Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Climate: Criminal Activity

SUMMARY: The world rolls on, hotter than ever. This week on Radio Ecoshock: Neela Banerjee from InsideClimate News investigates the world's biggest oil company, Exxon/Mobil. Starting in the 1970's, Exxon knew their product would damage the climate, but chose to fund denial. In "The End of Plenty", National Geographic author Joel Bourne says the future of food and population isn't going to happen. Plus Terence McKenna on why most people are idiots; Paul Ehrlich on disappearing animals; & song "Love-A-Lution". Radio Ecoshock 150930.

I'm Alex Smith. Thanks for joining in. Let's get started.

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The world's largest oil company knew climate change would result from their products as early as 1977. That's just part of startling revelations coming out of an investigation by InsideClimate News. To get the whole scoop, we've reached their senior investigative journalist, Neela Banerjee.

Neela Banerjee

While researching the early days of climate science, journalists with InsideClimateNews found puzzling things. There were scientific papers on climate change in the late 1970's and early 1980's, published by Exxon scientists. Exxon experts even testified to Congress about the risks of climate change in those early days.

The world's largest oil company rigged up a supertanker with measuring instruments to study the amount of carbon going into the oceans. The company forsaw carbon controls, and wanted to be taken seriously as a party to those discussions.

Documents found in company archives, including those held at the University of Texas, showed this wasn't a low level exploit by some adventurous company scientists. Top levels of management were advised about the serious risk of climate change, routinely.

According to InsideClimate News:

"As early as 1978, Exxon’s scientists predicted that burning fossil fuels could lead to climate change that would 'destroy agricultural output' for entire countries. Exxon scientists issued urgent and dire warnings to top Exxon executives that climate change could be “catastrophic” and 'irreversible,' and that prevention would 'require major reductions in fossil fuel combustion.'"

Exxon doesn't deny any of this happened. How could they? There are films, letters, published papers, Congressional testimony. But Neela Banerjee says the company doesn't want to talk about it now.

Most of the Exxon climate research ended around 1982, likely due to widespread cost-cutting at the company during a down-turn. However their climate modeling unit kept on going.

In 1989, Exxon joined the infamous "Global Climate Coalition". That may sound like an activist group, but really it was a gathering of carbon polluters, with the intent to prevent any controls on carbon pollution. Then in the 1990's, and at least until around 2007, Exxon, and later Exxon/Mobil, poured millions of dollars into any "Institute" or scientists that would help confuse the public about the reality of global warming. Like the tobacco lobby (whose products also killed millions) Exxon worked hard to create doubt. Exxon executives like Rex Tillerson were close to being climate deniers.

In so doing, as the world's biggest oil company, with offices in almost every country, the company helped stall climate action, and made our whole situation a lot worse.

Exxon still hasn't come clean. According to a press release from InsideClimate News:

"As recently as Exxon’s 2015 shareholder meeting, CEO Rex Tillerson questioned if climate change was linked to the extreme weather that Exxon’s own scientists predicted three decades ago. Exxon has directed roughly $30 million in funding to groups that dispute the connection between fossil fuels and climate change. Despite a 2007 promise to stop funding climate change deniers, the company has given more than $2 million to members of Congress who continue to deny that human activity is driving climate change."

Listen to/download this 21 minute interview with Neela Banerjee in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

Find the whole series at InsideClimate News here.

Here are clips from the PBS show Frontline on this early Exxon research, including film of the Exxon scientists on the supertanker.

Frontline: scientist Ed Garvey on Exxon Research

Frontline: scientist Richard Warthamer on Exxon and climate change


There's no doubt in my mind that executives of companies who know climate change will cause incalculable damage to our civilization and all nature will eventually be charged with crimes against humanity, at the very least. It may be posthumously for some. Others will be brought out as we saw the 80 and 90 year-old Nazi war criminals still prosecuted.

There are not enough words to describe the enormity of knowing your product will wreck the climate, knowing that the public could have and should have been warned, and trying to hide it, all to make a buck. When cities go underwater during storms, and then permanently; when fires and floods wreck our homes; when the species say good-bye forever; when the heat of Hell breaks loose - surely that is beyond forgiveness. I'm Alex Smith, that's my opinion and this is Radio Ecoshock.


There is another futurecast sure to wreck on the rocks of a harsh reality. The United Nations predicts there will be over 11 billion humans on the earth by the year 2100. Our next guest explains why that isn't going to happen, and why most of us have already lived the most prosperous years of our lives.

Throughout history, there have been times of mass famine - until this century. Children today have hardly heard that word in the news. That may be about to change.

Joel K. Bourne Jr. is one of the top agriculture journalists. His work appears regularly in National Geographic and other publications. His new book is "The End of Plenty, The Race to Feed a Crowded World".

Joel has a degree in Agronomy. He grew up in rural North Carolina. Joel worked at farms and thought he would be a farmer. As he studied, he lost faith in agribusiness. Joel has been reporting on food problems in National Geographic as a contributing writer, and sometimes editor, since the year 2000.

Joel K. Bourne Jr.

Ever since Malthus in the 1700's, up to the Ehrlich's in the 1970's, people have been warning there is an upper limit to food production on this planet. Yet we seem to be almost feeding billions more people. Why should we pay attention to the idea of peak food now? That's where we start in this interview - and yes, peak food is already developing, and will get worse with climate change.

Strangely, most years we are already consuming more food, such as grains, than the world can grow. That's only possible because we stash away extra stocks during years of bumper crops. But as Lester Brown, recently retired from Earth-Policy Institute, told us for years, the world grain reserve keeps shrinking and shrinking. It's now down to about 70 days. Just a couple of bad harvests in America, Russia, or Australia, and there will be no reserves at all.

Egypt is a prime example. In the 1960's Egypt produced so much wheat it exported to other countries in the Middle East. Wheat is a primary food there, it is called the bread of life. Now, partly due to a doubling of population, Egypt is the single largest importer of wheat in the world. When when prices go up, there is trouble in the streets, and often a change of government. That's the future in many places in the world.

We may have reached peak plant production, with limited sunlight, soil, etc. Our yields started to flatten out in 2000, and stayed relatively flat during this century.


Joel explains how climate change will add big pressure to a world already slated to grow billions more humans. In fact, even without climate change, there is not enough land or energy to feed the 11 billion humans the United Nations forecasts for the end of this century.

It turns out "the Green Revolution" wasn't green in environmental terms. There have been big damages to nature due to the pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides used. All of that is based on cheap fossil fuels, which won't be around in affordable amounts even 50 years from now (listen to last week's interview with biologist James Brown for more on that). Take away the fossil-based fertilizer, and millions will starve.

Meanwhile, the United States is plowing more and more grains into biofuels. Europe is doing the same with various vegetable oils to make diesel (for those "green" Volkswagens no doubt). And the hype about genetic engineered crops saving the world is just hype. Only two major products have made it to market, and they don't do much.

Joel is optimistic that we can grow more food in the sea, which he calls "the blue revolution". Due to our bad experience with aquaculture in British Columbia, I have less faith in this solution.

Many people in the West presume that famine, or at least persistent hunger, may reappear in far way countries in Asia or Africa. But food production is now so global, so interlinked, that in years to come, food may become expensive or harder to get in North America or Europe too. There is already a lot of hidden poverty in "rich" countries.

There are some solutions in alternative agriculture that doesn't depend on fossil fuels and doesn't wreck the natural system. Bourne looked around the world for these solutions and they are in the book.

Joel K. Bourne has the most complete and authoritative work I've seen on this giant subject, in his new book "The End of Plenty, The Race to Feed a Crowded World". Anyone who cares about the future should read it. Find out more at

Download or listen to this 24 minute interview with Joel K. Bourne in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

You can also listen to an National Public Radio interview with Joel Bourne here.


Our story books are filled with wild and magical animals: spotted jaguars, crafty tigers and friendly Tiggers, elephants who can never forget, and crocodiles with sore teeth. Sadly, hidden behind the roar of human-based news, all that is disappearing on our lifetimes.

Next week I'm going to talk with the venerable Paul Ehrlich about his new book ""The Annihilation of Nature - Human Extinction of Birds and Mammals". In this program, I run a short clip where Paul tells us about some of those animals. It's from a from a video made by the Woods Institute. You can watch it on You tube here.

We just had time for a couple of eclectic bits. Terence McKenna explains why the world is full of idiots, and then Diana Lindley charms us with her song "Love-A-Loution".


Here is the late Terence McKenna.

The You tube address for that video is here.

The You tube video was published on Feb 12, 2014 It was taken from "Conversations at the End of the Millennium" with Ralph Abraham and Rupert Sheldrake. The music is Nara by E.S. Posthumous.


Diana Lindley is a Canadian, a Vancouver Islander, who feels driven to get this song Love-A-Lution out. There are several versions, including a very neat You tube video which features child-like crayon drawings by the team of a young brother and sister, Kinata and Yoko Kikuchi. The full length version was made for the New York City Climate March.

Let the skeptics and harsh critics lay down their weary burdens. Let's reach for the child inside, and for the children at our side. We need to find a way to end our war against nature.

My special thanks to those who donated to Radio Ecoshock this week. If you enjoy this program and want to help it keep going, please visit this page.

Thank you for listening, and caring about your world.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


Summary: Oil company BP says recoverable oil runs out in 50 years. American scientist James H. Brown publishes study saying this means a crash of economy and population is "very, very likely". Then Canadian climate scientist Andrew Weaver on our prospects, and why he ran for the Green Party. Radio Ecoshock 150923.

Warning: If you are already feeling depressed, this may not be the program for you. Maybe you should take a walk outside instead. Really. That would be OK.

For those still listening/reading, according to one of the world's biggest oil companies, their primary product may not be around for much longer than 50 years. In this program, a senior scientist follows that logic to find a catastrophic crash of our economy - and world population is "very, very likely".

We'll follow up with a chat with one of Canada's top climate scientists. He says we don't need more science, we need action to save ourselves. So he ran for the Green Party and got elected.

Speaking of politics, Catholic legislators in the U.S. Congress saying they will boycott the Pope's speech there because of his views on global warming, let's go to our favorite source, the father of all that's right, former President Ronald Reagan:

"Preservation of our environment is not a liberal or conservative challenge, it's common sense. Let's be sure that those who come after, will say of us in our time, we did everything that could be done."

Australia's great climate denier and coal-lover Prime Minister Tony Abbott just got the boot from his old party. His replacement is at least on record acknowledging that climate change is real and dangerous. One more to go: Canada's Tar Sands Prime Minister Stephen Harper is up for election in October, with polls showing him running dead last in public opinion.

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Of course, the political theater may all be far too late. Pop a few anti-depressants for our next guest, as Radio Ecoshock rolls on into the dystopic future.


In about 50 years, oil and gas will run out . But our bubble of economic growth and increasing population will crash before that. It has to. That's according to our next guest James H. Brown, a Distinguished Professor of Biology at the University of New Mexico, in Albuquerque. He's also the head of the Brown Lab.

This interview is not our usual fare. First of all, the crash will come less from climate change, although that is not minimized, but from the simple fast that economically retrievable oil and gas will run out. Eventually, Brown says, that means this planet will no longer be able to support billions of people. A great dying is likely, if not inevitable.

This all comes not from an out-there blogger, but from a highly reputable scientist. His paper on the subject was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) - one of the top American scientific journals. It's peer-reviewed and inspected, and was published August 4th, 2015. The title is: "Human domination of the biosphere: Rapid discharge of the earth-space battery foretells the future of humankind".

I begin by asking Brown to describe what is meant by "the Earth-Space battery". Essentially, as I understand it, this is a system where solar energy is stored in two main forms on Earth: (1) the total mass of living matter, on land and sea (plants, animals, insects, the lot) and (2) the energy stored in longer-term forms like fossil fuels, and peat.

Brown makes the case that both forms of energy on Earth are being rapidly depleted. As they are exhausted (by us, and by systems stimulated by humans) - Earth moves toward the general state of (outer) space, becoming less hospitable for living things.

In the abstract for that paper we find this scary little sentence: "With the rapid depletion of this chemical energy, the earth is shifting back toward the inhospitable equilibrium of outer space with fundamental ramifications for the biosphere and humanity."

Since the authors (the other being John R. Schramski from the University of Georgia) find that fossil energy drives most of our civilization, and that supply of fossil fuels is limited - therefore there can be no such thing as "sustainable development". That is just a myth.

Long-time listeners will find echoes here of the peak oil theory, described by guests like James Howard Kunstler and especially Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute. But there are also parallels to the work of Dr. Tim Garrett of the University of Utah. Garrett likewise found a formula where the economy, indeed "wealth" are mathematically bound to carbon burned, and therefore to emissions. There will be no meaningful cut to emissions, Garrett told us, unless and until the economy drops so precipitously it will be a crash larger than the Great Depression of the previous century. Here is a link to a transcript of my 2010 interview with Tim Garrett.

Brown also shows, scientifically, how closely world population mirrors energy availability and use. Given that BP, a source of industry data trusted by others in the industry, says we only have 50 years of economically useful fossil fuels left - what else can we see coming but a concomitant crash in population sometime in the next 50 years. That's a disaster beyond anything seen in human history, headed into the lives of anyone under the age of 30 now.

You can see this research developing in an earlier paper with Brown as lead author: "Energetic Limits to Economic Growth" as published by the American Institute for Biological Sciences on March 25, 2012. Find details on that here. Here is another Brown-led article in press for the journal Ecological Engineering: :Macroecology meets macroeconomics: Resource scarcity and global sustainability"

I have trouble with Brown's argument that economic growth has stalled due to scarcity, whether it's energy or other resources like copper or iron. It seems like we are swimming in excess oil right now, with prices dropping. Other commodity prices are also crashing, partly because Chinese demand has fallen. How can Brown you cite scarcity as a driver of a global recession, during a period of apparent abundance?

His answer is intriguing. Consider a sick person on a fixed income. If they are too sick to eat, their grocery bill might go down, and so they actually appear to have more available wealth. But really that "abundance" is a (temporary) sign of how sick the economy really is.

We also discuss the relationships between climate change and dwindling fossil fuel resources. It's always hard to tell which will hit us harder or faster. Either way, in a presentation in Baltimore last August, one of Brown's slides says : "A catastrophic crash appears inevitable."

James Brown's thinking also evolved around another big concept, the co-relation between metabolism and ecology. We won't have time to develop the whole theory this time around, but you can learn about it in this You tube video (1 hour 4 minute intriguing lecture).

Here is another useful review of this important paper by the real journalist Andrew Nikiforuk in the Canadian publication the Tyee.

I don't agree with everything Dr. Brown said in our interview. For example he says renewables cannot replace fossil fuels for cars and factories. But they can, although our lifestyles and expectations would have to change drastically. But certainly, if oil that is economical to get runs out in 50 years, we're in for a crash, if not an age of crashes. We've had a lot of guests say that. Maybe it's true.

You can download or listen to this 23 minute interview with Dr. James H. Brown in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.


Just to finish off that mood, we play a short song from Dana Pearson: "Age of Humans". Find all of Dana's work as Vastman on


Let's keep going, with a climate scientist who quit science, at least for now, to become a political activist.

Is climate change unstoppable, even if we drastically cut back emissions? Are these mega-changes on our planet "irreversible"? Our guest Dr. Andrew Weaver is one of Canada's top climate scientists, most recently with the University of Victoria in Canada. He's been a lead author in many reports for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, including the 2007 report that won the Nobel Prize.

Dr. Andrew Weaver has been featured in the film "Running on Climate". As a Canadian climate expert, Andrew has been a cornerstone of a series of reports from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and published over 200 scientific papers of his own. Now he's the first Green Member of the Legislative Assembly in the Western Canadian province of British Columbia.

Dr. Weaver was a Lead Author for the Working Group I contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC. Published in 2013, the title is: “Long-term Climate Change: Projections, Commitments and Irreversibility.”

In the past couple of years, I am seeing more statements by official scientific bodies that some aspect of global warming is now "unstoppable" or "irreversible". NASA says melting of the Totten glacier complex in Antarctica is now "unstoppable". The most recent 2014 climate report of the American Meteorological Association says warming of the oceans is "unstoppable." So it's with great interest I ask Dr. Weaver about the "irreversible" changes to the climate system, and our ecological systems.

I ask him if he thinks that melting of the permafrost, during this century and the following centuries, has reached the state of "unstoppable"? And could emissions from melting permafrost and melting of Arctic methane ice cages, the clathrates, create more greenhouse gases than humans currently do?

Scientists have painted a frightening picture of massive changes to our climate, sea level, agriculture, weather extremes and extinctions if we proceed along the higher emissions pathway. I ask Dr. Weaver for his thoughts about possible results from the upcoming "Conference of the Parties" climate negotiations in Paris at the end of November 2015.

Despite his work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (which advises governments on pathways and climate decision-making) - Weaver says the whole series of COP talks have been a colossal waste of time. He likewise expects nothing of importance to come out of the Paris talks. In particular, Weaver finds talk of ending emissions by the end of this century (as the G8 countries agreed) is just posturing that actually delays the quick and big action we need right now.


Even more surprising from a long-time and well known climate scientist, Weaver questions whether we need more climate science. We already have plenty of data and proof of the nature and causes of the developing climate change. What we need is real action from our leaders. No more science needed? Shocking stuff.

Weaver told that to so many young people, he decided he should lead by example. Andrew ran for the Green Party in the Provincial elections in British Columbia Canada. He was elected on Vancouver Island, the first and so-far only Green in the Provincial government.

Like Michael Mann in the United States, Andrew Weaver was also attacked personally by a series of opinionated writers in some of Canada's major publications. When they said he wasn't even a bonifide climate scientist (among other weird accusations) Weaver sued for libel. He won the case, with damages. At least one publication often a home for climate denial issued an abject apology and fired the writer, removing all his past articles. Other publications have appealed the decision, so that battle is not over. But it certainly set an example of climate scientists fighting back against calumny.

Although we didn't talk about it this interview, Weaver is also the author of two books. As his Wiki entry says:

"His book, Keeping our Cool: Canada in a Warming World was published by Viking Canada in September 2008 (ISBN 978-0-670-06800-5). His second book, Generation Us: The Challenge of Global Warming was published by Raven Books in 2011 (ISBN 978-1-55469-804-2)."

In the interview, we return to the science, discussing many topics that listeners have raised with me in email and in Facebook comments. You can listen to or download this 29 minute interview with Dr. Andrew Weaver here, in either CD Quality or Lo-Fi.


We'll close out this week's program with one of those mega-productions that seem hopeful. The so-called Official "Love Song to the Earth" was directed by Jerry Cope and Casey Culver. If you listen closely, you'll hear guest appearances by a long list of stars, including Paul McCartney, Jon Bon Jovi, Sheryl Crow, Fergie, Colbie Caillat, Natasha Bedingfield, Sean Paul, Leona Lewis, Christina Grimmmie, and Victoria Justice.

According to the song notes at, "Every time the song is purchased, streamed, or shared, the royalties go directly towards the efforts of Friends of the Earth to keep fossil fuels in the ground and lower carbon emissions, and to the work of the U.N. Foundation to inspire international action on climate change."

Watch and listen to "Love Song to the Earth" on You tube here.

That's a good reason to go get this song and share it with others. So maybe, just maybe, if we find the last wave of human will, we can avoid the coming catastrophe.

Despite the tsunami of warning signs coming our way, I remain, as South Africa's Desmond Tutu says, "a prisoner of hope."

I'm Alex Smith. Thank you for listening to Radio Ecoshock this week, and for caring about our world. Please don't forget to help support this work. Find out how here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Hunting the Climate Shift

SUMMARY: This week on Radio Ecoshock 3 interviews with scientists on the cutting edge of climate change. From the UK, Chris Boulton hunts for signs of abrupt ecological shifts. From Norway, Hans Weihe explores the changing Arctic. But first, we look into whether air pollution is shading the world from serious heating, with Bjorn Stevens of the Max Planck Institute in Germany.

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

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We know that industrial pollution in the atmosphere actually hides some of the global warming expected from our emissions. But how much? Respected scientists like James Hansen have suggested that a degree Celsius - or more - is "in the pipeline" due to the pollution, called "aerosols" in science. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has a wide range of possible impacts of aerosols, but they recently dropped their lowest estimates.

The whole subject is one of the most difficult in science, because it involves swirls of widely varying materials in the atmosphere, unevenly distributed around the globe. The aerosols also interact with one of the last frontiers of science, the activity of clouds.

Our guest Professor Bjorn Stevens is a director at the Max-Planck-Institute for Meteorology where he leads the Atmosphere in the Earth System Department. He is also a professor at the University of Hamburg. Dr. Stevens was previously at the University of California in Los Angeles. Although born in Germany, he is an American, educated in the United States. Bjorn Stevens is one of the world authorities on clouds and climate change. He's the lead author of a new paper on the limits of aerosol impacts on global warming - and that paper has already stirred up controversy, including among climate sceptics.

The public knows little about this scientific discussion, except when it's called "global dimming". I've run a feature about it by the BBC. I was also impressed by studies of what was first called the "Asian Brown Cloud", but later the "Atmospheric Brown Cloud". Below you will find a link to my 2006 program on the subject, featuring the work of V. Ramanathan of the Scripps Institute.

For example, simple studies of how long it takes a pan of water to evaporate showed sunlight reaching the surface of China has dropped by at least 10% over the last couple of decades. Consider the implications for agriculture. Another huge big brown cloud forms over Northern India for part of every year, blocking out sunlight. The cause is mostly soot from inefficient indoor cooking fires!

In that blog I wrote:

"Ramanathan told science writer Regina Nuzzo,

'By sheer, dumb luck, we are adding particles that are trapping sunlight and cooling the planet.'

He compares it to a mask - and if that pollution is removed, the climate may suddenly rise to the real levels of warming gases in the atmosphere. Ramanathan said:

'Many of us, including myself, are concerned we could see a huge acceleration of global warming if we unmask the beast.'"


Find a text summaryof the BBC "Global Dimming" documentary here. Watch the documentary here.

The Radio Ecoshock special on global dimming (20 minutes, 18 MB) is available as a free .mp3 here. A transcript of Radio Ecoshock special on global dimming, (broadcast Sept 8, 2006) is here.


But now in 2015 we ask: is global dimming an appropriate label for the totality of human pollution that may be shading the Earth from the real carbon blanket we've put up there? If I understood him correctly, Bjorn Stevens says "no" because global dimming was really about local or regional conditions of pollution (say over India or China) rather than a global effect.

In fact, Stevens began to argue with other scientists who claimed a large amount of warming was being masked. That argument became his new paper "Rethinking the Lower Bound on Aerosol Radiative Forcing" published in the Journal of the American Meteorological Society in June 2015.

As I understand it (and this is not easy science) - Stevens compared a known period of atmospheric pollution, in the first half of the 20th century, to a more recent period, to calculate the probably effect on global warming. The general analog for the way pollution operates in the early period was sulfur, which came from burning oil, but even more from burning coal. Sulfur pollution in that period from 1910 to 1950 was pretty well known and measured.

This is the big picture method of research. In other words, Stevens doesn't try to add up all the many sources of aerosol pollution (as Dr. James Hansen and others have done) - but instead looks at totals and comparative temperatures.

The data shows that aerosol pollution is not as big a factor in hiding global warming as previously thought. That's good news - because it means there is less danger in cleaning up pollution, say in the skies above China. We don't really have to worry that a sudden jump of temperature will occur, according to Stevens.

In fact, and this is the key, Stevens tell us the worry about aerosol dimming is a problem of the past, of the 20th century. In this century, the effects of carbon dioxide to drive warming has far out-stripped the lesser masking power of pollution. It's yesterday's worry, he says.

Climate skeptics and critics like Judith Curry have jumped on Stevens paper to say "see, there's nothing to worry about, it's already as bad as it's going to get." Stevens was forced to respond to distortion of his research by right-wing media.

I think it is be a mistake to use this to discount the concern about warming "still in the pipeline" as James Hansen puts it. There are other factors which can mask or temporarily hide the true impacts of carbon pollution, like absorption by the world's oceans. That ocean mix down is probably a time limited factor, and the heat energy absorbed WILL come back out at some point.

As for "climate sensitivity" (which we talk about in the Steven interview) - we don't yet know for sure how much climate reacts to carbon. But so far, all the surprises in sensitivity have been worse than we thought, not better.

I recommend listening to this Stevens interview as one of the more serious interviews I've done, with one of the world's more prominent scientists.

You can listen or download this 26 minute talk with Dr. Bjorn Stevens in either CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

Use this tiny URL if you want to Tweet it out to others:


When a scientist starts talking about "abrupt ecosystem change" - as the title of a new paper does - that really gets my attention. This time it's the ocean, and specifically the North Pacific Ocean - which borders some of the mostly heavily populated places on Earth.

The title is "Slowing down of North Pacific climate variability and its implications for abrupt ecosystem change". From the College of Life and Environmental Sciences, at the University of Exeter in the UK, we've reached the lead author, Dr. Chris A. Boulton.

Going back to the beginning of things, Chris Boulton and his research partner Tim Lenton partly based their investigation on a 2008 paper that flew under the radar of most people. That was published in PNAS in 2008 by Vasilis Dakos et al. The title says it all: "Slowing down as an early warning signal for abrupt climate change." The abstract for that paper is here, and you can read the full text here.

Dr. Chris Boulton, University of Exeter.

Dakos and the other scientists reviewed a trend that is commonplace in physics and many other fields: systems can appear to reach an equilibrium just before they break into a significant change of state. The Dakos team found the same pattern in Earth's history, where they say:

"...periods of relatively stable climate have often been interrupted by sharp transitions to a contrasting state. One explanation for such events of abrupt change is that they happened when the earth system reached a critical tipping point. However, this remains hard to prove for events in the remote past, and it is even more difficult to predict if and when we might reach a tipping point for abrupt climate change in the future. Here, we analyze eight ancient abrupt climate shifts and show that they were all preceded by a characteristic slowing down of the fluctuations starting well before the actual shift."

Can we predict when such a critical threshhold is reached (and when it will tip)? That would be very useful for us now. Or can we only see a tipping point after it has happened? Have we already "tipped" and we don't know it yet?

These are the sorts of questions the Boulton and Lenton's research set out to answer. They choose the climate of the North Pacific ocean - partly because long-term sea surface temperature measurements are available, and partly because the North Pacific is subject to shifts - called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation or PDO.

Talking about all this in the interview covered a wide range of subjects, including the mysterious presence of "the blob" of hotter water parked off the Pacific coast of North America for the past couple of years - and how that fits into the larger ocean patterns in the Pacific Ocean generally. We care, because these ocean conditions often drive weather formations over huge areas of the continents.

Wikipedia offers this definition of the PDO: "The PDO is detected as warm or cool surface waters in the Pacific Ocean, north of 20° N." Chris Boulton gives us more details. It's interesting to note that this state of the North Pacific, which may last a decade or more, was first named by scientist Steven R. Hare, who was studying salmon runs in 1997. The productivity of salmon runs varied with the state of the North Pacific. You can see this knowledge is relatively recent.

But what if the North Pacific ocean changes were becoming less frequent, and lasted longer in each state? Could that be a slowing down that would indicate we are reaching a climate tipping point, as Vasilis Dakos wrote about?

It would be a fantastic (but awful) scoop to say Boulton and Lenton discovered the smoking gun, and yes the climate is about to experience an abrupt ecosystem change. However, in this case, an exhaustive analysis failed to prove a tipping point has been triggered. Boulton hopes to explore other cases, to find some signals that would provide advance warning of an abrupt change. It's important science in my opinion.

In the meantime, the team did find that marine systems are prone to "higher amplitude, lower frequency" events. Think about this like the stock market. The market could go along fairly calmly, perhaps slowly rising or falling, but now and then it crashes. It appears natural systems, and climate change in particular, can operate the same way.

That's a scary thought for me. What if we go into another so-called "hiatus" of global warming, and relax our efforts to reduce carbon emissions - not realizing this really is "the calm before the storm". The apparent plateau is really a warning of an imminent large system change. I doubt human societies can digest this possibility, and be prepared to act on climate change, even when the weather extremes give us a break. Think that over. I will.

You can listen to/download this Radio Ecoshock 21 minute interview with Chris Boulton in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.


Scientists measure disappearing Arctic sea ice from space. Our next guest travels there, to learn from the land and local culture. Hans Joergen Wallin Weihe is a Professor at Lillehammer University College in Norway.

Dr. Hans Joergen Wallin Weihe

Dr. Weihe has travelled and researched in most parts of the Arctic, including not just his native Scandinavia, but also Greenland, northern Canada, and Siberia. He spent enough time learning from aboriginal people in Greenland that he was able to compile a a study of aboriginal languages from the Canadian north, Greenland, and Scandinavia.

Aboriginal knowledge of "what has always been known" (as they say) is a neglected source of climate study, Weihe says. For example, we can tell from the many terms used for "ice" the ways that ice has changed in these days of climate warming. In his work "Snow and Ice", Weihe writes:

"Among the differences and changes noted by Inuit hunters are thinner sea ice, melting from underneath the sea ice, changes in currents, changes in wind directions, changes in the way the ice breaks up, changes in moving ice, changes in cracks, changes in crystallizaton changes in consistency of sea water, changes in animal behaviour and concentrations. Still, as pointed out by many hunters, they had dogs in the old days and the dogs had senses that supplemented human senses detecting thin ice, animals and so on."

You can read a .pdf of the essay "Snow and Ice" in English here.

Listen to or download this 10 minute chat with Hans Weihe here.


That's it for Radio Ecoshock. I appreciate you taking the time to work through this blog, and the program. I know it's not pre-digested like so much of the media today. I find most modern media is aimed at tweaking thoughts and emotions already in our minds, rather than creating new ones.

I'm also grateful for the people who Tweet and Facebook about each week's show. To be honest, it takes everything I've got to find the best guests, arrange the interviews, put together the program and distribute it to various networks and radio stations. After that, I have not enough time or energy to really promote as I should. Fortunately, many listeners have taken this on, spreading the word about Radio Ecoshock shows to thousands more people all over the world.

My thanks also to those folks who made donations or signed up for our $10-a-month Radio Ecoshock support team. You keep this going.

Join us next week as the world turns. I'm Alex Smith, saying thank you for listening.

By the way, I wrote the background music you hear in this week's show.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


In this week's Radio Ecoshock, we cover global climate news, from the Syrian refugees to signs of an abrupt climate shift, with scientist Paul Beckwith. Plus I've got a few tidbits of news they just won't tell you, and my new song aimed to promote activism for the Paris climate talks in late November this year.

I'm Alex Smith, let's go.

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

Or listen right now on Soundcloud!

(image courtesy of Milint Earth Day) CLIMATE NEWS ROUNDUP WITH PAUL BECKWITH

Over the summer in the Northern Hemisphere, climate change put in an extreme appearance all over the world. It looks like 2015 will be the hottest year ever, another record-setting year in a string of hot years. Sooner or later, our civilization will begin to crack under the strain. Our next guest suggests a climate shift could be sooner than most people expect.

It's time for our climate roundup with climate scientist, and regular Radio Ecoshock guest, Paul Beckwith, from the University of Ottawa.

Climate change is behind one of the biggest stories of our times, the outpouring of refugees from the Middle East. Let me just read one paragraph from a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences March 2nd, 2015. The title is: "Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought". The lead author was Colin Kelly.

They say:

"There is evidence that the 2007-2010 drought contributed to the conflict in Syria. It was the worst drought in the instrumental record, causing widespread crop failure and a mass migration of farming families to urban centers."

They found a severe 3 year drought was 2 to 3 times more likely due to human-induced climate change, and then write: "We conclude that human influences on the climate system are implicated in the current Syrian conflict."

Are the millions on the move out of the Middle East also climate refugees? Beckwith says "yes" climate was a stimulation toward revolution (part of "the Arab Spring") and then civil war (which drove out millions of refugees). I think we have to keep in mind Syria was already home to at least million Palestinian refugees, and then took at least a million more refugees from war-torn Iraq. Add in the Syrian farm families displaced by heat and drought, and you have swarms of unemployed people, mostly very young, demanding change. It's a complicated situation, to say the least, but climate change played a role.

And let's face it, who wouldn't want to get out of the Middle East right now? They've just gone through a summer heat wave beyond human endurance. Then there's the sand storm that covered the entire region, visible from space. Cooler Europe, living in peace, with a functioning economy looks like a dream worth risking everything to reach.


Paul and I go on to discuss the new scientific estimates of much higher melt rates coming off Greenland. Where the IPCC used to suggest there would be one to three meters of sea level rise by 2100, now scientists like James Hansen (and NASA) are saying three meters of sea level rise is assured, and it may come much sooner.

Last year Paul Beckwith released a You tube video saying seven meters (23 feet!) of sea level rise was possible by 2070. I thought he was being too extreme. But now with Hansen's paper and other science coming out, it looks like Beckwith may be right about the upper limits that are possible. Last month he revisited that whole question in this You tube video.

Be sure to listen to Paul's description of the very important new paper by Dr. James Hansen, former Director of the Goddard Space Institute for NASA. Paul Beckwith did a series of 9 You tube videos to describe this paper in depth. Among many shocking conclusions is the possibility of extreme storm surges that could flood cities. Start with Part I of that series on You tube here.

Hansen's paper was made public well before the usual long delays common with scientific journals. He and his 16 co-authors thought it was that important. The title is: "Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise and Superstorms: Evidence from Paleoclimate Data, Climate Modeling, and Modern Observations that 2o C Global Warming is Highly Dangerous" The abstract is here.

There is also an interactive "Discussion" session you can read here. Paul gives us some clues on what to look for. All in all, this is probably the most important climate science paper of the year. You can read the full text of this new Hansen paper online here.

We also talk about the abnormal cold blob of water south of Greenland. This colder than normal ocean is one of the few "blue" (cold) spots on ocean maps these days, with most of the rest of the world a hotter red as the seas heat up. One explanation is that cold meltwater from Greenland has caused this blob.

Possibly related to that, the warmer Gulf Stream appears to have moved further south. This may lead to a cold and wet winter again in the UK and Scandinavia. Maybe. Big things are changing.

We also talk about whether the record heat waves hitting all around the world are just the result of El Nino, or is it climate change, and how would we know? That leads us to his two part video called "North Pacific Blow Torch" (Part 1 here, Part 2 here). It's all about the mass of hot water off the coast of North America, now called "the blob". That may be related to the drought in California, and giant wildfires in the West, but some scientists say the hot ocean blob is the result of atmospheric heating, not the cause of it. Here is a great article about the blob from Eric Simons of

When I ask Paul what that shift would look like, he gives us a peak preview of a possible book he may write on that future - if he can find time to write it all down! I have an interview with British scientist Chris Boulton coming up. I plan to ask him about the general idea that the climate may seem to stabilize right before it shifts into a new state. Paul gives us his thoughts on that.

Paul Beckwith has two Masters degrees. At the University of Ottawa he is working on his PHD with a thesis about abrupt climate change. He thinks we are already engaged in an abrupt climate shift. Now he has to prove it scientifically. That task is getting easier, as wild climate events keep rolling in.

My thanks to Paul Beckwith for communicating so much science. You can educate yourself just with his You tube videos and his Radio Ecoshock interviews. Follow Paul Beckwith on Facebook here.


In the climate news they don't tell you, Paul Beckwith talked about the heat wave that hit Japan this past August. It was hardly reported in the West, but here is a short clip from Vice News, August 6th.

But there's a huge story, lost in the mix of Western celebrity news, the refugee crisis and the developing stock market crash: Eastern Europe has been baking under a heat dome for over a month. Here is a clip from Ukraine Today on August 11th, explaining how carbon polluting coal plants can be shut down due to their own climate wrecking impacts - this time in Poland.

The heat in Ukraine itself just keeps on coming. On September 3rd, the capital Kiev ordered a shutdown of the school system due to continuing extreme heat plus... smoke from peat bog fires. Burning peat was the source of pollution that helped kill over 10,000 people in Russia in 2010, including many in the capital Moscow. Once set ablaze, peat can burn for months, perhaps into the winter, and releases a lot of extra carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Peat fires in Indonesia covered much of Southeast Asia in the winter of 1997-98, and made Indonesia the world's third largest source of carbon dioxide that year.

Peat fires are also sending up smoke in Western Russia, easily seen by satellite. Check our Robert Scribbler's blog September 3rd, titled "Smoke from Peat Bog Fires Blankets Europe and Russia Amidst Record Heat and Drought."

According to the Associate Press September 3rd, quote:

"Kiev broke an all-time record for Sept. 1 when the temperatures reached 35.5 degrees Celsius (95.9 Fahrenheit). Rainfall in August was just 4 percent of the average, according to the local weather forecasters.

Health Ministry spokesman Svyatoslav Protas said air pollution in the Ukrainian capital on Thursday was twice to 18 times higher than the normal levels, depending on the neighborhood.

My thanks to listeners who sent in these tips, of news they just don't tell you.


The Paris climate talks - are they a waste of time and carbon, or what?

The last minor climate meeting someone counted over 100 private planes arriving carrying the dignitaries. Imagine the wasted carbon there.

The other thing is: why do they hold these talks in winter? Europe may get a string of cold winters, and it just helps the deniers defuse the situation. I think they should be held in a heat wave during summer, and the air-conditioners in the conference rooms should be turned off. That would be more realistic and maybe add pressure for real action now, not 50 or a hundred years from now!

During my summer break, I worried what to make of the upcoming climate conference in Paris. My starting contribution is a new song called "In the Streets of Paris". If you like it, download it free from my blog at, or from the Radio Ecoshock soundcloud page. You can also share this tune through social media using the Soundcloud links, or embed the music in your own blog or web site - and I hope you will.

Please, Tweet your brains out about this. We're going to need all the help we can get, to pressure world leaders to get real in Paris, to save the climate and our descendants from horrible heating, extreme weather and massive extinction.

Thanks for listening. I've got lots of great guests coming up for you in the next few weeks.

Here is "In the Streets Of Paris".

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


SUMMARY: Climate change and the Western wildfires: scientists and a firefighter talk latest. Plus NASA's Benjamin Cook on the decades-long drought coming to the American Southwest and Central Plains. Radio Ecoshock 150902

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

Or listen right now on Soundcloud!


Welcome back to the new Fall season of Radio Ecoshock 2015. I'm Alex Smith and I'm in a funk.

It's been toxic to go outside for 4 days. Here in the West we are smoked in. Making a quick run outside, we got bits of falling ash in our eyes, from the big fires in Washington state. We gave up and went back. Without my walks in nature, in all weather, I'm in a skunky mood, and the body gets stiff. At least I still have a house. A few dozen families in the Rock Creek community are not so lucky.

The nearby city of Grand Forks just got an evacuation alert. It's not an evacuation order to get out. It's a warning to get your photos, documents, pet supplies, a grab bag of clothing, keys, money - and have it ready to go. The so-called "Stick-Pin" fire is just 4.5 kilometers, or about 2 miles, from the Canadian Border and rural Rural Grand Forks.

You know, I try to do a global show with information that works for people in Scandinavia, Singapore, Australia or California. Climate change is like that. But this program is unashamedly about the American West. Yes that does matter to everyone. California is probably the world's fifth largest economy, and it provides food not just for America and Canada, but the world.

I won't try and tell my listeners in England that this hellish mix of drought and fire is coming to you any time soon. In fact, it looks like another coolish, wet miserable winter coming for the British Isles and Northern Europe. Certainly listeners in Australia, South America and Indonesia should be paying attention to fire knowledge.

The carbon and ash spiralling up into the sky in North America is just part of a world pattern of deforestation due to climate change. Trees are mostly carbon, and they are releasing their storehouse. It's an open question how many of them will grow back. Their ash will be sucked up into the Arctic, where the already gray ice will get darker still, soaking up the sun, hastening melting of the glaciers.

For me now climate change is real and personal. We housed five fire refugees, and our tiny community fed hundreds of them before any government help arrived. My favorite grove of trees, Ponderosa pines growing on a small island flanked by a verdant pool, burned to the ground a couple of weeks ago. A lot is gone, and it's not over.

The nearby city of Grand Forks just got an evacuation alert. It's not an evacuation order to get out. It's a warning to get your photos, documents, pet supplies, a grab bag of clothing, keys, money - and have it ready to go. The so-called "Stick-Pin" fire is just 4.5 kilometers, or about 2 miles, from the Canadian Border and rural Rural Grand Forks.

Residents of Washington State are fleeing the largest fire that state has ever seen.

Later in this program we'll hear a NASA scientists tell us about the coming 30 year megadroughts. But first I want to share the latest report on the strong link between climate change and the fires burning up the West Coast, from California through Canada all the way into Alaska. I'm going to play you a teleconference held August 26th, arranged by the group Climate Nexus. We'll hear two scientists and a veteran fire fighter. Maybe I'm biased because we are surrounded by megafires right now, but I found this teleconference riveting and full of insight for all of us.


Thanks for joining us as we kick off this new fall season of Radio Ecoshock. Let's roll, with Climate Nexus host Paige Knappenberger, scientists Mark Cochrane and Park Williams, plus Retired Fire Captain Lou Paulson, recorded August 26th, 2015.

Here is more on our guests: A. Park Williams is a climate scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. His research was recently featured in the New York Times: "CA Drought Made Worse by Global Warming, Scientists Say".

A. Park Williams

Dr. Mark Cochrane is climate scientist and expert on wildfires and global climate change from South Dakota State University. Mark is also a co-author of this recent paper published in Nature Communications: "Climate-induced variations in global wildfire danger from 1979 to 2013."

Mark Cochrane

Captain (Ret.) Lou Paulson, is President of the California Professional Firefighters.

Lou Paulson

Here are some key wildfire facts, as presented by Climate Nexus before the teleconference:

"Climate change is tied to the surge in Western wildfires.

Climate change has caused snow to melt earlier, decreased overall snowpack levels, and made spring and summers hotter and fire seasons longer. These warmer and drier conditions have caused an increase in the number and extent of wildfires. The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) found that, 'Since the mid-1980s, large wildfire activity in North America has been marked by increased frequency and duration, and longer wildfire seasons.'

Oregon and Washington experienced record warmth from January through July. The entire Northwest region is in the midst of severe to exceptional drought. In July, temperatures in the region were so hot that millions of fish were cooked alive in overheated waters.

Western drought amplifies fire severity.

Climate change exacerbated the 2012-2014 California drought by an estimated 15 to 20 percent, according to a recent study. As climate change worsens, we can expect rising temperatures and more intense droughts, which combined create more severe fires. According to the AR5, 'Recent wildfires in Western Canada, the USA, and Mexico relate to long and warm spring and summer droughts.'

As of August 23, wildfires have burned more than 7.4 million acres. Wildfires in Oregon and Washington remain firefighters’ top priority, including 24 large fires that have burned a total of 1,052,388 acres. Some 30,000 firefighters and additional support staff are battling the fires across the U.S.—the biggest number mobilized in 15 years. More than 200 active duty soldiers have also been called to action, marking the first time in nearly a decade that the Department of Defense has enlisted soldiers to fight fires.

Extreme wildfires pose many risks to human health.

The impacts are solidly documented, with the increase in wildfire frequency worsening air quality and causing harmful health effects. Wildfire smoke contains particulate matter and toxins and can significantly worsen air quality locally and far downwind, lasting for days or months. Research indicates that patient counts can be linked to fires as far as 200 to 300 miles away from the impacted area. Increased particulate matter is 'known to cause earlier mortality and morbidity by leading to cancer, respiratory problems (asthma, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, reduced lung function, chest pain), discomfort (eye irritation, fatigue, headache, dizziness, and distress), cardiovascular effects, and depressed immune defenses (especially respiratory).'

Extreme fires cost the U.S. billions of dollars.

Average annual fire suppression costs increased to $3 billion from $1 billion in the 1990s. By the early 2000s, the area burned each year doubled from 3.6 million acres to 6.5 million. A recent report places the average annual burned area in the U.S. between 7 and 9 million acres.

The U.S. Forest Service spent more than half its budget this year preparing for and fighting fires, compared to just 16 percent in 1995. Ten years from now, the agency’s fire suppression costs are projected to increase from just under $1.1 billion in 2014 to nearly $1.8 billion. Fire suppression costs are only a fraction of the true costs (including property losses, healthcare costs, lost revenues, etc.) associated with a wildfire event. The total cost of U.S. wildfires is presently estimated to be between $20 billion and $125 billion annually."

My thanks to Climate Nexus for giving Radio Ecoshock permission to broadcast this teleconference. I couldn't have done it better.

You can download, listen to, or pass on this Climate Nexus teleconference (41 minutes) in either CD Quality (39 MB) or Lo-Fi (10 MB)


I have to disagree with one thing Mark Cochrane said in this teleconference. Around 32 minutes in, he says people's lungs clear up as soon as the air does. However, a recent review of the evidence compiled in March 31st 2015 says:

"PM [Particulate Matter] is one of the main contaminants from wildfire fire smoke. PM is formed in smoke, and also within the smoke plume as a result of chemical reactions and physical processes, and it is mainly composed of organic carbon and black carbon. PM2.5 is the principle public health threat from short term exposure to wildland fires because particles can reach deeper parts of the human respiratory track where they may have a range of health effects due to their physical, chemical, toxicological and carcinogenic nature. Adverse health effects of PM2.5 include respiratory and cardiovascular disease and increased mortality.

• The main components of wildfire smoke are particulate matter, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, mercury, ozone and pollutant mixtures. Trace gases include CO, O3 [ozone] and NOx [nitrous oxide]. CO is an inorganic gas produced when incomplete combustion occurs and it is transported over great distances in smoke plumes. Gaseous VOCs [volatile organic compounds] are gases with high vapor pressures, including hydrocarbons, halocarbons, and oxygenates.

• Hg [Mercury] can be a very dangerous contaminant that can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and cause severe neurological damage, but evidence linking exposure to Hg from wildfires and human health is still lacking.

• Overall effects of wildland fires on human health range from headache, dizziness, fatigue to obstructive lung disease, bronchitis, pneumonia, cardiovascular disease, asthma, reduced lung function growth, and increases risk of mortality.

This information comes from a publication from an agency of the Provincial Government of British Columbia, called the BC Centre for Disease Control. The title is: "Evidence Review - Wildfire Smoke and Public Health Risk".

You will notice that Fire Captain Lou Paulson also wondered about that claim, considering the known long-term effects of smoke on fire-fighters.


All of our speakers kept referring to the drought, which in California is in it's 4th year. That's cost billions in agricultural production, and left the landscape ready for wildfires in the hot summer. But it looks like we're in for much worse in the future, as climate change unrolls. A paper published this year suggests the American Southwest, and the Central Plains, could experience a drought lasting anywhere from ten to 40 years!

Benjamin Cook is the lead author of this paper: "Unprecedented 21st-Century Drought Risk in the American Southwest and Central Plains", published in the journal "Science Advances" on February 12, 2015.

Dr. Cook is with the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, and also works at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. We talk about comparisons to drought we know happened during the Middle Ages, and to others in the Paleoclimate records.

Benjamin Cook

Dr. Cook is more optimistic than I am that American farmers can adapt to those kind of conditions. He also thinks cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix will manage to conserve more, and still find enough water to carry on.

I don't know about you, but I'm really doubtful our civilization can adapt to 30 or 40 year droughts. Just consider the impact of agriculture. The South West and Central Plains feed not only America, but the world. We're talking beef, corn, wheat, and much more. I don't think most farming there will survive, and I predict major cities in the area will shrink even more than Detroit just did. That's just my opinion, from the scientists and authors I've interviewed.

Listen to (or download) this 11 minute interview with Dr. Benjamin Cook here.

You can also read about this new science of unprecedented drought in the Guardian newspaper, or Common Dreams.


Next week we'll move into a review of the huge climate news that's poured out all summer. It's building like a drumbeat before the Paris climate talks this coming December. I don't hold a lot of hope that essential changes will be made there, but we have to try. Anyway, whether politicians and corporate CEO's listen or not, thousands of scientists and activists around the world are ringing that bell of warning as loud as we can.

Our opening music came courtesy of Dana Pearson, also known on Soundclick as Vastman. Dana's got a lot of great tunes there you can download for free.

From my studio in smokeville, I'm Alex Smith. Thank you for listening, and thank you for caring about your world.