Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Welcome back to Radio Ecoshock. Last week's program "Facing the Harsh Realities of Now" with David Wasdell set records for radio and listeners on soundcloud. If you missed it - don't. David Wasdell makes his case that we are already committed to at least 6 degrees of global warming, plus dozens of meters higher seas. Grab it from my web site at, or listen at

This week I've got a broad mix for you. Courtney White says we can capture carbon back into the soil, even if only 2 percent of the population act. I'll talk new science with Justin Mankin - how disappearing snow cover will impact people around the world. We wrap with octogenarian activist and author Peter Seidel, saying we still have time.


Before we get to our guests, dozens of listeners wrote in, saying they were dismayed by the damning climate revelations by David Wasdell. While I agree with David, that our true situation has been downplayed by governments, media, and misplaced scientific caution, I also try to keep balance.

You may want to consider three more ideas. First:

The very high temperatures and sea level rise David describes would likely only be attained in a few hundred years from now. That might give us time to develop ways and technologies to drastically reduce greenhouse gases. We might manage to reduce greenhouse gas levels, say to 280 ppm as was the case in pre-industrial days.

Some glaciers would still melt (once they start they are hard to stop). So we would still get sea level rise. The oceans would continue to give off residual heat. However, temperatures could start to decline, decade by decade. By then of course, the world, and all living creatures would be greatly changed, I think.

Second: In the coming week or two, I hope to present some other points of view, and possible reasons to hope. You'll hear some of those voices in this program.

Third: Keep in mind some scientists, including climate scientists, disagree with David's conclusions. Wise as he is, David is not officially a climate scientist. His high sensitivity figures can be disputed. I'm still looking into that.

But yes, I found Wasdell's interview convincing and rather crushing. I'm still mulling it over, as we all must. The Wasdell show takes the record on Souncloud for the most Radio Ecoshock listeners ever.

Meanwhile, thanks for joining us, and on with the show!

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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now!

Photo courtesy of the Guardian newspaper, UK.


You know carbon is already too high in the atmosphere for our own climate safety. Perhaps you've heard the biggest and best solution is to put carbon back in the soil. But what are we supposed to do - go shovel carbon into the lawn after work? Our next guest says organic carbon capture is not a job for most of us, although we can help.

In June of 2014, I asked author and activist Courtney White about his book "Soil, Grass and Hope". You can download or play that interview here, or read the blog about it here.

Now Courtney is back with a collection of inspiring stories which point to fundamental answers. It's called "Two Percent Solutions for the Planet".

From Santa Fe New Mexico, we welcome Courtney Whiteback to Radio Ecoshock. Courtney founded and runs a non-profit called the Quivira Coalition. I ask Courtney what "quivira" means: it is a Spanish word found on the old maps of the rough country now known as "New Mexico". I suppose it could literally mean "who has been there" - but essentially it means "an unknown country". What a handy word and concept. With humans dumping eons worth of carbon into the air in just 2 centuries, we are all headed into "unknown country".

When Courtney left the Sierra Club in the late 1990's, he was heading into unknown country for sure. He wanted to find common ground between environmentalism, ranchers, and farmers - a group formerly not known for deep friendship and working together. Instead of conflict, Courtney literally was searching for common ground, a place to move forward.

Now of course, it turns out both ranchers and farmers may hold the key to preventing the very worst of climate change. Even though this small group forms only two percent of the population of the United States, they could drag all of America's carbon emissions back into the soil.

We learned from our Ecoshock guest Alan Savory that changes in livestock management can turn practices from desertification into enrichment of nature, and particularly add more carbon to the soil. You can download or listen to that 24 minute Allan Savory interview here. Or read the blog about it, with more links, here.

Likewise, farmers who stop plowing the soil, to use cover crops and no-till agriculture, can capture carbon into the soil by mimicking nature. We are not talking about insignificant amounts. Various experts have worked out we can reduce carbon in the atmosphere well below our current levels in just a couple of decades. It would take a multi-billion-dollar public works program, with support from every level of society, but it can be done. Combined with a big bio-char program, It's a climate solution that doesn't make the problem worse, and leaves our soil stronger for every generation that follows.

We end up talking about "Farm Hacking" and all sorts of resources.

Find the Quivira Coalition web site here. A vimeo video for the new book "Two Percent Solutions for the Planet" is here. The subtitle is: "50 Low-Cost, Low-Tech, Nature-Based Practices for Combatting Hunger, Drought, and Climate Change."

Download or listen to this 24 minute interview with Courtney White in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


This is Radio Ecoshock, beaming the real eco-truth out to the world. Now it's time to talk with a leading climate scientist.

Last summer, the river in my little valley displayed it's bottom for the first time. No one living can remember seeing it. It wasn't really lack of rain. It was the thin, thin covering of snow in the mountain head-waters. On a warming planet we will get less snow. But few of us have really worked out what that means, around the world.

A multinational team of crack scientists just released the paper "The potential for snow to supply human water demand in the present and future”. It's not looking good.

From the Columbia University Earth Institute, and affiliated with the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, we talk with Dr. Justin Mankin.

Scientist Justin Mankin

Justin is lead author of the paper that stimulated this call: “The potential for snow to supply human water demand in the present and future.” As the Columbia U press release says: "The other authors of the study are Daniel Viviroli of the University of Zurich; Lamont-Doherty postdoctoral researcher Deepti Singh; Arjen Y. Hoekstra of the University of Twente in the Netherlands; and Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford University."

You can read the full text of that paper, as a .pdf file, here. Or read it online as an open access full text paper in the Journal "Environmental Research Letters" here.

It's probably best and easiest if I just reprint the paper abstract here:

"Runoff from snowmelt is regarded as a vital water source for people and ecosystems throughout the Northern Hemisphere (NH). Numerous studies point to the threat global warming poses to the timing and magnitude of snow accumulation and melt. But analyses focused on snow supply do not show where changes to snowmelt runoff are likely to present the most pressing adaptation challenges, given sub-annual patterns of human water consumption and water availability from rainfall.

We identify the NH basins where present spring and summer snowmelt has the greatest potential to supply the human water demand that would otherwise be unmet by instantaneous rainfall runoff. Using a multi-model ensemble of climate change projections, we find that these basins—which together have a present population of ~2 billion people—are exposed to a 67% risk of decreased snow supply this coming century. Further, in the multi-model mean, 68 basins (with a present population of >300 million people) transition from having sufficient rainfall runoff to meet all present human water demand to having insufficient rainfall runoff.

However, internal climate variability creates irreducible uncertainty in the projected future trends in snow resource potential, with about 90% of snow-sensitive basins showing potential for either increases or decreases over the near-term decades. Our results emphasize the importance of snow for fulfilling human water demand in many NH basins, and highlight the need to account for the full range of internal climate variability in developing robust climate risk management decisions.

In the interview, we flesh that out for the rest of us. There are a lot of uncertainties. Some places will receive more rainfall, even enough rainfall to cover the losses from disappearing snow cover. The Indus Valley (Northern India and Pakistan) is such a case, Mankin tells us.

Other regions, including California, will not make up for lost snow with rain. As you can tell from the abstract, around 300 million people will find themselves with insufficient water. They can pump from the underground water table for a while, but then that gets exhausted, because it is not being recharged. Richer countries may be able to build more reservoirs - although that option may already be tapped out in the Western United States.

At that point, assuming desalinization of sea water can't scale up fast enough, I presume disappearing snow will become another driver of vast climate migrations. You heard it here first.

Download or listen to this 18 minute Radio Ecoshock interview with Justin Mankin in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Our next guest was an architect who published designs for ecologically sound cities starting in 1968, and for a model eco-city in the Cinncinati area in the 1970's. Like many who offer technical solutions, over the years Peter Seidel's books began to ask "what is wrong with us?" Why can't we adopt obvious answers to serious problems.

Author Peter Seidel

His 1998 book was "Invisible Walls: Why We Ignore the Damage We Inflict on the Planet ...and Ourselves."

Apparently Peter hasn't given up yet. His latest book is titled "There Is Still Time".

This is how our conversation began:

"ALEX: Just the other day, I considered giving up on this Radio Show. I thought "Humans are not capable of solving the problems we create.

Let me tell you the story of Jack Alpert. Working at General Motors in the 1960's, he found the major cause of death in car accidents was people being thrown through the windshield. As an engineer, Jack invented seat belts and they worked. But he was horrified when people wouldn't wear them, until decades of tickets and fines later. Peter, what is it about human nature that we won't act to save our own lives?

We talk about the probability that our inability to solve problems may be institutional. For example, can corporations and capitalism really prevent a climate catastrophe? I also ask Peter about his earlier work. For example, in 2009, in the journal "Futures", he published a piece called "Is it inevitable that evolution self-destruct?" Then Seidel took another route to painting our predicament, in his science fiction book "2045: A Story of Our Future". That takes current trends, including climate change and corporate conglomeration, and extends them forward to 2045.

I know some Radio Ecoshock listeners feel deep in their hearts that there isn't still time. The infrastructure for a 5 degree hotter world is built, and we don't show any signs of changing. Major ice sheets at the poles seem committed to melting. I ask Seidel why he thinks "there is still time"? Despite the title of his book, Peter admits like most of us, he isn't sure. Maybe we have passed key tipping points. But despite trying to communicate these mega-problems for decades - Peter just can't give up trying. Looking into the faces of our descendants, and the innocent creatures around us, none of us can.

Even as he approaches 90, Peter Seidel tries to stimulate action to save the ecosphere and the future. I admire that.

Download or listen to this 14 minute interview with Peter Seidel in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


In my opinion: humans have a couple of unfortunate psychological traits that can interfere with our ability to see eco-truth, especially about climate change. First of all, I've noticed a tendency among older men to confuse their realization of their own mortality, with the death of everything. If I'm going, it's all going to end with me, they think.

Related to that, and proven by at least two thousand years of history, we have an in-bred cultural expectation that we will live to see the end of days, at least for humanity, if not all existence. It's sad to think that many people left lives well-lived in disappointment, because they did not see the apocalypse, or the return of the Savior.

Both these ideas, or drives really, can lead us to demand the most extreme interpretations of reality. At Radio Ecoshock, I know we are in for difficult struggles ahead, but I hope we all know the last chapter has not yet been written, if there is a "last chapter". The story of natural life on Earth is composed almost entirely of twists and surprises.

I remain convinced there is a future, and we should try, and try again, to make it the best possible for all those who come after us.

I'm Alex Smith. My special thanks to all the wonderful people who supported the continuing production of this program, during our brief fundraising drive this fall. If you missed it, and want to help out Radio Ecoshock, please check out this page for details.

Next week, I've got some special guests to discuss the problems with the Paris climate talks, and real solutions.

Thank you for listening, and caring about your world.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Facing the Harsh Realities of Now

SUMMARY: David Wasdell, head of the Apollo-Gaia Project, returns to Radio Ecoshock with devastating revelations about how climate science has been manipulated or ignored by the IPCC, and by the leaders meeting in Paris. We are committed to far more than 2 degrees of warming. A vastly changed world awaits. Radio Ecoshock 151118.

Are you ready for the harsh reality of our future in a hotter world? Can any of us really handle the truth? If you feel strong enough, this may be the most devastating look into where we really stand. Perhaps you remember UK writer Mark Lynas stunning us with the awful changes on Earth if we warm by 5 degrees Centigrade. We may not survive six.

Many hope the climate talks in Paris can reach an agreement that will save a livable climate, keeping global warming below 2 degrees C. But what if the national leaders are just players on a stage of illusion? What if someone told you our current levels of greenhouse gases already commit us to more than 6 degrees of global warming, and over 12 meters, over 36 feet higher sea levels? And that may not be the worst of it.

I'm Alex Smith with a remarkable interview from London. This is Radio Ecoshock, radio you need to hear. Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)

Or listen right now on Soundcloud!


Last week, a couple of dozen people stepped up to help Radio Ecoshock keep going. There is no secret foundation paying for this program. Nobody pays me for the 40 hours I put in each week to get this critical information out to you, and to the world.

I know some previous green programs, excellent programs with seasoned hosts, had to go off the air due to lack of funding. Usually there was at least one program director on staff, who helped line up guests, and perhaps another doing all the research needed. When people couldn't get paid, those shows closed up.

Knowing there would never be a commercial market for deep eco-truth, I set up Radio Ecoshock ten years ago on the barest budget possible. There is no staff. I do it all. We don't have the overhead of a non-profit society (with high administration costs). There is no fund-raising department. This is it, and you are the co-owners of the program, when you sign up for the $10 a month membership, or make a donation of any amount.

Frankly, a few weeks ago, I felt like giving up. Not because of money, which is always low, but because for the past 10 years our expert guest explained why urgent action is needed. Instead, emissions just went up and up, and our natural environment continues to degrade.

But we can't give up, can we? This is the only world for us, for our descendants, for all the marvellous creatures living on Earth.

I'm re-committing to another year of Radio Ecoshock. I hope you'll join me, to help pay for this project. Check out your options on this page. Thank you.


This is a very intense program, with lots of science, clearly expressed for all of us.

David Wasdell

In order to help everyone, here is a ".pdf" rough transcript of this program, including all the science David lays out. Please feel free to dive in for yourself, add you comments to this blog, and forward both the program and the .pdf transcript as widely as possible. Just copy and paste this address in your browser.

Or download it to your computer.

David's full presentation online is called: "Climate Dynamics: Facing the Harsh Realities of Now

Climate Sensitivity, Target Temperature & the Carbon Budget: Guidelines for Strategic Action"

It's simple. Go to this page at

If you click on the headshot of David Wasdell, you will get a video, 1 hour 16 minutes long, as David explains where we are right now in the climate, and where we are going. It has graphs that make it seem simple, even though he deals with cutting-edge science. If this recorded video conference seems to stop and start, it's likely you are trying in a period of heavy internet use. Try again at a time when fewer people are on the net.

Of course, one of the benefits of my full-length radio interview of David, is that anyone in the world can download or listen to it. People in countries with low-bandwidth, or poor access, should choose the "Lo-Fi" version, which is ten percent the size of the CD Quality broadcast. That's also a good choice if you want to listen online. Or use the soundcloud version here. Soundcloud usually plays well with no interruptions.

If you prefer the print approach, click on the title slide to the right of David's picture. That leads you to the .pdf text to accompany the video, with a full explanation.

Wasdell has gone to great length to make this deep science available to all of us. It's a critical mission. We cannot allow ourselves, or our leaders, to continue using "convenient" science, instead of facing the harsh realities.

All I can tell you is that I've heard from over 100 previous scientists interviewed on Radio Ecoshock - the evidence that David Wasdell adds up for us in this talk. It's sobering, depressing, and maybe yes, liberating. We can only go forward when we know where we are right now.

Please help this message get out widely. Share David's video link, this program, your own thoughts and activism. Giving up is not an option.

I'm your dedicated friend, Alex Smith. My thanks to all those who reached out to support Radio Ecoshock this week, who Tweet and Facebook further than I can. Please don't leave support for this program to "others".

Thank you for being brave enough to listen, and let's meet again next week.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Killing Solar, Killing Us All

SHOW SUMMARY: Who is trying to kill solar power in America? As energy activist Nancy LaPlaca reveals, state-by-state fossil fuels companies are trying to stop competition from safe renewable power. Then we look at developing court evidence in Canada - that fracking for gas and oil IS polluting drinking water. Veteran Canadian investigative journalist Andrew Nikiforuk fills in this key part of the shadows of fracking. We'll wind up with part of my on-going conversation with permaculture guru Albert Bates: why is the worst news more popular than the best solutions? Radio Ecoshock 151111

I'm Alex Smith, welcome to Radio Ecoshock this week.

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

Or listen right now on Soundcloud!


I need your financial support. The Ecoshock bank account is getting very low, and I will have bills to pay all through the coming holidays. I particularly need more monthly membership supporters. If you can afford $10 a month to keep Radio Ecoshock (and me!) going please check out this page and sign up. I only need a few dozen supporters to keep this program going out free to people all over the world. If you prefer a one-time donation of any amount, that's great too.

Sadly, I can't ask for donations in my radio program. The non-profit stations are raising money for their own needs, and don't allow fundraising for independent producers. I guess I'm supposed to be part of some big think-tank, or organization. But then I'd have to censor Radio Ecoshock to fit their policy, or try to sell you on their agenda. Please help me stay independent and free to take on the world!

It seems unfair that blog readers and podcast subscribers have to carry the load for all radio listeners. But that's the way it is, and so I'm asking for your help now. Please take a few seconds, and a few bucks, to help me keep going. Otherwise, Radio Ecoshock could go off the air.


In May of 2013, we asked energy activist Nancy LaPlaca why the sun-drenched state of Arizona burned so much coal. That hasn't changed. You can download or listen to that interview here, or read about it in my blog here.

Nancy has moved to North Carolina, where she's helping uncover a national plot by big power companies to slow down solar power in America. She's working with two activist groups: NC Warn (Building people power for climate and energy justice) and Climate Voices, the science speakers network.

Nancy LaPlaca

According to the Washington Post, March 7, 2015, big U.S. utilities are fighting a campaign against rooftop solar power. In the article "Utilities Wage War Against Rooftop Solar" the Post's Joby Warrick wrote:

"If demand for residential solar continued to soar, traditional utilities could soon face serious problems, from 'declining retail sales' and a 'loss of customers” to “potential obsolescence,' according to a presentation prepared for the group. 'Industry must prepare an action plan to address the challenges,' it said."

You can find that document from the industry group "Edison Electric Institute" online, free, here.

Here is an excellent article, "Blocking the Sun" from the group "Environment America". It names names of the industry groups and big energy companies organizing to make it harder or more expensive for Americans to install rooftop solar.

It's happening in Australia too!

What are we talking about? Mega-energy corporations are trying to protect their big investments in dirty power plants, and their virtual monopoly on our energy system. It's a blow against democracy, where you can choose your own clean power.

In some states, big corporate lobby groups, like "Alec" - the American Legislative Exchange Council - "help" states to write laws and regulations that penalize rooftop solar. In some states, they even charge people $50 a month if they install solar and go off-grid! Behind it all, and behind industry groups like the Edison Electric Institute, are a mix of billionaires like the Koch Brothers, and giant energy companies like Duke Energy.

They like polluting coal plants, very expensive nuclear plants, and any kind of fossil fuel generating facility. They've invested billions in these fossils, and can see their market evaporating as people and communities make their own power from the wind and the sun. They know their products will wreck the Earth's climate for all coming generations - but hey! it's the stock price and profits the Quarter that really matter to them! It all reads like "Mr Burns" from the TV show "The Simpsons" when he blocks out the sun, to increase profits for his nuclear plant.

Nancy LaPlaca describes how it all works. One of the almost unknown ploys are the so-called "Public Utility Commissions" that can set rates and regulations. There is nothing public about them, and the public hardly knows these Commissioners exist, even though they make decisions worth many billions of dollars. In most states, Commissioners are not elected, but appointed by the State Governor. Guess who then gets huge contributions to their next campaign?

It's a shadowy operation at best. In North Carolina, for example, meetings of the Public Utility Commission are not available online or by video. You have to physically drive there and attend if you want to know what is going on. Of course, you probably won't be allowed to speak or ask questions. The results are generally already decided, after local big utilities tell them what they want.

Solar is upsetting all that. "Sunlight is the best detergent".

Find Nancy on Facebook here.

Download or listen to (or share!) this interview with Nancy LaPlaca in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


This is Radio Ecoshock, covering what the mainstream media leaves out. We are often ahead of breaking news. On September 30th I interviewed Neela Banerjee from InsideClimate News about their investigation into Exxon/Mobil. That company was warned by their own scientists, starting in the 1970's, that their products would generate dangerous climate change. In the 1990's Exxon funded groups specializing in sowing doubt, or outright denial of climate change. Now two months later the Attorney General of the State of New York is investigating Exxon/Mobil. The state wants to know if the world's largest oil and gas company misled the public and shareholders. You heard it hear first.

Read that show blog "Criminal Activity" here. Or listen to my interview with Neela Banerjee here.


President Obama killed off the Keystone Pipeline project, which hoped to bring dirty Tar Sands oil south to American refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. In his Press Conference on the Keystone decision, President Obama actually spoke these words, which have been a theme on Radio Ecoshock for almost a decade:

"Because ultimately if we are going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable, but uninhabitable in our lifetimes - we are going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground, rather than burn them, and release more dangerous pollution into the sky."

You can watch that full statement (8 minutes) on You tube here.


The Keystone Pipeline decision is another nail in the collapsing Tar Sands projects. But fracking in Western Canada continues at a mad rate, causing Earthquakes, and widespread pollution of water resources. Let's reach out to the best reporter on the case.

Andrew Nikiforuk

Calgary Alberta is the headquarters of Canada's boom and bust oil and gas industry, including the infamous Tar Sands and fracking. It takes guts to live there doing exposes on the damage done. That's what investigative journalist and author Andrew Nikiforuk did for the past 25 years, and he's still at it. His latest book is "Slick Water, Fracking and One Insider’s Stand Against the World’s Most Powerful Industry".

The heroine of this book is Jessica Ernst. She worked on projects for the oil and gas companies for more than a decade. She's in insider who went along with the game - until her home near Rosebud Alberta was surrounded by noisy fracking rigs.

The frackers were after "coal seam methane". There are various types of rocks that can hold bubbles of methane (known as "natural gas"). The coal seams are very fragile rock, and tend to be closer to the surface. That makes them difficult and dangerous to frack - but profitable too. Jessica was getting all kinds of complaints from ranchers that their water was now laced with methane. Her own well was polluted.

The fracking companies, and then the Province of Alberta, tried to claim methane in their water was always there. Except she had solid proof it wasn't. Using her skills, Jessica thought the Province would act to protect drinking water. In fact, the government just did a phony "investigation" and white-washed the whole thing. So she sued the government and the fracking companies.

The government's defence was that they are not responsible for protecting drinking water - even though they issue the permits to polluters!

Usually, where there is solid proof of groundwater pollution by fracking, the companies want to settle with a cheque. That stops the lawsuit, and includes a confidentiality agreement that hides all the facts. The victims are not allowed to talk about the settlement or the pollution. A lot of damage from fracking has been hidden from the public records in this way.

But not Jessica. She's continued a ten year suit against the companies, mostly paid for out of the last of her savings. She is determined to get this fracking pollution into the court records, and keep it all public.

That's very brave. Other local farmers wanted her to settle because they got money for the use of their property. At one point, secret police - from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police terrorism squad, arrived at Jessica's house. They were told she was a terrorist. They demanded the names of all the ranchers who had complained. Of course she refused, and hosted the plain clothes cops on her porch, in metal chairs, in the Alberta winter. They went away empty handed, after apologizing. So who sent them?

I think that anyone faced with fracking, anywhere in the world, should check out this case and Andrew's book. He's a great writer, with super investigative skills. The facts apply in Australia, the United States, Europe - wherever there is fracking. I'm glad to help Andrew and Jessica get this on the record on Radio Ecoshock.

I've followed Andrew Nikiforuk's writing on the energy industry for years. You can find his other great stuff on his web site here. For example, his previous book is intriguing: "The Energy of Slaves, Oil and the New Servitude." His articles are published by mainstream Canadian media, but also by most of the alternative press.

Download or listen to this interview with Andrew Nikiforuk in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

As always, you can download or forward these interviews, as separate mp3 files, using links in this show blog.


I've had an on-going discussion about solutions with Albert Bates. Regular listeners heard his talk and interviews at the recent Permaculture Convergence in London. Here is an excerpt from another talk with Albert, where I ask him about the mystery of our longing for news of the collapse, and the real meaning of a permanent culture.

I ask Albert to help me with a problem. If I do a Radio Ecoshock show covering how bad things are, we get twice the downloads of a program with positive solutions like permaculture. Why is that?

Bates says most people know, in their heart-of-hearts, that our fragile complex civilization is not sustainable, for a number of reasons. They expect it could, or will, collapse. So when a Radio Ecoshock program has experts pin-pointing those tipping points, and the big-picture risks, it actually helps listeners to formulate what they know for themselves. It's kind of a relief to know it's not just you worrying about the future. I love that Bates doesn't sugar coat it.

I think part of the difficulty is people can't grasp what permaculture is. It's hard. Albert teaches this subject in workshops around the world. What the heck is permaculture? His explanation is clear, I think.

I ask myself, if we want a permanent culture, rather than a crisis-to-crisis throwaway civilization, what would it look like? How could we live decently for a thousand years? For me, that's what permaculture is.

Lately I'm hearing of permaculture economics, maybe permaculture psychology. Can the definition of permaculture grow so large that it's core gets lost?

Albert says "no". In fact, the Australian originators of permaculture soon realized this needs more than a different kind of agriculture, or even food systems. The root of many problems is in our society, and we need "social" permaculture as well, and economics that don't endanger the planet or the future.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks, for more of my discussion with Albert Bates, former environmental lawyer turned permaculture teacher, at the intentional community "The Farm" in Tennessee. Keep up with Albert at his blog "The Great Change".


Next week, I'm scheming to bring you a devastating report on the lies we tell ourselves about climate change, as world leaders prepare for the Paris climate talks. It's harsh news that need to be told.

I'm Alex Smith. Thanks for being brave enough to listen, and for caring about our world. Please don't forget to help me keep going!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


Over the past few weeks, Planet Earth has experienced a severe climate crisis, and it hasn't made the front page, or the top story on TV news. This catastrophe will hasten warming of oceans and land, add to rising seas, threaten more species with extinction - and change our whole view of environmental action, and what we need to do to save the climate.

Massive fires have been burning in Indonesia. In satellite images, large parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore were buried under smoke. Red dots of fires and hot spots want to cover the whole map of the islands.

In a few minutes, I'm going to bring you interviews from two very informed people. We get a report directly from the scene, with Dr. Daniel Murdiyarso, at the Center for International Forestry Research in Bogor Indonesia. Then I'll thrash this crisis through with one of the long-standing reporters on tropical forests, Mongabay founder Rhett Butler.

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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now!


Scroll down to the end of this blog for a selection of links to satellite images, news coverage and must-read reports on the Indonesian fire catastrophe of 2015.


These are not common forest fires as experienced in Western North America, as bad as those were. For one thing, unless climate change prevents it, Western forests are expected to grow back, recapturing some of the carbon. Indonesia tropical forests are not expected to return. They are being replaced with either palm oil plantations or just waste land.

At least half of the hundreds of major fires in Indonesia are burning peat. You know, like the peat bales purchased by gardeners. Or the peat formerly used as fuel in the Middle Ages. It's a thick layer of very compressed vegetation, built up over the ages.

About 12% of the land in Southeast Asia is peat swamp forest. Eighty three percent of that is in Indonesia. Peat there can be one meter, or 3 feet deep, or up to 12 meters, or 40 feet deep. When peat dries out, it begins to emit both carbon dioxide and the more powerful greenhouse gas methane. When peat burns, it releases a mix of toxic dust and gases with grave effects on human health, and animal health, and the climate of the world.

You can't put out a peat fire with a water-bomber or ground crews. The fire goes underground. It smolders and smokes until seasonal rains or snow comes. Some peat fires last for years, resurfacing every year.


Tropical peat fires release phenomenal amounts of greenhouse gases. Calculations by the World Resources Institute find that Indonesian fires over the past three months have released more greenhouse gases than the entire annual emissions of highly-industrialized Germany. For the past month or so, Indonesia has been emitting more greenhouse gases daily than the entire United States economy.

This is a burst of carbon not seen since the last great Indonesian fires in 1997. The Indonesian greenhouse burst throws off all previous calculations of how much carbon we could still burn before crossing the 2 degree C unsafe level. It will force a re-draw of our models, and will create, sooner or later, more swift and unpleasant surprises in our climate system. The unknowns loom larger.

You would think that a sudden jump in emissions would be raised at the Paris climate talks coming up in December. But Indonesia didn't mention control of tropical fires in their emissions reduction plan.

Oh, and by the way, there are massive forest fires in the Amazon of Brazil at this same time!

Some of us know that our actions now are determining the fate of the planet for the next few thousand years at least. But now our plans, actions, and environmentalism have to change.


Previously, in my own ignorance, I suggested there are two major stages of climate change. In the first, human greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, create climate disruption, and then a hotter world. This is a process we hope can be changed, as coal goes bankrupt, and renewable energy becomes the main source of power. Or it might change because economically recoverable oil runs out. We are talking about the scale of human agency.

After that, very large natural systems, operating as positive feed-backs, kick in. For example, scientists know that once giant glaciers begin to retreat, in some parts of the world simple geography dictates nothing can stop them from melting into the sea. NASA says we are already at that point with the Totten Glacier in East Antarctica. Another example would be melting frozen methane from the sea bed, known as clathrates. When these big "natural" system kick-in, there may be little humans can do but run toward the mountains and the poles, trying to adapt, while killing off the fossil civilization that makes it worse and worse.

But now we see there is a third force. The small number of campaigners who work trying to save tropical forests have been trying to tell us for years. But they've always been a smaller party among the environmentalists and scientists who struggle to stop orgy of fossil fuel burning.

Now we have to open our minds to a horrible new truth. If humans continue to convert the gigantic biomass of tropical forests and peat bogs into carbon in the sky, it may not matter if you install solar panels on your home, or stop flying. The current crisis in Indonesia shows us that a less-developed country can create more greenhouse gases than the largest industrialized countries. Think about what that means.

One result is that environmental campaigners, and the public, have to quickly become global citizens, rather than nationalists. Let's admit it. Hardly anyone in the America's, and few in Europe, know anything about Indonesia. We don't need to know. Our societies are self-contained. We go to work, we hope to buy things, we have our family. Who cares?


I know some of you will be surprised to learn Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world. There are at least 250 million people spread out over thousands of volcanic islands, north of Australia, and south of the Philippines. Actually, the population is not spread out very much. In 2012, 141 million Indonesians lived on the single island of Java. That's the real center of the country, and of the culture. Periodically, the central government in Jakarta, on the island of Java, tries to pursuade more people to move out to the less populated islands, like Sumatra, or their part of Borneo, known as Kalimantan.

We'll hear about Kalimantan in our guest interviews. That's where dense and toxic smoke has covered everything for over 100 days. The Indonesian government considered an evacuation, but hasn't been able to mount it. Kids play in the smoke, while hospitals fill up with babies and the elderly.

That's another side of this disaster. At least a half million Indonesians have been hospitalized due to breathing difficulties and other health problems caused by the smoke. If the Indonesian economy managed to grow at all this year, all was lost due to the damages from these fires. Indonesians pay now and directly for this crisis. We will all pay, possibly for centuries, for the greenhouse gases released.

This isn't the only terrible climate news recently. Perhaps we'll have time to summarize more of it toward the end of the show. But as UK Guardian newspaper columnist George Monbiot wrote this week: the fires in Indonesia are "the greatest environmental disaster of the 21st Century (so far)".

Let's go to our guests. We'll start with the view from inside Indonesia, and then get an activist perspective.


In Bogor Indonesia, I reached one of the top forestry scientists in the country. Dr. Daniel Murdiyarso is senior scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research, or CIFOR. He's led Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports. He has served as Deputy Minister of the Environment for the government of Indonesia.

Dr. Daniel Murdiyarso

Download or listen to my Radio Ecoshock interview (18 minutes) with Dr. Daniel Murdiyarso in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


When you want to know what's happening in the wild places of the tropics, you need to go to Rhett Butler founded and ran that web site and news service starting in 1999. It's expanded a lot of places since then. That includes a mongabay project in the main Indonesian language - which may explain why Rhett gets those hard-to-find photos like illegal fires burning in an Indonesian National Park.

Rhett Butler

Western environmentalists focus on cutting tail pipe emissions and closing old coal plants. That's important, but we've just seen Indonesia skyrocket to almost the number one global source of greenhouse gases, surpassing the USA. The cause is not fossil fuels or industry. What does this tell us about the NEW need to protect tropical forests, not just to save exotic animals, but to save ourselves?

Download or listen to my 25 minute Radio Ecoshock interview with Rhett Butler in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Here is yet another aspect of the Indonesian peat fire crisis. Despite the sky-high emissions coming out of the tropics right now, that could be just a preview for an ever bigger show. I'm talking about peat in the Arctic and sub-arctic.

The peat areas in the far north are even more vast than in Indonesia. Currently a huge portion of that is frozen all year round, in the permafrost. Just a few years ago, I listened to expert permafrost scientists at the convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver. They were a fringe study slowly being recognized as key to our future. You can listen to that whole Radio Ecoshock program, with talks by 3 prominent permafrost scientists, here. Or read my blog about it here.

Those scientists were not overly worried, thinking melting of the permafrost would take centuries, if not thousands of years. Now, we're not so sure about that. For example, scientists working in a tunnel in Alaska found that melting Arctic soil can lose half it's organic carbon in only seven days. About half of that carbon was grabbed by micro-organisms. The other half went into the atmosphere. In just one week upon thawing.

The study is titled "Ancient low–molecular-weight organic acids in permafrost fuel rapid carbon dioxide production upon thaw" with lead author Travis W. Drake, and published in September 2015 by PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Here is an easier to read summary of that science on blog.

We know permafrost is melting all across Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia and Siberia. The study looked at a type of Arctic soil called "“yedoma” - formed about 35,000 years ago and kept in the deep freeze ever since. Scientists assumed yedoma was already degraded, but instead found it contains a lot of carbon. In fact, as Robert Scribbler reports, a significant methane pulse has already been detected from yedoma soils in Siberia.

Arctic peat bogs contain even more carbon. They are loaded with it. The largest permafrost peat bog is in Western Siberia. It's bigger than France and Germany combined, and it's been thawing for well over a decade. If these bogs stay wet, most of the emissions will be in the form of methane, the greenhouse gas at least 70 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

If a climatic drought dries the Arctic peat, it will release carbon dioxide, pretty quickly, even without catching fire. The ancient plant material, frozen for over 10,000 years, will finally decompose into the atmosphere. Of course dryer peat is likely to catch fire, as fires in the rapidly warming Arctic have been rampant so far this century. When peat bogs bigger than most countries catch fire, thee is no one there to put them out, and now way to extinguish them if we tried. If and when this happens, it will be Indonesia on steroids.


Scientists have generally said there is about a 40 year time lag between a large injection of greenhouse gases and the start of real climate impacts. Dr. James Hansen and others published a paper which estimated about 60% of the effects of added greenhouse gases would kick in between 25 and 50 years. That is mainly because the ocean absorbed so much carbon, and then mixed it down to deeper levels.

Theoretically, about half the impacts of the Indonesian carbon burst of 2015 would appear around the year 2055. Thawing of Arctic peat would change the climate toward the end of this century. I have serious reservations about this estimate, and I think it's likely the timetables will have to be revisited.

First of all, there have been a series of papers in the past two years showing the climate is far more sensitive to even small temperature changes than previously thought. See here, here, here and a million other places.

Secondly, the oceans are already hotter than before. Some scientists wonder how much more carbon and heat they can absorb. The ocean sink may be ramping down, meaning climate impacts would come sooner. Everything is coming sooner.

I'm not a scientist, but my guess is we'll see the impacts from 2015 emissions as early as 2030. Even if I'm wrong, global emissions started to skyrocket around 1990. That means we'll find out what we've done around 2030. Right now, according to Hansen's estimates, were only feeling the impacts of oil, gas, and coal burning from the 1970's.

Just so you know, greenhouse gas emissions were 75% lower in the 1970's, compared to 2004. And look at the record storms, rainfall, droughts, and fires we've already got. When it comes to climate disruption, the worst is yet to come.


Add into the lose/lose column: a scientist from the Potsdam Institute in Germany has calculated that if we burn all the fossil fuels, all the ice on Earth will disappear. An article in the New York Times September 11th 2015 quotes Ricarda Winkelmann saying "If we burn it all, we melt it all".

This piece in the ClimateCrocks blog has a whole bunch of videos with scientists on this question of how much it would take to melt all of Greenland and Antarctica.

There is an excellent radio special with short recent talks by Ricarda Winkelmann, produced by Maria Gilardin of TUC Radio in San Francisco. TUC stands for "Time of Useful Consciousness" and this program certainly is.

As an example, I play a clip explanation from Winkelmann on why the melting of Greenland is self-sustaining and unstoppable. In the end, she says on our current course, we are headed toward a world 5.8 degrees C hotter by the year 2100. That would threaten our survival on this planet, and certainly doom many ecosystems and species to extinction.

Ricarda also says the giant West Antarctic ice sheet is committed to melting, and the sub-sea based glaciers of East Antarctica are also going to go. We already know that Miami will go underwater, along with many other port cities around the world. Hear selections from Ricarda Winklemann at the conference "Our Common Future" on TUC Radio at

I found this TUC program here at

Great work Maria.


In fact, we learned last week that scientists predict by the end of this century parts of the Middle East will be too hot and humid for humans to be outside. Six hours outside, without air-conditioning, and you die. That's in a paper from Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Elfatih Eltahir and environmental scientist Jeremy Pal from Loyola Marymount University. The title is "Future temperature in southwest Asia projected to exceed a threshold for human adaptability", as published October 26, 2015 in the journal Nature Climate Change. Or read this story in Science Daily.

Other scientists on Radio Ecoshock told us a whole belt around the tropics, even into parts of the subtropics, will be too hot for humans to work outside. Whether it's fatal to simply be outside depends on a high humidity - because humans can only keep their organs cool enough when sweat can evaporate. Once the wet-bulb temperature, that combined measurement of heat and humidity reaches 35 degrees C, we humans, and most mammals, cannot live there.

Add in the known historical trend of bands of deserts circling the Earth during hothouse ages, and we know that humans will have to leave large parts of the Earth as uninhabitable. That's the game we're playing now, as we change the atmosphere.


So when Indonesia catches fire, we all catch fire in the long run. The world is not an island of isolated events. When the big alarm clock goes off, anywhere in the world, we need to wake up, get up, and get to work making a future worth living in.

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I'm about to launch a funding appeal for Radio Ecoshock. The show piggy bank is getting low. And while listeners are covering the costs of the show for now, to be frank, I'm not sure how much longer I can keep working 40 hours a week to produce this thing, for nothing. That's right, I'm a volunteer who doesn't get paid. That was OK when I had a bigger income, but now I'm on a tiny pension. Things are getting tight. I sure could use your financial support, if you can afford it. Can you help? Please visit this page to see how.

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


Washington Post on links between El Nino and Indonesia peat fires.

World Resources calculations of Indonesian carbon surpassing U.S. emissions.

Plans to evacuate children from worst smoke areas.

The economics of fire and "haze".

Greenpeace calls on Indonesia to adopt a fire action plan.

The connections between palm oil and these deadly fires.

Satellite photos of the smoke.

Mongabay calls on Indonesian President to act.

INDONESIA FIRE RESOURCES FROM CIFOR (Center for International Forestry Research)

What is in the smoke? Science looks at the toxic contents.

Fact file from CIFOR: ‘Clearing the Smoke: The Causes and Consequences of Indonesia’s Fires’

B-roll footage of fires and haze in and around Palangka Raya.

Video: ‘Where there’s smoke, there’s toxic gas’

DG’s Column: ‘Preventing fire and haze: sustainable solutions for Indonesian peatlands’.

Photo story: ‘Life amid the fires and haze of Central Kalimantan