Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Quick summary: WWF report: 52% of wildlife lost since 1970. Cost of climate change forum with Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Jack Lew. Update on climate march and results. Plus climate poetry and new song by Neil Young. Radio Ecoshock 141008

Welcome to Radio Ecoshock. This week we take a break from interviews with experts. There is just too much stomach-churning news to ignore. I would let you down if we didn't cover the biggest headlines.

There is some recovery time as well. You'll hear a few clips from the massive climate march in New York City and around the world. I've also slipped in 3 new songs and a sample of climate poetry.

Buckle up, and let's slip into the raging river.

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The population of vertebrate wildlife has fallen by half since 1970.

We could more or less stop this program right there. Maybe we should fill the rest with a funeral march.

Wait. We are adults, we are conscious, we can take it.

The study is called the "Living Planet Report 2014". It was published by the World Wide Fund for Nature, the new name for the World Wildlife Fund.

The 180 page report features a new way to count the species most like us, those with backbones. That includes mammals of course, but also reptiles, birds, amphibians, and fish. The new method is called "The Living Planet Index".

In addition to the World Wildlife Fund, other groups contibuted heavily to this new assessment. These include the Zoological society of London, the Global Footprint Network, and the Water Footprint Network.

I play short clip from Ken Norris, Director of Science at the Zoological Society of London, recorded by ITN news.

Just a couple of years ago, in their 2012 report, WWF said the wildlife populations were down "only", only 28 percent since 1970. That's almost doubled, to 52 percent, now that scientists have been able to add up the damage in developing countries. Earlier estimates were based on easily available wildlife counts in North America and Europe, where some creatures are even recovering. Now we learn that in Southeast Asia, and Latin America, the animals are disappearing at a terrifying rate.

I know we are all thinking about iconic animals like tigers, elephants and gorillas. These have declined by 38 percent, and some like the Siberian Tiger and the White Rhino are almost extinct. The causes are hunting, for trophies, bush meat, ivory, or alleged medicines. But it's also the same problem faced by animals all over the world: human populations are booming. We want the wood from the forests, the water from the streams, we want to cut it all down for money and places to live and grow our food. That's called "habitat loss".

Ocean species are also declining, by 39 percent around the world since 1970. That's mostly by overfishing, overfishing, and overfishing including by-catch. Governments are still subsidizing the construction of new ever-more powerful fishing boats with underwater radar and all that. We are literally scraping the bottom of the sea into emptiness.

But the largest losers are the creatures who inhabit fresh water. Everything from lake and river fish, to amphibians and fresh water mammals are down by an astonishing 76 percent since 1970. How long until these waters are empty?

The exit of wildlife from Planet Earth is not mainly about climate change. Yet. The WWF report estimates 37% of animals loss is from exploitation, 31% from habitat change, 13% from outright habitat loss, and smaller amounts from invasive species and genes, pollution, disease, and at this point 7.1% from climate change.

Wildlife protection works, sort of. The study found land-based animals within protected zones dropping only 18% since 1970. On the other hand, rhinos are disappearing even in protected area in Africa and Southeast Asia.

We wrap this one up with a quote from Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International, recorded for the Telegraph newspaper in the UK.

Here is a decent AP article about this report. Or check out the good charts on it

Do I need to spell out what it means? In the time since some of your were children, in 1970, Earth is bleeding out half the species closest to us in structure, in their brains and lives. As we expand our billions of people, and our endless desires and consumption, we are knocking most other species off the planet. Does anyone really think we can survive without them?

Normally I complain mainstream media doesn't cover the biggest stories. This time they did. The Living Planet Report got video with TV networks, and stories from all the wire services and major newspapers. From there it will head into oblivion, as the next headline pops up, the next video goes viral. We'll re-enter the dream of forgetfulness, only dimly aware of our growing position of lonliness, as Nature exits stage right.


Here is a short climate poem, in the genre known as "investigative poetry." It's read by the poet, Edward Keenan. He's the City Hall reporter for the Toronto Star, and author of a book about the rise of the crack-pot Mayor Rob Ford.

This recording comes from a podcast called "After the Collapse", recorded live at La Revolucion Cafe in Toronto, Canada. That's produced for "Radio Regent" - a virtual station from one of Toronto's poorest habitations, called Regent Park. I love how really local radio is flowering. You can find the After the Collapse podcast episodes at


And I mean really, really hot. Like in Southern California, where it was over 105 degrees Fahrenheit, 40 degrees C, in the first week of October. The Los Angeles Times compared it to Death Valley temperatures escaping into the rest of the state.

In their story headlined "Sweltering heat continues to hold Southland in its grip", we find this quote from William Patzert, a climatologist for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La CaƱada Flintridge:

"This is not a good preview of coming attractions...Triple-digit temperature, single-digit humidity and gusty breezes — that's a formula for misery and fires." Patzert added: "We're living in a warmer world, so we should expect that daytime and nighttime temperature records will tumble."

And here is what happens when the hot future arrives: it's too hot for many human activities. School districts like Long Beach, without air-conditioning in schools, cancelled classes. In Los Angeles, schools cancelled "all outdoor activities and sports practices". Just imagine trying to do construction jobs, agriculture picking, electric line maintenance - anything that involves outdoor work. These will have to become night-time activities in the coming decades. It will be too hot to go outside in the daytime. In October.

What about the state-wide extreme drought in California and the Southwest?


A new study released by Dr. Toby Ault of Cornell University warns megadroughts are coming, in many parts of the world, due to climate change. Some places will go 35 years of more without any rain. These will be drying and hotter than anything we've discovered in the past.

The peer-reviewed study will be published in the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate. It is the first to conclusively prove extreme droughts are caused by climate change.

Dr. Ault told the Independent newspaper in the UK, quote:

We can now explicitly add megadroughts to the list of risks that are being intensified by climate change. Without climate change there would be a 5 to 15 per cent risk of a megadrought in the south-west of the US this century. With it, the probability jumps to between 20 per cent and 50 per cent, with the southernmost part of the country particularly at risk."

We are not just talking about California. These dry decades of megadroughts are expected to show up in southern Europe, in many parts of Africa, Central and South America, and Australia.


Speaking of Australia, new science shows the extreme heat in 2013, Australia's hottest year ever, can be attributed directly to climate change. In 2013, as Tim Radford of Climate News Network tell us, "Australia recorded its hottest day ever, its hottest month in the history books, its hottest summer, its hottest spring, and its hottest year overall."

All that is found in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society titled "Explaining Extreme Events of 2013 from a Climate Perspective". You can download it for free.

There is more here, from NOAA.

The irony is that Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been down-playing or denying human-caused climate change. But this study was partly paid for with tax dollars. Actually, five scientific teams looked at extreme weather in Australia.

Tim Radford writes, quote: "doubled the chance of severe heat waves in Australia - making extreme summer temperatures five times more likely, increasing the chance of drought conditions sevenfold, and making hot temperatures in spring 30 times more probable."

The same collection of papers was unable to agree on the climate influence of the current drought in California, or the strange out-of-season snowfall events in South Dakota or the Spanish Pyrenees. Some scientists found enough evidence for climate drivers, others did not. That is a hung jury among scientists.


What are over-heated Australians to do? One town is leading the way into the new future. Coober-Pedy has moved everything, from homes to a shopping mall, underground to avoid the heat. I've been to a similar underground village in Southern Tunisia.

Coober-Pedy was founded in 1915 for opal mining. The miners left a handy collection of tunnels and underground rooms. Resident re-fashion these into homes called "dugouts". There are 1500 dugout homes, with every modern convenience.

That's the future folks. It's what our early ancestor mammals did to survive an earlier giant greenhouse world a some millions of years ago. Burrow undergound, and come out at night.


Looking for more hot stories. How about this one. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, says 2014 is on track to be the hottest year ever recorded. NASA data shows August 2014 was the hottest August ever, around the world.

As reported by Andrea Thompson at, Jake Crouch, NOAA climatologist told a press briefing:

"If we continue a consistent departure from average for the rest of 2014, we will edge out 2010 as the warmest year on record.”

More from Andrea,

"For the year-to-date, the globe has measured 1.22°F above the 20th century average of 57.3°F, which makes January-August 2014 the third warmest such period since records began in 1880. The record-hot August marks the 38th consecutive August and the 354th consecutive month with a global average temperature above the 20th century average, according to the NCDC."

Maybe folks in the Eastern US and Canada had doubts about this cool summer, but around the world it's been sweltering. There are more reports that the oceans are abnormally hot, but we'll save that for another show.


People know it's hot. Coming up you'll get some clips from the big climate march. But first, it's time to follow the money.

The new game among some big money men, in business and in governments, is to calculate the cost of climate change. Some talk as though it's an item you can put in a spreadsheet, a cost of business as usual. Others sound genuinely worried, as they describe climate damage in language Wall Street can understand.

Let's listen in as former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and current US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, speak at an event co-ordinated by the Hamilton Project on September 22nd, 2014.

These are no lightweights. Robert Rubin is currently co-chair of the very influential power center, the Council on Foreign Relations. And Rubin is clear and concerned about climate change. The two were joined by Michael Greenstone. He's The Milton Friedman Professor in Economics and Director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. Trust me, The Milton Friedman chair is no left wing position. And yet here they all are, talking about climate change.

You can find the video of this event online. Or download the audio here.

I play you the key material from this forum.

Note that at the latest meeting of G-20 leaders of developed countries, the best they could do for the climate was to continue to study funding mechanisms to help those countries wrecked by it. More study! Utterly lame.

Later in the question and answer period, Michael Greenstone said that if scientists are in almost complete agreement about climate change, economists have a big majority who agree on what to do about it. Put a price on carbon. That penalizes big emitters, and rewards those who find cleaner ways.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew must repeat the mantra that the American economy, and the world economy, must continue to grow, despite climate change. He apparently didn't get the memo that scientists, including Radio Ecoshock guest Dr. Timothy Garrett, have shown the economy must actually shrink to have any hope of reducing climate emissions. In a peer-reviewed paper, published in a respected journal, Garrett showed that wealth equals energy equals heat. In fact, at this point, only a rapid collapse of the economy could save us from extreme climate change.

Never mind. All finance ministers must talk about ever-lasting growth, even on a finite planet obviously already under stress. Sooner or later I'm going to interview Professor Niko Paech. He's a professor at the Carl Ostiewsky University in Oldenburg. Niko made himself unpopular by showing how developed economies could shrink themselves, and reduce emissions for real. Aside from consuming much less, Niko Paech calls for a 20 hour work week. Work less, consume less, produce less, pollute less - and maybe we have a chance.


Meanwhile, the huge accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has released a report stating the obvious: the world is failing to cut emissions. Instead we are adding more pollution. The report says we are headed beyond the supposed 2 degree C, 3.6 Fahrenheit "safe level". It's called "Low Carbon Economy Index".

The accountants say, quote: “the gap between what we are doing and what we need to do has again grown, for the sixth year running." They expect us to reach at least 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit of warming by the year 2100. I'd call that an underestimate.


Before we jump off the nearby bridge, there was one big, big piece of good news from the financial world this week. The legendary Rockefeller Brothers announced they are divesting themselves of fossil fuels. The Rockefellers practically brought us the the oil age.

When they get out, it's time to get out!

The Rockefellers says renewable energy is the future to invest in.

According to the Financial Times, the Rockefeller Brothers trust fund joins another 800 institutions and billionaires controlling over 50 billion dollars in investments. In particular, the Rockefellers are withdrawing any money from the Tar Sands. Maybe some day, the Canadian Tar Sands will shut down because no one will invest in them. It's a small hope, but a real one.


Just for a break, here is a short music creation sent in to Radio Ecoshock by long-time listener and musician Dana Pearson from Oakland California. It's all produced at home on synthsizers, and called "Overshoot".

Find Dana Person as vastmandana at Thanks for your work Dana, on behalf of the climate and your fervent dream of solar energy for the world.


So what about the climate march, September 21st, 2014? Somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000 people filled the streets of New York city. They marched with very creative floats and banners. They rallied to push for climate action, starting with the meeting of world leaders the following Tuesday, called by the United Nations. There were thousands of other marches in other cities and countries around the world on the same day.

It was the biggest climate protest so far. That is certainly encouraging. Poll after poll find that at least 60%, and often 80% of humans believe climate change is real and caused by human actions.

You can watch or listen to the special Democracy Now! coverage of the New York City climate march here.

I selected clips from the climate march, New York September 21st from Democracy Now with Amy Goodman. Speakers are Leonardo di Caprio, Bill McKibben, Robert Kennedy Jr., Jim Schultz, Katy Robbins, Sandra Steingraber.


And yet, as the satirical headline in Onion News shows: "7.1 Billion Demonstrate in Favor of Global Warming".

"In an overwhelming show of support for dangerously escalating temperatures, 7.1 billion people from nearly every nation on earth staged massive demonstrations yesterday in favor of global warming. 'Whether they were sitting in their living rooms, watching Football at a bar, or just driving somewhere, a sizable portion of the world let its support for climate change be heard loud and clear,' said environmental policy expert Janet Purvis, adding that the protest that began in the morning never lost steam at any point throughout the day. 'This should serve as a wake-up call to officials around the world that the factors contributing to global warming are real, important, and must be protected at any cost.' At press time, the 7.1 billion protesters were reportedly making plans to stage similar rallies every day for the foreseeable future."


The Democracy Now coverage also included the premier of a new eco-song by Neil Young. Here it is, "Who's Gonna Stand Up? (and save the Earth)".

Find that song here on Soundcloud.

Neil Young donated that song "Who's Gonna Stand Up" to the climate protest movement. Thanks Neil!


Earlier we talked about the world of finance, and their role in supporting the continued development of deadly fossil fuels. That was not lost on the climate marchers in New York. They helped resurrect the Occupy banner, to "Flood Wall Street". More here from Ecowatch, including the polar bear arrest photo taken by Shawn Cain.

The protesters made clear they hold "unregulated capitalism" responsible for the continuing heating of the atmosphere, with resulting damage here on Earth. This protest of several thousand people was more tense. The cops arrested over 100 people. One full-size polar bear was also cuffed and removed. Actually inside it was Peter Galvin, co-founder of Center for Biological Diversity.

Naomi Klein, Chris Hedges and Rebecca Solnit spoke at the rally.


After all that, the actual UN meeting of world leaders on climate change was, if you' permit a pun, "anti-climactic". In spite of attention around the world, nothing much was done.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping didn't show up. Those are the leaders of the world's largest carbon polluter, and the up-and-coming candidate for second largest. Two other big polluters skipped this meeting of world leaders: Canada's Mr. Tar Sands Stephen Harper, and Australian Mr. Coal Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Also missing in action was Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

India's absence was really depressing. China at least has made some goals for reduction, and actually implemented new clean energy on a large scale. By contrast the government of Narendra Modi has avoided climate change, while loading up on coal power.

According to the New York Times, India plans to increase emissions. Never mind if the Monsoons don't come, or the heat becomes even more unbearable. We're going to need a whole show on India and climate change.

Some promises were made. President Obama outlined his country's plan to reduce emissions. The European Union promised to cut emissions by 40% of 1990 levels by the year 2030. That's huge. Most of the emissions explosion happened since the year 1990, so the Europeans have a big target.

Britain's David Cameron was more long term, promising to cut emissions by 80% by 2050. He'll be dead then, so it's OK. The climate would be irretrievably lost at that rate.

According to a handy round-up of climate meeting promises in the National Journal, quote: "Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli repeated China's previously stated goal of cutting carbon emissions by 40 to 45 percent from 2005 levels by 2020." Find that article here.

Japan made no commitments at all. Canada said they would cut emissions from cars, but said nothing about the Tar Sands or other fossil fuel production. It was all under-whelming. If these are our brave world leaders, there is nobody there to save us, or our grandchildren.


That's my Radio Ecoshock climate round-up for this week. Next week we'll be talking with scientists about shocking new developments in climate change. Did you know the sea level can rise 5 meters in a century, once the ice starts melting? It's happened before.

Christine donated enough to pay for our entire month's worth of Radio Ecoshock downloads from the Internet. Thanks Christine! You can help keep this program going. Get the details here, or click the donate button above. It all helps!

We've indulged in a little music and poetry this week. I want to close out with my own heart-break for the hundreds of thousands of ordinary families in Syria who lost their homes in the past two weeks. They were kicked out at gun-point, with women kept behind, and head-of-households executed. I had to pour out my feelings into music.

I'm Alex Smith. Thanks for listening, and please tune in again next week.

Here is my new song: "Allah weeps".

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