Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Alex Smith on Post Carbon Radio

In the summer of 2015, it's another blistering week in North America, and around the world, as weather records fall. It's 105 degrees, or 40 degrees Celsius outside my studio in British Columbia Canada. The ocean-side city of Portland Oregon experienced back to back days over 100 degrees. A heat wave blasted the East Coast of the United States and Canada. Europe is cooler this week, after a blazing heat wave followed by freakish storms.

This same day, a city of 100,000 people in Iran experienced a combination of heat and humidity equal to 163 degrees Fahrenheit, or 74 degrees Celsius.

This El Nino year could be the record-shattering jump in global heating we've been warning is on the way. Welcome to your hotter world.

This week on Radio Ecoshock we turn the tables. Alex Smith is the guest on Post Carbon Radio, as broadcast on KWMR West Marin Community Radio outside San Francisco California. We go for the big picture on shocking climate change, and the eternal question: can we do anything about it? Let's go to Post Carbon Radio hosts Karen Nyhus and Bing Gong.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Or listen on Soundcloud right now!

Post Carbon Radio has grown into a really important climate radio source you should bookmark and add to your list. Or you can subscribe on Itunes. For example, here is their description of the previous week's show:

"We interview Victor Menotti, Executive Director of the International Forum on Globalization, and Claire Greensfelder, Co-founder of Women’s Global Call for Climate Justice and Senior Advisor on Climate and Energy for Women in Europe for a Common Future and Women's Environment and Development Organization. Both guests are veteran observers of the UN climate negotiations, and were in Bonn, Germany in June for the UNFCCC climate negotiations leading up to COP 21 in Paris this December. What happened in Bonn?

What can we expect in Paris COP 21? Is the 2 degree target enough to stop catastrophic climate change, and is it even achievable?"

The Post Carbon Radio show is found here on Podomatic:

Speaking of good alternative radio, don't forget "TUC Radio" with host Maria Gilardin, also in Northern California. "TUC" stands for Time of Useful Consciousness. Her latest show is a speech by one of the world's top climate scientists Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. The talk comes from the conference "Our Common Future" held in July 2015. This program also contains some of Schellnhuber's remarks at the Vatican.

You can find a complete listing of TUC Radio shows, with free mp3 downloads here on Maria's TUC Radio site is here.


Co-host Karen Nyhus begins with this:

"In my observation, the American press has dropped off its coverage of climate science in the last 5 years. The British press, by contrast, including the UK Guardian, have not, but they have also taken heat since you started broadcasting for putting out what others call “climate porn.” There’s a lot of debate about how to communicate climate science, if your goal is to inspire people to action, which presumably any non-denier wants. You’ve covered a lot about communication, despair, and climate change psychology.

You did a show recently called “How to Avoid Thinking About Climate Change. Can we start your thoughts on the responsible balance in journalism between telling hard truths and couching it in terms which can either motivate or discourage people? What have you learned in the past decade?

Alex: One thing I’ve learned is that mass media news realized we pay most attention to threats, and so the saying “if it bleeds it leads”. It’s true that programs I do with solutions get fewer listeners and downloads than very threatening news. Some have suggested our brains are really like hard drives that collect threatening information, so we can survive better the next time it happens.

Here are my notes on what I said:

Norwegian eco-psychologist Per Espen Stoknes tells us why public concern about climate may be falling, even as the science becomes more certain. His book is called "What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming". Stoknes talks about 5 D's of Denial :distant (happening somewhere else), doom, dissonance, denial, and identity.

He also speaks of "apocalypse fatigue". The concern is the more fear and guilt, the more people become passive, and less likely to be activists. Anyway it's more pleasant to daydream about the new truck, a new dress, or the Kardashians. We all want to doubt climate science because we don't see how we can change (and that helps us want to believe industry disinformation about climate change.

According to Stoknes, psychology also shows that if new information requires us to change our identity, the new information loses; identity will over-ride the facts in our brains.

SOLUTIONS: social networks (we are more likely to install a solar panel of our neighbor does; a study showed that what neighbors do is very important, more important than a scientific argument, or even paying someone to change); making the climate framework more supportive; also we need to offer better stories. Also such simple things as labels can "nudge" us into making better buying decisions (for example the requirement to show what the annual operating cost of an appliance is).

As with other psychologists I've interviewed, Per Espen agrees it is appropriate to feel grief, but not to let that rule our lives. We should be able to open our hearts more after grief, and then let it turn into motivation.

The web page for Per Espen Stoknes is here.

My full Radio Ecoshock blog on the interview with Stoknes is here.

You can download the mp3 of that interview here.

Aside from psychological barriers to communicating climate change, there is also the educational problem. The science and our experiences of changing weather are all so new, even to climate scientists. There are new terms being invented to communicate things we’ve never seen before. None of this was taught in school (something we need to address) - so we all need to go back to school. You tube videos by scientists on climate change are a good place to start. Incidentally, I've found that on You tube, searching for "global warming" is more likely to bring up denial crap, and "climate change" is more likely to bring up real science.


In this Post Carbon Radio show I also talk about the two biggest stories in my opinion - both of them at the poles. We have the melting permafrost, gigantic fires, and more methane emissions in the Arctic (not to mention rapid ice melt from Greenland, and disappearing sea ice). Antarctica is also a huge story. We thought it was stable or even getting colder, but ice is melting there too.

Karen and Bing ask me what has most surprised me in climate news lately.

The biggest surprises for me are the number of new studies, some coming out in just the past month, which say that certain climate processes are irreversible. We tend to wish that if we just change our actions, we can go back to the way it was. That’s a common human wish mechanism. But if you think about it, time only moves in one direction, and generally so does nature. I'm developing a new show for September on "Unstoppable Climate Change".

New studies show that ocean heating is now irreversible. And the melting of Greenland, with all that sea level rise, is probably irreversible in any time frame that matters to us. Likely permafrost melting is also beyond that tipping point where it can be stopped.

The third big shocker comes from one of America’s top climate scientists, Dr. James Hansen. He was with NASA, and back in 1988 warned Congress about climate change. If only they’d listened then, or if only they’d listen now. Hansen has a new scientific paper coming out with shocking news about sea level rise. The oceans could rise as much as 20 feet by 2050 he says. We hugely underestimate the speed and amount of Greenland ice melt, among other factors. It looks like the doubling time for ice melting is much shorter than we thought, doubling anywhere between 5 and 20 years, not a hundred or two hundred years.

Sea level rise will mean a lot to ports like Los Angeles and ocean-side communities. But it will hit Florida and the East coast much harder. Elsewhere in the world, most major mega-cities are on the ocean, and millions of people farm ocean-side river deltas. All of that may have to be abandoned. Not all scientists agree on this one yet, but Hansen has been only too right about climate change, for the past 25 years.


But my biggest worry is our common human ability to lie to ourselves. We are a very imaginative species. That is mainly how science was developed - to check reality in the outside world, without relying solely on our beliefs.

Science was invented, partly by Sir Francis Bacon in the 1600’s, because of our proven ability to create schemes like angels dancing on pins, that do not mirror reality. It’s impossible to over-estimate this ability to create alternative schemes that are not based in reality.

The Internet has just added more power to that, when you consider all the schemes based on an imaginary planet hovering around, and many other conspiracies. So we spin up all kinds of fantasies based around climate change as well, and these do not help us act appropriately to save ourselves. The idea that geoengineering is already happening with chemtrails is just one example. Or the way supposed scientists working with fossil fuel companies try to blame changes in the Sun for global warming, a theory long disproven.

I'm concerned we will all keep drifting along burning fossil fuels, and accepting false solutions from our leaders, until it's too late. Recently President Obama said he believes there is such a thing as "too late".

Bing asks me: "What is the mildest, most hopeful climate perspective you consider credible?"

I think the best vision would be an emergency program to convert ourselves toward green energy, combined with global climate justice. This might lead to a new carbon-free economy which also reduces some of the other stresses caused by wealth inequality, within the developed world, and between all countries.


The discussion of emergency action leads to another of our recent guests, the psychoanalytical psychologist Margaret Klein Salaman. She talked to us about the climate mobilization pledge, found here. The historic example of mobilization during World War Two has been used by many climate leaders and thinkers. Hilary Clinton has used that example, as have Executive Directors of many NGO's, including Lester Brown of Earth Policy Institute. He was one of the signatories of a 2008 letter to President Barack Obama, calling for an effort like the World War Two mobilization, but this time to fight climate change.

Klein Salaman says psychoanalytical work helps a patient accept conflict, within themselves. For example, you might both love someone and hate them. We will have similar mixed emotions, because in spite of our climate knowledge, the fossil powered world around us is almost inescapable on an individual level. Still, we feel guilty about our energy use.

Another psychological defense against really knowing about climate impacts is "wilful ignorance". It's when you "know enough to know you don't want to know any more." We may start reading an alarming article on climate change, then quickly move on to another news item, and "forget" about it. The person could learn more about it, or really throw their lives into it, but claim they are not experts, not scientists, so they bear no responsibility.

Margaret started a Facebook group, now run by others, called "Climate Change. It's Personal". It's about how we as people live in these times. We don't have to experience the climate crisis alone.

Find my blog on Margaret Klein Salaman here.

Your can listen to or download that interview with Margaret here.


Bing Gong asks me about the Paris climate talks.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has underestimated all the changes so far. They thought Arctic sea ice would start to disappear around 2050, rather than 2007. The process involves a consensus among governments which include carbon producing countries like the United States, Saudi Arabia, Canada and Australia, who all have interests in keeping the status quo.

The idea of a 2 degree safe limit is not safe at all. And that’s what they are aiming for, and will fail even at that. Our current path is heading toward 8 degrees Centigrade warming by 2200, which means extinction for most species including ourselves.

Even worse, the plans for staying within 2 degrees C of warming all assume geoengineering to remove the CO2 from the atmosphere, a technology that does not exist, and won’t likely exist on a scale needed, like to remove 10 billion tons of CO2. We don’t have any industry on that scale. Even iron ore mining only manages to get 1 billion tons a year. So we are lying to ourselves again, which guarantees failure.

Sorry, but that's the way I see it. We should still try to pressure our leaders. I expect a large turn out in the streets of Paris, and in every major city, as common people plead for climate protection.


Karen says "For those of us who put little faith in that process, where do we turn? Bolivia held a people’s climate summit in 2010, which Bing and I both attended along with thousands of people from around the world. But the formal political powers ignored it. What is the role and the power of civil society, regular people organized into movements, nonprofits, unions, and the like, in the struggle to reign in climate change?"

My reply: as you may know Pope Francis just hosted a gathering of the most climate-aware city mayors around the world. The most progressive climate action is happening at the municipal level, which still has more connection to direct democracy, than Congress, which has been bought off by the Koch Brothers and other oil producers. So I encourage people to literally think globally, but act locally. Get involved with city hall, but also create the new reality we want and need by things like community gardens, total recycling of products, putting shopping pressure on retailers and producers. Use the market place as a ballot box.

Of course we also talk about the big drought in California, and what El Nino means to weather.


This El Nino looks ready to create the hottest year on record. Not just by a fraction of a degree, but a significant warming. New records for the first six months have been set globally, but also in many places. We had a 30 day heat wave here that broke records. It felt like the future for sure.

But there were high heat deaths in both India and Pakisatan. Central Asia heated up strongly. Extreme heat in Spain, Portugal and Italy. London England was very, very hot. Alaska is not, as is part of Siberia. Even the Australian winter was warmer there than usual, and records were set in South America.

Our science of El Nino and La Nina is still in early stages. There’s a lot we don’t know. For example, with the flash floods in Southern California be enough to off-set the tendency to drought? So far experts say we would need extended rainy periods, for a couple of years to end the drought, and that hasn’t happened. We don’t know how this combination will work.

Strangely, it almost seems like the warm El Nino waters in the Eastern Pacific broke off into a huge blob of unusually hot water off the U.S and Canadian Pacific coast. That’s partly responsible for our heat wave here. We don’t know for sure what caused it, of how often that may come again. Vancouver, which is normally a rainy city, is now on Stage Three water alert, meaning it is illegal to water lawns. Vancouver with brown lawns is something I’ve never seen before.

To get more current El Nino science and predictions,I recommend Robert scribbler’s blog at


We talk about Radio Ecoshock guest Jeff Rubin when we discussed his new book "The Carbon Bubble: What Happens To Us When It Bursts"?

Jeff Rubin was the chief economist for a major Canadian bank. He discovered that the basis of the Canadian economy was unstable, being increasingly dependent on expensive Tar Sands oil. Now that the price of conventional oil has crashed below $50 a barrel, the Canadian dollar, stock market and economy have crashed. The current government based its budget and its politics all on Western oil. They deny we are in a Recession, even though Canadian and American bankers say we are.

Similar scenes are playing out in North Dakota and Texas over fracking. Fracking is expensive, because you have to continually drill new wells, and borrow money to do it. There have been worries that the fossil fuel energy crash in the United States could be as serious, or more damaging, than the 2007-2008 housing crash. Big banks and pension funds are heavily invested in fossil fuels. If those loans go bad, that could trigger a crash. That’s partly what Rubin was writing about.

In any case, as many people know, most of the so-called reserves claimed by big oil companies will have to be left in the ground, because they are too damaging to the climate. We can’t burn them. Again, those big energy company stocks are based on the value of their reserves as much as current profits. They could fall, and if they don’t diversify into renewable energy, they will crash as badly as buggy whip makers did when horse transport was replaced by cars.


Moving on from finance, we talk about causes for hope. I recently interviewed Dr. Jeremy Leggett on "Winning the Carbon War.” Leggett runs one of the larger solar energy companies in Britain. He’s also an expert in all kinds of energy. Like many of us, Jeremy went through a period of despair, as we failed to act. But he’s been collecting statistics that show renewable energy is being built much faster than things like new coal plants, or even gas generating plants, all over the world. We may be winning more than we know, even though it’s just a start.

After doing this for a decade, what gives me hope?

My main hope rests with the younger generation. Older people have shown they are unable to change their minds and lifestyles. Often they fall into religious excuses for their denial. But younger people were raised in a more scientific age, and question a lot of things. They also have grown up with fast-moving social networks that could communicate the movement we need to avoid the worst form of climate change.

That is partly why I am dabbling with composing electronic dance music with climate themes. I’m hoping the artistic community can inspire people where science and education may have failed. You can listen to my climate music on the Radio Ecoshock soundlcoud page here. In fact, I end this program with one of my climate songs as posted on soundcloud. It's called "Great Longing".


As we wrap up, I add this:

The reason I called my program Ecoshock is due to the medical state of shock. You survive something terrible, like a fire or a car crash, but seem unable to move further to save yourself. You may be in a state of shock. I think we are in a state of shock about the climate, and we need to treat ourselves, almost in a mass medical manner, to get out of it.

Back in the 1970’s, Alvin Toffler suggested our civilization is so complex and changing he coined the term “future shock”. Now we have “climate shock” and “ecological shock” in general.

Think about people who have been blown out of their homes by tornados, again, or flooded out where floods have never been seen before. Will they finally vote for climate action candidates, or will their reliance on old beliefs just make them more resistant? Can humans respond to this crisis never seen before in literature, in the Bible, or anywhere? That’s the drama we are now living in – the biggest drama in our hundred thousand year existence on this planet, as allegedly intelligent beings.


I thought you might put up with my thoughts in this Post Carbon Radio show. But don't worry. I'm already hard at work lining up the real scientists, authors and experts for the new season of Radio Ecoshock, as soon as September begins.

My special thanks to all the correspondents who send me climate and environment news tips all through the year. I can't always reply to each, but many of these tips end up being new Radio Ecoshock shows. Thanks to Jack Wolfe for helping with the show Facebook page. And of course I thank all those people who donated money to keep this program going. I feel blessed and grateful for the opportunity to cover this beat.


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