Wednesday, February 26, 2014


QUICK SHOW SUMMARY: Author of "American Exodus" Giles Slade sees humans joining plants & animals in migration toward Poles. Paul Beckwith on alarming new Arctic melt science from NASA. Dr. Nathan Phillips on gas leaks in Boston and Washington D.C. Grab it now.


It's hard to imagine. Will you decide to move, to leave your home, because of climate change? Maybe relentless heat becomes too much. Fires could burn you out, of floods come so often there's no money to rebuild. It might be just one too many awful storms. Crops could fail, goosing food price ridiculously high, busting the local economy.

Animals, plants and fish are already moving either toward the Poles, or to higher ground. Humans, for all our technology, may not be exempt. Some of you are already wondering if that's in your future too.

Our first guest says it will happen. That's Giles Slade, author of American Exodus. He's talking about millions of Americans, and Latin Americans, seeking greener pastures, or at least cooler ones, in Canada and Alaska. The Canadians may simply move even further north.

The same future has been predicted by British scientists Sir James Lovelock. He sees the ocean-wrapped British Isles become a destination point for North Africans, and people from Southern Europe, as great deserts form there. Look out Scandinavia and Siberia, for the same reasons.

This may not happen this year, or even this decade, but we'll talk about it.

Then climate scientist Paul Beckwith returns with a startling new NASA study about the Arctic Ice melt. That change is producing about one quarter of all warming. How will that change science and climate activism?

Worried about methane leaks in the Arctic? We wrap up with another new survey of natural gas leaks in major American cities, this time in Boston and Washington D.C. Measurement show our big cities are big methane sources. That's something the "natural" gas salespeople don't tell you, when they promise to be better than coal.

Ready? I'm Alex Smith, and this is Radio Ecoshock.

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


Maybe after a cold winter, some gritty, sweaty summers sound pretty good. As long as the power stays on, with air-conditioners running.

But then food gets too expensive or runs out. Or you can't get insurance after yet another flood, storm or fire. With no money to rebuild, It's time. It's time to move the family somewhere cooler, with regular rain. It's time to move to New Zealand, to Scandinanvia, or to Canada, if you can.

What if a few million others go the same route? Our next guest Giles Slade thinks it will happen: a massive migration, driven by climate change and a fallen economy. Millions of Americans, and maybe Latin Americans, will move north.

Giles Slade is an award winning author with his works about consumption and planned obsolecence. From his home on the West Coast of Canada, he joins us now, to talk about his book "American Exodus: Climate Change and the Coming Flight for Survival"

Giles is pretty well known for two previous books: "The Big Disconnect – How our long affair with ever-new technologies has undermined interpersonal relationships" and "Made to Break, Technology and Obsolescence in America." That last one captured the International Publisher's Gold Medal (IPPY award) for best Environment/Ecology/Nature book of 2007.

We talk about previous migrations, starting with the "OKies" who fled Oklahoma and surrounding states during the Dust Bowl in the 1930's. Giles' message: don't expect to be welcomed as a climate refugee. The OKies were treated as second class citizens, harassed by local police, and got the worst jobs, if any.

It was a little better for what may be America's first climate refugees, the thousands who fled New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. But there was still a tendency to blame the victims. Plus, there was a reasonably functioning society around them.

You know it's been a rough road for the millions of Mexicans and Latin Americans arriving in the U.S., legally and illegally.

We discuss a Canadian preoccupation: if the weather gets too bad or too hot, will millions of Americans cross the border into Canada? Strangely, the American military has looked at possibilities, but the Canadian government has it's head buried firmly in their .... climate denial.

James Lovelock, picturing Britain as an island somewhat cooled by surrounding seas, proposed the government get a start now, building schools and hospitals to serve the millions of climate refugees coming. Indeed, there are more people from the dry, hot Middle East and Mediterranean moving to the United Kingdom. Should Canada prepare as well? Is any preparation possible?

A lot of Americans are very patriotic. They love the place where they live. It would be heart-breaking to leave. It's going to take a lot to make them move to another country. People will only leave their homes when they have no other choice.

I think the rich will move first, perhaps establishing a base to run to, with lots of preparation. Poorer people will just set out on the roads driving or even walking north. That could end up with like Cormac McCarthy's book "The Road".

Download/listen to this 25 minute Radio Ecoshock interview with Giles Slade in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Keep track of Giles Slade at his web site.


When there's big news about the Arctic Sea ice, and there is - who else to call but Paul Beckwith. He's the double-Masters man, working on his Doctorate in climatology at the University of Ottawa. Paul has been watching the Arctic ice closely for years.

A newly released study by NASA, the National Atmospheric and Space Administration, has calculated the difference in reflection of the Sun's rays, due to less sea ice in the Arctic during summer. It doesn't sound like a big change, being about 4% more heat absorbed now, compared to 1979. But NASA says that is huge, accounting for 25% as much global warming as all our human-made fossil fuel burning put together.

The Journal reference for this new study is: PNAS, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1318201111

Until this study, we had no idea. That means there is now a force for warming well beyond human control. It's not our tailpipes or our factories, but simple loss of sea ice (which melted due to our tailpipes and our factories over the past few decades). This is just the loss of bright reflective surface, and does not include the extra heat pumped into the darker ocean below. It's big, big news, and Paul Beckwith is just the man to bring it into perspective.

Listen to this 18 minute Radio Ecoshock interview, or download it, in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

As a member of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, which includes Arctic ice specialist Peter Wadhams at Cambridge - Paul has been ringing the alarm bells about the importance of dwindling ice cover on the Arctic Ocean.

The group thinks we should enact emergency geo-engineering to halt the ice loss, or maybe even restore it somewhat. They would do that by spraying sulphate particles to reflect the sun, as the ice did before. The sulphates would just be sprayed in the Arctic. In a previous interview, Paul said the particles would stay in the Arctic for a long time, due to prevailing wind patterns, but would eventually mix across the whole planet.

It's risky, but this latest NASA study does add weight to the AMEG position. I'm not ready to advocate that yet, but I'm wavering.

I think this new study will also change climate science, and maybe climate activism. Climate scientists, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has been busy calculating so much change for so many barrels of oil, or tons of coal burned. Now we find out there's a huge feedback from the emerging dark surface of the Arctic Sea. Will some climate activists need to bring more focus on what is happening in the Arctic?

We also talk a little about the Polar Vortex, the relationship between melting Arctic sea ice and the rotten winter in North America and the UK. It's a wide-ranging interview.

Follow the prolific Paul Beckwith at his Facebook page here. And don't miss his regular You tube videos.


In past shows, going back a year or two, I've covered the many ways methane leaks out of the supply chain, before it gets burned in your stove or furnace as natural gas. My ground-breaking interview with Robert Howarth of Cornell is still important, along with his speech recorded at ASPO 2011. That's all in this Radio Ecoshock show on fracking from 2011.

The natural gas industry, mainly the frackers, keep telling us on TV, newspapers and online how their clean fuel is so much better than coal. They don't tell you their fracked wells blast methane into the sky, leak methane from storage, and leak still more methane all along bad pipelines and worse city distribution systems.

Last year a team of scientists drove a truck-full of measuring equipment around Boston and found literally thousands of natural gas leaks. Now the same team has released a new study showing thousands more leaks in Washington D.C.

Some of those leaks were so serious they posed a hazard for explosion. The scientists reported a dozen or so of the worst, and checking back 4 months later, found at least 4 had not been fixed! There is a whole You tube genre of videos with nothing but huge gas explosions. We just had a major line blow in Kentucky. According to press reports, more than a dozen people are killed every year in gas explosions, and the damages can be huge, over $100 million dollars.

But the real danger is simple: "natural gas" is methane. Methane is at least 100 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas during the first dozen years or so in the atmosphere. After that it begins to degrade into carbon dioxide and other substances, so the 100 year outlook for methane is perhaps 25 or 30 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. It's the short-term (10 year) risk that is most important for us. Adding the new methane that is fast becoming America's fuel of choice for heating and industrial use, to the new methane coming from the Arctic in places like Eastern Siberia - we could see a sudden up-tick in warming from methane alone.

The natural gas companies are using antiquated pipe systems to deliver in the cities. In the East, those systems are up to 100 years old.

We are joined by one of the principals in these studies, Dr. Nathan Phillips, a professor at Boston University. Dr. Phillips goes over the nature of the study, the risks to trees and human health, and the climate change risks.

Download or listen to this 20 minute interview with Nathan Phillips in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

I didn't know trees were endangered by natural gas leaks, but apparently their roots need oxygen just as our lungs do. "Natural" gas also helps more smog form, posing a human health risk.

The gas companies know how much they have been losing. They can just calculate the amount coming into a major metropolitan market, versus the actual amounts they bill for. Now those figures are publicly available in the U.S. but the public hasn't shown much interest yet.

There are similar problems, or worse, in the older cities of Britain and Continental Europe, where natural gas really got started lighting cities. Some European experts are getting in touch with the team of Nathan Phillips and his co-author Rob Jackson, formerly of Duke University, but now at Stanford.

Eastern cities like Boston have taken a winter pounding this year. Americans are burning more natural gas this winter, and that means even more is leaking out directly into the atmosphere, although it varies from city to city.

Nathan Phillips is co-author of the papers "Mapping urban pipeline leaks: Methane leaks across Boston" and "Natural Gas Pipeline Leaks Across Washington, D.C.," That one was just published in the January 16th edition of the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

There has been another national study into gas leaks in the United States, with a measurement of the climate change potential. I'm going to interview that scientist as well. We can't let this story go, even though mainstream media is giving it the big yawn. Aside from the people and property blown up every year, the line that natural gas is a good bridge while we get off coal is a lie. Joe Romm at the Climate Progress blog calls Natural Gas "the bridge to nowhere".

Maybe if I keep yammering about this science, and you pass it on, some other reporters will start covering the leaky and dangerous natural gas game.


Next week I'll have a special for you on the great California drought. Is it climate change? Will food prices go up in North America, or the whole world?

Readership in this blog has really picked up in recent months. We had over 8,000 reads last week, and more than a thousand extra downloads from those readers. Please pass the word on to others.

My special thanks to all the listeners who support this show, and their non-profit community radio stations.

Find out more at the web site, Your support makes my reporting and broadcast possible.

I'm Alex. Thanks for listening again this week.

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