Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Civilization: Change It or Leave It

Can we return to the primitive? Miles Olson on personal rewilding. Asoka Bandarage on "middle way" out of collapse. Organic grow and cook w. Barbara Damrosch of Four Season Farm. Replay of Radio Ecoshock 130612 1 hour

Could you leave civilization and survive? Are we permanently plugged in?

I'm Alex Smith Welcome to a mixed bag of greens this week. You'll hear Sri-Lankan-American author Ashoka Banadarage's solutions for collapse, and a classic conversation from the four seasons garden to your dinner table, with one of America's best known organic growers, Barbara Damrosch. But first we try to escape from the voices of society, with author and "professional dropout" Miles Olson, from the Mother Earth News Fair.

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

Or Listen on Soundcloud right now!


The following description is blatantly stolen from the Mother Earth News Fair blurb, for June 1st & 2nd in Pyallup, Washington.

"How to Walk Away from Civilization

Miles Olson is an author, teacher and "professional dropout" who has spent the past decade living in the woods of Vancouver Island.

Workshop Description

Ever wondered what it would be like to head to the hills and try to live off the fat of the land, outside the normal routine of modern life? Author Miles Olson shares his experiences, reflections and musings in rewilding, based on a decade of living intimately with the land and building a "feral homestead" on Vancouver Island.

Other Workshops

Fire by Friction

How to Make a Folded Basket

Speaker Bio

Miles Olson is an author, teacher and 'professional dropout' who has spent the past decade living in the woods of Vancouver Island. His experiences have put him at the forefront of the rewilding movement and given him a unique perspective on the relationship between humans and wildness.

As you'll discover in the interview, Miles struck a long-standing cord with me. As fate would have it, my family owned part of an island in Northern Ontario. I spent two months there, for my first 17 years, without electricity or really much connection to, or news from, the outside world. We seldom wore shoes, and spent a lot of time in the water, like amphibians.

Then in the late 1970's, I went "back to the land" - again in a distant cabin with no electricity for 10 years. So I understood intuitively what Miles Olsen was telling us - about the voices of civilization we all carry in our heads, and what happens when those instructions and demands go silent. Nature awaits our consciousness, but it's not easy making the transition.

If you do, it's just as hard to come "back". The traffic and structured chaos of cities can feel so un-natural. Miles chose to develop a homestead "squat" outside a town on Vancouver Island, with a few like-minded people. He didn't get the standard job and house. Yet somehow he wrote the book "Unlearn, Rewild: Earth Skills, Ideas and Inspiration for the Future Primitive" from New Society publishers.

If Miles Olson writes as lucidly as he talks, this should be a worth-while book. I felt the spark from him, as we met for the first time on radio, at the Mother Earth News Fair.

Listen to/download my interview with Miles Olson (24 minutes) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


You know our environment, species, climate and economy are flirting with collapse. It's global, and needs global eyes. Last week we played a reading by Asoka Bandarage. Now it's time to speak with her.

Is it possible we could be organic, solar-powered humans, and still destroy the ecology of the world? Is there an inner destructive force we need to examine, and change, in order to evolve, or even to survive?

Asoka Bandarage is the author of the new book, "Sustainability and Well-Being: The Middle Path to Environment, Society and the Economy" published by Palgrave MacMillan.

Asoka Bandarage (Yale Ph.D.) is the author of numerous publications in the fields of global political economy, environment, population, women's studies and peace and conflict resolution. She is a college professor and has taught at Brandeis, Mount Holyoke, Georgetown, American and other universities. She has published several books, ranging from an expert analysis of the recent civil war in her native Sri Lanka, to a wide-ranging view of women in the population crisis. She also writes for the Huffington Post.

In this Radio Ecoshock interview, our guest takes us from the early stages of collapse, into a different path, the middle path.

We know little to nothing about Sri Lanka, other than it is near India, was called Ceylon, and suffered both a tsunami and a civil war. For example, did you know that agrichemicals have caused widespread cancer in farm workers in Sri Lanka. Asoka tells us the same disease and death befalls farm workers in other parts of the world, including Central America. The chemical companies and the governments know very well what causes these cancers. Some toxic pesticides banned in North America and Europe are still used in developing countries, sprayed right on workers while they toil in the fields. What choice do they have?

Listen to/download my interview with Asoka Bandarage in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Again, here is the description of Barbara from the Mother Earth News Fair brochure:

"Feasting From Your Four Season Garden

Workshop Description

Learn how to grow and store a year-round produce supply. Find out how to raise food without much time, work or garden space, and discover what Barbara Damrosch has learned about bringing that food to the table. In the kitchen she follows the same motto she follows in the garden: If it's complicated, you're doing it wrong.

Speaker Bio

Barbara Damrosch, called the "queen of organic growers" by The New York Times, is one of the nation’s most respected garden experts and writers. She is the author of Theme Gardens and The Garden Primer, and writes a weekly column for The Washington Post called "A Cook’s Garden." She appeared as a regular correspondent on the PBS series The Victory Garden, and co-hosted the series Gardening Naturally for The Learning Channel.

Damrosch and Eliot Coleman operate Four Season Farm, an experimental market garden in Harborside, Maine, that is a nationally recognized model of small-scale sustainable agriculture.

Visit for more information."

I knew about Barbara, from my previous Radio Ecoshock interview with her husband, Elliot Coleman of Four Season Farm. Here is the listing for that interview:

How to grow food in winter, even in Northern climates. Master gardener Eliot Coleman, from Four Seasons Farm in Bar Harbor Maine, grows (and sells) vegetables year-round, using inexpensive portable "hoop house" greenhouses, with no added heat source. Listen to my classic how-to interview with Eliot Coleman, from Radio Ecoshock Show 111207 23 minutes 5 MB

I felt an immediate bond with Barbara. She's a very intelligent woman who has trained her brain on growing things, eating and living on what she grows, and then communicating the whole experience in ways that we can use. That is so valuable, she is nationally and internationally recognized.

We talked about their new project, their first cookbook. It's called "The Four Seaon Farm Gardener's Cookbook". Really it's half a how-to-grow-it manual, followed by excellent recipes for preparing and enjoying what you grew. I've got a copy, and it's a keeper for sure.

During the interview, I raise the problem of busy people trying to grow food and prepare it well. Do we have time really? Barbara was all over that. She gave us a few tips, ready for her presentation at the Mother Earth News Fair - on how to cook the fast way. I also like her perspective on using different recipes to keep eating the same crop when it comes in - like three or four weeks of asparagus. It's really living on what you can grow, in season.

We just chatted easily. Barbara has a new column in the works, but no big book projects. She wants to get back to Harborside Maine, and just enjoy her time in the garden and kitchen. She's earned that... but somehow I'm doubtful. Barbara Damrosch has been giving so much, to millions of people for so long - can she just live a quiet life? We'll see.

Listen to/download my interview with Barbara Damrosch in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


My thanks to the Mother Earth News for arranging some great interviews at their recent fair in Puyallup Washington. There's plenty more for you, in coming shows. I met such unusual and productive people. Even when I had doubts, every guest brought a surprise, a new perspective you'll want to hear.

My special thanks to all the listeners who donated at our blog or web site, so I could afford to get my recording gear to the Fair. I had access to a Fifth Wheel type trailer, parked right outside the main pavilion on the Puyallup Fair Grounds. I did interviews every hour, with feature presenters, all day. It was amazingly quiet inside this mobile studio - producing radio quality audio with the crowd right outside! Of course it was all solar powered radio, with the 120 Watt solar panel on the roof providing more electricity than I needed. There were four six volt batteries to store the sun's power.

If you like what you hear, you too can become part of the program, at

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Kevin Anderson: What They Won't Tell You About Climate Catastrophe

SUMMARY: Scientists and officials are not telling the public the awful truth: we are hurtling toward catastrophic climate change. A review, summary and critique of an earth-breaking speech by Dr. Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre in Britain. Speaking to the Cabot Institute in Bristol November 6th, Anderson told the sold-out crowd our future is not possible. Radio Ecoshock replay from November 14, 2012 and still the best guide to the coming failure of the Paris climate talks.

Are the climate deniers right? Are some scientists colluding with government to hide the truth about climate change? "Yes", according to top British scientist Kevin Anderson - but not the scandal you've heard about. Top scientists and government reports won't tell you we are heading toward catastrophic climate change. Emissions are skidding out of control, leading us to a world six degrees Centigrade hotter on average, much faster than anyone thought possible. Why doesn't the public know?

Why are world conferences still talking about staying below 2 degrees, as though that is possible?

In a devastating speech at Bristol University Tuesday November 6th, 2012, Dr. Kevin Anderson accused too many climate scientists of keeping quiet about the unrealistic assessments put out by governments, and our awful odds of reaching global warming far above the proposed 2 degree safe point.

Dr. Kevin Anderson

In fact, says Anderson, we are almost guaranteed to reach 4 degrees of warming, as early as 2050, and may soar far beyond that - beyond the point which agriculture, the ecosystem, and industrial civilization can survive.

All this comes from one of the world's top climate scientists, plugged in to the latest research and numbers. Kevin Anderson is from the UK's premier climate modeling institution, the Tyndall Centre, and the University of Manchester. He delivered the speech "Real Clothes for the emperor, Facing the Challenges of Climate Change" at the Cabot Institute of the University of Bristol in Britain.

His estimates are backed up by recent reports from the International Energy Agency, and now the global accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. I also quote from Joe Romm's blog at, and a comment by Lewis Cleverdon from Wales, in the Transition blog at

I'm Alex Smith for Radio Ecoshock. In this program, I'm going to play selections from Kevin Anderson's latest speech, accompanied by some explanation and references to other sources. Anderson speaks very quickly, assuming a highly informed European audience, and includes some technical data and reports unknown to most of us. So we're going to work through this together.

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 image for that Soundcloud posting comes courtesy of

You may also want to check out Kevin Anderson's first chapter of a recently published book, “Climate, Development and Equity”. That's available online here: Kevin Anderson: “Climate Change going beyond dangerous: brutal numbers and tenuous hope”


All music on this program is by Suvarna, with her co-conspirator Ravi, and guest Egyptian percussionist Hossam Ramzy. The album is "Energia" on Etherean Records. Suvarna, a world music maker, has another couple of albums with White Swan Records. We end this Radio Ecoshock show with a special single she sent to Radio Ecoshock. It's dead on. The song is "Atmosphere's Lament". Suvarna home page.


You can help this radio program keep going by clicking on the donate button on our web site at - or on this blog. at My thanks to listeners who made that donation last week.

Radio Ecoshock is the second biggest environment radio show anywhere. We run the world's largest free green audio download site. Won’t you become part of the program?


Anderson begins his talk with a source that is hardly known as green or radical. Fatih Birol, Chief Economist and Director of the International Energy Agency has warned on our current energy pathway the global mean temperature will rise by 3.5 degrees C - over 7 degrees F - over pre-industrial levels by 2040. For those counting, that's just 28 years from now. The IEA predicts 4 degrees rise by 2050, and 6 degrees by 2100. In his book, "Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet", and the National Geographic series based on the book, Mark Lynas says at +4 degrees C "Southern Europe will become unlivable due to extreme heat. The West Antarctic ice sheet will melt away and add another 5 meters to global sea level." At +6 degrees C, the Amazon forest long ago burned in a giant fireball, and all the polar ice melted, Lynas simply says "we will all be dead." The short You tube version is here.

Fatih Birol of the IEA says we have only five years to change our energy system - or have it changed for us. We'll talk more about that short time frame later.


As all the international climate conferences come and go, with thousands of people flying to exotic locations, global emissions of greenhouse gases continue to increase. In fact, the atmosphere is being hit with increases on the increases. Anderson tells us:

"In 2009 to 2010, the beginning of the economic downturn, global emissions went up by 5.9%. I think that's higher than at any point [since] the industrial revolution. And even the following years, 2010 to 2011, went up by about 3.2% and this year [2012] probably a little below 3%, maybe 2.6%, we haven't got the final data on that yet."

A great mind, the late Professor Albert A. Bartlett, Professor Emeritus from the Department of Physics at the University of Boulder laments a glaring inability of Americans, and most humans, to grasp the simple mathematics of numbers that increase themselves. In a video posted as "the most important video you'll ever see", Bartlett explains how "logarithmic" increases work. The 5.9% increase in 2009, for example, was almost 6% bigger than the previous year, which was let's say 3% higher than the year previous, and so on. It's like compound interest from the bank.

Bartlett gives us this simple formula: if you have a number that increases regularly, you can find the doubling time by dividing the increase into 70. So if we say emissions are increasing by an average of 3% per year, the carbon dioxide equivalent in the atmosphere would be doubled in just 23 years. If we start at our current level, around 393 parts per million [in 2012, now over 400 ppm in 2015], and keep increasing emissions as we are, the atmosphere would theoretically hit a toxic 786 ppm in just 23 years. In reality, it doesn't work like that, because our oceans currently absorb at least 40% or our emissions, becoming more acidic in the process. I can't predict our doubling time, but the IEA and others suggest we will go well over 450 parts per million by 2050.

Returning to Kevin Anderson, he points out our infrastructure commits us to emissions for decades. Every new airplane sold, and every ship is expected to last at least 30 years, burning whatever they burn. Buildings, inefficient as they are, may last centuries. Each new power plant opened is likely to keep on burning for at least 50 years, often longer than that. We have already built more carbon capacity than the atmosphere can ever hold, with a climate suited for human survival. This leads me to conclude not another single fossil fuel based power plant should be opened anywhere in the world. Of course that's not fair to developing peoples, so we need a plan to shut down coal and oil-powered plants in North America and Europe to make room for electricity in China, India, Africa, and so on.

It is this commitment from long-lasting infrastructure, coupled with the already overloaded atmosphere, that dictates we only have about five years at best to change directions, or suffer a climate catastrophe beyond our current comprehension. Only a giant power-down by wealthy consumers (that's most of us) could possibly save us. That would include stopping recreational shopping for consumer goods that carry so much embedded energy use. And really, Anderson says, our best and possibly only hope for survival is an economic crash, or at least a planned "recession".

Remember Professor Tim Garrett from the University of Utah, following an interview on Radio Ecoshock, published a peer-reviewed paper saying exactly the same thing: the dynamics of energy in this civilization, poised against limitations in our atmosphere, show that only a deep and prolonger economic crash could really guarantee a safe climate.

At any rate, the good news, such as it is, is this: you and I have the ability to change our deadly course. We can cut our energy and consumption drastically. That's the front-line strategy that Kevin Anderson advocates. He tried to live it. Anderson does NOT fly around to climate conferences. He conserves energy personally, despite the disbelief of relatives and friends.


Kevin Anderson has brought up the new study from a most unexpected source. The report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the generally conservative giant accounting company, is titled" "Too Late For Two Degrees?" Joe Romm at has an excellent summary posted November 6th, titled " Study: We're Headed to 11 degrees F Warming and Even 7 Degrees F Requires 'Nearly Quadrupling The Current Rate of Decarbonization".

The main conclusion in the PricewaterhouseCoopers study reads:

"Our Low Carbon Economy Index evaluates the rate of decarbonisation of the global economy that is needed to limit warming to 2oC. This report shows that global carbon intensity decreased between 2000 and 2011 by around 0.8% a year. In 2011, carbon intensity decreased by 0.7%. The global economy now needs to cut carbon intensity by 5.1% every year from now to 2050. Keeping to the 2oC carbon budget will require sustained and unprecedented reductions over four decades.

Governments’ ambitions to limit warming to 2oC appear highly unrealistic.


"We have passed a critical threshold – not once since 1950 has the world achieved that rate of decarbonisation in a single year, but the task now confronting us is to achieve it for 39 consecutive years….

Even to have a reasonable prospect of getting to a 4°C scenario would imply nearly quadrupling the current rate of decarbonisation.

Joe Romm reminds us, our speaker Kevin Anderson has already written about the 7 degree Fahrenheit increase in global mean temperature:

[is] incompatible with organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems & has a high probability of not being stable (i.e. 4°C [7°F] would be an interim temperature on the way to a much higher equilibrium level

I'd like to just keep reading out Joe Romm's excellent if horrifying article, but I'll leave that up to you, except for this from Joe:

"Such a world would likely mean:

* Permanent Dust Bowl conditions over the U.S. Southwest, parts of the Great Plains and many other regions around the globe that are heavily populated and/or heavily farmed.

* Sea level rise of some 1 foot by 2050, then 4 to 6 feet (or more) by 2100, rising some 6 to 12 inches (or more) each decade thereafter

* Massive species loss on land and sea — perhaps 50% or more of all biodiversity.

* Much more extreme weather

These will all be happening simultaneously and getting worse decade after decade. A 2009 NOAA-led study found the worst impacts would be 'largely irreversible for 1000 years.'

In such a world there would be little prospect for feeding 9 billion people post-2050 given current dietary, economic, and agricultural practices. The word “adaptation” simply doesn’t apply in any meaningful sense.

Other evidence is pouring in from all quarters that we are headed to the high side of climate predictions. Consider this release November 8th from the U.S. Snow and Ice Date Center.

"Future Warming Likely to Be On High Side of Climate Projections, Analysis Finds" November 08, 2012


I know I shouldn't be surprised the climate is spinning out of control. After all, the Swiss re-insurance company Munich Re warned the 2 degree alleged safety limit was "no longer attainable." But that was published in a periodical called Insurance Daily.

Perhaps like me, you missed it. A continuing message from Kevin Anderson is we've all been led astray by a general fog coming from a combination of convenient climate science, reports from governments, the United Nations, and the conferences that continued with big language and no results, as emissions continued to rise.

No wonder the public doesn't know. As Kevin Anderson will tell us, those who do know, are conspiring to keep us from the awful truth.

Anderson goes on to list a host of climate and economic reports coming from governments, big institutes and universities that use obviously false low-ball numbers for greenhouse gas emissions.

The famous British Stern Report in 2006, for example, used an emissions level growth of .95 percent per year. The actual rates for that period from year 2000 to 2005 were more than 3 times higher than that. Stern had access to the latest figures. Anyone could find them on the web. Why didn't he use the actual facts? Using lower numbers have helped a number of agencies and governments achieve much more palatable predictions, leaving lots of time for Western societies to make small changes while adapting. Quite the opposite was true based on the real numbers. Counting the growth of emissions from China and the developing world, the developed West and Japan were, and are, entirely out of time to slowly reduce emissions. As Anderson calculates, to preserve a relatively safe climate below 2 degrees, the emissions of the developed countries had to drop to zero by 2010.

I won't list out all the official reports from Britain, Europe, and America that used phony low emissions figures, plus wild overestimates of all kinds, to get results that pleased the sitting politicians and big business board members. Kevin Anderson gives you all the details on that in this speech.

Just as the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche supposed it takes some ideas a long time to penetrate society, comparing it to the time light takes to arrive from distant stars, our public dialog is missing this critical fact that Anderson reveals again: we are heading toward a catastrophe that cities, agriculture, and civilization cannot survive.


Then Anderson reveals a startling twist on what we need to do now. He says we do not have time to implement large scale alternatives. We need not focus on the supply side, like the Tar Sands, Arctic oil, fracked gas, alternative energy or nuclear power. Those technologies all take more time to implement than we have to save the climate.

Anderson concluded in a science paper published by the British Royal Society, only a planned economic downturn accompanies by severe energy austerity by the one percent who use 50% of the world's energy - that's us! - can avoid this climate disaster. We needed to start action yesterday. We start, we must campaign, on the demand side. We still have time to each and every one of us drastically slash our energy use.

As he tells us, just to burn a 100 Watt bulb demands several times that amount of energy down the power chain, to mine the resource, transport it, burn it with only partial efficiency, and then lose another 50% or so in transmission. So turning off the bulb grows in impact up the power chain, if we can all cut back deeply, quickly.

The result of that energy austerity of course, when we stop buying useless consumer junk with all that embedded energy, is an economic crash. Is that better than a climate that wipes out at least half of all living species, possibly including ourselves? You be the judge.

We must always keep in mind the target of keeping under 2 degrees C of warming was always an arbitrary political decision. It doesn't necessarily guarantee a safe climate, as we are already finding out these days. The droughts, super-floods, super-storms like Sandy, and drastic melt-back of Arctic sea ice all come when we are only officially approaching 1 degree of warming over pre- industrial times. 2 degrees gives us double that, at the very least.

Anderson says scientists have been keeping quiet about the tendency, one could even say "plot" to underplay everything about the looming climate catastrophe.

Anderson should know. He's working every day with scientists from around the world who "just keep quiet".

In reality, once we factor in continuing emissions coming from things like agriculture and deforestation, there is no room left for emissions from the developed countries.


Anderson also leaves aside the whole issue of natural climate feedbacks that could dramatically add more carbon dioxide and methane to our atmosphere. He's a specialist in energy, even working in that field for companies like Shell Oil in the past. In this speech Dr. Anderson takes us on a straight path through the impacts of our fossil fuel extraction and burning alone. He acknowledges there may be much more, but says science knows too little about them at this time.

We can think for example about recent science finding methane coming from the Siberian sea bed, and from the warming waters along the East Coast of North America. Other studies, in speeches already broadcast on Radio Ecoshock, show that melting permafrost in the Arctic and sub-Arctic could add far more greenhouse gases than all fossil fuel burning.

Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Town movement in the UK, did a written interview with Kevin Anderson in Hopkins' blog "Transition Culture" published on November 2nd, 2012. In the comments, we find this compact addition to the warming forces Kevin Anderson did not cover, written by the Wales farmer Lewis Cleverdon:

Kevin Anderson said: “Rapid and deep emissions reductions may not be easy, but 4°C to 6°C will be much worse”

In the comments at, Lewis Cleverdon writes:

"I’m sorry to say that this presents a false dichotomy. And doubly sorry to hear it from one of Anderson’s standing.

Taking a credible best case for emissions reduction of getting to near zero output by 2050,

- regardless of whether that is by personal virtue demonstrations suddenly sweeping the whole world -

- or by determined popular global efforts at steering the politics to achieve an equitable and efficient global climate treaty -

- or by the latter adamantly supported by the former

- we are going to emit enough GHGs by 2050 for at least 0.6C of further warming.

Adding this to 0.7C of warming now time lagged “in the pipeline” of ocean thermal inertia, plus the 0.8C of warming already realized, would give 2.1C of warming as a total, but for one critical factor.

Ending our fossil fuel emissions means ending those of fossil sulphate which maintain the ‘Sulphate Parasol’ that veils the planet. As Hansen & Sato reported, the loss of the Sulphate Parasol will mean a rise of warming by 110%, (+/- 30%), raising the projected 2.1C to a total 4.41C (+/- 0.6C), that would be realized by about 2080, due the time lag of around 30 years after 2050. Our ‘best case’ for emissions control would thus give between 3.8C and 5.0C of warming.

However, there is a further critical factor, namely that of the interactive mega-feedbacks, of which at least six are already accelerating and several have the potential to dwarf anthropogenic GHG emissions. The most advanced of these, cryosphere decline (loss of snow & ice cover) causing albedo loss, is reportedly already causing warming equivalent to around 30% of our CO2 emissions. This feedback alone is already nearing the capacity to offset the 43% average annual intake of our CO2 output by the natural carbon sinks.

In the 68 years between now and 2080, under our ‘best case’ emissions control, those feedbacks would have continuously intensifying warming to drive their interactions and outputs far beyond any possibility of our control. Under this scenario we should certainly have substantially more than 5.0C of warming in 2080, and warming would then continue at a pace dictated by the interactive feedbacks.

Arguments over emissions control via personal virtue or via collective political action for the global climate treaty are thus missing the point. Even the best case of emissions control is patently not remotely commensurate with our predicament.

Lewis Cleverdon goes on to say only geoengineering to increase our albedo effect, namely by spraying sulfur particles into the air to brighten clouds, and thus turn away some solar energy, could possibly save us. That is the least toxic, and most easily reversed proposal for geoengineering, but it's a topic for another day.

The main point here is this: Kevin Anderson's speech sticks to the simple math of our fossil fuel trajectory. That alone promises to take us to at least 4 degrees hotter, and possibly much more if we don't act immediately. The mega feedbacks and warming hidden by pollution loom as even greater shadows over this already dark picture.

In his November 6th speech in Bristol, UK, Anderson warns again and again, we allow ourselves to be fooled, year after year.

The American scientists are playing the same incredible game, pretending world emissions peaked in the past.


Every big report assumes we will rescue ourselves by sucking CO2 out of the air by some magic as yet undiscovered technology assembled almost instantly on a massive scale. It's geoengineering, the technical fix. And it presumes a kind of magic that goes like this: "if we reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere, things will go back to the way they were." Except nature doesn't work like that. If you could reduce greenhouse gases, by the time you do, the whole ecosystem has already changed. A large percentage of species will be extinct. Coral reefs won't be around. Like the Amazon rainforest won't either. There is not backward path through time. It's a huge fallacy in the public mind, and in too many government reports.

Anderson notes there is not a single big commercial scale operation taking CO2 out of the air, and storing it for long periods, anywhere in the world.

Most schemes, and governments use this idea in most big reports, involve taking biomass, burning it in power plants, capture the CO2 as it goes up the stack, and then burying that CO2 somewhere in a geologically stable hole. Anderson dissects this idea and finds giant leaks of greenhouse gases into the sky at every step.

We must grow the biomass - agriculture and the food industry contributes about 30% of all human-made emissions currently. Producing fertilizers (often from fossil fuels), transporting things around, it all adds up to emissions. Then the power plant only burns at a peak of about 70% efficiency. More wasted. The best smokestack capture techniques only grab 70 to 80%, so at least 20% will still go into the sky as greenhouse gases. Then we have to store the CO2 somehow, and that hasn't been worked out yet. It's like nuclear waste, where everyone expects a solution will come up in the future, that hasn't developed so far.

Bottom line: it's not going to work, at any scale comparable to our current energy use, and more importantly - such a massive energy change would take at least 20 or 30 years to implement (we haven't even started yet) - and we don't have that long! Fail. It all sounds good on paper, but fail.


In the radio show, I play you a longer passage from Dr. Kevin Anderson as he spoke at the Cabot Institute at the University of Bristol on November 6th. Anderson gives example after example of scientists, policy advisors and government ministers who (a) know the 2 degree target is no longer attainable, and (b) admit the public can't be told this. Our awful predicament is being hidden by official process, deliberate underestimates of known facts, and scientists keeping quiet. No one wants to alarm the herd, and politicians want to win the next election. Corporate board members want the next big quarter's profits, and big investors want their payback. Nobody rock the boat!


Don't despair Anderson tells us. We are the very people who can do something to save the climate, right now.

Anderson goes into an interesting analysis that find half the world's emissions are coming from about 1 percent of the world's population. It's almost a play off the Occupy 99% and 1% model. We need to reach those high carbon emitters, and get them to change.

It's likely this expose of sweetened climate projections, with known bad numbers and reassuring official talk, could be my speech of the year.

Now you've got the tools you need to take another hour out of your life, to hear the truth about climate change. Listen, learn, worry, and rededicate yourself to change, before the new out-of-control climate changes everything and everyone we love.

Thank you for taking the time, and having the courage, to listen.

I'm Alex Smith, for Radio Ecoshock.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

New Age of Super Fires

Three key interviews on new role of fire during global warming. John Betts on super fires and what we can do. Tom Gower on science of burning north lands. Marc-Andre Parisien on mega-fires in Canadian North.

As forest fires rage across the Western half of North America, I've prepared a special show for your summer listening. Last week we heard 3 experts speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meet-up. This week I've pulled three of our best Radio Ecoshock interviews on the new age of super fires.

And there's a super fire raging right now in the Canadian prairie province of Saskatchewan. In the north is a fire burning over 100,000 hectares, about 250,000 acres of boreal forest. Our guest John Betts tells us about the new age of super fires, their causes and what communities and individuals can do to reduce the risk of unstoppable fires in the age of global warming.

I think the unreported fires in the far north of Alaska, Canada, and Russia are a big deal. Those forests were once carbon store houses which now become an addition source of greenhouse gases. If the top of the world burns, vast quantities of once frozen life can also be turned into both carbon dioxide and methane. Everyone in the world needs to know about this story, where ever you may live.

So we'll reach back to 2007, just a year after Radio Ecoshock began. In a short interview, Dr. Tom Gower talks about his research on fires in Northern Canada as a positive feedback loop in climate change. Then from September 2014, Marc-Andre Parisien from the Canadian Forest Service tells us about record mega-fires in the Canadian far north.

By the way, there is a new paper published in July 2015 by the journal Nature showing that climate change is definitely creating conditions for an increase in wild fires - in many parts of the world. The paper is titled "Climate-induced variations in global wildfire danger from 1979 to 2013" and you can read the full text, with helpful graphic maps, here.

The summary says:

"Climate strongly influences global wildfire activity, and recent wildfire surges may signal fire weather-induced pyrogeographic shifts. Here we use three daily global climate data sets and three fire danger indices to develop a simple annual metric of fire weather season length, and map spatio-temporal trends from 1979 to 2013. We show that fire weather seasons have lengthened across 29.6 million km2 (25.3%) of the Earth’s vegetated surface, resulting in an 18.7% increase in global mean fire weather season length. We also show a doubling (108.1% increase) of global burnable area affected by long fire weather seasons (>1.0 s above the historical mean) and an increased global frequency of long fire weather seasons across 62.4?million?km2 (53.4%) during the second half of the study period. If these fire weather changes are coupled with ignition sources and available fuel, they could markedly impact global ecosystems, societies, economies and climate."

I'm Alex Smith. Welcome to another hot summer on Radio Ecoshock.

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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now!


Are we entering the age of super forest fires? Our guest is John Betts, Executive Director of the Western Silvicultural Contractors' Association in British Columbia, Canada. He's in the gorgeous lake-side town of Nelson British Columbia - right in the path of the dead pines forest fire threat.

John Betts

As a leader in an industry devoted to "managing" our forests, often by removing excess undergrowth, John advocates removing "fuel" from the forests before a disaster strikes. In years past, environmentalists have insisted such decay is natural and the woods should be left to their own devices.

Now it's different. With global warming and warmer winters, the Rocky Mountain Pine Bark Beetle has killed off entire valleys of pine trees. They will eventually burn - and some surround communities in the interior of British Columbia, and soon in Alberta too.

The same problem exists in the United States west, due to other bugs and general drying with climate pressures. Just consider the big fires in Colorado in 2012. The fires in Australia also look climate-related.

Betts adds a further cause: namely our success in stopping forest fires, (he calls it "suppression"). Most of these forests, especially in Western North America, were adapted to cycles of fires. The coniferous seeds could withstand a fire and regrow.

We know from studying forest soils there have been periods of fire for many centuries. But now with water bombers and new techniques, we stop them from burning, in our parks, on private lands, and around cities. John Betts says this means an abnormal amount of dead brush builds up beneath the trees. That's a recipe for a "super fire" - one we can't put out, until it burns out, or gets rained out.

In British Columbia, the dead pines can build into a kind of pyramid structure, just like you might build in a fire pit. That burns so hot it kills off any seeds. In fact, it can sterilize the soil even of helpful fungi and bacteria. So the forest doesn't grow back, and the ecology has been damaged.

Australia may or may not be a special case, with the eucalyptus trees and their oil, which act like instant torches. Note the Eucalyptus has been planted in California, in the U.S. South East, and around the Mediterranean. That could be a big mistake.

But with long drought, and excessive heat, we've seen many parts of the world burn as we've never seen in recent centuries. Consider the 2010 great fires in Russia which claimed hundreds of lives. Just previous to that, Serbia had giant fires, as did Greece and Spain. It's an ominous trend, which John Betts says is no accident.

As global heating continues, and the weather systems are thrown out of whack, we can expect a new age of great fires. Now you know the news before it hits your TV screen or headline. Expect it.

Betts advises communities how to prepare. Things like removing brush, or even if necessary, creating fire breaks around towns. And we should stop our home-building invasion of the woods, particularly in fire-ready areas. Having people living there drives more efforts to put fires out, which leads to the danger cycle again. Or people stay and try to fight the impossible flames, and die as they did in Australia. The government there has changed its advice - now telling people to get out, rather than remaining home with garden hoses against the inferno.

We need a lot of discussion and preparation to make sure our communities are safe, and our forests can return to some kind of natural cycle again - if "natural" is still possible in a big climate shift! It's possible some forests will never return, changing over to grasslands. We don't know yet, as we gamble away the future of the biosphere on a small planet.

Listen to/Dowload the John Betts interview on super fires (24 minutes) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Regular Ecoshock listeners know wildfires in the Arctic are bigger and badder than ever. Scientists predict a huge increase over the coming decades due to changes in climate, and various feed-backs triggered by global warming. Could the whole boreal forest burn down?

New research has taken us deeper into fire behavior in the far north. The paper that caught my eye is titled "Resistance of the boreal forest to high burn rates." Our next guest is one of the authors. Marc-Andre Parisien is a research scientist for the Northern Forestry Centre of Natural Resources Canada’s Canadian Forest Service, located in Edmonton Alberta.

Along with scientists at the Centre for Northern Studies in Quebec, Parisien is an author of the new paper "Resistance of the boreal forest to high burn rates" published in PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on August 4th, 2014. You would need to be a paid member of PNAS to read this, but find the abstract here.

Marc most of us can barely imagine the size and condition of the great Boreal forest. It runs from Alaska right across the whole of Canada to Labrador - and that's just in North America. There is more in Scandinavia and Siberia.

Television doesn't report on fires in Canada's far north. Most of these blazes run their course with no one trying to put them out. How large can a fire get? A single large fire can be bigger than the island of Manhattan, which is 9,000 hectares, or more than 22,000 acres. One fire in the Canadian province of Quebec was 560,000 hectares, or 1.3 million acres.

This summer of 2014, Parisien tells us, over 4.6 million hectares of forest burned (11.3 million acres) - that is larger than Switzerland. It's a stunning amount of carbon taken from trees and forced into the atmosphere. That is when forests become a carbon source, rather than a carbon sink. It's also a huge burst of black soot, a global warming agent on it's own, and a contributor to the blackening of Greenland.

There are very different estimates for the increase in northern fires as the planet warms. By 2100, some scientists suggest forest fires in that region will increase by 30%. Others have suggested they might increase by 500%. If that becomes reality, we can doubt whether northern forests will continue to exist.

The one possible saving agent, and the point of the paper by Parisien and scientists from a Quebec University - statistically, forests that burned within the last 40 or 50 years are LESS likely to burn again in our time. It looks like there is a kind of negative feedback loop at work here, at least for forest fires. However, I feel all that is uncertain as the Boreal and Tundra continue to heat up much more than the rest of the planet. We're running a big experiment here on planet Earth.

In this interview, Marc-Andre notes that fires are not the only threat to northern forests. As the permafrost melts, trees can lose their hold in soil, tipping over in a phenomenon known as "drunken forests". These can already be seen in Alaska and the Yukon. We may also see changes in hydrology (when it rains or snows) as the planet warms. And forests have already been hit hard by changes in insects, like the Rocky Mountain Pine Bark Beetle which is killing off whole valleys of pines. These were enabled in such great numbers by a continuing lack of winters cold enough to kill them off.

We didn't have time to talk about the other big threat: logging the Boreal forest. It's huge, all for toilet paper and other items we throw away. Find out about endangered Boreal forest logging at Greenpeace here, Forest Ethics here, or Canopy here.

Marc-Andre listed other Canadian scientists who are studying the impacts of climate change on fires and the Canadian northern forests (despite Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of the Tar Sands). He also recommends this web site: the Canadian Wildland Fire Information System. There you can find all kinds of helpful maps, charts and information. It's a super resource for those who care about what happens in the North. Since the future of the world may be partly determined by what happens there, that's you and everybody else in the world.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview with Marc-Andre Parisien in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

TOM GOWER: FIRES IN THE CANADIAN NORTH (from the Radio Ecoshock Show November 16, 2007)

In the last few years, as the North heats up, wild fires have been burning, unreported and unopposed, across the top of the world, in both Canada and Siberia.

The latest climate models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change does NOT include this growing source of carbon.

Dr. Tom Gower was from the University of Wisconsin/Madison, and is now with the North Caroline State University Department of Forestry. In this exclusive interview with Radio Ecoshock, Dr. Gower explains the vast boreal forest of Canada is no longer a carbon sink. It is losing more carbon to wild fires, than the trees can gather up.

Forestry scientist Tom Gower

This has severe implications for our climate - it becomes a positive feedback loop. The snow melts earlier, the fire season is extended, it's much hotter up North (climate hits the Northern pole much heavier) - it all adds up to a big tinderbox waiting for the next lightening strike.

Dr. Gower's research was just published in the journal "Nature" on November 1st, 2007.

As Dr. Gower says, the recent fires in California as child's play compared to the massive fires in northern Canada. There's just no news crews up there.

This is part of a larger special program on Radio Ecoshock on the forest "carbon bomb." As one of our speakers, temperate rainforest activist Pat Rasmussen says, there is more carbon in the trees, by far, than in the whole atmosphere. It that gets released in a short period of years, it will be a "carbon bomb" changing climate drastically.

In the one hour Ecoshock program, we weigh out reports that the California fires were brought on by climate change (maybe, maybe not) - and then look at new science by Dr. Lara Kueppers who also says the forests of the Rockies are now emitting more carbon than they can capture. Forests are no longer our friends, now that we have changed the climate.

A 60 Minutes program, called the Age of MegaFires, even found an Arizona scientists saying that the American West will lost half its forests in the coming century, due to climate change!
Half the forests going!

We also try to figure out how much carbon is ready to go up in smoke, as the huge dead pine forests of British Columbia catch fire in the coming years. The Mountain Pine Bark Beetle, previously controlled by cold winters, has killed off 32 million acres of trees, and more to come. They are red, grey, dead, and waiting to burn.

The wild thing is that governments don't even count wild fire carbon in their grand plans and promises. In reality, California should take half a million cars off the road just to offset the carbon that came out of the recent fires. Canada must reduce it's emissions even more, because of the carbon coming from northern fires. British Columbia, the same.

These governments are cheating - but Mother Nature (the geo-physical system if you prefer) counts it ALL. No fooling the real atmosphere, which doesn't care where the carbon comes from, or what your excuse is.


The United Nations Framework on Climate Change press room is running a weekly platform for climate music. I heard the lyrics for this next song by a Swedish writer calling himself "Climate Man". You can hear all of his music at We got in touch by email, and I agreed to produce a new electronic music remix for his song "CO2 Society".

You can find my version, with my own new music and voice, on the Radio Ecoshock soundcloud page to download or share for free. This is it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

World on Fire Wild fires from climate change cause still more warming. Three experts from American Academy for the Advancement of Science meeting February 19th recorded in Vancouver by Alex Smith. Michael Flannigan, U of Alberta on fire and climate. From UBC medical unit, Dr. Michael Brauer on health impacts and personal protection during smoke events. Tasmania's Fay Johnston' estimation of global annual deaths from landscape fire smoke. Best of Radio Ecoshock replay from 120418 1 hour.

Welcome to hot summer programming from Radio Ecoshock. I'm Alex Smith, bringing together some of our best recordings and interviews. This week and next, we'll focus on the growing trend of monster forest fires - what one guest calls "the age of super fires".

I feel personally involved. As I prepare this show, it's 111 degrees Fahrenheit, or 44 degrees Celsius, in the shade outside my studio, for the second time this week. My valley is grey with smoke. While having dinner two nights ago, we watched a forestry helicopter drop load after load on a small fire in the hill behind our home. A violent blast of lightening started it. They got it out.

What should be the wet West Coast is tinder dry. Vancouver, Canada has filled up with smoke from huge fires in the region. Hundreds of fires have sprung up all along the West Coast of North America, from California to Alaska. More than a dozen started within 50 miles of my home in the past few days. And the big summer fire season is still ahead of us.

Even if it's cold and rainy where you are, the impacts of global forest fires affect the health of millions, the economy, and act like a positive feedback loop to increase the speed of global warming.

Next week I'll interview scientists and fire experts on the new super fires. This week, I'm replaying three talks I recorded at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, held in Vancouver Canada in February 2012. We'll hear about the global fire situation, and the health impacts of fire smoke, including how you and your community can prepare for it.

This is the Radio Ecoshock show from April 18th, 2012.

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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now!

I've been working on the latest science about wildfires and climate change. The plan was to save the broadcast for summer, when the fires start.

Nature isn't waiting. From the first week of April major television networks like CBS reported wildfires all down the West Coast, instead of the East Coast as it was in 2012.

This follows a winter with very little snow. Gardeners started to feel like planting a month early. Farmers feared a continuing drought, with no snow to water the land before seed time.

Forget about normal. Wildfire season started ridiculously early this year in North America, in the first week of April.

TV and news reported thousands of heat records set in the Eastern United States, without ever mentioning "global warming".

It's time for the Radio Ecoshock special, my recordings of a special session on fire and climate. The fire experts gathered at the February conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver 2012.

You'll hear how fires make a hotter climate which feeds more fires, the cycle of positive feedback. An internationally recognized wildfire expert, Dr. Michael Flannigan reports on the latest science and experience in the field. Flannigan also describes a new risk that could tip the climate of the world.

You may have a personal stake in this. Anyone with lungs does. From the University of British Columbia School of Medicine, Dr. Mike Brauer explains new ways of tracking dangerous smoke, which can travel thousands of miles, across international boundaries. I like Brauer's talk, because he also tells us how citizens can protect themselves during a smoke event.

Finally we'll hear from Dr. Fay Johnston from the University of Tasmania. She was part of a team asking the big question: how many people die from fire smoke every year? The answer, and the places most at risk, may surprise you.


Let's get the big picture, from one of my favorite wildfire experts. Dr. Mike Flannigan is a Professor of the Department of Renewable Resources at the University of Alberta, and Senior Research Scientist at the Canadian Forest Service. His PHD is from Cambridge. He also trained in meteorology. Flannigan is Editor-in-chief of International Journal of Wild land Fire, and part of the U.S. Assessment on Global Change. Mike is a leader in newly formed Western Partnership for Fire Science.

In the program you hear excerpts from my recording of Mike Flannigan's presentation at "Forest fires in Canada: Impacts of Climate Change and Fire Smoke" delivered Sunday morning, February 19th, 2012, in a special workshop at the American Academy for the Advancement of Science general meeting in Vancouver.

Nobody says more in fewer words than Flannigan. When huge fires erupt, in Canada or internationally, Mike often gets called in. He begins by exploring the fire in Northern Alberta, Canada, where a town called Slave Lake had one third of the place burned out, including the municipal buildings the libraries. Video of that fire approaching the town here. Photos of the aftermath here. And this could happen to any town or city. Hundreds of homes were burned in Kelowna British Columbia in 20003. I don't have to tell anyone in California or Texas about the huge risks from out-of-control wild fires.

Australians know how deadly fires can be.

In 2012, Slave Lake in the Yukon had to be evacuated. This year it's towns in Northern Saskatchewan emptied out on short notice as a fires up to 100,000 hectares in size roar right up to the town limits.There was no way to fight such fires, and they moved fast with ferocity. Satellite images show the Slave Lake fire was actually the smallest of four infernos raging at the time.

Remember the fire leader in Texas who said "No one alive has seen fires like this". Except we are seeing them more and more, especially after heat events.

Mike Flannigan makes it clear that climate change is a contributing factor to these fierce fires. The underbrush is tinder dry, even in spring-time. The hotter weather creates a longer fire season. Heat also induces more lightening, which ignites the wild fire.

It's a positive feed-back cycle, at least in the near-term. The burning forests release all the carbon previously held in vegetative matter. Tree trunks are mostly carbon. That release of carbon, and the extra black soot, all drive more warming.

A few years after the fire, perhaps 7 years later, new growth will re-absorb some of the carbon back from the atmosphere. The fire zone changes from a carbon source to a carbon sink. But in the meantime, climate change has been further ramped up.

If you ever wanted to know the basics of wild fires, and why we hear more about them, or get hit with smoke from faraway places, Mike Flannigan is the man to learn from.

You can download my Radio Ecoshock interview with Mike Flannigan in May 2011 from the program titled "FLOOD FIRE WIND - Climate Shift" at (13 minute interview)

About two weeks after this broadcast, you can download a free mp3 of Mike Flannigan's full speech at the triple AS from our Climate 2012 page. All of today's speakers will be there in full.


Can we say there are more fires now than at any time in human history? What about fires in the past hot ages, in previous greenhouse worlds? I listened to two presentations on the history of fire by Douglas Woolford, from Canada's Wilfred Laurier University, and Richard Routledge, Simon Fraser University.

The science was too complicated for radio broadcast. I came away thinking the field of fire archeology is still very young. Do we know enough to answer those questions, to compare our future to the distant past of fire?

I came away from these American Academy presentations thinking we just don't know enough yet. You can dig further into the research that has been done, by downloading those two speeches (for a fee) from

We do know that fire smoke travels huge distances, sometimes smudging out part of a continent. In the soot below, human lungs don't do very well. As we'll hear in our third speaker, hundreds of thousands of humans die every year from inhaling smoke from natural and agricultural fires.


But first, you should hear this Canadian medical expert Dr. Mike Brauer. He explains big advances in predicting the smoke plumes, so people with breathing difficulties can be warned. It's almost like tornado warnings, only more accurate. Pharmacies can know to stock up on inhalers. And Brauer ends with tips you can use to protect yourself, if smoke fills your air.

Mike was introduced by session organizer Charmaine Dean, of Simon Fraser University.

In the radio program, you hear major excerpts from Mike's speech.

In the first part, Mike explains several methods to predict where fire smoke will go. That's important to know if you are a health planner, a hospital worker or doctor, if you have health problems like asthma, - and if you just want to protect the lungs of yourself and your family.

I became even more interested in the second segment, as Brauer explains the public health efforts, and personal things we can do to protect ourselves. If there are going to be more fires, and more smoke, we all need to learn about this.

A smoke plume can travel hundreds of miles over a place like California, or New England (from Canadian fires). Whole parts of Asia have been covered in smoke - like the times Malaysia and Singapore went under a smoke cloud from fires in Indonesia.

We know, from Brauer's study, that in Western-style economies, visits to doctors’ offices and pharmacies will go up. Those places need to stock up on inhalers and other medicines.

People with certain ailments or low lung function need to stay indoors, with the windows closed. Driving around does not help, as Brauer says the smoke is actually worse inside the car.

Brauer struck a chord with me when he recommended simple HEPA air filters for people's homes. I have had one running for the past five years, because we live in a high traffic area. We used to need to dust the place way too often, now much less.

That air filter was running when the wave of radioactivity hit the West Coast about a week after the Fukushima nuclear plants blew up. About a month later I changed out the filters, which were no doubt radioactive. It saved our lungs a bit.

These filters also reduce indoor smoke from fires by about 65% Brauer says. That's better for everybody.

Once again, this is another reason to have at least a few days’ worth of food stocked up too. Nobody needs to go out to the store.


Our final presenter in this week's special on fire and climate change is Dr. Fay Johnston, a physician and environmental epidemiologist at the Menzies Research Institute in Tasmania, the Down Under of Australia. Here is a link to one of her smoke assessment projects. And here is a link to a public article "Fire Smoke Important Contributor to Deaths World-Wide".

Her topic for this session of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science is: "The Estimated Global Mortality Burden Attributable to Landscape Fire Smoke".

Let's find out who really pays the ultimate price for advancing fires in a crowded warming world. We only have time for a few excerpts.

First, what is a "landscape fire" and who is studying it?

Dr. Fay Johnston describes the first attempts to quantify the impacts of global wildfires.

As she says: "a world without fire does not exist." It is natural, but not when humans create the fire conditions, and then set those fires. Her team estimated about 90% of "landscape fires" around the world are set purposely by humans. We do it to clear new land for things like soy beans or palm oil.

Africa is a central location for fires. It is part of their agricultural cycle. The old crop is burned off to prepare for the new one. Radio Ecoshock has had other guests explain that method of agriculture is adding to global warming.

As far as deaths go, we find out there has hardly been any study in the developing world, where most of the fires are, and most of the death happen. To measure health impacts, Johnston's group had to use pollution studies generated in major smoggy cities. It turns out those impacts on lungs work pretty well for people smoked out in the jungle as well. Still, just like medical research, we take studies from the First World and apply them to developing countries, hoping it will work. There's no money to do the research in the heavily populated places where it is needed most.

Isn't that always the case, in this unfair world? Whether its medicine or smoke, almost all research is funded and performed in the developed world, where a minority of Earth's population live and die. It may take another generation to see how climate change and fire do their dance in the most populated, and the most plant rich places on the planet.

To be honest, this study finds smoke deaths from landscape fires are far less serious than deaths from smoking tobacco.

Whereas several millions die because of tobacco, this study estimates about 340,000 people a year die from landscape fires. Around 10,000 of those are in South America, where relative population is low. Over a hundred thousand are in the Sahel region of northern Africa. More than a hundred thousand die each and every year from air-borne smoke in Asia but that is still fewer than die from cooking over smoky fires indoors in Asia.

You can find the full speeches by Mike Flannigan, Mike Brauer, and Fay Johnston on the Climate 2012 downloads page at My thanks to the American Academy for the Advancement of Science for allowing me to record on February 19th, and to Simon Fraser University for organizing this session on forest fires, smoke, and climate change.

Our music in this program was from the 1968 hit "Fire" by Arthur Brown. News clips were from NBC12 Richmond, and CBS evening news.

I'm Alex Smith.

Tune in next week for our next big adventure into the future - on Radio Ecoshock.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Hot Minds in Motion

SUMMARY: The coming unstable tropics, seen through an ancient world. From the UK, Dr. Jessica Whiteside. Former NASA scientist James Hansen says 2 degrees warming is unsafe and "crazy" to set that as a goal. Huge Canadian rainforest on cusp of mega-deal to save it. Activist Valerie Langer. Radio Ecoshock 150701.

I begin with the voice of James Hansen, one of the world's most respected climate scientists. He spoke recently on Radio National in Australia. I have more on this mega-warning of the developing climate emergency later in this blog entry.

We'll also investigate a Canadian deal to preserve ancient old-growth forests in an area the size of Ireland. Is The Great Bear Rainforest agreement a model for the rest of the world? Our guest is long-time campaigner Valerie Langer from Vancouver, Canada.

But first, let's bust the myth that the tropics won't change much as the climate rearranges. Businessmen and government leaders keep rattling on about our future with 1000 parts per million or more of carbon dioxide. New science explains that even big dinosaurs couldn't live in that kind of world, ravaged by swings of climate so huge that plant life was unstable and unpredictable in the tropics.

Welcome to Radio Ecoshock. I'm Alex Smith.

Download or listen to this program in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

Or listen right now on Soundcloud!

BREAKING NEWS: July 1st: MASSIVE FIRES ACROSS WESTERN NORTH AMERICA, from California to Alaska, and all Canadian western provinces.

The Western half of North America is breaking into massive fires. In Alaska, over a million acres have been burned in just the month of June. The real fire season is yet to start.

Fires in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan are so large, satellite pictures show smoke blowing all the way down through the central United States, as far south as Missouri. Air quality is hazardous in some cities in Saskatchewan and nearby Manitoba. There are, at last count, over 200 large wildfires burning in the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, including some near Fort McMurray, home to the infamous Tar Sands.

The coastal Province of British Columbia has major wildfire problems, already burning ten times what was consumed by fire all of last year - again with the hot summer still to go.

Major wildfires are also burning in Washington State and Oregon.

Nobody is even reporting on the monster fires in the Canadian Arctic. Some parts of Siberia were up to 6 degrees C hotter than normal this Spring. Deadly fires are already common there. At what point do we acknowledge that great parts of the Northern Hemisphere will burn, releasing all that carbon, every year as climate change develops?

Stay tuned next week for a replay of our in-depth program on fire risk: "The Age of Super Fires".


My climate action song "Time of Trials" has been selected this week by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in their on-going series of climate inspiration music leading up to the 2015 Paris climate talks in December.

You can find their write up in Spanish here. I'll be adding the English version shortly.

You can listen to "Time of Trials" right now on Soundcloud here.


Businessmen and gloomy scientists have predicted our fossil-powered lives mean carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will reach 1,000 parts per million or more. What would such a world look like? We can get a glimpse by going way back, hundreds of millions of years, to a troubled hothouse world.

Our tour guide will be Dr. Jessica Whiteside, a lecturer in Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton in the UK. She's the lead author of a new study that's been getting a lot of press. The title is "Extreme ecosystem instability supressed tropical dinosaur dominance for 30 million years." - as published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

One of the strange things about "land" is that it actually floats around on the Earth's hot core. A group of scientists travelled to New Mexico, where they found rocks that were much earlier in the tropics. There was no North America, or Europe - just one big continent on the earth, known as "Pangea".

Scientists investigating the history of dinosaurs were always puzzled when no bones of the giant herbivores (picture a Brontesauraus) were found in rocks formerly in the tropics. What kept them out for around 30 million years?

Now, through a series of methods cross-checking one another, this new paper suggests the climate of the tropics was far too unstable to grow the vegetation necessary to support very big herbivore dinosaurs. Over millions of years, the tropical climate swung violently from huge droughts to very wet periods. The vegetation would build up during wet times, and then burn with very hot wild fires during dry times. The scientists found carbon deposits from fires that burned at around 600 degrees - enough to sterilize the soil. Nothing grew back afterwards for a long time. I noticed with special interest the very hot fires that burned in that ancient tropical world. A Canadian fire expert on Radio Ecoshock told us about fires current fires so hot they sterilize the soil. More on that next week.

At that time the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were 4 to 6 times modern levels, running from 1200 to 1600 parts per million CO2. Our guest Jessica Whiteside notes that is the expected level, on our current course, in the next one or two hundred years.

This extreme instability was stronger in the interior of the continent of Pangea, away from oceans that might modify conditions. That's very much like what is expected in the interior of North and South America, as well as the interior of Russia and China.

I asked Jessica if humans could have survived in the conditions of these ancient tropics. She says that is doubtful, because the average temperature was ten degrees C higher than today.

We also discuss the lag time between higher CO2, and large climate changes. More conservative scientific thinking attributes "only" a 1 degree C rise for every doubling of CO2. But this is contradicted by studies of ancient climates (paleo-climatology) which saw 3 or even 5 degrees C of average temperature rise with each doubling of CO2.

The scientists doing this study were well aware that the high carbon past they looked at might serve as an analog, almost a prediction, of what we will experience with a lot more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview with Dr. Jessica Whiteside in CD Quality of Lo-Fi


Let's get to that disturbing new interview with James Hansen. He's the former head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. He's also the scientist who warned the U.S. Congress about the dangers of climate change in 1988. If only we'd listened then.

On Tuesday May 5th, 2015, Hansen was interviewed for the Australian breakfast show on ABC Radio National. Here's what happened.


Here is the key passage:

HANSEN: "I refused to sign the Vatican Declaration which had the 2 degree limit and the reason I do not sign that is that the 2 degrees is actually a prescription for disaster. That’s actually well understood by the scientific community.

We know that the prior interglacial period about 120,000 years ago – it’s called the Eemian in Europe –but it was less than 2 degrees C warmer than pre-industrial conditions and sea level was a least 6 to 8 metres higher, so it’s crazy to think that 2 degrees Celsius is safe limit.

The only thing you can argue is that, well, it might take a while for the sea level to rise that much, but we know that it would happen because once the fossil fuels are burned to reach that level they are not taken out of the systems for millennia, and it does not require millennia for the ice sheets to disintegrate.

RN: If you say it would be crazy to shoot for two degrees but that is exactly what we are going to be shooting for in Paris at the global climate talks

HANSEN: That number (2 degrees) was chosen because it was convenient and thought that well that will give us a few decades so we can set targets for the middle of the century.

Actually what the science tells us is we have an emergency, this is actually a global crisis and the science for that is crystal clear. It’s not obvious to the public because the climate system responds slowly, the ocean is 4 kilometres deep, these ice sheets are 3 kilometres thick. They only respond over time scales of decades to centuries, but once the processes are started it’s going to be extremely difficult if not impossible to stop them.

So what the science actually tells us is that we should reduce emissions as fast as practical, bearing in mind the economic consequences, but in fact the actions that are necessary are not economically harmful. You just have to make the prices of fossil fuels honest.


Note that James Hansen, just in the last few years, believes we need more nuclear power to stop climate change. The Australian pediatrician and activist Helen Caldicott pretty well demolished that argument in her book "Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer to Global Warming or Anything Else." If Helen missed anything, it was shouted out to the world by the triple melt-down of three reactors at Fukushima Japan in 2011. If you want to bet on nuclear power, you are gambling with terrible stakes for the present and the future, in my opinion.

That said, James Hansen is one of the world's greatest heroes of the science of climate change. Now he's saying that on our present course, within 40 or 50 years, the seas will rise several meters, demolishing the capacity of many of the world's great cities along the ocean. I hope New York, London, Shanghai and all the rest are listening. Hansen also says it is not too late, even yet, to prevent that kind of disastrous outcome.


There are not many truly wild places left in this world. Environmental activists have been fighting to save one of them for 18 years. It's known globally as The Great Bear Rainforest.

Situated on the central and northern west coast of Canada, this rainforest is home to giant trees, some thousands of years old. In countless coastal inlets, a rich mix of plants and animals thrive, including the iconic white bear, the Kermode or spirit bear.

Supposed enemies met to find a solution. Dedicated green activists including Greenpeace, Forest Ethics and the Sierra Club met in marathon negotiations with executives of giant forest companies, First nations leaders and stakeholders preserve this great legacy. Eventually the government of British Columbia made a promise. Now, almost a generation later, that government is within 60 days of sealing the deal - a model of multi-party efforts to conserve nature that has inspired hope, around the world.

To help us understand what's at stake, we have reached one of the long-term campaigners to save the Great Bear Rainforest, Valerie Langer. She's the Director of BC Forest Campaigns, for ForestEthics Solutions, and works for the convervation and markets group called "Canopy" as well.

Valerie Langer

Here's the thing: the Great Bear Rainforest is an area the size of Ireland - much of it untouched by modern civilization. Canadian and American-owned logging companies wanted to log the whole thing. They had to be stopped.

Why would big forest companies give up some of the most valuable timber in the world, just to accommodate a few environmentalists? Because of activism from all three groups making this rainforest wood untouchable in the market place. Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of contracts were cancelled. Companies like Home Depot swore they would never buy the wood from the Great Bear. Other companies pulled out of British Columbia altogether.

Feeling the heat, the forest company executives agreed to something they had never considered before: meeting with the environmentalists to make a deal. Some major foundations kicked in money to keep the negotiations going.

One of the major problems was to keep the Great Bear without leaving First Nations (aboriginal) communities in poverty, without even logging jobs. Private foundations and donors raised $60 million dollars, matched by $30 million each from the Federal and Provincial governments, to help the First Nations communities create their own alternative economy. Eco-tourism was just a part of that big picture.

All this had never been done before. It took 18 years to get it this far: the next 60 days are the final period for public comment, before the Great Bear deal is made into law.

The fight isn't completely won yet. There is a rogue company logging in the Great Bear at a furious rate, trying to get as much as possible before the government gives final approval. It's called Timber West. The Province of British Columbia needs to rein them in, but the province has laid off most of it's enforcement staff. Public pressure on Timber West is still needed.

Still, a deal involving all parties, settled peacefully with dialog, stands as a model for other endangered forests all over the world. Valerie Langer is a powerful speaker and power-house campaigner, so give this interview a listen.

Download or listen to this interview with Valerie Langer in CD Quality of Lo-Fi


I can't wrap up this show, and this season, without a few words about a stunning court victory in the Netherlands. Regular listener and green radio journalist Mark Beekhuis brought this to my attention. Mark writes, quote:

"This week a climate campaign group won a case against The Netherlands. A judge ordered the government to reduce carbon emissions by 20% relative to 1990 - by the year 2020. This is a first in the world. The main legal argument is that the State should protect all of its citizens - also the ones not yet born."

Imagine, a government must protect future citizens, our grandchildren and descendants! In their ruling, the judges said:

"The state should not hide behind the argument that the solution to the global climate problem does not depend solely on Dutch efforts,"..."Any reduction of emissions contributes to the prevention of dangerous climate change and as a developed country the Netherlands should take the lead in this."

The current Dutch government is a coalition, where Beekhuis tells us, one party appears to accept this ruling, while another hopes to overturn it.

The Dutch environmental group "Urgenda" has put all it's legal documents on the Internet. They have been translated into English as well. The group wants other countries to follow their lead in the courts. Activists in Belgium have already done it, and groups in Norway are working on it. This could be a world-wide movment to force governments to do their job protecting the future for all to come.

Here is a link to a story on American National Public Radio about this case, so you can listen in to that. The Guardian write up is here.


This program concludes the first half of my 2015 season. I'm hard at work collecting some of the most powerful interviews for a "best of Radio Ecoshock" series. Since we have not resolved or really responded to the climate threat, the science and the activism going back several years is still very valid today. I hope you'll keep listening through the summer, as we go deep into the issues we all face, with a wide variety of voices.

At the end of the summer, in the Northern Hemisphere, I'll return with a whole new energy, and a whole new series of programs.

Of course that's assuming I can keep quiet even for a little while. Right now it's 107 degrees, about 42 degrees Celsius, in any shade you can find, outside my studio walls. That's in Canada, with summer barely started. Scratch, that, its gone up to 111 degrees F in the shade, 44 degrees C!!! This is insane!

We may have to begin with replays of our powerful interviews with top fire experts. There's lots more to come on Radio Ecoshock, so please say tuned.

I'm also working on more new climate music to help spark the Paris climate talks. Watch the Radio Ecoshock page on Soundcloud for that.

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