Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Crashing Climate Change

SUMMARY: Climate scientist Paul Beckwith from the University of Ottawa rejoins Alex Smith to investigate the latest record heat, melting, and emissions. Are we already entering an extreme climate shift?

Among the news covered:

* 2015: hottest first 3 months ever

* the new highest carbon dioxide levels ever recorded

* methane and melting permafrost in Russia

* record extreme heat in Spain, Portugal and Italy

* will the California drought last 30 years? (and is it time to get out)

* Australians lose billions with heat waves (even indoor workers affected)

* Canadian scientists protest government muzzling

* Arctic sea ice at new record low for May

* Obama approves Shell Arctic drilling

* even more ice loss in Antarctica then we knew.

Listen to or download this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

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From Pole to Pole, and around the world, climate news is streaming in, and it's not good. We are crashing into the age of global warming.

Here to help us is one of our favorite guests, scientist Paul Beckwith. Paul has two Masters degrees, and is currently working on his PHD in climate science at the University of Ottawa in Canada.

I began this show by saying: "Paul there's so much hot climate news, it's very hard to keep up. I keep expecting somebody like CNN will start the first 24/7 climate news station. That's the level of coverage we need now, don't you think?"

That turned out to be too true. Hardly had we hung up the phone last Friday, that news poured in about more than a dozen killed by extreme flooding in Oklahoma and Texas. Eleven inches of rain fell in the Houston area in 24 hours. Even concrete bridges were knocked out of the way by the raging flood waters.

As Scientific American reported, "Climate Change may have souped up the record-breaking Texas deluge." May have? The United Nations IPCC and many other climate scientists released papers on the advent of extreme weather now that the climate system is breaking down. Extreme rainfall events have been happening around the world. We know the role that increased water vapor in a hotter world plays, and we know the heated oceans play a part too. It's not a secret.

Maybe it's still a secret in Texas and Oklahoma, who keep voting in climate deniers to Congress, like Senator James Inhofe. I have to wonder what it will take to get the average American to wake up and stop voting for people who stop action to save us from even worse climatic events.

Also on the weekend, the supreme heat wave hitting India. It's especially bad in the Southern Indian states, where temperatures hit 48 degrees, and then flirted with 50 degrees C in some places (188-120 degrees Fahrenheit). More than a thousand died. In our interview, Paul Beckwith tells us why babies and seniors tend to die first.

The Indian government advised people to stay inside. Let me tell you, I've been to India, and to Southern India. Millions of people must work every day, or begin the process of starvation for their families. Or course they are going to work in the heat. They must. And many die. Air-conditioning? Don't forget at least 200 million people in India don't have any access to electricity. People in developing countries die because of our carbon-rich lifestyles. It makes me angry.

Anyway, let's go through just some of the top climate stories, as we move around the globe, starting with two very disturbing records. First this.


"New Records For Atmospheric CO2

"CO2 averaged 404.11 parts per million the week beginning May 3, a new weekly record.

Since we are now passing the annual spring peak, this record will probably stand until next spring. The week beginning May 10 averaged just under 404. The reading of 404.54 on May 16 set a new single-day record.

My comment: It's no big surprise. This whole civilization is based on transferring fossil fuels from underground into gases in the sky. That's what we do...expect to read this story every year.


"The first quarter of 2015, a transcendental for the fight against climate change year, has set a new world record high temperatures in the recent history of the Earth.

Data from the National Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) indicate that in March recorded the highest temperature for this time of year since 136 years ago were initiated record, surpassing the previous record, 2010, at 0.05 ° C. The first quarter of 2015 was the warmest period of history in the middle of the land and ocean surfaces in the world, at 0.82 ° C above the average of the twentieth century, surpassing the previous record-from 2002 to 0, 05 ° C.

The average land surface temperature was also overall record for the January-March period. Most of Europe, Asia, South America, East Africa and western North America have had an onset of warmer than normal year, according to the official news agency of the United States.

Regarding the data of the surface of the oceans, last quarter marked the third highest level in the period of 136 years of record, 0.53 ° C above average.

Get another take on this story here. Maybe every year won't break the records, but most will.

Let's go to the regional view, starting with this story out of Russia.


"A DEVASTATING and sudden acceleration of climate change which is currently being sparked could result in 'awful consequences', a leading scientist has warned.

"Climate change expert Professor Sergey Kirpotin, [in Tomsk] 51 said this could result in 'awful' consequences.

'Bogs are extremely important for humanity. They function as a sort of natural freezer as they don't let the carbon build up in the atmosphere,' he told The Siberian Times.

'However, the permafrost in northern areas of western Siberia has started melting. As the permafrost thaws, it creates new lakes and old ones get bigger.

"All the organics trapped in permafrost start decomposing rather quickly.

"Obviously, a lot of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, are released into the atmosphere.

"Methane is a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.'


Here's a headline from one of my favorite weather guys, and repeat Radio Ecoshock guest, Dr. Jeff Masters of the Weather Underground:

"Jeff Masters: extreme, record-breaking temperatures in Spain

All-Time May Heat Record for Europe Falls For the 2nd Time This Month

by Jeff Masters, wunderblog, May 14, 2015

An extreme May heat wave unprecedented in European recorded history has invaded Spain and Portugal, bringing the hottest May temperatures ever recorded on the continent. According to the Spanish meteorological agency, AEMET, at least four stations in the Valencian Community of eastern Spain hit temperatures today in excess of the previous European May heat record set just eight days ago -- a 41.9 °C (107.4 °F) reading at Catenanuova, Sicily (Italy) on May 6. Today's European record-breaking May temperatures in Spain included:

Carcaixent: 42.9 °C (109.2 °F)

Xativa: 42.7 °C (108.9 °F)

Algemesi: 42.6 °C (108.7 °F)

Valencia: 42.6 °C (108.7 °F)

Many stations in Spain's Valencian community went above their June records, and were near their all-time records for any month. The record set at Valencia Airport today was 6.6 °C (11.9 °F) above the previous highest May temperature, was 4.4 °C (7.9 °F) higher than the record for June, and was the 3rd hottest temperature since records began in 1869 for any month!

This week's heat wave began yesterday, when hot air from North Africa flowed northwards over Spain and Portugal, setting all-time May heat records at Madrid, Sevilla, Cordoba, Ciudad Real, Granada, and many other cities. Portugal beat its all-time May heat record with a 40.0 °C (104.0 °F) reading at Beja EMA (old record: 39.5 °C, 103.1 °F, at Regua on May 28, 2001). The most remarkable record yesterday, however, was from the Canary Islands to the southwest of Spain, where Lanzarote Airport hit 42.6 °C (108.7 °F), breaking its old record for the entire month of May by 6 °C (10.8 °F)! The old record was 36.6 °C (97.9 °F) on May 24, 1986.


The last big El Nino we experienced caused new records in heat, during the winter of 1997/98. That was the year Indonesian peat fires turned that country into one of the world's biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. The smoke covered most of southeast Asia. What will burn down this time?

Here is how our recent guest Robert Marston Fanney described it in Robert Scribbler's Blog:

"Well, it’s official. According to NOAA’s May 14 update, we are now looking at a 90 percent chance that El Nino conditions prevail through Northern Hemisphere Summer and a greater than 80 percent chance El Nino will last throughout all of 2015..."


California drought continues despite weak El Nino conditions. NASA says on our current carbon course, the whole US Southwest will experience a drought like the 1930's dustbowl, but lasting for 30 or 35 years - a whole generation. That will happen this century they say. "Carbon emissions could dramatically increase risk of U.S. megadroughts" says NASA.


This from the Arctic News blog.

"THURSDAY, MAY 21, 2015

Arctic Sea Ice At Historic Low

On May 20, 2015, Arctic sea ice extent was only 12.425 million square km, a record low for the time of the year since satellite measurements began in 1979.

Our guest Paul Beckwith explains it takes 80 calories (a measure of heat energy) to melt 1 gram of ice. When the ice is gone, it takes just 1 calorie to raise the temperature of water 1 degree. Theoretically, the same 80 calories of heat falling on ocean instead of ice could raise the surface temperature by 80 degrees! (It doesn't because there is mixing with cooler water below - but this shows the huge difference between having ice in the Arctic and not.


I'll bet the cost is far higher, if you include loss of forests, the costs of fighting fires, the toll on farm animals and crops, etc. The key insight to this article is that extreme heat doesn't just affect outside workers. Even people who work in air-conditioned offices lose productivity. Why? Because humans don't sleep as well during hot nights.

"May 4 2015

Extreme heat poses a billion-dollar threat to Australia’s economy

When heat waves hit in summer, do you have trouble sleeping? And the next day, even though you are working in air-conditioning, are you a bit slower, your judgement a bit off, or your patience a bit frayed?

In a paper published today in Nature Climate Change, we and colleagues show that heat stress probably cost the Australian economy nearly A$7 billion in 2013-2014 through productivity losses such as those we’ve mentioned above.

That bodes ill for the future, with heatwaves forecast to get hotter and more common thanks to climate change. While we should continue to attempt to mitigate climate change, we need to take steps to adapt.

One of our most surprising findings is that you don’t have to work outside to feel the heat. Although outdoor workers report greater levels of productivity losses from heat, indoor workers aren’t immune. Poor sleep is one possible explanation.

Find the original paper in Nature here, as published online May 4th.


Here on Radio Ecoshock, we like to follow the truth, whether it is convenient to theories or not. So far, the greater number of deaths are still caused by cold. But that ratio will change, says Paul Beckwith, as the coldest parts of Earth appear to be warming much faster than the global average.

Just look at Alaska this past winter. It was often warmer there than in New England. We've just heard from Jonathan Mingle the same is true in the Himalayas, often called the world' Third Pole. And I've reported on news that Antarctica is melting more rapidly that we thought (more on that below).

"Cold weather is much deadlier than extreme heat, study says

Extreme weather gets more attention, but moderately cold weather is most deadly by far, a study says, analyzing deaths in 13 countries.


Extreme weather gets more attention, but moderately cold weather is most deadly by far, a study says

In the U.S., 84% of days are colder than the 'optimum,' least-deadly temperature. Extreme heat waves like the one that killed more than 70,000 Europeans in 2003 may be the most visible examples of deadly weather, but cold days actually cause more deaths than hot ones, a new study says.

After examining more than 74 million deaths that occurred in 13 countries from 1985 to 2012, researchers calculated that 7.3% of them could be attributed to cold weather and 0.4% to hot weather.

In another counterintuitive finding, extreme weather — either hot or cold — was responsible for only 11% of the weather-related deaths, according to the study published Thursday in the journal Lancet.

'Heat stroke on hot days and hypothermia on cold days only account for small proportions of excess deaths,' the international research team wrote.

The researchers collected daily data on weather conditions, air pollution and deaths from 384 cities around the world. For each city, they calculated the temperature at which deaths were least likely to occur. All other days were compared to days with this 'optimum' temperature.

With the bulk of the days in all areas being below the ideal temperature, days rated cold but not extremely cold were blamed for the most deaths — 6.7% during the study period.

Extreme cold was responsible for about 10% of all deaths on cold days. However, extreme heat was responsible for about half of all deaths on hot days.

Although the study included data from a range of nations — Australia, Canada, China, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand and Britain were also included — no countries from the Middle East or Africa were represented. That means the results don’t necessarily apply everywhere.


Paul and I discuss the paradox of US President Barack Obama saying that climate change is an extreme threat to the nation's security - and then approving drilling in the Arctic by Shell! What the world does not need is more fossil fuels, especially in the fragile Arctic ecosystem.

Shell has their giant platform in the Seattle harbor. Scads of Kayakers turned out to surround the rig in protest.

Photo credit: Daniella Beccaria/ via AP

Shell says their drilling is perfectly safe, even though (a) their last attempt ended in a dangerous failure when their rig broke down and had to be towed back and (b) there is no reliable secondary drilling rig to try to stop a blowout, like the BP giant spill in the Gulf of Mexico. And remember that the Arctic also lacks the warm-water bacteria the helped eat up some of the BP oil. What spills in the Arctic stays in the Arctic, possibly for thousands of years.

Paul wonders if Obama isn't picking his battles carefully. Perhaps it will take one spill or breakdown in the Arctic to bring the public call for banning all drilling. One allowed might stop thousands of planned rigs invading the Arctic in search of more fossil fuels we cannot afford to burn.


A few weeks ago I tried to wrap up all the Antarctic news with Dr. Roland C. Warner, the Tasmanian scientist. As I said at the beginning of this post, new and bad climate news just never ends. NASA now announces they've discovered another ice shelf that passed a tipping point of no return in 2009. We're just finding out about that one.

"Yet another Antarctic ice mass is becoming destabilized, scientists report

By Chris Mooney May 22

The troubling news continues this week for the Antarctic peninsula region, which juts out from the icy continent.

Last week, scientists documented threats to the Larsen C and the remainder of the Larsen B ice shelf (most of which collapsed in 2002). The remnant of Larsen B, NASA researchers said, may not last past 2020. And as for Larsen C, the Scotland-sized ice shelf could also be at potentially 'imminent risk' due to a rift across its mass that is growing in size (though it appears more stable than the remainder of Larsen B).

And the staccato of May melt news isn’t over, it seems. Thursday in Science, researchers from the University of Bristol in Britain, along with researchers from Germany, France and the Netherlands, reported on the retreat of a suite of glaciers farther south from Larsen B and C along the Bellingshausen Sea, in a region known as the Southern Antarctic Peninsula.

Using satellite based and gravity measurements, the research team found that 'a major portion of the region has, since 2009, destabilized' and accounts for 'a major fraction of Antarctica’s contribution to rising sea level.'

The likely cause of the change, they say, is warmer waters reaching the base of mostly submerged ice shelves that hold back larger glaciers — melting them from below.

Chris Mooney does great work on climate reporting. Here is another verion of that same story.

"Glaciers Are Crumbling in Southern Antarctica Faster Than Previously Thought

Victor Luckerson @VLuck

Previously stable glaciers have been melting rapidly since 2009

Multiple large glaciers that were previously not thought to be in danger of melting have been crumbling since 2009, according to a new study published in Science. Researchers have discovered that glaciers on the southern Antarctic Peninsula’s coastline have been steadily thinning over the past several years, with some dwindling by as much as 13 feet per year. The glaciers had not shrunk significantly before 2009.

The rate of melting makes the region 'the second most important contributor to sea level rise in Antarctica,'lead study author Bret Wouters told NBC News. Overall, 80 trillion gallons of water were added to ocean by the Southern Antarctic Peninsula between 2009 and 2014. Continued melting could raise sea levels by another 14 inches.

So Antarctica is into "unstoppable" melting. Greenland is pouring ice water into the sea at terrific rates. How far is sea level really going to rise? I recall a few months ago Paul Beckwith put out a You tube video asking if it's possible the world might experience 7 meters (!!) of sea level rise by 2070. That's 22 feet.

At the time I really didn't get it. In this interview, Paul explains his methods and reasoning, and now I wonder if he isn't right. We know for sure that scientists who take a linear view are kidding themselves and everyone else. If we say there is 3 centimeters of sea level rise now, and then extend that to the rest of the century, it looks like a meter of sea level rise by 2100. That's what the IPCC has said.

But once you find out that melting is doubling every few years, that's all nonsense. We'll get a lot more than that! Check out how Paul explains it, in this interview. Or watch Paul's explanation in this You tube video.


As I've said before on Radio Ecoshock, if I want to get a quote or explanation of climate research by Canadian government scientists, I have to submit my questions in advance. That request is sent to the Office of the Prime Minister, where junior know-nothings will tell the scientist what to say - a few weeks after the news has passed.

Now Prime Minister Stephen Harper has taken his religious fundamentalism, and his love for the Tar Sands, much further. It's not just climate scientists who are muzzled, but all sorts of people, including biologists and more. Research paid for by the Canadian tax payer is hidden away, made secret. It's something Stalin would do.

In the past two weeks there have been multiple demonstrations by government scientists and workers demanding the right of free speech. It's easy. Just as the American scientists do (after the bravery of Dr. James Hansen) - the scientist merely has to say they are speaking for themselves, and not the Canadian government.

It's been sad to see scientists in their lab coats out with signs, demanding basic human rights. Shame on the government of Stephen Harper. This is an election year. A big change is needed, because Canada has joined the likes of Saudi Arabia in trying to tear down and weaken any effort to forestall the worst of climate change. Until recently, Canada did not even have a plan to reduce emissions. We love the Tar Sands! Who cares if people in India die of heat, if Texans are flooded out, if Canadian forests are ravaged by out-of-control insects. Money drives Canada.


Throughout this whole interview, we get more than snapshots of a planet in trouble. Paul gives us a lot of the reasons behind things, explanations of the way the Earth systems really work. It's an education - and that's no surprise because Paul gives lectures at the University of Ottawa. He's a teacher, a communicator, and a research. It's a rare mix.

Paul has two Masters degrees, and is working on his PHD in climate science. He's tasked himself with the specific project of investigating whether a rapid shift in our climate is possible, what would drive that, and what are the signs.

We had record heat here on Canada's West Coast last week. We're getting the hottest of summer weather in the Middle of May. Is this it? Given all we've talked about, could we be going into a shift in the global climate regime, the one Paul has been researching?

Follow Paul Beckwith on his Facebook page here.

Here are some links to just a few of Paul Beckwith's You tube videos.

Abrupt climate system change NOW: Part 1

Abrupt climate system change NOW: Part 2

Abrupt climate system change is underway.

EXTREME WEATHER Caused By Polar Warming

Global food shocks from climate disruption.

On necessity of geoengineering to cool Arctic


I've given you a lot of bad news this week. Next week, we'll talk about what we need to do about it.

Next week we'll talk about the Climate Pledge - a call for a mass mobilization and a change as great as America's sudden shift in 1942, to fight the Axis powers. The President told the car makers to stop making cars. Everyone, from housemakers to farmers were called to support the war effort. Over 40% of U.S. produce was grown locally, in Victory Gardens.

Now that President Barack Obama has admitted climate disruption is a much greater threat than terrorism, it's way past time to act.

You can download all of our past programs as free mp3's from our web site, There's a lot of solid science there, plus our authors and activists. You can support Radio Ecoshock by clicking on the donate button on this page, or get more options here. This program continues only by support from listeners.


Following all the news in recent weeks, are we already entering a climate shift? How would we know? Those are questions I asked myself, in my newest song, called "Show Me". This piece was written with female vocals courtesy of Mike Greene of, and Tantra, from Dmitri Sches.

You can also download this song from Soundcloud, or easily make a link to pass this music on to others.

As always, thank you for listening, and caring about your world.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sick Food & Black Carbon

SUMMARY: Agricultural economist John Ikerd explains why factory food fails our health needs. Jonathan Mingle on black carbon, the second largest cause of climate warming, melting Arctic, and killer of millions.

In this Radio Ecoshock show, we'll find out why factory farms are wrecking the health of millions. Then on to the second largest cause of climate warming, and no, it's not methane. I'm Alex Smith. Let's get going.

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

Or listen to this program on Soundcloud right now!


When young people want local food, safe food grown organically, when they spend a few cents more for eggs from a free-range chicken - they may not realize there is a long-term champion for all of that and more.

John Ikerd was raised on a Missouri farm before going all the way to his doctorate in agricultural economics. He's worked in the big farm system, and taught at the University of Georgia, the University of Missouri, and more. Since retiring as Professor Emeritus of Agricultural and Applied Economics, John didn't go quiet. He's written a half dozen books, and continues to speak in America and abroad.

His book include: "The Essentials of Economic Sustainability", "Sustainable Capitalism: A Matter of Common Sense", "Small Farms are Real Farms: Sustaining People Through Agriculture", "Return to Common Sense", Crisis and Opportunity: Sustainability in American Agriculture", "Revolution of the Middle… Pursuit of Happiness", and "The Case for Common Sense". The Case for Common Sense is available free online here.

John objects to the "industrial paradigm" in modern agriculture: "specialization, standardization, and consolidation of control."

This creates "animal factories" set up like "biological assembly lines." It treats animals as though they were raw materials running through a factory. These animals are not healthy. They factory system kills them at a very young age, and it's likely they may not have lived much longer. There is a lack of concern that these animals are living sentient beings.


While there is a saving in labor, Ikerd says, there is no saving in fossil fuels, or in capital required. Big food operations require more of both. Studies show that if we changed to a really sustainable and organic system, using techniques learned in the 1930's and 40's - retail food prices would not go up more than 10 to 12 percent. In the U.S., food prices already rose more than that, as a consequence of the biofuels program, where food was turned into a gasoline substitute or additive. Up to 40% of the U.S. corn crop went into ethanol production. We can feed the people without an industrial agriculture system, at a reasonable price, says this experienced agricultural economist.

It is not true, Ikerd says that we need factory farming to support our large population. The industrial farm can produce food with less labor, and particularly less skilled labor. I would add that fewer farmers means a depleted sense of community in rural areas. These large farms tend to inhabit a kind of social dead zone, with fewer people to volunteer or organize community, and less need to do so.


Most people never visit a factory farm. In fact, in many places we are prevented by law from seeing these secret massive pig and chicken farms, much less taking pictures. How did the act of farming become so closed off - that anyone questioning where our food comes from can be called a "terrorist"?

Part of economic theory, Ikerd says, is the ability to carry out impersonal transactions. We do it all the time in the market place.

"The local food movement, that is booming all across the U.S. today, and the organic food movement before that, was really and is really an attempt by consumers to gain some knowledge of where their food comes from. I think they are increasingly losing confidence in the industrial food system - including the government that supposedly is regulating that system to ensure them of the quality and the safety, and kind of the ecological and social integrity of how the food is produced. They are increasingly turning to more localized production so they can know the farmers, or they are in a situation where they could actually visit the farm if they wanted to. They are ensuring the integrity of the products through this sense of personal connectedness with the farmer."


Obesity, diabetes, and many diseases unkown when we were kids are sweeping the Western World. Can we tie massive health problems to industrial agricuture?

John says industrial agriculture is part of this poor outcome, while more rests with the next stage of packaging and marketing.


Scientists predicted this problem in the 1930's and 40's. This includes Professor William Albrecht at the University of Missouri.

"He said when you turn to focus on the economics, as he knew was coming, with the chemical fertilizers and pesticides and things of that nature - he said what you will end up with is you select crops for the maximum yield rather than the quality. And what you end up with in crops with maximum yield is crops that are higher in those nutrients that come from the air - carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen. And he says, they will be deficient in those essential nutrients that come from the soil, because that will be the nutrients that limit production, whereas those that come from the air are basically limitless. If you think about that, what is coming from the air is carbohydrates - carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. And so you end up with crops that are high in carbohydrates, high in sugar and high in calories, and lacking in some of the essential nutrients. That was his hypothesis.

That is what you will end up doing. People will end up over-eating in the calories. You'll have crops that are too high in calories relative to those essential nutrients. And [people] will overeat on the calories in the process of trying to get enough of those limited nutrients that come from the soil."

Albrecht famously said:

"NPK formulas, (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) as legislated and enforced by State Departments of Agriculture, mean malnutrition, attack by insects, bacteria and fungi, weed takeover, crop loss in dry weather, and general loss of mental acuity in the population, leading to degenerative metabolic disease and early death."

You can read John Ikerd's 2011 Albrecht Lecture "Healthy Soils, Healthy People" here.

Ikerd says our food system is directly related to problems of obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and various forms of cancer. The industry actively discourages research into the possibility that "people are overweight today because they are starving for essential nutrients that have been taken out of the industrial food."

John doesn't discount other factors, like lack of exercise and changes in lifestyle - but even those may be related to lack of vitality from a poor food supply.


In a You tube video, John put out a fact that stunned me. He said "If you've got even 200 cows you've got as much waste as a city of 10,000 people". There are operations with thousands of cows, and tens of thousands of pigs, not only in America or Europe, but in China too. What is the impact of all that manure, and what can we do about it?

"We have the evidence that shows we are polluting the streams, the air and the water with agricultural waste from these operations." While there are differences between human waste and that from cows or chickens, in some ways they are very similar. Why do we treat human waste with sewage systems and other precautions, John asks, while we don't require farm waste to be disposed of safely? It's the same as telling a city of people to just dump their sewage in their backyards, and let it be washed away with storm water. We wouldn't allow that for humans, but that's what happens at large animal feeding operations.

"The problem is we are treating these big agricultural factories, as if they were traditional family farms."

An EPA report from the late 1990's found there were 35,000 miles of streams, in 22 states, that had been polluted with waste from these confined animal feeding operations (CAFO). The groundwater in 17 states was polluted.

"In the state of Iowa there's been a three-fold increase, a three hundred percent increase, in the number of waterways that are impaired with agricultural waste since the early 2000's.... The facts are there. I think there is a conscious attempt to keep the people from knowing, at you hinted at earlier on, to keep the people from knowing what's going on with the industrial food system."


As we've seen in California, the climate can change for years at a time. John Ikerd, says the climate threat can actually boost better farming methods, and more localization.

In several speeches, John has said it's difficult to forecast the future. But there are underlying principles. With climate change the greatest impact is going to be the variability. That's key for agriculture, which is susceptible to extremes, whether untimely cold spells, heat waves, dry and wet years. That's a huge risk for agriculture, with more crop losses.

This may change the nature of agriculture away from the industrial type, e.g. large feedlots and mono-culture, which is highly risky with no diversification. Family farm operations tend to be more diversified.

With climate change, the public may soon become more aware of the huge tax cost of supporting industrial agriculture. Most people are simply not aware that most Western governments spend many billions of dollars supporting industrial agriculture. We pay attention to military spending, but not agricultural spending.

More than half the cost of crop insurance is compensation for a certain yield. Governments also provide low interest loans, subsidies, and other means of keeping up with disasters. The taxpayer assumes a lot of risks. Now futures even guarantee the price. Farmers can plant any amount of crops, without worrying about market prices which are guaranteed by the government. Then there are tax credits. For example, the polluting manure pits of hog operations are not taxed in property taxes in some states, like Iowa.

As climate change stresses crops, for example requiring more irrigation from dwindling water supplies, then the cost of production will go up, and so will the cost to the taxpayer through all the subsidies. Tax payers may start to object to this blank cheque for industrial food production.

The logical alternative is a move to more sustainable agriculture. Crop rotations, organic, and better livestock management. These can cope with risk, from the time before government and taxpayers took up the risk. They can produce as much as the industrial farm, he says. And they can adapt better to changes in the climate.

Here is another key point, as raised by many other guests on Radio Ecoshock: the sustainable farm can also capture carbon back into the soil, becoming a solution for climate change.


Ikerd is author of "Essentials of Economic Sustainability", "Sustainable Capitalism, A Return to Common Sense", "Small Farms are Real Farms", "Crisis and Opportunity: Sustainability in American Agriculture", and "A Revolution of the Middle". More complete background information and a wide selection of writings are available at

In this interview John believes that we owe a debt to the people of the past who made our lives possible - and we can only repay that debt by leaving a sustainable society to the people of the future.


I also ask John about his impressions from his trip to China (he just returned in the past week). Ikerd hopes the Chinese will avoid the mistakes made by America with industrial agriculture. The Chinese people have traditions and methods which could enable them to jump over the stage of industrial plunder of the land and animals, toward a truly sustainable system. He doesn't know if they will accept and complete that challenge. There are billions of rural farmers in Asia. There is no where for them all to go, in order to clear the land for large-scale industrial agriculture.

China and India cannot release the same per capita pollution that we did in the West - or our climate is doomed.

He talks about his long relationship with the Institute of Post Modern Development for China. This is associated with Claremont Lincoln University in Claremont, California. The group is associated with 23 centers in China studying everything from "process theology" to "sustainable urbanization". Finally, Ikerd takes some hope from the rapid growth of alternative farming in America. It's small, but growing fast. Asked if we can really hope that industrial giants like Monsanto or Cargill could fall, John says one advantage of being old (he's 75) is that older people have experienced a world much different from today. Maybe old people believe major change is possible, because they've seen so much rapid change already.

Find John Ikerd's personal web site here.

Download or listen to this 34 minute interview with John Ikerd in CD Quality or Lo-Fi (and feel free to pass on these links, they are permanent).


This one hour Radio Ecoshock show contains audio from this You tube video: Climate Change Denial Disorder by Funny or Die, uploaded April 16, 2015.

Coming up: the second biggest cause of climate change, driver of half of all Arctic melting, and killer of millions. Jonathan Mingle on black carbon.


Something is killing millions of people around the world, including in your city - but we don't want to know what it is. The same something is the second largest global warming substance after carbon dioxide. Few people know that either.

We'll investigate with Jonathan Mingle and his new book "Fire and Ice: Soot, Solidarity, and Survival on the Roof of the World".

Here is the publisher's bio on Jonathan Mingle:

"Jonathan Mingle’s writing on the environment, climate and development has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, The Boston Globe, and other publications. He is a former Middlebury Fellow in Environmental Journalism, a recipient of the American Alpine Club’s Zach Martin Breaking Barriers Award, and a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group. He lives in Vermont."

We have a long way to travel in this interview, to the Himalayas, so recently brought into the spotlight by the massive earthquake in Nepal. But we start closer to home: Why did US President Obama make his most recent climate announcement in a hospital?

Living in a city powered by fossil fuels is like smoking cigarettes. Everybody, men, women, children and babies are smoking in the smog. Why don't we hear more about it? The health impacts from burning fossil fuels are many and deadly: heart attacks, lung cancer and cancers of all kinds, asthma, birth defects - in fact, we don't know all the ways this pollution hurts us.

And that's not just in North America, or Britain (which recently had severe pollution alerts, along with much of Northern Europe). Of course you've heard about smog in Chinese cities, but did you know New Delhi India likely holds the dubious honor of being the world's most air-polluted city?

Jonathan travelled to a small valley in Nepal, which was a very poor nation even before the recent great earthquakes. There he found the village of Kumik, in the Zanskar Valley. These simple people will be among the early refugees due to climate change. Aside from a punishing drought which has gone on for years, the major source of water from nearby glaciers is starting to dry up. The glaciers are melting back. In the coming century, they will stop feeding these legendary rivers: the Ganges (reaching both India and Pakistan), the MeKong, the Yangtze (aka Yellow River in Tibet and China).

In a century, it's possible these could run dry, says Mingle. That's partly because the Himalayas, like the Arctic, are warming 2 to 3 times faster than the global average. In fact, there are a lot of comparisons to what is happening in the Arctic and the Himalayan mountains. The Himilayas have been called the world's "third pole".

The Kumik villagers, poor as they are, know they have to move. They will move, but no one knows where.


"Black carbon" is defined as ultrafine particles that are the result of incomplete combustion. The common name is "soot". The small size of the particles is key, because they can get past our defenses, like nose hair, and go straight to the lungs, where they are very damaging.

Because this carbon is black, it also absorbs more of the sun's heat and energy, both in the air, and wherever it lands. Large parts of Greenland, for example, are now black, as scientist Jason Box has revealed, speeding up glacier melt there. The same factor is at work on Himalayan glaciers and snow. Quicker and earlier snow melt adds to climate change.

The third factor is harder to study. It's the way black carbon changes cloud formation. This can even change the monsoon rains that Asian agriculture depends on. There was some debate about whether increased clouds from smog may actually be a cooling factor. However, an exhaustive study led by Radio Ecoshock guest Tami Bond showed the net impact of black carbon is indeed global warming. In fact, black carbon is the second largest cause of climate change, after carbon dioxide in the air. It's more of a threat even than methane (so far).

Here is a link to my Radio Ecoshock show on black carbon, with Tami Bond and more, from April 23, 2010.

You can also find out more from in my Radio Ecoshock special for April 25th, 2008 "Highway to Hell, How Smog Kills". (Download that .mp3 here, or read the blog here.)


Black carbon comes from many sources, including forest fires and burning of agricultural waste. But a huge contributor in India and other places in Asia is the use of solid fuels for cooking. This includes burning dung in primitive stoves indoors, which is a huge health hazard, leading to early death of millions.

The Indian government and some NGO's have been trying to convert citizens away from using these fuels in cooking. But impoverished people cannot afford a modern stove, and there is no electricity or gas available for hundreds of millions of people. Even families who could afford to convert, say they prefer the taste of food from "traditional" cooking methods!

About 3 billion people, almost half the population of the world, still use solid fuel for cooking. As a result, satellite photos often show huge continent-sized clouds of smog over North India, and parts of China. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is just one group working to help solve this problem.

NASA photo shows smog over India.

Then we have hundreds of millions of people using kerosene lamps for light. That also produces black carbon. In fact, Mingle tells us, kerosene smoke is almost 99% black carbon!

This interview, and Jonathan Mingle's book, is a real adventure in climate change developing at a very human level. It contains the big, big picture of the second largest cause of warming, but it also has a portrait of early climate refugees, on a very human level. Mingle obviously fell in love with the place and the people. It shows.

The book is: "Fire and Ice: Soot, Solidarity, and Survival on the Roof of the World".

Find a good article by Jonathan in the Huffington Post here.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview with Jonathan Mingle in CD Quality or Lo-Fi (and feel free to pass on these permanent links).


That's all for this week. Check out all our past programs as free mp3 downloads at our web site

If you can contribue to keeping this program going, that would be great! Get details here.

Thank you for listening, and caring about our world.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

How to Avoid Thinking About Climate Change

In this week's show:

* Norwegian eco-psychologist Per Espen Stoknes tells us why public concern about climate may be falling, even as the science becomes more certain. How to avoid thinking about climate change.

* Alternative energy expert Robert A. Stayton says "yes we can power the world with solar" and tells us how.

* Dr. Alan Rozich tells us "Other Inconvenient Truths Beyond Global Warming."

Due to circumstances beyond my control, the full blog for this program, with many more links, will not be posted until tomorrow, Thursday. Please check back tomorrow. In the meantime, this will get the new show out to our thousands of podcast subscribers.

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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now!

You can also download individual interviews. Per Espen Stoknes in CD quality or Lo-Fi

Robert Stayton in CD quality or Lo-Fi

Alan Rozich in CD quality only.

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

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Fires Raise Chernobyl Radiation - Again

Some interviews drive by, others stay for the deep record. This week I have two heavy-hitters for you. Right out of the international news, forest fires near the Chernobyl nuclear wreck in Ukraine have raised dangerous radioactive particles into the atmosphere - again. We have Dr. Timothy Mousseau, the world's foremost expert on the impacts of Chernobyl, and Fukushima radiation on living things.

Then Utah scientist Tim Garrett updates his work showing only a collapse of civilization could prevent terrible climate change. There are new discoveries, about our utter dependence on fossil energy, and where that leads.

Both of these are important interviews for the record. So I'm going to share my detailed notes, with some quotes. There's lots to learn, and many shocking facts.

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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now!


The largest fire in 20 years is burning near the crippled Chernobyl nuclear plant. The smoke will re-release radioactive contamination dropped in the forests during the 1986 melt-down of Reactor number 4, possibly the world's worst nuclear disaster.

How can radiation remain and return? What is the real risk? Scientists have been hard at work studying this problem. Just this February, the journal Ecological Monographs published a paper titled: "Fire evolution in the radioactive forests of Ukraine and Belarus: future risks for the population and the environment."

Dr. Timothy A. Mousseau is a co-author of this paper, and recommended to Radio Ecoshock by the lead author, Norwegian scientist Nikolas Evangeliou. Tim is a Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of South Carolina. Dr. Mousseau joins us on Radio Ecoshock.

Here are my detailed notes, in the order each topic appears in the interview.

1. Mousseau started studying radiation effects on living things in the Chernobyl area in the year 2000, and has returned the area 3 to 4 times a year ever since.

2. I ask about the meme saying life is thriving in the highly radioactive Chernobyl closed zone. It is true that nature has returned. But everything from plants (such as trees) to animals (including birds) are suffering some impacts. (More about that later).

3. The Chernobyl radiation affected the Ukraine, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and Northern Europe (including Britain) the most. But it went around the world and can still be found as a marker in oceans in the Northern Hemisphere as well. The areas of highest contamination are within a couple of hundred kilometers of Chernobyl.

Mosseau compares the fire that burned in the Chernobyl reactor for ten days to a volcano that erupts radioactive materials.

4. How does it work? How radiation enters the fibres of plants and cells of animals. "The dominant isotope at Chernobyl, and at Fukushima too for that matter, is Cesium 137. And Cesium 137 is a potassium analog. It behaves chemically much like potassium does. And so the plants actually mistake it, confuse if for potassium, and take it up as if they were taking up potassium. This Cesium gets taken up by the plants in the water, transferred to the leaves, and into the tissues.

And so it gets moved around. Even though most of the fallout is in the soil, it gets taken up in the water through the plant root system up into the leaves - and then redeposited on to the surface soil every year as the plants drop their leaves during the Fall

To me, the horror of this is partly that we expected radiation in the soil to gradually be buried by plant debris and subside, away from the surface. Instead, roots keep grabbing the Cesium 137 and recycling it to the surface with leaf litter each year. Find a BBC article about the impacts of Chernobyl on tree growth here.

5. Fires near Chernobyl at the end of April 2015. Estimates are a few hundred to a few thousand acres of forest have been burned. It appears in early May the fires are under control. While some of the fires are in high contamination areas, most of them happen to be in areas of lower contamination. Satellite photos show dozens of small fires in Ukraine and Belarus and parts of South Western Russia - all areas with signicant amounts of radiation from Chernobyl.

"Its an on-going condition that is likely to get worse in the future as global climate change raises the average temperatures and reduces the total amount of precipitation in the area as well."

6. Tim is part of a large team of scientists from many countries who are studying the past records of forest fires, the record of radiation from Chernobyl, combined with climate change into models.

"What we've demonstrated is there is an enormous potential hazard from these forest fires because of the fact that they are likely to increase in size and intensity. And this has the power to basically lift the radioactive contaminants from the soil, from the plant material, and put it into the atmosphere and redistribute it."

7. What kind of particles?


"The concern is that several of these isotopes are potentially far more dangerous biologically than the Cesium 137."

Scientists and the press have focused on the Cesium because it is cheap and easy to measure, even with a simple Geiger Counter, while others require sophisticated and expensive testing.

"Strontium 90 is really there in about equal levels to the Cesium. The Strontium 90, because it's a Beta emitter, doesn't give off any Gamma. This makes it much, much harder to measure it's levels."

For that reason, Strontium 90 is often not measured, and assumed to move as Cesium does.

"But Strontium is a calcium analog. And so it gets taken up the same way into plants and animals, the way the calcium would. And as a consequence it tends to be fixed into the teeth and into the bones. It can actually bio-accumulate and bio-magnify up the food chain to a much greater level than Cesium usually does. So this makes it [Strontium 90] a more hazardous isotope. It tends to be in the background because we can't measure it very easily."


"There's a significant amount of plutonium deposited in the ground around the [Chernobyl] reactor. This Plutonium is also decaying into something called "Americium". Americium and plutonium are extremely dangerous if ingested. The dangers are well known and ever a threat."

They [Plutonium and Americium] are heavier, they're denser, and they're less likely to be mobilized, but they are going to be mobilized if the fire is large enough. And of course, the half-lives of the Plutonium isotopes are measured in the tens of thousands of years, and the Americium is in hundreds of years. In fact the Americium levels are increasing in the area as a result of the decay of the Plutonium. So the hazards are actually going to increase over the coming decades with respect to those isotopes


The biggest risks are for the firefighters. [Alex notes the many stories of poor equipment, no breathing protection, no decontamination for these firefighters.] They do wear masks and gloves, Mousseau says.

The air-borne hazards decrease as one moves away from Chernobyl, so breathing hazards diminish relatively quickly with distance. The problem is that scientists are not so concerned with an external dose, as ingesting cancer-causing radioactive particles. We've just heard about bones and teeth. Mousseau also points out mushrooms bio-accumulate radiation, so that wild boar in Germany who eat mushroom are too radioactive to be safe to eat. Mice also eat these mushrooms, and then other things eat the mice.


Mousseau has been part of scientific studies, along with Andrew Mueller on birds and insects both at Chernobyl and around the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

Alex's note: Andrew/Andres Pape Moller is a Danish ornothologist studying birds at Chernobyl with Mousseau, but Moller is not without controversy about his methods. Accused of manufacturing some facts, Moller was almost ostracized by other scientists. Tim Mousseau has kept up their friendship, and criticizes the attacks on his fellow scientists. During a long career, Moller has published at least 600 scientific papers. His work on barn swallows stimulated a generation of biologists.

For more on this controversy see this article, but also read the comments below.

Other scientists have joined the Chernobyl investigative team over the years. They have found unexpected consequences for the animals living in the contaminated areas. They've published papers over the years about this.

"We found repeatedly in both Chernobyl and Fukushima now that the numbers of birds drops off in the more contaminated Chernobyl we see that up to 40 percent of the male birds are completely sterile. They have no sperm, in the more radioactive areas."

Birds in contaminated areas have higher incidents of eye cataracts. They have higher incidences of tumours and other developmental abnormalities.

In the last couple of years they've started new work with small rodents - mice and voles both in Chernobyl and Fukushima. They find very similar patterns of decline and disease.


The half life for Cesium 137 is about 30 years, so it will eventually disappear. It's a 29 year half life for Strontium 90. "Certainly after a century or two most of that will have decayed into either less radioactive or non-radioactive daughter products."

Plutonium and Americium will be around for hundreds if not thousands of years.


"The main motivation for the research we've been doing in these areas wasn't so much to document all of these abnormal, these negative consequences of exposure to radioactivity - but in fact to determine whether or not there have been adaptive evolutionary responses of the organisms to this novel stressor."

Just last year they published a paper showing a "handful" of birds had "managed to cope with the radiation in a way that was really quite striking. They do this by changing the allocation of some of their antioxidants towards defense against the radiation. "Now it's not all rosy because this change in allocation probably incurs a cost in terms of they can't use that antioxidant in terms of some other important function."

The scientists hope that knowledge might help humans who have to respond to radioactivity as well.


12. We discuss the problem of the unfinished "safe confinement" project for the radioactivity at Chernobyl, which is still covered only by a hastily constructed "sarcophagus" of cement, which is deteriorating. Why after almost 30 years from the melt-down hasn't this site been secured against further radioactive release?

The main hold-ups have been the complicated design, and the money. It's costing about 2 billion US dollars (and may go higher). Without the new shelter, they can't begin a more permanent remediation of the area, Mousseau tells us. The Ukraine can't afford that big cost. The world community is stepping up to provide funding, but they are still at least a half billion dollars short. A meeting is taking place in London this past week, trying to find the missing funding needed.

Building a new roof is just the first step. The planned new building includes cranes that can be operated remotely. They hope to investigate the interior of the Chernobyl building. No one knows what is going on inside - it's been too radioactive to approach the lower reaches of the reactor, where most of the spent fuel is, even almost 30 years later. Also, because the roof was leaking, Mousseau says, water has filled the bottom. This makes it impossible for people or machines to find out what is happening there.

Tim says as a much larger accident site, Fukushima will be even more expensive.


Things are very unstable in the Ukraine, "given the ongoing conflict between the Ukraine and Russia over the Eastern territories, and of course this has had an enormous impact on their economy. Their currency has been devalued considerably, by several factors, in the past few years, mostly in the past few months. And the unemployment rate has gone through the roof."

They will continue their studies of the rodents in the most irradiated areas, and hope to study the endangered Przewalski's horses, also known as the Mongolian wild horse, the last truly wild horse in the world. They were introduced to the closed zone near Chernobyl, but not monitored or studies well yet.

[See Wiki on Przewalski's horse here.]


They have some parallel and comparative studies going on at Fukushima Japan. It's currently at a smaller scale due to lack of funding.

They just published 3 papers in the last few months on the ways Fukushima radiation has affected the bird population.

"The bottom line is that many of the bird species are showing very dramatic declines in the areas of high radioactivity ... what makes that particularly interesting is that it parallels what we've been finding in Chernobyl, ina completely independent area...again providing fairly strong scientific support for the hypothesis that it's the radioactivity that's the underlying cause of these drops in numbers."


What about the contentious issue of the impacts of low-level radiation? Every time there's an accident, the nuclear industry says eating a banana or flying in a plane is more dangerous. What do you say?

"The bottom line to all this discussion is that all radiation, of all sorts, generates damage to our cellular structures. It leads to damage to our DNA, damage to the membranes around the nulceus of our cells and the cell walls themselves.

Our bodies have evolved mechanisms to repair most of this damage over the eons. Radiation isn't new. Mutagens in the environment aren't new. In fact the very oxygen we breaths is a major cause of mutations in our bodies. And so we have all the machinery in place to deal with it, at least to some extent. But the fact that we grow old and die is actually in part the product of on-going mutational accumulation into our lives.

So radiation of all sorts, even small amounts contributes to that and so there's no such thing as a little bit of radiation being good for you... the more you add, the more the effects will be.

"One airplane ride is unlikely to be of much significance, given that we expose ourselves to many other mutagens in the environment. The same could be said for eating one banana. But if you fly an awful lot then you will be increasing the dose to your body and this has been demonstrated to increase rates of cataracts for instance in airline crews - which is one of the first signs of radiation exposure. We see it in the birds, we see it in humans as well. Certainly it's just the first step. There are other consequences likely."


Some places in the world have elevated radiation levels simply because radioactive materials, like uranium or radium come close to the surface. Mousseau et al did a meta-data study to comare what they found at Chernobyl and Fukushima to these sites.

In one example, the second largest cause of lung cancer in the U.S. and in China is radon, a colorless, odorless gas that can accumulate in basements. Radon leads to many thousands of extra lung cancer deaths in the U.S. every year. There is no such thing as a good amount of mutagens.


Japanese forests are in mountains, and there is more moisture. Mousseau isn't sure about the fire hazards there. Japan has had years and years of forest management, largely restricting fires, which may add fuel if one arises.

"It is a significant concern for Japan, although I don't think anybody's started to think about it just yet. Given what we've found about the accumulation of dead plant material in more radioactive areas - the fact that the radiation impedes the normal decomposition process, leading to higher accumulation of what is essentially fuel for a fire, this is a significant concern."

Along with Japanese collegues, they've just started research to see if the same kinds of accumulation of litter is happening in Japan. We may get an answer by this Fall.


Due to differences of views in the scientific and political communities, funding for basic research into the impacts of these nuclear accidents, and radiation in general, has not met the needs of what we should know.

"These nuclear accidents are not as rare as we used to think they were. There was a recent study published, highlighted by MIT, that suggested that nuclear accidents on the scale of Chernobyl are likely to occur in the coming years. You know, a Three Mile Island scale accident is likely to occur in the next ten years. Nuclear energy is not going away any time soon, so we really do need to know more, much more, about the consequences for both human health and the broader environmental impacts, if we're going to continue down this path."

Find a British newspaper article about the likelyhood of more nuclear accidents here. Original source: "Probability of contamination from severe nuclear reactor accidents is higher than expected" May 22, 2012. (lead author Jos Lelieveld, director of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry).

CHERNOBYL FUNDING RESULTS (Alex's notes, not in the interview)

Finance ministers of major developed countries met in London in early May, trying to raise hundreds of millions of dollars needed to complete the "Safe Confinement" building over Chernobyl. This would be the largest movable structure in the world. Note they cannot say the radioactivity will be "contained" but it will be lowered, and thus "confined". Read about the funding crisis here.

With new funding promises the project is stil short 85 million euros, but has enough now to continue without delay.


Remarkably, three reactors at Chernobyl that did not explode continued to be operated for years after the accident. Consider the whole area was evacuated, including the fully developed city of Pripyat, we have to wonder at the exposure to the workers inside the remaining reactors.

The last Chernobyl reactor shut down in 2000, but they still have their fuel and spent fuel in the highly radioactive building.

According to this article in the World Nuclear News...

"For the period between 2028 and 2046, the most contaminated equipment will be removed from the units, while the reactors themselves will be dismantled between 2046 and 2064."

"For the decommissioning of units 1, 2 and 3, the international community is financing, through the Nuclear Safety Account, the Interim Storage Facility 2 (ISF2) at a cost in excess of €300 million and the Liquid Waste Treatment Facility (LRTP). The ISF2 facility is currently in the final phase of construction and will process, dry and cut more than 20,000 fuel assemblies and place them in metal casks, which will be enclosed in concrete modules on site. The used fuel will then be stored safely and securely for a minimum period of 100 years. The LRTP received an operating licence at the end of 2014."

In other words, it will take about 80 years after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 to bring the whole site to a "decommissioned" state. I expect about the same time frame for Fukushima, taking operations there to about the year 2100, all the time draining the economy and threatening health and the environment. And governments wonder why we don't trust nuclear power!

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview with Dr. Timothy Mousseau in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Here is an unusual plot for a story: an atmospheric scientist uses principles of physics to predict the global economy will slow to near zero growth. Then it's fragility and exposure to natural disasters suggest a high risk of "accelerating collapse".

That's all part of an on-going discussion I've followed over the years on Radio Ecoshock, with University of Utah scientist and Professor Timothy J. Garrett. In two interviews in 2010, Tim Garrett explained his discovery of a formula that linked economic wealth to the amount of energy consumed. That sounds simple, maybe even obvious, but it caused a slight storm of criticism from old school economists. Tim's work also predicts that only a precipitous crash in our economy could avoid a disastrous warming of up to 5 degrees Celsius by the year 2100.

Listeners have downloaded Tim Garrett's two previous Radio Ecoshock interviews thousands of times, partly because they cover the convergence of Peak Oil, climate change, and economic distress - all in terms of the laws of Physics. It's ground-breaking work which hasn't yet really reached the wider public.


You can listen to (or download) Tim's first Radio Ecoshock interview (February 5, 2010) here at His second (November 19, 2010) is here. Plus there is a transcript of his November 19, 2010 interview here.

Download or listen to this new interview with Dr. Tim Garrett in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Tim has pursued his theories and observations in a two-part publication, coming out in scientific journals in 2014 and in March 2015.

Here are links to Tim's two most recent papers, as discussed in this interview:

"Long-run evolution of the global economy: 1. Physical basis"

First published: 4 March 2014

"Long-run evolution of the global economy: 2. Hindcasts of innovation and growth"

Published March 24, 2015


THE BASIC THEORY AS LAID OUT IN EARLIER (2010) PAPERS (my interpretation of what Tim said)

1. The global economy occurs in a physical world which is bound by relatively simple laws of physics.

2. Picture a body. It begins small, consumes energy, and eventually reaches a relatively stable size, but must keep consuming energy to maintain that size. It may not grow more, but it still needs energy.

3. It turns out there is a fixed relationship between wealth and the amount of energy it consumes.

4. Right now our total wealth turns out to be about 2,000 trillion dollars. Our rate of energy consumption is about 17.5 Terawatts. That's about 17,000 large power plants, whether they are coal or nuclear. In 1970, those quantities were almost precisely half of that. And from 1970 to 2015, wealth and energy have grown in "lock-step".

5. Just as a heavier person needs to consume more energy to sustain themselves than a smaller person, a large world economy has to consume more energy just to sustain itself. There is a fixed relationship, which turns out to be about 7 watts per thousand inflated-adjusted 2005 U.S. dollars.


6. The first is titled "Long-run evolution of the global economy: 1. Physical basis" as published in "Earth"s Future", an open journal of the American Geophysical Union, on March 4th, 2014.

7. He points out that economists seem to see a different world than physicists or biologists. Instead of trying to influence the economy or politics, the physicist sees our system as a whole, where we are all (people, cars, factories) energy-consuming agents.

8. His theory sees "wealth" a global total, rather than the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of various countries. For example, "wealth" could include all the remaining production of previous ages, including the Roman Coliseum or Rembrandt paintings, which are not part of this year's production alone.

9. I ask where he fits in with the movement of limits, such as Richard Heinberg's "Peak Everything". If we discover new sources of energy, as in the Tar Sands of Alberta and heavy oil in North Dakota, these new energies will be applied to generate more wealth. It allows civilization to grow faster. Conversely running out of energy demands a smaller economy and less wealth. Garrett's formula allows us to predict the impacts of either scenario.

10. If we grow faster, then we need to consume more energy to maintain ourselves, just like a heavier person who finds more ready food. If we need to consume more to keep what we have, we will deplete those reserves ever faster. In that way, discovering more energy leads to sooner depletion.

11. Meanwhile, carbon dioxide accumulates ever faster in the atmosphere. Eventually, perhaps even now, climate change damage begins to cost more than civilization can afford.

12. Garrett has written about the role of innovations in this scheme of things. Can we innovate our way out of this predicament? He replies that we got into this situation precisely because of innovation. We've just gone through a period of innovation but our rate of emissions are much higher than even 20 years ago. We grow, and our pollution grows.

13. He writes about the "fraying" of networks within civilization, due to continual natural disasters, as climate change develops, and, I would add, along with Joseph Tainter, perhaps due to other pressures and breakdowns in a complex civilization. How long can major corporations and Wall Street continue to ignore those risks and those costs? Garrett replies at this time local disasters, like Hurricane Katrina, are very serious, but the global effects are still rather small. We overcome this fraying by discovering new energy resources.

14. There are two ways this "fraying" may become more difficult to recover from. 1. We may not discover enough new energy resources to replace the wealth lost. Or 2. environmental disasters become more frequent and widespread, so that we struggle just to keep at our current level, and cannot grow further.

15. At that stall speed, Garrett's modelling work suggests the global economy becomes fragile, so a following natural disaster may lead to "accelerating collapse".

16. This leads to the question: "How will the growth end?" Nothing grows forever. Using the analogy of ocean waves, there are some which rise and fall slowly. Others rise very rapidly, perhaps because they are reach a rising bottom near the shore, and then they fall very quickly. He thinks the rapid rise of this fossil-powered civilization is more likely to fall quickly as well. We are more prone to a rapid collapse, than a slow decline, he says.

Reintro 16:55

17. We go to the second paper, "Hindcasts in Innovation and Growth", published in March 2015. The "hindcast" part comes from testing weather models. Those models are tested by starting the model somewhere in the past, and see if it can accurately describe ("predict") the weather is actually happening now. The success of failure is measured into something called "a skill score".

18. Garrett did the same thing with his model of the constant between wealth and energy, trying it at various periods of time to test for accuracy. As it is accurate, he feels confident in predicting the future economy, if we know the availability of energy. The skill scores for predicting energy and gross world wealth were greater than 90 percent. However, the theory may not work for specific countries.


19. As an atmospheric scientist, I ask Garrett how his predictions compare to the forecasts made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Their models are extremely complicated, trying to calculate a huge range of variables, with hundreds of equations. Complex models are very hard to test.

[My own research notes: A whole series of scientists and institutions try to model out a whole range of human activities and responses. These are called "Integrated assessment models" or IAM. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change uses them to calculate different emissions paths. Recently the American economist and MIT scholar Robert Pindyck suggests integrated assessment models are useless and misleading.]

20. Testing IPCC models against his own, Garrett finds the IPCC models are very optimistic about how much the GDP is going to grow in the coming century, and also overly optimistic about how little CO2 levels are going to rise. "In fact they have us growing to an absolutely massive size, without having to consume much energy to sustain that accumulation of wealth".

21. The IPCC may argue effiency gains allow this optimism. Garrett's research shows efficiency gains to the opposite: "it is by becoming more efficient that we are able to grow faster and ultimately to consume more."


22. It is an expression of "the fraying" we talked about earlier. Like a tree we have intertwined branches of social, political, and communication networks that always spread outwards. Social networks, for example can decay, as we lose touch with people. The decay parameter recognizes and measures how networks may naturally fall apart.

23. For a civilization, one example would be the natural decay of buildings over time. Natural disasters due to climate change may advance the decay parameter.


24. We discuss the example of fad items that are "worth" a lot for a while, but then become worthless. Beyond the basics of food and shelter, do we define what wealth is, and how does that affect this theory?

25. Tim says that is true of "money" and gold. We agree they are worth a certain amount. But without that common agreement, they may be useless. Values may depend on how things help a network to flow.


26. Garrett has also wondered about this, but says it is above his economic expertise to say. His models based on physics can't break down those kinds of details. He would like to be able to answer that and will consider it.


27. Some people believe population growth is the driving factor in our consumption and pollution. Instead, population grows because of a higher availability of energy resources. Finding the Saudi oil fields in the 1950's was like winning the lottery. I agree new sources of energy can provide fertilizer for more food, more transport and refrigeration of that food, etc.

28. Like roads or telecommunications, we are all made of matter, and it takes energy to make us. From the view of the physicist, all things are networks which require energy to exist.


29. Our growth rate is starting to stabilize after the huge impulse of finding giant oil fields in the 1950's.

30. If there another impulse developing? Possible. An eye-opening presentation at Stanford by Professor Adam Brandt showed a mind-boogling amount of accessible fossil fuels in Alberta's Tar Sands, North Dakota and in fracked oil and gas. We may have stumbled on another energy lottery which could propel more growth and more wealth. Read an article about Adam Brandt, and why the 20% greater pollution from Tar Sands really matters, here.

31. Garrett's formula can be applied to those resources, once they are better known, to predict the growth outcome. Here I may disagree, because at the same time a "keep it in the ground" movement of disinvestment in the tar sands is gaining ground. Social forces, based on concerns about climate change, may mean that lottery ticket may never be cashed, or at least not in full.


32. With Garrett's atmospheric expertise, I ask him about the warnings from the Earth League that we face a 10 percent chance of experiencing "cataclysmic climate change" of 6 degrees C (11 degrees F) by the end of this century, on our present course.

33. He replies: "That sounds totally plausible to me". His model shows that if civilization manages to sustain itself, perhaps based on new energy from Tar Sands, the Arctic or wherever.

" the models it is not impossible to imagine carbon dioxide levels passing 1,000 parts per million - that's four times pre-industrial levels. Four times pre-industrial corresponds to two CO2 doublings, which would translate quite easily to 6 degrees Celsius of warming. And that's where you start thinking about, well the title of one of my papers, 'maybe there's really no way out'. I mean if civilization doesn't collapse because we run out of energy, then perhaps civilization keeps growing for a while as the carbon dioxide emissions accumulate in the atmosphere to such a point that there is this warming that you talk about.

And then you do have to think about what the implications are for civilization, and again, the word 'collapse' does come to mind

34. I ask if a popular press book with this theory will come out. He's thinking about it.


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I'm Alex Smith. Thank you for listening and please join me again next week.