharine Ricke, known as Kate, joined well-known scientist Ken Caldeira to investigate a critical question: how long does it take the carbon we emit today to reach it's peak heating potential. If you answered 50 years or more, you are in for a shock.

The title of the new paper is a give-away: "Maximum warming occurs about one decade after a carbon dioxide emission". That was published December 2nd, 2014 in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The lead author is Katharine Ricke, a Post Doctoral researcher at the Carnegie Institute for Science, at Stanford University in California. She is our guest in this segment of Radio Ecoshock.

This study is a bombshell. We've been told for years that carbon emissions will really impact our children and grandchildren, not us. Now we find out the peak heating is only ten years after emissions.

Or course it doesn't end there. The warming action of carbon dioxide goes on not just for centuries, but for tens of thousands of years. That's because carbon dioxide is a relatively inert chemical in the atmosphere. It doesn't change much chemically over time.

Contrast that with methane. After only ten years or so, methane starts to break down - mainly into carbon dioxide. That is why scientists like David Archer argue that we must concentrate on carbon dioxide, rather than fear methane emissions. That's another whole argument we've been carrying in various Radio Ecoshock shows.

An obvious question from a non-scientist would be: why does a puff of carbon dioxide take ten years to become most active in trapping heat radiation? Why doesn't it have the maximum impact as soon as it rises up into the atmosphere? Katharine answered it's because the oceans are slow to react, but to be honest, I still don't understand the answer to this question. If any scientists are reading this right now, or if you think you know why this delay occurs, please email me. The address is radio //at// Or post your response in the comments below.

Former US Energy Secretary Steven Chu said "It may take 100 years to heat up this huge thermal mass so it reaches a uniform temperature ... The damage we have done today will not be seen for at least 50 years."

I found plenty more like that. This is a long-running misconception. It has shaped climate negotiations and government responses. Now we have science that shows CO2 in a different light.

This discovery is personal too. If I think my crappy low-mileage car won't affect me, maybe I won't try to bike or use public transit. But it's a different story if my emissions could change the climate just ten years from now, isn't it?

Drawing from over 6,000 runs of the best climate models on the planet, about 90% of the results showed CO2 hitting it's great heating potential around 10 years. The window was something like 6 years at the earliest, with a few showing a period as long as 30 years. But the science is pretty clear on 10 years.

There are some large uncertainties, including climate sensitivity, and the reaction of the carbon cycle (including carbon used by living things) and thermal inertia of the oceans.

This paper was written partly in response to a school of scientific thought, lead by Matthews and Solomon's 2013 paper, saying our past emissions do not determine future warming. Our future emissions do. It's a tricky problem to explain. The paper is "Irreversible Does Not Mean Unavoidable" published in the journal "Science" on April 26, 2013.


Following their paper, the excellent science blogger John Cooke bluntly says there is no warming in the pipeline. Future warming is only determined by future emissions, so we can control climate change by controlling our emissions. More warming is not "baked in" they say.

My understanding was that people like Dr. James Hansen talk about up to 1 degree, or more, in the pipeline, because of heat stored by the oceans and global dimming, or the aerosol pollution that diminishes sun arriving to the surface. Dr. Ricke agrees there is warming "in the pipeline" beyond the ten year lag you found in this new research.


This debate about what happens if our air pollution clears up (likely a burst of heating) is discussed in yet another seminal paper by Andrew H. MacDougal, Avid and Weaver titled "Significant contribution to climate warming from the permafrost carbon feedback". For you doomsters out there, these scientists look at a case they describe as "industrial shutdown".

A guest article by Peter Cooke at Climate Progress says:

"Thawing permafrost will release carbon to the atmosphere that will have an appreciable additional effect on climate change, adding at least one quarter of a degree Celsius by the end of the century and perhaps nearly as much as one degree (about 1.5°F).

The permafrost feedback response to our historic emissions, even in the absence of future human emissions, is likely to be self-sustaining and will cancel out future natural carbon sinks in the oceans and biosphere over the next two centuries.

Thus, even if we "stopped emissions tomorrow" the MacDougall study suggests, contrary to Matthews and Solomon, that CO2 would not decrease (and so warming would continue) if only because of the warming set in motion now that the Permafrost is melting.

This Climate Progress article also discusses "the industrial shutdown experiment". The authors (MacDougall et al, including Canadian scientist Andrew Weaver) imagined a complete shut-down of carbon emissions in 2013, and in 2050.

It notes that because the added permafrost heating could be balanced by ocean and biosphere uptake, this feedback effect does NOT equate with a runaway greenhouse effect.

"Note that a self-sustaining feedback is not the same thing as a runaway greenhouse effect."

The shutdown in 2013 results in CO2 stabilizing around 400 ppm for at least the next 300 years. A shutdown in 2050 yields a stable level around 550 ppm, on average, with a higher or lower level dependent on the as-yet-uncertain climate sensitivity.

Find more on the "industrial shutdown" experiment in this article by John Cooke. It's deep.

A further article on this study can be found here.

My thoughts:

Scientists generally consider the "industrial shutdown" scenario so unlikely, they either ignore it, or just look at "what-if" scenarios. However, it is conceivable that an industrial shutdown could occur due to a mega solar storm knocking out electric grids, a major nuclear war, an unstoppable disease in humans (think ebola on steroids), a meteor striking the Earth, or even a collapse of the current system (similar to the collapse of the Soviet Union, but globally, and on a much larger scale).

A cessation of human caused carbon emissions sounds possible by 2050, but is not really viable if we keep our present system of agriculture, and persist in terraforming, such as deforestation, both of which contribute to substantial emissions even without an industrial culture.


In a well-written article at climatecentral, Andrew Freedman found scientists who temper your discovery for several reasons. Some say the timing doesn't matter, all that matters to the climate system is the total greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, whenever that comes.

Another caution is from Zurich scientist Reto Knutti, who tells climatecentral, quote:

"It takes only a few years for the climate to respond to emissions, but it takes a generation, at least, to change the emissions. We are slow, not the climate.

We discuss all that in our interview.

After reading this study, I was left wondering how long a particular carbon emission can stay active in the atmosphere. Your graphs appear to stop after 100 years, with the carbon impact still pretty high. In fact, it doesn't decline much after the 10 year peak. How long does carbon dioxide stay potent as a warming gas in the atmosphere?

I interviewed David Archer about this. In his book "The Long Thaw", and in his Radio Ecoshock interview, Archer said that CO2 emitted today would remain in the atmosphere for at least 50,000 years, if not 100,000. You can see a You tube video of that Radio Ecoshock interview here. Archer did not mean a particular molecule of CO2, which is recycled through the biosphere, but that additional molecule level would be maintained for a very long time. The paper by Ricke and Caldeira stops at 100 years not because they disagree, but because that was the time frame of the best data sets - and all they needed to answer their principal question: how long does it take for CO2 to reach it's peak potential for heating the atmosphere?

This was also published in this scientific paper: Archer D et al 2009 Atmospheric lifetime of fossil fuel carbon dioxide Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 37 117–34


From the paper by Ricke and Caldeira: "While the maximum warming effect of a CO2 emission may manifest itself in only one decade, other impact-relevant effects, such as sea level rise, will quite clearly not reach their maximum until after the first century (see, e.g., figure 2(c) of Joos et al (2013)). For many impacts, such as changes to natural ecosystems, degradation is the result of the cumulative effects of consecutive years of warming or precipitation change (Parmesan and Yohe 2003). Ice sheet melting can persist for thousands of years following a warming (Huybrechts et al 2011). As such, even if maximum warming occurs within a decade, maximum impact may not be reached until much later. From this perspective, Steven Chu's statement that today's damage 'will not be seen for at least 50 years' may well be accurate."


This new science may help push climate negotiations into high gear in Paris next year. Now we know we don't have time to set long-term goals and slowly reduce CO2. Our emissions now will hit us hard and fast within 10 years!

From the conclusion of this paper:

"Our paper corrects a potential misconception that the largest effects of today's emissions will be felt only by future generations. Benefit from avoided CO2 emissions will most likely be manifested within the lifetimes of the people who act to avoid those emissions."

Find links to this paper, a video of Katharine explaining it here.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview with Katharine Ricke in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


I admit this week's blog is too long. But I got almost a year of education just researching for this week's guests. There was way too much to cover on the radio, and I found deep tunnels going into science that can determine how our future develops, and maybe whether we will survive our own carbon civilization.

I invite you to follow up on the links, and ask yourself the same hard questions.


I need to tell my anonymous donor and supporter "N." in Boston: I got your letter and I'm looking into your suggested reading and guests. Thank you.


We have some more tough questions in coming shows. I found a great radio documentary on the perils of dreaming about eco-community, and survival after oil. Then I'm going to challenge another green dream: alternative energy. Is it real, or just another carbon-dependent mirage. Stay tuned.

You can download all our past programs as free mp3 files from the web site Listen to our most recent programs on Soundcloud here. There have been so many top scientists, authors and activists on Radio Ecoshock its almost an open university, cruising the past interviews.

As always, I sincerely thank you for listening, and for caring about our world.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Eco Horror

SUMMARY: UK "eco-horror" novelist Joseph D'Lacey living after the Apocalypse. Stanford's Dr. Mary Kang: oil & gas pipes leak methane after shutdown. Scientist Michael Mann's take on "The Newsroom" climate doom. Radio Ecoshock 141210

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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now!


Not long ago, I took up writing music as a hobby. I was surprised to find a skill at writing horror music. Could that be an expression of my fears for the future, driven by interviews for Radio Ecoshock?

During the last ten years, the first ten of a new century, I've watched horror creep into all kinds of art. Just consider the multi-million dollar market for horror films, or the ghoulish video games full of slaughter and chaos. Humans have had a fascination for the dark side for centuries, but is that growing? And if it is, is that a response to imbalances and wrongs in the real world?

Now there is a whole genre of literature to go along with the coming apocalypse, if it ever comes. We've told you about "cli-fi' - climate-based science fiction. Now meet "eco-horror". One leader in that field is British novelist Joseph D'Lacey. His new two-book series "The Black Dawn" describe life after the ecological and social breakdown on planet Earth.

In the vimeo trailer for his book "Blackfeathers" D'Lacey writes:

"I do not want to recount it. I do not want to recall the casting out of so much goodness, nor the reaping of so much pain."

As a radio journalist covering the edge of disaster, I can empathize with that. Are we unwilling witnesses, - and why do we go ahead and say what we see?

We start off talking about Joseph's breakthrough book "Meat". To research the book, he spent many awful hours watching videos of animals in slaughterhouses. It was enough to turn D'Lacey into a vegetarian, and many people still buy or download this book to help change their diet.

The premise in the book, which returns often in D'Lacey's work, is that after some sort of collapse, the world is ruled by a small group of corporate and religious leaders. Corporations have entirely taken over the political system (which sounds rathers familiar). Of course the Italian leader Benito Mussilini had a word for the combination of corporations and government: fascism. In all Joseph's books, this "corpocracy" is toxic, even to itself.

The book "Meat" was a hit, translated into 5 other languages. The after-the-apocalypse theme returned with his later novel "Garbageman". There the focus is on our mountains of waste, as well as our ability to hide things from ourselves, just as we hide the garbage.

His newest work is a "duology" - a two book series called "The Black Dawn." The first book is "Blackfeathers" and the second "The Book of the Crowman". The "crow man" is a mysterious figure, and the inspiration for a band of rebels called "the Green Men". The reference is to the mythological figure "the green man" sometimes known in Medieval England as "John Barleycorn".

The Crowman would be seen as evil by some, as he is present as things fall apart or destroyed. On the other hand, he may be the seed of a new order, which D'Lacey's characters call "the bright day".

The coming apocalypse imagined by D'Lacey is perhaps more horrible because it isn't a mass die-off for humans, but instead we must continue living (badly) in a wrecked world. Climate change, pollution, and all the ills of this present world add up to a giant crash. Then the novelist draws out the world after...

Eco-horror? Are you ready? Maybe you already have these fears within, waiting to find expression. Try the Black Dawn books from our Radio Ecoshock guest, Joseph D'Lacey.

My thanks to presenter Bernie Keith of BBC Northhampton for recording the readings by Joseph D'Lacey.


Oil and gas wells can leak methane for years after they are supposedly sealed up. That's the news from a study just published by PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Sealed wells leaking a dangerous greenhouse gas. How is that possible?

I interview the lead author, Dr. Mary Kang, a Post Doctoral researcher at Stanford University in California.

On Radio Ecoshock 9141001) our guest Micky Moritz told us the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published incorrect figures about American methane emissions for years. Their method of calculating from the ground up substantially under-reported what was actually found by scientific measurements of methane in the air. Mary's team found one of the previously unreported sources of methane emissions.

Find the blog about Micky Moritz here, and listen to that interview here.

It doesn't surprise me that we barely know where all these wells are. But if we are serious about reigning in methane as a potent warming gas, shouldn't we get the drilling companies to come back and find a way to really and permanently seal off those pipes, or maybe collect the methane?

The bottom line for me is that if the oil and gas industry hadn't gone into wildly drilling thousands, possibly millions of pipes into the Earth, that methane would still be safely underground, buried for the ages. We've created many pathways for its escape, and then more or less walked away from them.

The paper "Direct measurements of methane emissions from abandoned oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania" can be found in PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Our guest Dr. Mary Kang was formerly with the Environmental Engineering department of Princeton University, and is now a Post Doctoral researcher for Stanford University.

Listen to my interview with Mary Kang here.


Near the end of the November, a fake TV News interview on Aaron Sarokin's series "The Newsroom" set the climate world abuzz.

An actor playing an acting EPA had is interviewed by TV Anchor Will MacIllroy. Will tries to get the positive spin, but is rebuffed by the defeatism of this alleged scientist and top bureaucrat, named Richard Westbrook. Let's give it a listen one more time, and then get a few different views about whether this now famous script of doom is accurate.

Here's the TV drama the newsroom, as anchor Will interviews EPA guest Westbrook. You can watch and listen to that 4 minute exchange here on You tube.

Are we already so doomed we may as well live it up, or at least give up trying to save ourselves? Professor Emeritus Guy McPherson certainly thinks so. He says we'll be extinct before 2050.

Over at Mother Jones magazine, journalist James West fact-checked Sorokin's climate science in an article published November 26th. Line by line, James West concludes the science is more or less correct.

Let's get a different view from the originator of the famous "Hockey Stick graph" of CO2, a real climate scientist, Dr. Michael Mann. Michael was interviewed on KFPK radio's "Bradcast" with host Brad Friedman, on December 3, 2014.

After playing the same Newsroom clip you just heard, Brad asks Dr. Mann about it.

[clip of a few minutes of Brad Friedman interviewing Dr. Mann] Along with Brad Friedman I have a hard time sharing Michael Manns optimism about our ability to stay under 450 parts per million CO2 (we are already at 400 ppm and increasing annually) - or staying under 2 degrees.

Notice one key point from that interview: yes the seas were 80 feet higher the last time carbon dioxide in the atmosphere went this high. But, as Michael Mann points out, it first stayed that high for thousands of years, and the deglaciation of the planet took thousands of years, certainly not a couple of centuries, - not happening by 2100. It's always possible we may find a way to reduce the CO2 levels in the atmosphere, before this utter disaster takes place.

Like you, I've also heard plenty of reports that the world will warm by at least 4 degrees Centigrade by 2100, or over 7 degrees Fahrenheit. But when you check on these reports, the originals say "if we continue emitting greenhouse gases at the same rate" or if we go on with "business as usual". It's true humans are still increasing our numbers, our consumer demands, and our greenhouse gas emissions.

But no one can guarantee we won't change, or be forced to change. That change could come from external factors, like a severe economic crash, a world-wide plague of disease, a solar storm, or a big nuclear war. Of it could be a political and corporate turn-around in time to stave off the worst warming.

Be careful with this. I've just read a Reuters news report on increasing lightening strikes in a hotter world. It says,

"The 11 different climate models used in the study pointed to an increase of 7 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) between now and 2100."

Nope. I looked at the press release this reporter likely used, from the institution that published that report on lightening strikes. That article says:

" 2100 if Earth sees the expected 4-degree Celsius increase (7 degrees Fahrenheit) in temperature. This assumes carbon dioxide emissions keep rising consistent with business as usual."

The 11 models were used to predict the increase in lightening strikes, not to predict the 4 degree C temperature rise. And the scientists again qualify the high 4 degree scenario by assuming we don't take any action to stop climate change.

Other journalists cite a study by Australia's Steven Sherwood, published in January 2014 in the Journal Nature. That study found the Earth was more sensitive to CO2 increases than previously thought, due to faulty assumptions about clouds and cooling. I interviewed Dr. Sherwood about this paper shortly after it was published. Find that in the Radio Ecoshock show for January 15, 2014. Again, Sherwood sees a 7 degree Fahrenheit rise, about 4 degrees C, IF, IF, IF we don't do anything to reduce our greenhouse gas emission within a decade or so.

Download or listen to that Steve Sherwood interview here.

The World Bank warns we are headed toward a 4 degrees C hotter world by 2100, IF we keep on our current emissions pathway.

And finally, what does the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, say in their latest report? Here is how Michael Mann and Gavin Schmidt summarized that, on the blog:

"Last year, the IPCC assessment dropped the lower bound on the expected range of climate sensitivity slightly, going from 2-4.5ºC in AR4 to 1.5-4.5ºC in AR5."

So, in the latest AR5 report, the IPCC still leaves room to stay under 1.5 degrees C heating, if we can somehow manage a drastic turnaround on emissions, say over the next ten years.

Sneer if you want, but the world's top climate scientists do NOT say we are headed toward doom without any chance of avoiding it. There is still time, not much, but a little, to save our descendants from either a living Hell, or extinction.

Personally, I think our prospects are limited and bleak. But I can't say, and no one can say, for certain what the future will look like. It isn't yet time to give up.

I'm Alex Smith. That's my opinion. Add yours to the weekly Radio Ecoshock blog comments below. Remember you can download all our past shows as free .mp3 files from our web site at

Music for this program included some of my horror productions for the film "Hotal" due for release later this month at the New Delhi International Film Festival. The end piece is called "Dark Path".

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


SUMMARY: Super scientist Kevin Trenberth on why oceans now hottest in recorded history, why that can make Europe colder. Stephen Leahy: we bankrupt water supplies with consumer purchases. Rob Aldrich on a generation with Nature Deficit Disorder. Radio Ecoshock 141203

Welcome back to Radio Ecoshock. Not a week goes by without a new, strange, and dangerous threat emerging out of the shadowy future. We start with the biggest under-reported story: unseen by land mammals, the world's oceans are heating up. That determines the future and the new coastlines for hundreds of years. We'll talk with Dr. Kevin Trenberth, one of the world's top climate scientists.

Did you know great rivers of fresh water are travelling around the world, hidden in the consumer products we buy? Environmental journalist Stephen Leahy explains his new book "Your Water Footprint".

Then Rob Aldrich says "yes, there is a growing health crisis in the Western world, and the cause is Nature Deficit Disorder".

[Sigh] It's Radio Ecoshock.

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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now!


Not sure about global warming? Here's a little fact that should grab your attention. According to scientists at the University of Hawaii, the world's oceans are hotter than they have ever been in recorded history. It's a dangerous trend, and you and I may have triggered that fever.

We have one of the world's top climate scientists joining us now. Dr. Kevin Trenberth is a transplanted New Zealander. He's now the Distinguished Senior Scientist in the Climate Analysis Section, at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in Boulder Colorado. His advice and science is cited all over the world.

Dr. Kevin Trenberth

According to news reports, water off New England is warming faster than almost anywhere on earth. Why is that, and what does it mean? We find an interesting connection between colder weather in Europe in recent years, and a warmer North Atlantic ocean.

He says the hotter North Atlantic may be partly a decadal rhythm. Then he adds:

"We think part of the reason the North Atlantic is as hot as it is actually stems back to some of the actions in the Pacific Ocean, through what atmospheric scientists call "Tally connections" - large waves in the atmosphere that have been associated actually with cooler conditions in Europe at that time. So the main cold outbreaks that have occurred in recent years have been in Europe rather than over the North Atlantic. As a result, the North Atlantic has been more benign and the temperatures have warmed up there."

In his answer Dr. Trenberth mentions "Talley Connections" named after Professor Lynne D. Talley, Scripps Institution. Dr. Talley is an oceanographer and co-editor of a textbook and scientific reference used by millions.


Even though scientists have not declared a full El Nino for 2014, Trenberth says:

"There's a developing El Nino and I think we are actually in El Nino conditions, and that has altered conditions throughout the tropics and sub-tropics, and is also having an influence over the West Coast of North America."

He also connects this developing El Nino for the very active hurricane season (with major and even record storms) hitting places in the Eastern Pacific (including Japan).


One way we can be sure ocean temperatures are rising, beyond the wide-spread network of ocean bouys, is the steadily rising sea level. Since 1992, we have satellites accurately measuring sea level. It's going up at 3.2 millimeters a year, now. That's expected to increase as warming gathers strength. For non-metric people, that adds up to a rate of a little over a foot per century - caused by two processes: ice melt from land-based glaciers like Greenland or West Antarctica; and heating of the oceans (heated water expands).

He says that sea level rise is a better indicator of climate change than measuring just global atmospheric temperatures. Other new science suggests we have underestimated warming in the oceans.


I ask one of the key questions for both scientists and the public: a few scientists suggest this ocean heating may signal the end of the alleged haitus in global warming. Do you agree there has been a pause in warming, and second, does this imply a new warming spell is arriving?

Kevin Trenberth explains that ocean temperatures, global mean temperatures, and temperatures experienced by humans over land all operate differently. The alleged "pause" experienced on land temperatures has not been mirrored by any pause in ocean heating, or the rise of sea levels, which are steadily upwards. 2014 is on track to be the hottest year on record. I will add this note: even though North America is experiencing a cold spell, Australia is quite hot, and the Arctic is way over normal temperatures.

Trenberth also says starting from the previous hottest year on record, during the 1997/98 El Nino distorts our view. We need to start from at least 1990, and then the trend is up, up, and up. "The two thousands are certainly a lot warmer than the 1990's. The "haitus" could be over, but it's hard to tell, because the current El Nino conditions are releasing heat from the Pacific Ocean.

He describes the strange increase in Antarctic sea ice area (though not necessarily an increase in volume). A change in the winds are part of that. Just as the northern hemisphere Jet Stream has loosened into larger slow loops of weather, the southern Polar winds have drawn closer to Antarctica, reducing rainfall in Australia.

I ask if this just shows the different in polar geographies, where the North Pole is in an ocean surrounded by continental land, while the South Pole is itself a small continent, surrounded by vast oceans. He says that is partly true, especially since the Arctic sea ice can never expand beyond the boundaries imposed by land.


A second important factor is the ozone hole in Antarctica!

"And so the ozone whole has been a really big contributor to ....the 'polar vortex'. There's a very strong set of circumpolar Westerly winds in the Southern Hemisphere. That is partly caused by the lack of ozone. That's for the most part a separate problem relative to global warming but it's contributed so some of the changes and is probably one of the factors in the differences between the two hemispheres as well."


Kevin reminds us that the warmer atmosphere means there is about 4% more water in the atmosphere now, compared to 1970. That adds energy to storms. It can also lead to extreme precipitation events (happening all over the world) which can be record rain, or snow if the air is colder. Sound familiar?

Increased winds have also created more ocean mixing. That means more heat is being drawn down into deeper levels of the ocean, thus hiding some of our warming impact. But that heat will also come back out at some time. Warmer seas, Kevin agrees, can lead to warming that goes on for centuries, even after we stop pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Kevin Trenberth: "What we are doing now has consequences for decades and even centuries into the future. And this is why scientists are quite concerned, very concerned about the global warming phenomenon.

By the time we, maybe the general public recognizes that it's a serious problem, it's a bit too late to do very much about it, because a lot of it's going to continue regardless, and we will then have to live with the consequences. So this is one of the clarion calls of scientists that we need to worry about the fact that the oceans respond in a very slow and sluggish fashion.

Finally I ask Kevin Trenberth what he thinks of the observations by Dr. Jennifer Francis, that weather over North America has been heavily influenced by summer melt-back of sea ice in the Arctic. He's not entirely sure about that proposal. Instead, Trenberth points out the recent impact of tropical storm Nuri, which pushed Arctic air south. In any case, the Arctic sea ice is frozen over during winter, and so should not be affecting winter weather.

Something is twisting winter weather out of shape, that's for sure. Next week I hope to get in a short ramble about how the Arctic has been abnormally hot, while most of North America suffers through an unusually early deep freeze.

Download or listen to this interview with scientist Keven Trenberth in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Either you have enough water or you don't. Life of all kinds depends upon the answer to that question. Along with farmers, all big cities wrestle with water issues. And some of that precious water disappears half a world away, to make the products we buy.

That's all in the new book "Your Water Footprint, The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use To Make Everyday Products." It's by the professional environmental journalist Stephen Leahy.

Environmental journalist Stephen Leahy

This book takes us places I didn't expect. Just the cover is shocking. Really - does it take 240 gallons of water to make a modern mobile phone? How is that possible?

Steve explains all the components of that smart phone take large amounts of water to mine, process, and assemble. That's true when we add up the water required to make practically everything we buy.

Stehen Leahy says "I'm probably wearing about 20,000 liters of water right now. And that's just pants, a shirt, a sweatshirt, socks, and a pair of shoes." That's over 5200 gallons of water for one set of clothing!!!

I remember Lester Brown of World Watch saying on Radio Ecoshock that countries don't export wheat, they export the water used to grow it. Places like Australia can hardly afford to do that.

All this adds up to a hidden international water trade, via consumer and industrial products. If we could see it, Leahy says, these would be rivers of water flowing out of North America as food, and back in from places like China and Malaysia as clothing, gear, appliances and all that.

So what? Isn't there enough water? That depends where you live. There's been a lot of news about millions of people in Sao Paulo Brazil almost running out of water. In the United States, more millions of people depend on the big underground reserves in the Ogallala Aquifer. Folks joke without that, certain States would dry up and blow away. On the plains of India, farmers are drilling deeper and deeper. Water use is far greater than the rate of replenishment. Those wells will eventually run dry.

Leahy tells us right now about 1.2 billion people on earth face chronic water shortages. There's another 2.5 billion who occasionally have water shortages. "Only about half of the people in the world has access to piped water." The rest have to haul it. About 20 percent of people in the world have no access to clean water. They have to use whatever polluted water they can find, and of course many die from easily preventable diseases.


Leahy tells us:

"Even by 2025, which isn't that far away now, three in five people will be facing water shortages, the experts predict."

That's partly because we need water to produce energy. The oil and coal industry sucks up millions of gallons of water. Fracking grabs mountains of fresh water, pollutes it terrible, and then removes that water from general cirulation by pumping it into deep wells.

Add in all the irrigation and other needs to grow food, as the population expands by more billions, and as that larger population demands more consumer products (and meat) - we are headed to a big, big water crisis.

Here's the thing I like about Stephen Leahy's new book (which is based on years of his reporting global environment stories for major news services): it's crammed full of charts and graphs which make it easy. Frankly, I wasn't looking forward to reading another thick book of print. So it was a welcome surprise to find this one beams shocking and important info directly to your eye and brain. Pretty well every page is a large well-illustrated and labelled graphic. It's staying near my desk as a reference.

You can find "Your Water Footprint, The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use To Make Everyday Products" wherever books are sold. Follow Stephen Leahy's reporting at

Many times, I've read one of Leahy's stories, and then found it trending in major media up to six months later. He's one of the last true full-time environmental journalists around. Support him if you can.


As just one example, I ask Steve what he's working on. It involves stories about the next toxic waste sites springing up across the developing world. Factories with little supervision, with the blessing (or corruption) of local governments, are using old toxic techniques to create local labor (and wealth) at any price to the environment.

Think about "Love Canal" the toxic site famous in New York State. The U.S. has hundreds of "superfund sites" that are slowly being cleaned up (somewhat). That manufacturing moves East to China, the Philippines, Malaysia, India, and parts of South America. We can expect to find loads of places where it's unsafe to live, due to chemical or even radiological pollution. Due to poverty, people will live there anyway, and get sick, and their babies will get sick.

Someday a map of the ruined world will be published, and people will wonder why anyone let that happen. We don't ask about toxic pollution from factories that make our consumer goodies. And they don't tell. Stephen Leahy is one of the few journalists on that story. It's going to be huge, and you'll hear about it from mainstream media years from now, after the damage is done. So sad.

Download or listen to this interview with Stephen Leahy in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

For a surprising twist, try this article from the US Geological Survey people. In parallel with the slight US reduction in energy, Americans are actually used 13% less water in 2013 than in 2005. There is less industry, and those that remain have improved their water handling. All that is being counter-balanced by huge increases in water use in other parts of the world.


It's not an official disorder taught in medical schools. Yet. But as you'll hear in this interview with Rob Aldrich of the Land Trust Alliance, some doctors are prescribing time in nature for problem children.

The term and idea of "Nature Deficit Disorder" was originated by author Richard Louv in his 2005 book "Last Child in the Woods". The Land Trust Alliance joined other groups in raising the alarm, that this separation from nature is developing into a national health crisis in America, and likely in all industrialized countries.

Rob Aldrich is the community conservation director for the Land Trust Alliance, in Washington D.C. The Land Trust Alliance is formed by about 1200 land trusts, large and small, in the United States. In a land trust, the owners sign a covenant that prevents the land from being broken up, or from being wrecked. Taken together, these land trust are an important buffer where nature still exists.

The land trust movement is also growing because it has tax advantages, especially for farmers. A farmer may not be able to pass on the farm to the next generation, due to inheritance taxes. But if that farmer guarantees it will remain a farm, they can reduce the value of the land (because it won't be developed into suburbs), and so reduce the inheritance taxes.


Meanwhile, I've had reports that teachers in inner city schools can find up to 20% of the students have an inhaler with them. Asthma is that bad. Obesity is worse. Rob Aldrich describes the awful slide to obesity, even since 1990, in countless American states. Actually, they have counted those states, and in some, a full 30% of all citizens are greatly overweight, meaning 30 pounds or more for a person of about five feet five inches. It's become a national health crisis.

Rob tells us another harsh story. Apparently some maximum security prisons are showing pictures of nature to their inmates, to help them cope with 23 hours of lock-up. But think about it - are some children now kept static in classroom seats, and then driven home to spend hours watching screens on phones, TV and video games - are they not also in a kind of 23 hour lock-down?

We hear about Dr. Robert Zarr and his Parks RX project. Parents with a "hyper-active" and hard to handle young girl came to them. He prescribed two or three hours a day, each weekend, in the largest park in the Washington D.C. rea. The girl didn't need drugs, or a fixed program of things to do in the park. Just take her there and let her run around, discovering things. She was cured. She really had "nature deficit disorder."

Here is an NPR story "To Make Children Healthier A Doctor Prescribes A Trip to the Park."

We hear about the "Wingspread Declaration" to get more people out into nature. Visit to learn more about and endorse the Wingspread Declaration.

African Americans are getting on board with this health need for nature, with groups like "Outdoor Afro".

Nature Deficit Disorder: I think we all have it. I make myself go outside for at least a couple of hours a day, more during the warmer months. We moved from the big city to see hills and the night sky. It's working. How about you?

Check this interview out, for yourself, and for your kids. Download or listen to Rob Aldrich in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

That's it for another week of Radio Ecoshock. Please support your non-profit radio station, the people brave enough to tell it like it is. As always, you can listen again on our Soundcloud page, or download any and all of our past programs, from the web site,


As an aside, I'm adding some Indian instruments to my new tracks, thanks to an amazing plug in for my computer music program. It's called "Swar Plug" from In Sanscrit, "Swara" means a musical note in the octave. You can listen to my first production with sitar and veena at the "Swar Cafe." Scroll down on this page. It's called "California East".

I'm Alex Smith. Thank you for listening - and caring about your world.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


SUMMARY: From Berlin, top enviro journalist Christian Schwagerl on his controversial new book "The Anthropocene: The Human Era and How It Shapes Our Planet". Then two eco-feminists, Charlene Spratnak and Susan Griffin on "Techno-Utopianism and the Fate of the Earth." Radio Ecoshock 141126

Are humans changing the planet so much that we have entered a new geological age? They call it the anthropocene, and we don't know if that's good. Our first guest from Berlin, Christian Schwagerl, literally wrote the book on it.

Then we'll hear a different view from two eco-feminists, American Green Party founder Charlene Spretnak, and author Susan Griffin.

First, to Berlin. Are we ready for technature, and human creation of new life forms?

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

Or listen to it on Soundcloud right now.


I received an invitation to read a book newly coming out for English readers. The title is "The Anthropocene: The Human Era and How It Shapes Our Planet". Little did I know how deep and disturbing this adventure into ideas would become.

The author is Christian Schwagerl. He's been one of the best environmental journalists in Berlin for 25 years. Christian holds a Master of Science degree himself.

When the first German version of this book was published as Menshcenzeit, or the Age of Humans - the head of the United Nations Environment Programme, Achim Steiner spoke at the book launch.

From the launch, a series of German museums and cultural centers created an Anthropocene project - funded directly by the German Parliament. It became a "Welcome to the Anthropocene" exibit.

The Press Release for the book said:

"The book takes a hopeful look at our ecological crises and the solutions we're employing to correct our current trajectory toward a positive and sustainable future. It contains a foreword by Paul Crutzen, the scientist who popularized the term 'Anthropocene' - a new geological epoch in which humanity has the dominant influence on the planet’s ecosystems."

I wrote back that I was far less hopeful about our prospects, but Christian was willing to take on all questions, and did.

We can't understand the Anthropocene, or the movement developing around it, without knowing about the famous scientist Paul Crutzen. While Crutzen didn't coin the word , he brought it into reality when he stammered out to a group of scientists meeting in Mexico "we are already in the Anthropocene". That began a whole new branch of science.

In the book, Christian writes:

"Crutzen had melded humans and nature (two entities that I had previously thought of as separate, opposing forces), into a whole new science-driven idea. It described a connection that reaches back into the past and far into the future. After seeing, at first hand rainforests burning, land made toxic from mining, and species on the brink of extinction, this idea gave me hope that our ever evolving human consciousness might be about to enter a new phase."

Among too many accomplishments to list here, Paul Crutzen won the 1995 Noble prize for chemistry for his work on the ozone hole. Schwagerl spent a lot of time with Crutzen, and spoke at the scientist's 80th birthday celebration, recorded in a You tube video you can see here. After a few minutes of formalities, it becomes a riveting speech, I think.

Of course, his hero Paul Crutzen added to our fears - when Crutzen suggested we need some kind of technocracy run by scientists and engineers, including geoengineering to save the climate. Even in his old age, Crutzen refused to promise hope we will conquer the problems we've created on this planet.

I liked Schwagerl's concept of a "Club of Revolutionaries" - the organisms which changed Earth. The early book chapters sparkle with amazing things I didn't know. For example, blue-green algae, or now the whole group known as cyanobacteria. They created the oxygen we breath, using solar power - extraterrestrial chemistry!

However, the further I went into this book, the more uneasy I became. But then Schwagerl isn't afraid to face the questions we all must face.

For example, he writes: "Wild nature no longer exists on land or out at sea....What remains of the wild is the result of human decision-making, such as when an area is perceived as being of lasting value and is then protected by the local population or by environmental organizations, or by a corporation that concludes that exploitation would not be profitable."

I don't like that idea at all! It may be easier for a European to say that all wilderness exists only because we say so. But in North America there are still plenty of wild spaces. But then I wonder, if that's only because governments proclaim them as parks, or only because mining and lumber companies haven't got there yet. Maybe he's right, even if it's unpleasant.

"Thus, there is no 'environment' any longer that surrounds our civilization. We are living in an 'invironment,' a new nature that is strongly shaped by human needs and that has no outside."

- Christian Schwagerl

Chapter Five is titled "Apocalypse No". He says the idea of the Anthropocene is in fact "anti-Apocalyptic". I ask him to explain that.

In the book "The Anthropocene" he writes: "Even if climate change turns out to be worse than scientists at the IPCC fear, it will not lead to the end of the world or the collapse of civilization. This won’t even come to pass if climate change, food crises and cyber wars all occur simultaneously."

Really? If the climate warms by 6 degrees or more in less than 200 years, you think civilization will still stand? It turns out even Schwagerl thinks that would be a miserable world, one he wouldn't want to live in, but some kind of human organization will continue. I found the man behind the book is not a seller of false hopes, but a very real person with deep experience.

A later chapter is equally frightening to me. The title is "Directing Evolution". Who is going to "direct evolution"? Will it be triumphant Jihadists, or a little cabal of multi-billionaires. Democracy is more or less dead here in North America. So who is going to direct evolution? Monsanto, I presume?

"Future technology has to consist of machines, materials and molecules that adapt to the biologic cycles of earth instead of perturbing them, and they have to enrich earth with life-enhancing stimuli instead of discharging poisons. What is needed, therefore, is a diff erent, new 'nature of technology, 'an evolution whereby technology adapts to its environment."

- Christian Schwagerl

There has been a small debate, from Andy Revkin in the New York Times to Elizabeth Kolbert, about whether there can be a "good anthropocene". Schwagerl wraps up his new book with his personal vision of how things might not turn out so badly as many think. I ask him to take us on that tour of how we may survive ourselves. He has a possible vision.

As far as science goes, the issue of whether humans have created a new age will be decided by a special panel of scientists in 2016. The group is called the Anthropocene Working Group of The Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy), headed by the geologist Jan Zalasiewicz, from the University of Leicester.

Our recent Radio Ecoshock speaker Kathleen Dean Moore thinks "Anthropocene Is the Wrong Word" (published in the Earth Island Journal in the Spring of 2013).

The book "The Anthropocene: The Human Era and How It Shapes Our Planet" is available now from Synergetic Press, at the very reasonable price of just $10 for the paperback. The electronic version is coming soon.

Note: there is already a new scientific journal for this "New Epoch": Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene.

Download or listen to this interview with Christian Schwagerl in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


The German sci-fi author mentioned in this interview is Alfred Doblin. Find an interesting bio of this struggling writer here in Wikipedia.

The novel Christian references is the 1924 work "Berge Meere und Giganten" (Mountains Seas and Giants". Wiki says:

"Döblin's 1924 science fiction novel recounts the course of human history from the 20th to the 27th century, portraying it as a catastrophic global struggle between technological mania, natural forces, and competing political visions. Berge Meere und Giganten (Mountains Seas and Giants) presciently invokes such topics as urbanization, the alienation from nature, ecological devastation, mechanization, the dehumanization of the modern world, as well as mass migration, globalization, totalitarianism, fanaticism, terrorism, state surveillance, genetic engineering, synthetic food, the breeding of humans, biochemical warfare, and others.[94] Stylistically and structurally experimental, it was regarded as a difficult work when it first came out and has often polarized critics.[95] Among others, Günter Grass has praised the novel's continued relevance and insight"

That is from the main Wikipedia entry for Doblin. You can find out more about this early German eco novel here.


It seems appropriate that we are now going to two speakers from the recent conference "Techno-Utopianism and the Fate of the Earth." It was held in New York City on October 25th and 26th, 2014. This teach-in was presented by the International Forum on Globalization and the New York Open Center. It was recorded by Dale Lehman or WZRD radio in Chicago (which also broadcasts Radio Ecoshock..

In the show, I'm reversing the order of speakers at the conference, starting with Charlene Spretnak on "The Resurgence of the Real".

Charlene Spretnak is a founder of the U.S. Green Party, author, and eco-feminist.

Charlene Spretnak

The next speaker from the forum "Techno-Utopians and the Fate of the Earth" is the famous eco-feminist Susan Griffin. Her topic is "Women & Nature" Speed, Consciousness & Quantification". Find Susan's web site here.

Susan Griffin

To meet our time limitations, I removed a few minutes of Susan Griffin's comments on education in the United States. Here is a link to the full talk.

You can see videos of the presentations and panel discussions here.

I'm sorry I don't have the energy this week to give a full review of these worthy talks in my blog. If any listener would like to comment on these speakers, please do.

That's it for this week. Join me again for Radio Ecoshock.

I'm Alex Smith.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Healing Green Despair?

Summary: A new green biography of eco-billionaire Ted Turner, with author Todd Wilkinson. Kathleen Dean Moore offers a medicine for green despair. Writer and owl biologist Tim Fox sees humans as the unstoppable flood. Radio Ecoshock 141119.

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In this second half of the program, we 're going to hear about an answer to ecological despair, from the noted author and philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore. We have a guest interview from Orion magazine. I'll follow up with another view from author and owl biologist Tim Fox.


Now that the Polar Vortex brings cold to much of North America, the whole climate movement goes dormant. The people don't know the ocean off New England is 5 degrees above normal, so hot it's threatening species there with extinction. They don't know Alaska and Greenland are still way above normal. They don't know Australia has been roasting again. A vast area of Eastern Australia is heading into another major drought. South Australia just had the driest October on record. But who cares? It's really cold outside, so there isn't any global warming....

How can we keep the climate movement conscious through winter in the Northern Hemisphere?

It's not an impossible challenge. I remember the failed Copenhagen climate summit in 2009. It was bitterly cold outside in Denmark, but thousands of climate activists stood outside the halls. We may have to take climate change so seriously that climate protests continue even when it's 20 degrees below zero outside. We'll never make it as "fair weather" environmentalists.

By the way, all the time I was growing up, nobody ever heard of "the Polar Vortex". It's like a dam recently broke in the Arctic, flooding the plains and the East with polar weather. Did you know an American scientist named Jeniffer Francis discovered this shift in the Jet Stream may be due to disappearing Arctic ice?

Not enough people know that climate change is really climate disruption, - that it can bring unseasonably cold weather as well as heat. But Matt Drudge and his drones are already laughing at Obama's China climate deal, because it's COLD in Washington!

Another thing people don't realize is that our emissions keep on going all winter. In fact, they ramp up in the North, as all those oil heaters, gas furnaces, and giant coal-fired electric generating plants run overtime. So we're ducking the whole issue of climate change, while we go into another orgy of filling the atmosphere with our carbon garbage. Winter is a climate killer too. What heats your house?

Another fact about winter CO2: because there are far fewer plants in green during the winter, much more of the CO2 we produce goes into the oceans, or stays in the atmosphere. I'm almost afraid to do a Radio Ecoshock show on how we are all going to roast. I know plenty of people, myself included, have a subterranean voice that says "mmmm warm, I'd like to be warm". But the climate movement cannot be season. It can't be a part-time job. Every month we toss more greenhouse gases into the sky. Don't stop trying. I won't.


As The Economist reports, the top point 1 percent of America's population have as much wealth as the bottom 90% of the people. No wonder some hope this elite will finally turn toward saving what's left of the planet.

Do the billionaires know? Some do. There's talk about Richard Branson and his 3 billion dollar pledge to combat climate change. Branson and other bigwigs like Warren Buffet and T. Boone Pickens credit another fellow billionaire for their turn toward green thought and action. That would be the unsung radical rich man Ted Turner, founder of CNN among other things.

There's a new book out: "Last Stand: Ted Turner's Quest to Save a Troubled Planet". From Bozeman Montana, we have the author and long-time environmental journalist Todd Wilkinson as our guest. Find Todd's web site here.

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

The secret to understanding Turner, says Wilkinson, is that he always sees himself as the underdog. This develops through a troubled childhood, where nature appears to have been part of Turner's sustenance. His father, owner of Atlanta's largest outdoor sign company, killed himself when Turner was 24.

Ted saw some unique opportunities. He bought an inexpensive Atlanta TV station, and hooked it up to a satellite, creating the first "Super Station" broadasting all over the world. Then he bought entertainment companies with rights to old movies, and played those on his growing cable network. Then he developed CNN news, which helped fuel some political change as people in different countries saw how others lived. Some give Turner's CNN some credit for ending the Soviet system.

Even as Turner was a capitalist on his way to the wealth stratosphere, he still had a yearning to protest the system. I know in the 1990's he was a big supporter of Greenpeace USA. Then he funded something called the Ruckus Society. They trained young people to climb trees or block bulldozers. It's wild to imagine a capitalist quietly funding people who protest against capitalist pollution.


Now Turner is the second largest land-owner in the United States, with about 2 million acres. Most of this is old ranches, big ones that were worn out from over-grazing cattle. Turner ruffled some rancher feathers when he said cattle were dirty and unsuited to the terrain. In their place, he introduced the almost extinct Plains Bison.

The Bison can protect themselves better than cattle from predators like wolves and bears. So taking a page from eco-radical Dave Foreman, Ted Turner started "re-wilding" his lands. In Montana, he re-introduced wolves, and now has the largest wild wolf pack in the lower 48 states. He also brought in Grizzly Bears, long extinct in the West. Turner admires Yellowstone Park, and has pretty well succeeded in having all creatures found in Yellowstone also on his Montana Ranch, called the Flying D.

Turner is still a capitalist, maybe an eco-capitalist, with all these ventures. Documentary producer Michael Moore claimed Turner's land has a higher gross domestic product than the country of Belize. And he doesn't just raise bison, he slaughters them for the meat he sells in his Ted's Montana Grill chain.

Everything has to pay it's way with Ted. But he sees that as justice for coming generations. The thinking goes we can't saddle them with a "debt" of land that can't pay for itself. And such lands will not be protected.

Wilkinson also explains that Turner has put easements on some of his lands that prevent them from being broken up in the future. This helps preserve the big corridors, connecting to public lands, that wide-ranging species need.

Turner also believes strongly in alternative energy, and in solar power in particular. He's put his money where his mouth is. Turner Enterprises has a whole subsidiary where he's gone into partnerships with large utility companies, (who previously invested mostly in coal plants) to build commercial grade solar electric projects.

In just one example, his Campo Verde Solar Facility in Imperial County California can produce 139 Megawatts. I did a little comparison, and found that is larger than the rated capacity of over 200 coal generating stations in the United States.

Find out more about his solar projects at Turner Renewable Energy here.

Turner money has gone into a wide range of green organizations - over 1,000 of them.

He's also been concerned about the other big threat to human existence (beyond climate change) - nuclear weapons. With former Conservative Senator Sam Nunne he created a foundation called "Nuclear Threat Initiative". For one thing, they helped pay for an American team to go grab unguarded nuclear materials from the former Soviet Union - before terrorist could. Find out more about Turner's anti-nuke weapons foundation here. Warren Buffet has also got on board this one.

Oh yeah, and he gave a billion dollars to a foundation to promote public awareness of the United Nations. It was more than a pledge. He made good on it, giving $600 million himself, and finding $400 million from other private donors.

According to Wikipedia, quote: "In 2008, Turner asserted on PBS's Charlie Rose television program that if steps are not taken to address global warming, most people would die and 'the rest of us will be cannibals'."

Most of our listeners are suspicious of super-rich white men talking about greening the planet. Nobody is perfect. Is Ted Turner our billionaire green hero savior? I asked author Todd Wilkinson that question. He says "no". In fact, Turner's wife of 10 years Jane Fonda said Turner was likely trying to save himself as much as the environment. And Turner does fly around to various houses in his private plane, creating super-sized personal emissions.

But Todd wrote the book for a couple of reasons.

First, Turner can influence other very wealthy people and does. He brought Texas wild-catter T. Boone Pickens to realize climate change from fossil fuels is real. Pickens has been pushing wind power. Turner also has influenced some of America's richest people, like Warren Buffett, and the heirs of Sam Walton, owners now of Walmart. Ted also led the way in saying that at least half of great wealth should be given away, helping influence Bill and Melinda Gates.

More than that though, Wilkinson says Turner can be an example or meme that could help move the capitalist class, or even all of us, to save what's left of the planet. Wilkinson has been an environmental journalist for 3 decades. He knows how tough it is. A revolution doesn't seem likely in the near-term. the near-term is all we have left to make big changes, so we may have to get capitalists to care about saving the climate and the biosphere. That debate continues.

The book is "Last Stand: Ted Turner's Quest to Save a Troubled Planet". Judging by the deep info and passion shown in this interview, it should be a worth read. It's on Amazon of course, but Wilkinson asks you to support your local book store if you can. Find them here.


I have a good connection with Erik Hoffner, a photographer, fish-lover, and outreach co-ordinator for Orion Magazine. He sends me good tips and sometimes guests.

Erik pointed me to an article and podcast with Kathleen Dean Moore. She's an author and philosopher I admire. I recorded her speech in Vancouver, and broadcast on Radio Ecoshock on May 2, 2012. Find that audio here. It's titled "It's Wrong to Wreck the World: Climate Change and the Moral Obligation to the Future"

Now Moore is back, talking about an epiphany she had one sleepless midnight in Alaska - when the temperature even at night was 93 degrees F! (34 C). Talk about global warming!

So this week I'm running that podcast interview from Orion Magazine, with Kathleen and Assistant Editor Scott Gast. She describes how a river changes, and what that means for we who despair of our civilization ever reducing greenhouse gases.

Follow Kathleen Dean Moore at My thanks to Orion magazine for this thoughtful interview. Be sure and visit

Download or listen to this segment with Kathleen Dean Moore and Tim Fox, in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

We've heard the story of the river from Kathleen Dean Moore. But there is another river flowing over the world, and that is us.

Whenever I encounter a nexus of enquiring minds, like Orion magazine, I don't quit with the main article. It really pays to surf through the intelligent comments as well. That's how I found our next guest. Tim Fox lives in Blue River Oregon, in the Cascade Mountains. He saw that other river.

So it's appropriate that Tim tells the tale of a great raging river in the Pleistocene - that age running from about 2.5 million years ago to around 11,000 years ago (though to be the beginning time of modern human civilization). That river came as ice dams repeatedly melted from the glacier Lake Missoula.

Moving up to 60 miles an hour, this vast collection of rushing water - think of a land-based tsunami - reshaped the landscape, creating among other things the "Badlands" of Montana.

Tim's point: we are that kind of river. Humans are flooding the globe, remaking the landscape as we go. We talk about what that means, and how we can ever hope to change a current like that.

Tim Fox writes for various alternative press outlets. He's also been an owl biologist. Apparently the famous endangered spotted owl is being threatened not just by habitat loss, but also by one of it's cousins, the newly arrived Barred Owl.

Some ancient forests in the US Northwest, like those near where Tim Fox lives, are protected under the Endangered Species Act because of the spotted owl. If that owl goes, the forests are no longer protected. Tim calls on us to revere the ancient forest for their own values, not just one species.

In the interview, I ask Tim to read out his very sane comment on the Kathlene Dean Moore podcast, and his own reaction. Tim Fox is a gem worth finding, and I thank Erik Hoffner for putting me, and all of us, in touch with him.

Here are some links to Tim's writing. His comment in Orion can be found here. He's just published in the recent Issue 5 of Dark Mountain. Here is his article in Yes Magazine.

That's it for our time together this week. Our web site is Find us on Soundcloud.

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