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?

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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.

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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.

If you would like to help this program cover it's costs and keep going, find out how here.

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


SUMMARY: David Collings, book our "Stolen Future and Broken Present". From Sweden, forest expert Martin Persson says tropical deforestation is still stripping the planet - for us, for consumers in rich countries. Finnish intellectual Ollie Tammilehto asks can we can survive a system which rewards the rich with a license to commit ecocide?

The Jet Stream gets blown off course again - this time by Nuri, the most powerful storm on the planet. Arctic air spills down into central and eastern North America, in mid-November, while another awful storm track shapes up for Britain and northern Europe. We live through the time of climate disruption, but what does it mean?

Our first guest David Collings talks about our "Stolen Future and Broken Present". Then it's a quick tour of bright minds from Scandinavia. From Sweden, forest expert Martin Persson says tropical deforestation is still stripping the planet - for us, for consumers in rich countries. Then Finnish intellectual Ollie Tammilehto asks can we can survive a system which rewards the rich with a license to commit ecocide? There is a better way.

This is Radio Ecoshock.

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What is climate change? It is not an event. It is a complete change of context in which events take place.

No wonder we have trouble grasping it... I am once again reminded of that viral video where a man filming a triple rainbow breaks down in tearful wonder, repeating over and over again "what does it mean"?

On Radio Ecoshock we go into depth with scientists who explain the funtioning of the atmosphere, soil, and sea, and the creatures who live there. Today we're going into the humanities, to ask scholar David A. Collings "What does it mean?" Collings has written about romanticism, poetry, and "monstrous society".

David is a Professor of English at Bowdoin College in Maine. Now he's turned to the largest news of this or any generation: human disruption of the climate. His new book is titled "Stolen Future, Broken Present: The Human Significance of Climate Change."

David A. Collings

We hardly know what we are looking at. Just take this short blip from the editor's introduction to this new book. Quote:

"Climate change concerns material agencies that impact on biomass and energy, erased borders and microbial invention, geological and nanographic time, and extinction events."

That's almost everything. Is climate change an everything?

In his book David writes:

"What we face, in short, is perpetual adaptation - the task of making a wholesale adjustment to our reality, then doing it again … then doing it yet again. It would be better if we admitted that if we make the necessary changes too late, we will have to adjust radically, and at uneven and unpredictable intervals, for as long as we can imagine..."

It's never going to be over. That's one of many ways the climate threat is different from the threat of nuclear war which hung over several generations. It's still around, but a massive nuclear war would be a short and final event, compared to climate change which will unfold over generations, and hundreds of years.

Many of us can only stand the many acts of injustice and violence in this world because we think it might get better. Four hundred years we've believed in "progress". What happens to us if we think progress may be over, and things will get worse?

My listeners know climate change is real. They also see emissions going up, and the political system owned by the fossil fuel companies. We're stuck, and what does it mean that we're stuck? That's the kind of question David answers, in this interview, and even more in his book.

You should listen to his argument that "for all of us in this society, the market is more real than nature."

I was struck by David's passages on the mortality of nature. We humans expect nature to live beyond our mere mortality - but in this case, WE may continue living, while the nearby forest or lake dies. The wild fields of my childhood have been paved over, the forest I played in cut down. I'm not sure where that leaves me.

Here is another quote from the book:

"The value of our ordinary activities begins to fray, and the entire framework of our lives becomes suspect. Climate change does not just melt the ice caps and glaciers; it melts the narrative in which we still participate, the purpose of the present day. In this sense, too, we are already living in the ruins of the future."

One place I disagree with Collins' book: he suggests we use carbon offsets. I've looked into carbon offsets, and found fraud after fraud. Even the well-intentioned ones, like protecting a forest, can disenfranchise aboriginal people, or the forest be lost to a wildfire overnight. We are just kidding ourselves - again - when we turn to carbon off-sets.

Other than that, I found the book stirred my thoughts, expressing many things I've been trying to say but couldn't. I think you will like this interview.

Download or listen to this half hour interview with David Collings in CD Quality (27 MB) or Lo-Fi (7 MB)

Next up, Martin Persson from Sweden, and Ollie Tammilehto from Finland, as Radio Ecoshock covers the world.


We know cutting down tropical forests drives extinction of plants and animals. It also destabilizes the climate around the world. But that's either getting better, or it's the fault of poor farmers who need a place to live. Wrong on both counts. Tropical deforestation is still going on, and these forests are being cut down or burned for products you and I consume.

That's the news in a report commission for the Center for Global Development. We've reached the lead author, Martin Persson, an assistant professor at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenberg, Sweden.

The title is "Trading Forests: Quantifying the contribution of global commodity markets to emissions from tropical deforestation". It was backed by the Center for Global Development.

Martin Persson

Martin tells us where the hot spots for deforestation are - and how this is being driven by international trade. These countries include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea - but not the Congo. Yes the forests are being cut down in the Congo, but not for international trade (just local use, so far). Except for Brazil, over half the deforestation in the countries studied came from international demand.

He lists some companies that are taking a pledge to not purchase wood taken from deforested tropical lands. These include IKEA, H & M clothing (both Swedish companies) but also Unilver and the MacDonald's food chain.

But he's come to realize that is not enough. The wood that is left after major corporations refuse to buy is easily soaked up by an international black market for tropical wood, and others who are willing to buy soy for animal feed, no matter where it comes from. So the next step is to ask big corporations to take an active stance with national and local governments, to stop cutting down tropical jungles.

These forests have a huge ability to either soak up excess carbon dioxide, or release it when they are cut down or burned. Persson gives us the numbers. Up to 10% of all climate change gases are related to tropical deforestation.

Their press release says:

"1.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions can be linked to the production of the analyzed commodities, with one third being embodied in commodity exports. The biggest recipients of these embodied carbon emissions are China and the EU. By elucidating the links between consumption and environmental impacts, the aim is to identify more effective measures to address tropical forest loss by targeting key commodities and countries."

The international climate negotiations are based on the amount of greenhouse gases each country produces. We know rich countries exported a lot of their manufacturing emissions to countries like China. We also export our agricultural emissions, when we buy soy or palm oil from former tropical forest lands.

Download or listen to this 14 minute interview with Martin Persson in CD quality (13 MB) or Lo-Fi (3 MB)


Why are the rich so amazingly blind to the extreme damage caused by private planes, multiple mansions, and endless shopping? Why do millions of people struggle hard to be just like them? Because my friend, ecocide pays. That's the system we have. The more you pollute, the more you threaten the future, - the better our society rewards you!

We're going all the way to Finland today, to find author and independent researcher Ollie Tammilehto. He's published lots of books. I'm calling Ollie about his new paper "Rewarding with a Licence to Commit Ecocide." That was presented at the Fourth International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity, held in Leipzig Germany, at the beginning of September, 2014.

Ollie tells us about 3,000 people attended this De-growth conference. There is more support for the idea of purposely shrinking the economy in Germany, than in Finland, he says.

Interviewing many guests, I always ask myself "why do we do it". We know the weather is strange, animals are going extinct, the oceans are damaged. And still we think about flying to the tropics for a nice winter holiday, as though there were two worlds, one for rational thought, and the other for our personal rewards.

I think Ollie's paper provides a fundamental answer. People do it because our economy rewards pollution. It would be great to have a couple of houses, and fly around between them wouldn't it? People would be attracted to your expensive car and lavish parties. We talk about the big percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions that come from a very small group of people.

The awkward side continues: the poorest people suffer the most from the climate change mainly generated by more wealthy people. Poor people can't exactly cut back on their energy - they only get enough to heat themselves and cook food. Plus, when the big storms come, the poor don't have insurance, and can't afford to move out of the way. They have nothing to rebuild with.

Right now, billions of people are facing extreme weather events that they did not cause.

I ask Ollie whether Finland has doomers who are preparing for a breakdown of the economy, or even society itself? He says "yes" but not so many as are found in America.

Finland one well-known writer with an unpleasant solution for our ecological problems. Pentti Linkola says the only way to prevent the extinction of man is fascism. What is his argument? Do we need a green Hitler? It sounds alluring: since the masses will never be conscious enough to act, we need a small group to seize power and force ecological controls on everyone.

Of course, Linkola says violence may be needed. We only have to look at the record of violence-loving elites to see (a) they don't save anything, (b) they wreck a lot of lives, and take a lot of lives and (c) we can't really change the world toward sustainability without a willing populace.

Find Ollie's argument "The Blind Spots of Eco-Fascist Linkola" here.

One of my worries is that humans don't really control their own lives as much as we think. We have an allegedly rational voice in our heads, but we also have some deep biological drives to reproduce, to dominate, and perhaps even to kill. Of course that is dangerously close to Pentti Linkola's theory as well.

I ask Ollie about the Finish government's position on climate change (they favor the bureaucratic solutions which don't really do much); and about the expansion of nuclear power in Finland. We agree that nuclear power pre-supposes and enforces a centralized government that must be willing to use force to protect the reactors - for generations.

Ollie Tammilehto's most recent book is "Cold Shower, Prevention of Climate Catastrophe and Rapid Social Change." That was published in Helsinki in 2012.

You can find Ollie Tammilehto's work in Finnish and English at his web site at

"REWARDING WITH A LICENCE TO COMMIT ECOCIDE: High incomes and climate change"

This paper, written by Olli Tammilehto, was presented in Fourth International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity, Leipzig, 2014, and has been published on the conference web site. You can also download the article as a PDF-file here.


We are totally out of time. Check out the Radio Ecoshock soundcloud page, or get all our past programs as free mp3 files at We've received donations to pay the bills up to February. Thanks so much for all who donated. Now I can concentrate on making radio programs.

Thank you for listening again this week. I'm Alex Smith.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The World of Radical Facts

SUMMARY: Super-scientist Mark Jacobson from Stanford explains soot-causing warming + a way to run the world on clean energy by 2030. We visit an Ultra-Mega coal power plant in India. Manzoor Qadir on the farm soil loss larger than France since 1990. Radio Ecoshock 141105

It's a full show for you this week on Radio Ecoshock. Super-scientist Mark Jacobson from Stanford explains soot-causing warming - plus a way to run the world on clean energy by 2030. We visit an Ultra-Mega coal power plant in India, ten times larger than U.S. stations. It's already killing people. The show wraps with Manzoor Qadir on the farm soil loss larger than France, just since 1990. You won't believe what's killing the land. I'm Alex Smith.


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Trying desperately to find some good news, I thought I'd call up Dr. Mark Jacobson, author of the 2009 article in Scientific American titled "A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030". Read that article here. Mark could only spare 20 minutes, but how hard could it be?

Doing my usual background research, I discovered I completely underestimated my guest. Jacobson has two big fields of research. Finding answers to the climate threat is just one. Mark is also a distinguished atmospheric scientist with answers to many of the most vexing questions we've encountered on Radio Ecoshock. He's published over 100 papers in the Journal of Geophysical Research, and authored several books. The latest is "Air Pollution and Global Warming: History, Science, and Solutions", from Cambridge University Press, in 2011.

Mark Z. Jacobson is the director of the Atmosphere and Energy Program at Stanford University. He is a Professor of civil and environmental engineering.

This is important stuff. For example, Jacobson found that about 18% of all carbon emissions come from a source most environmentalists hardly ever think about. The paper is "Effects of biomass burning on climate, accounting for heat and moisture fluxes, black and brown carbon, and cloud absorption effects". That was published July 27th, 2014 in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Here is a good article on the 18% of global warming from burning biomass figure. The original article containing that figure is here. So it's "burning biomass". What's that? Think of millions of acres of African grasslands burned every year, as part of agriculture. Actually burning the savannah doesn't help the soil as the farmers think. But it blows megatones of carbon into the atmosphere, including black soot. More on that in a moment.

Biomass burning also includes all the fires set to destroy forests for more farmland. That's happening in South America, and yes still in the Amazon. It's all over the world. Indonesia and Malaysia are forest biomass burning hotspots. This category of carbon sources also includes all the home cooking and heating fires. More than a billion people burn wood or dung to cook and keep warm.

What's wrong with biomass burning? Here is a summary from Wikipedia:

"Using computer modeling he developed over 20 years, Jacobson has found that carbonaceous fuel soot emissions (which lead to respiratory illness, heart disease and asthma) have resulted in 1.5 million premature deaths each year, mostly in the developing world where wood and animal dung are used for cooking. Jacobson has also said that soot from diesel engines, coal-fired power plants and burning wood is a 'bigger cause of global warming than previously thought, and is the major cause of the rapid melting of the Arctic's sea ice'."

Burning biomass is killing millions of people directly, warming the planet in a big way, and contributing to that "dark snow" and blackened ice in the Arctic (recall Jason Box's stunning photos of blackened glaciers on Greenland). Darker snow and ice attracts the sun's heat and melts faster.

Jacobson tells us these soot particles only stay in the atmosphere for a week or two, but that's long enough for them to sweep around the world, and accumulate in the Arctic.

There's more. In the interview I ask Mark whether the global dimming effect of burned biomass pollution will be greater than it's warming impacts. You know that soot in the atmosphere can block some of the sun's rays, and actually hides up to 1 degree of warming we have already caused, but not yet felt.

Jacobson's work is original and important in showing that cooling by global dimming is less, and less important, than the various warming impacts of this pollution. In a nutshell:

1. scientists forgot to include the actual heating from the fires themselves. That's right, massive forest and grass fires cause short-term localized heating, but it all adds up.

2. the black soot tends to disperse cloud formation. That means more sun reaches the surface, warming the planet.

3. as discussed above, once it lands, black soot speeds heating of the earth's surface, and melting of frozen places

Yes, some of the carbon from burned plant material will be re-absorbed when new plants grow, but the net impacts lead to significant warming. If you want to follow up further, I recommend this 2010 Jacobson paper: "Short-term effects of controlling fossil-fuel soot, biofuel soot and gases, and methane on climate, Arctic ice, and air pollution health."

Since Jacobson also emphasizes solutions, I ask him to outline some of the ways we could reduce the impacts of biomass burning. Also you can find a good article about soot and global warming here.


Jacobson is one of the few scientists who study both the problems and the solutions. His landmark 2009 article in Scientific American claimed we could power the world with renewable energy alone. We could end the fossil fuel age by 2030. Others say that's impossible. How could we do it?

Mark outlines the huge untapped potential for renewable energy (solar, wind, tides, etc). He's very quick on his feet with facts and figures. Listen to the interview.

The National Geographic article sidebar says "The authors’ plan calls for 3.8 million large wind turbines, 90,000 solar plants, and numerous geothermal, tidal and rooftop photovoltaic installations worldwide."


I raise the objections that listeners send me every time we discuss renewable energy. For example, what about the emissions from building the solar panels or wind machines.

Mark replies that there are several different solar technologies. The most energy intensive are the crystaline solar panels. Even there, it takes six months to a year of using a solar panel (depending on where you live) before you are gaining energy, and saving carbon emissions. Since good panels produce for at least 25 years, that means 24 years of saving carbon with solar. The large solar plants that use mirrors to reflect the sun to a central source use much less carbon to build. Wind machines also produce much more energy than they take to produce.

What about all the birds killed by wind machines, and large solar plants? Yes, the best estimates (by wildlife groups, not industry) are that wind machines currently kill about 500,000 birds a year. Just so you can compare, household cats kill 80 MILLION birds a year. Another 100 million birds a year die from hitting buildings. Maybe we should keep our cats indoors, or put a bell on them, instead of trying to stop wind power?

Mark's research into "A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030" acknowledged two key limitations. The first was a possible shortage of relatively rare elements required for their production. In this interview, Jacobson gives us the numbers, showing there is enough lithium and neodymium already available to power the world with renewables.

The second main hurdle was social, especially finding the political will. We have to tell all the oil and coal workers their jobs are obsolete. Plus the richest people in the world, like the Koch Brothers, have to give up their fossil-fueled wealth. What if we could save a livable climate, but can't do it socially? That's a tougher one for a scientist to answer. But Jacobson does have figures showing there would be a net growth in jobs in a renewable civilization, over the fossil society. The Koch Brothers already have enough money, so we won't shed a tear for them.

Personally, I think a massive reduction in energy use is part of the answer. But if we don't go big on solar, wind, and geothermal - I'm reminded of the doomy map produced by James Lovelock for the Royal Society. It showed a wide band of deserts - dead zones - stretching around the world, where large parts of North America, China, and Europe used to be. It's hard to argue against that cost of not trying for rewewables on a big scale.

This is a really good interview, with one of America's important scientists. Don't miss it.

Download or listen to this Mark Jacobson interview (21 minutes) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


At 4,000 megawatts (when completed) the Sasan Ultra Mega Power Project (UMPP) is ten times the size of the average coal generating station in the United States. It's one of four such monster coal projects in India, as the world's second most populous country makes a deadly dash for coal power.

Prepare to enter a world of opposites. That's where a mega coal plant in India is classified as "environmentally friendly technology". Where electricity customers in Europe can buy credits from a coal plant as a "clean development mechanism". Where hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars help build that deadly coal project.

We're going to travel to a small place in the big State of Madhya Pradesh in India. That's the 6th largest state, with a population of 72 million people, right in the middle of the country. Our destination is the village of Sasan, in the Singrauli district. There we'll find the Sasan Ultra Mega Power Project being built by the Indian Government.

Unlike other big Indian coal plants, this one is not on the coast, ready to accept coal ships from Indonesia or Australia. The Sasan Power Project is fed by 3 Indian coal mines relatively nearby. Our guide today is Nicole Ghio of Sierra Club International.

Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club International

This one coal burning complex adds megatons of carbon to the Earth's atmosphere every year. India, and next-door neighbor Bangladesh will be hit hard by the climate disruption it helps create.

Sierra Club just teamed up with 4 other NGO's to publish the report titled "The U.S. Export-Import Bank's Dirty dollars". The sub-title reads "U.S. tax dollars are supporting human rights, environment, and labor violations at the Sasan Coal-Fired Power Plant and Mine, in India".

Find that report here. I've learned that the Sasan mega project is owned by Reliance Power, which is in turn part of a business conglomeration owned by Anil Ambani. The families of the two Ambani brothers are listed as the second richest family in the world. The Ambani's are something like India's Koch brothers. Reliance Power is a subsidiary of the corporate complex owned since 2005 by Anil Ambani. He is also one of the largest promoters of the Bollywood film industry, and owns 44 radio stations. His business is run from Mumbai.

At a cost of 4 billion dollars, the Sasan coal plant is listed as the single largest industrial project in India's history. Through a funding agency called the U.S. Import-Export Bank (EX-IM) - the U.S. taxpayer kicked in about 900 million dollars toward this project, as a loan. At first Ex-Im denied the funding for Sasan, as dirty coal. Then they turned around and approved it, after Reliance Power promised to build a comparitively small amount of renewable energy as well. Oh well - that makes all the pollution OK!

The Sasan plant is powered by 3 captive coal mines owned by the Indian government. These mining operations were just slapped by the Indian courts for improper license granting and corruption. They are also deadly, being responsible for severe accidents to miners, including child miners. Nicole Ghio says that when people protest pollution and working conditions, they sometimes "disappear", or their children do, courtesy, she suspects, of the mine or power plant operators.

Many people were displaced by this large power plant. Some got compensation, others did not. There are still people taking water right near the very toxic giant power plant sludge ponds. The mining overburden covers a big area, and is not well-controlled. It's an ultra mega mess.

I ask Nicole about the position of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who did not attend the world leaders' summit on climate change in New York this past September. Ghio says Modi is at least more friendly to renewable energy than his predecessors, and includes in the current five year plan. However, the country is firmly committed to coal, as a way to get electricity to the over 200 million Indian citizens who have no access to electricity.

The problem is, Ghio says, centralized electricity sources don't work for the power-less. It's always too profitable to route that power to the Indian Middle Class in urban areas, who can pay the bills. Plus there's the outrageous cost and power losses that come with establishing a new grid. Solar power right where it's needed, in the community, on the roof, is a far better answer.

It astounds me that the Sasan coal plant has qualified as a Clean Development Mechanism, or CDM, under the Kyoto Protocol. Allegedly that's because these new coal plants are "super-efficient" getting more power with less coal. But the U.S. built "super-efficient" coal plants in the 1970's. It's old tech from an old power source.

If I'm a power grid customer in Europe, part of my bill could go to purchase better sources of power, using the Clean Development Mechanism. Of course, I'll never know my money is going to pay off the richest family of India, and their coal plant. However, Nicole says this Clean Development Mechanism money has not yet been implemented for the mega coal plants in India. Not yet. It's insane to call coal good for the climate!!

the big worry for all of us goes beyond the millions of people killed by coal pollution every year. It's even more serious than the warming and melting of glaciers hastened by the black soot coming out of those stacks. It's this: if the second-most populous nation of the world, projected to become the most populous, plans it's modernization on coal, global warming from those emissions could destabilize the whole world. what happens in India is a problem for all of us.

Listen to this 20 minute interview with Nicole Ghio of Sierra Club International in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Find out more in the Sierra Club blog "Compass". And follow Nicole Ghio on Twitter for the latest on the coal front.


It's amazing the things we don't know about the simplest things, like the air, the soil, and the water. Did you know that "freshwater" contains tons of salt? It carries enough that constant irrigation, without proper drainage, can kill off farmland due to salinization. That's happening all over the world, from Australia's Murray Darling Basin, to America's San Joachim Valley, to the Indus valley in Pakistan and India.

When I read that the world is losing 2,000 hectares a day, almost 5,000 acres every day, of valuable farm soil to salt damage - I thought aha! Rising seas are impinging on the deltas. No, this is a completely different problem brought on by human agriculture. Valuable crop land is disappearing just as our increasing population needs it most.

Here to explain is lead researcher Manzoor Qadir. He's the Assistant Director, of Water and Human Development, at the United Nations University's Institute for Water, Environment and Health. Based in Canada now, Dr. Qaadir has taught in Germany and Pakistan. He was a senior scientist at ICARDA, the global agricultural research center.

There is a solution for salt degradation: proper drainage and water circulation. That's been done on a large scale in the Murray Darling Basin in Australia, and it's working. Governments have to take the lead. Individual farmers can't do it. Download or listen to this 15 minute Radio Ecoshock interview with Manzoor Qadir in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Learn more about salt degradation of farmland in this Al Jazeera piece.


If you are in the New England region, plan to attend the "Restoring Ecosystems to Reverse Global Warming" Conference at Tufts University, in Medford, Massachusetts. That's being held November 21-23, 2014. Find the details here.

Two of the big speakers that caught my eye are on Friday evening: Bill Moomaw, from the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy, and Adam Sacks, the Executive Director of the organization Biodiversity for a Livable Climate. Full disclosure: I got this tip from Karl Thidemann, also with Biodiversity for a Livable Climate.

Karl's a remarkable man, being one of the pioneers of the electric car. He's never given up organizing for solutions to climate change. We've been email buddies for years now. Karl never misses a chance to tell people about Alan Savory and his technique to restore land with properly managed cattle. It may be one of the few ways to capture large-scale carbon back into the soil. You can find Savory's TED talk here on You tube. Even Richard Branson tweeted about that one.

Bill McKibben and Paul Hawken have been tweeting about this upcoming New England conference. Plus, expect to find a speaker from the New England group Mothers Out Front.

You may recall in my interview with George Marshall last spring, he told us young mothers are the least likely to want to talk about climate change. I said mothers are the people we need most in the movement. And here you go, Mothers Out Front is organizing, and hoping to spread. I'll see if we can get an interview with them.


We are out of time in this triple header Ecoshock show. Get all our past programs as free .mp3 downloads at, or listen live at our soundcloud page. Thank you for listening, and thank you for caring about our world.