Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Dark Climate - Now and Coming

Seas rising much faster, super storms in the coming decades, doubling and re-doubling of polar ice melt - new Hansen paper. We talk with co-author Isabella Velicogna, and with Ottawa climate scientist Paul Beckwith. Also: the Canadian super fire at Fort McMurray: can the tar sands burn? Radio Ecoshock 160511


It's about 90 degrees, or 29 Celsius, outside my door, in the early Canadian spring. Crazy weather, the same super heat that set northern Alberta on fire. We'll talk about the the climate connection, and ask the question: "can the tar sands burn?" - later in this program.

First, though it seems less exciting, we're going to begin a series about the most important scientific paper of this new century. Dr. James Hansen led a team of international scientists who completely revise the science of climate change. Seas rising much faster, super storms in the coming decades, doubling and re-doubling of polar ice melt. It's a climate thriller, and we all get to live in the new disturbed world. I'm Alex. Welcome to Radio Ecoshock.

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

Or listen on soundcloud right now!

Angels arrested photo courtesy of - at a Blockade of the coal facility at Newcastle Harbour, Australia May 8, 2016.


The scientist who warned the U.S. Congress about dangerous climate change in 1988 is back. Dr. James Hansen, who recently retired as head of NASA's Goddard Institute, says we're going to be hit much sooner and harder than we've been told by mainstream science. Hansen says the two degree Centigrade upper limit to human-induced global warming, as agreed at the Paris climate summit in December 2015 - is not just unsafe. It is plainly very dangerous for humans and all life as we know it.

James Hansen and more than a dozen other world scientists published a monumental 66 page scientific paper in March. The full title is: "Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2 o C global warming could be dangerous". Find the abstract (very informative) here, or read the full text version here.

A transcript of Hansen's "Video Abstract" can be found here at Columbia University,

The public has hardly heard the news, and there's a lot to hear.

I've called up a regular Radio Ecoshock correspondent to help us sort out what this new Hansen paper says. Paul Beckwith teaches climate science at the University of Ottawa. He has two Masters degrees and is developing his PhD thesis on abrupt climate change.

So James Hansen, perhaps the world's foremost climate scientist, leads this new and shocking intrepretation of recent science - and the political and public reaction is... crickets basically. Why is it taking so long for people to get this?

The paper covers so much - polar ice melt, sea level, super storms, ocean mixing. It's so long, that few people have read it all. Maybe this master paper is a response by Dr. Hansen and his co-authors to the obvious short-comings of reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It's like an alternative climate report.

I come away with one big place to start: it's not global heating like one or two degrees, but the big changes in the ocean we don't hear about. Jim Hansen suggests we worry less about the temperature outside, and more about the ocean energy imbalance. I hope to have more on that in a coming show.

There's a pattern at both Poles where the surface water may actually be getting cooler, and it's warmer down below. Paul explains that stratification, and how the warmer water can get under the grounding lip of glaciers, moving more ice toward the sea. The new Hansen paper suggests that warmer water at the ice grounding lines matters more in Antarctica, and less on Greenland.

The more conventional modelling scientists are still suggesting 1 to 2 meters of sea level rise by the end of this century. This new paper finds there could be 1 meter of sea level rise by 2050, and several meters by 2100. That means the end of many major coastal cities around the world. Paul Beckwith goes further. If we just compute the doubling time of ice melt, he says that adds up to 7 meters of sea level rise by 2070. Beckwith has a video on You tube where he explains how that could be possible. Watch that original video here, and his update here.


Let's get to one of James Hansen's favorite topics, the coming super storms. To understand this, we have to go back about 130,00 years. That's a time when, Hansen says, differences in ocean temperatures led to the formation of giant waves that swept boulders weighing over a thousand tons high up on Caribbean islands. The paper features photos of these sea-tossed rocks. Some other scientists disagree that these storms will happen. I'll cover that in a coming show.

Right in this new paper, the authors say that what happened in the Eemian period, 130,00 years ago, may not be a good predictor for what is coming for us. But that isn't a good reason to calm down and worry less. At one point in the Eemian, it was only about 1 degree C warmer than today (a level we are approaching rapidly) - and yet sea levels were tens of meters higher than now.

Paul finds two things missing in this paper by Hansen. First: there is no mention of disturbance of the Jet Stream, and all the changes that makes to our weather, seen even now. The link to melting of Arctic sea ice is not part of the calculations. Second, and this is close to Paul Beckwith and the AMEG group (Arctic Methane Emergency Group) -Hansen doesn't factor in methane coming up in the Arctic, as a jolt to warming, and a positive feedback.

Listen to or download this interview with Paul Beckwith on the Hansen paper in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


If you are looking for my interview with Hansen co-author Isabella Velicogna, please scroll down a few pages in this blog. My review of the Fort McMurray fires, asking what happens if they burn the tar sands operations - follows that.

Paul did a 9-part series of You tube videos on this paper. Here are my notes on that 9-part Beckwith series, with Paul's text and links to each.

PART 1: Two degree Celsius Global Temperature Rise is Highly Dangerous

Published on Jul 23, 2015

"My first of a series of videos examine highlights of Hansen et al., a landmark 66 page paper with 16 authors titled "Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise and Superstorms: Evidence from Paleoclimate Data, Climate Modeling, and Modern Observations that 2 oC Global Warming is Highly Dangerous"

A previous warm period about 130,00 years ago, is the Eemian - sea level 5-9 meters higher than today, and enormous storms, not seen in the Holocene. Temp was up to 1 deg higher - may have been less "we're almost there". But our drivers and rates of change are higher than ever seen in paleologic record.

Key finding is non-linear ice sheet disintegration is happening now. (Paul has looked at doubling period and asks if there could be 7 meter sea level rise by 2070).

The ocean is warming, especially 1-2 kilometers down. In the Arctic and Antarctic this is the grounding level of massive ice shelves. When ice shelves go, it's like removing a cork, which will speed up movement of ice sheets toward the sea.

The vertical ventilation in Antarctica is reducing - ocean stratification.

Another key finding is that increased ice melting decreases the surface temp of ocean. Which could explain the cold blob south of Greenland. That can create a pressure difference (baroclinicity) that can lead to extremely high winds, and thus changes to ocean circulation pattern. The high winds can generate high waves over very large distances. Geologic evidence shows them rolling from southeast to southwest, arriving in the Bahamas, 30 meters high, 20 meters in Bermuda. (30 meters is about 100 feet). These waves are big enough to sink ships, possibly ending ship traffic at that time and place.

Another key finding, during late Emian sea level rose 2-3 meters in a few decades. It's an "enormous catastrophic rise" Paul says.

Another key: in ocean circulation over 500 to a thousands years or more, these natural time frames no longer apply to rates of change today.

In summary 2 degrees C warming is highly dangerous.


Part 2: Humanity at a Crossroads. Today...

Published on Jul 23, 2015

"In the classic movie "A Christmas Carol" miser Scrooge was visited by 3 ghosts, of past, present and future. Humanity is Scrooge, and Paleoclimate is the past ghost, while extreme weather events increasing in frequency, severity and duration, extensive fires, methane emissions and ocean acidification are the parent ghost. The ghost of the future that will be if we continue our present fossil fuel combustion pathway is very dire..."

If the oceans become more stratified, with less circulation, then the "sink" ability of the ocean to capture our excess CO2 is reduced.


Part 3: Sea Level 5 to 9 meters Higher Than Now

Published on Jul 23, 2015

"In the last warm interval on Earth (called the Eemian), global temperatures were likely only +0.2 or +0.3 degrees Celsius warmer than today (+1 degrees maximum), and sea level was +5 to +9 meters higher. Are we rapidly heading there NOW?"


Part 4: An Ocean Full of 30 meter Tall Waves.

Published on Jul 23, 2015

"Near the end of the previous warm period (Late-Eemian) when the sea level was +5 to +9 meters higher than today, persistent long period long wavelength waves 30 meters high battered the Bahamas coastline. Will we see these massive storm generated waves soon? No ship could survive this..."


Part 5: Evidence for Ocean Circulation Disruption

Published on Jul 24, 2015

"North Atlantic Ocean sediment cores from the sea floor provide age information on ocean temperature, ocean circulation and ice sheet destabilization inferred from ice rafted debris (IRD - rocks carried by icebergs then dropped to sea floor when ice melts). Following Hansen et al. I discuss the AMOC (Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation) and the SMOC (Southern Meridional Overturning Circulation) changes and connections."


Part 6: Climate Simulations for Ice Sheet Melt Water into Oceans

Published on Jul 24, 2015

"I discuss Hansen et al. climate modelling methods and results. Main results show that ice cap melt on Greenland and/or Antarctica injects fresh water into oceans near respective continents causing rapid sea level rise and shuts down AMOC and/or SMOC leading to enormous global climate disruption, including massive storms."

At 10:30 mintues, Beckwith discusses how changing ocean currents can affect storms in the North Atlantic. Winds from N.E. to S.W. can create super storms. If you increase winds speed 10 or 20 percent it can increase storm power up to twice. "Enormous waves across the North Atlantic would eliminate ship traffic" because no ship is built to withstand 30 meter waves (100 feet high).

It sounds like terrible news for the Caribbean, but what does it mean for Europe? or North America?


Part 7: Earth Energy Imbalance and Southern Ocean Controls

Published on Jul 24, 2015

"Earth system Energy Imbalance causes warming when more heat is trapped than released. Forcing from orbital changes, albedo changes and greenhouse gas changes are discussed per Hansen et al. The vital role of the Southern Oceans on CO2 and temperature, as well as subsurface ocean temperature and ice sheet destabilization leading to rapid nonlinear sea level rise is also discussed."

The Southern Ocean is the "gateway to the global deep ocean". It also controls S. Ant meltwater rate and global sea level rise.


Part 8: Modern Evidence of Abrupt Melt in Greenland and Antarctica and Ocean Changes

Published on Jul 24, 2015

"Modern data on ocean circulation changes in AMOC-Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, and SMOC-Southern MOC are examined. Abrupt changes are occurring today."

Circulation has already changed since the 1980's. Talks about the "Polynyas" which create pools that raise the heat. They have become more rare in Antarctica, saying that heat is staying in the deeper ocean.

Ice core data from Antarc. from ocean sediments show 8 episodes of very large ice flux - largest 14,600 yrs ago, meltwater pulse 1a - 1-3 meters sea level rise per century for several centuries. We have less ice to start with now, but the forcing is much more rapid.

Seasonal sea ice is growing in Antarctica.

At 8:20 minutes Paul discusses the problem of "doubling rate" vs a linear projection as the reason why IPCC projections are always so low, compared to reality.

He describes the regions of Antarctic most at risk.


Part 9: Summary: Ice Cap Melt and Sea Level Rise in our Anthropocene

Published on Jul 24, 2015

"With BAU (Business As Usual) humanity faces a very abrupt future of misery; including rapid 5 to 9 meter sea level rise taking out coastal cities around the planet. I analyze findings from the landmark Hansen et al. paper titled "Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise and Superstorms: Evidence from Paleoclimate Data, Climate Modeling, and Modern Observations that 2 degree Celsius Global Warming is Highly Dangerous".

Paul begins by discussing at what point global warming really began - 8,000 years ago, the 1960's or what?

Rapid sea level rise may begin sooners than predicted by mainstream climate science so far. This could be do to changes in ocean circulation, and warming waters reaching the grounding lines for ice shelves in Arctic and Antarctica, leading to non-linear increase in melting and sea level rise, impossible to avoid on our current path.

Greenland, Hansen says, does not slope toward the sea, and so may not melt as fast as Antarctica. Paul disagrees, partly due to loss of sea ice, and so no latent heat/cooling, leading to non-linear melting.

With more melting, stronger winds, and long wave trains, we can expect huge waves on top of higher sea level, as happened before.

6:20 "in real life things are happening faster than in the models"

The 2 degree "safe" guard-rail is not safe at all. It leads to sea level rise of several meters, changes in ocean circulation, slow-down of AMOC etc.

Global temperature change is not the best metric. "It gives a false sense of security", because it hides heat going into the ocean. What is key is the energy imbalance. Hansen says CO2 needs to be reduced to 350 ppm, not just a slash in emissions. Various methods are possible.

According to Hansen we have to reduce emissions by about 6% a year, to reach 350 ppm by 2100. Paul calls it a "landmark paper".

That video series by Paul Beckwith operates like a mini-course in climate change. Of course, Paul has created several videos to teach climate change to all of us. Find his series at, or by searching You tube for "Beckwith".

On radio, we discussed what might be the biggest scientific paper of this decade, if not this century. It's from a team of scientists led by the famous Dr. James Hansen. The title is "Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2 ?C global warming could be dangerous". I'll be doing more interviews and analysis as we go along. Dr. Hansen agreed to do an interview for Radio Ecoshock, but at this writing, he has not shown up yet.


Yes, Isabella Velicogna is a co-author on the new paper led by James Hansen. She's also a power researcher in her own right. Educated in Italy, Isabella has a collection of roles with NASA'S Jet Propulsion Lab, the CIRES Institute at the University of Colorado - and she's an Associate Professor of Earth System Science at the University of California, Irvine.

On Radio Ecoshock, you've heard me talk about the pair of satellites called GRACE. These twins in space can measure changes of gravity in land, sub-surface waters, and ice at the poles. Isabella Veligogna can use that information to "study the mass balance of the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets and glaciers worldwide, in response to climate warming."

That's just part of her expertise, including research on the high Arctic water cycle, and projections of sea level rise due to climate change. All this fits perfectly into the new publication that is rocking the science world. It's a long paper with a long title: "Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2 oC global warming could be dangerous".

Dr. Isabella Velicogna

I ask many questions about the process of ice melt in Antarctica, rather than the more popularly reported loss of ice in the Arctic. That is because several scientists have told me what happens in Antarctica will determine the long time geography and fate of the world. There is so much ice there, just one glacier like the Totten glacier can raise global mean sea level by over one meter. NASA has already said the melting of the Totten glacier is "unstoppable".

Isabella explains the total ice loss at the South Pole, and the most at-risk areas. Frankly, I got yet another education just talking with her. You can too.

Listen to or download this interview with Isabella Velicogna in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


In the Radio show, I do an off-the-cuff talk with Paul Beckwith on the climate ties to the Fort McMurray fires. I took some heat myself for posting a You tube video, in the early days of the fire, suggesting the tar sands themselves make super fires more dangerous. That's just scientific fact, but some posters called me bad names.

Watch my short controversial You tube video here. Or just listen to the audio here.

Here is a list of the best articles about the fires, in my opinion:

I'll be having meteorologist Jeff Masters on in a future show, helping me to imagine what the Hansen-type superstorms could look like.

BREAKING NEWS!!!! (irony alert)


Bloomberg reports smoke from the fire complex has reached the tar sands operations of SunCor, just north of Fort McMurray. Already the size of Luxembourg, the fire is expected to double in size in 24 hours. It may burn for months, since only prolonged rain can stop it. The Canadian Bank of Montreal has revised Canada's economic prospects downward, as more tar sands production facilities close. Millions of barrels of oil per day have stopped flowing. As a world-class superfire, this will be Canada's most expensive natural disaster, with expected costs over 7 billion dollars U.S. and counting.


That sounds exciting doesn't it? I said we must avoid seeing the climate crisis as entertainment. The news knows how to show us striking video, with music that makes us feel part of great events. They know we will flock to the news coverage, and then see their advertising, to buy more products that are part of the problem. It's our human nature to be fascinated with catastrophe, and so climate disaster sells. Even greens become glued to extreme weather porn generated by an unstable atmosphere.

We are also drawn to something new. Here is a new question for you: can the tar sands operations burn, and what happens if they do?

Robert Scribbler writes: "Smoke plume analysis indicates that the northern extent of this monstrous fire is just 3 miles to the south of the nearest tar sands facility."

Now the big blotches of tar sands production lands have been mostly deforested, which is part of their massive environmental damage. So there are fewer trees to burn there. But my question is: can the tar sands lands themselves burn? The industry says the bitumen is too dispersed in sand to burn. But I wonder if anyone knows what happens when such super-heated fire storms arrive. Dr. Michael Flannigan of the University of Alberta told us such hot fires can burn several feet into the ground. What happens when that arrivesin the pits of exposed bitumen? No one really knows.

Plus the tar sands operations have gigantic tailings and wastewater ponds which are loaded with various types of petrochemicals. They have storage tanks full of flammable stuff.

Along those lines, I heard a television interview with a fire chief who worried that a gas storage plant near the fire could explode. If it did, he said, the blast zone would be 14 kilometers, or 8 and a half miles wide. Emergency workers are justifiably terrified it could blow, and this is just one of a thousand reasons why the people evacuated from Fort McMurray won't be going home any time soon. That was at the Nexen site, north east of Fort McMurray.

The Canadian magazine "Macleans" asked this question. In their article "Could the oil sands catch fire" they write:

"A 2004 article in the U.S. National Fire Protection Association Journal offered a list of the potential fire risks faced by Suncor Energy, one of the oil sands’ biggest producers. It included: 'hydrocarbon spill and pressure fires; storage tank fires; vapour cloud explosions; flammable gas fires; runaway exothermic reactions; and coke and sulfur fires.'"

The article quotes Chelsie Klassen, from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers saying the toxic tailings ponds are not flammable. I'm not so sure. Maybe we'll find out.

What about the giant extraction and processing facilities? Presumably there are pits the size of cities where the tarry bitumen has been exposed by skimming off up to 75 feet of the soil. If those catch fire, is it possible that like peat fires, they could burn for years? Just consider the amount of carbon this would add to the atmosphere, and the lasting smoke which would pour across Western Canada for how long... years? A decade? Is it possible? We don't know, this situation has never happened before. I hope we don't find out, but we might experience a new kind of fire event in Canada, a kind of fire Fukushima.

Beyond strip-mining bitumen, the other type of extraction, called "in situ", involves sinking pipes and literally melting the ground below, to make the sticky tar more mobile, so it can be pumped to the surface. That requires unbelievable amounts of natural gas, which has often been fracked in Northern Alberta and British Columbia. That fracking, and the transmission of gas releases very potent methane in amounts that can be measured by airplanes or even satellites. So there's lots of greenhouse gases before the extraction process even begins.

Then the gas is burned, with more emissions. There must be gigantic gas storage facilities and feeder pipelines all through that area just north of Fort McMurray. We are talking about land the size of smaller European countries. If the fire reaches all that, the explosions and greenhouse emissions would be off the charts, things not seen before on this planet. What if the tar sands operations catch fire and blow? Maybe it didn't happen, this time. It's a huge risk.


Tonight while walking, I met a local citizen who told me the tar sands are a clean source of fuel, because Canada has regulations, while there are no environmental regulations in Middle Eastern countries. He obviously doesn't know the highly polluting energy train required to get sticky bitumen out of the ground, whether you mine it or melt it. Even then, it isn't oil. It's a kind of pre-oil.

That bitumen has to be treated with hydrogen, at very high temperatures, blast furnace temperatures, again using tremendous energy with tremendous emissions, to get a heavy prequel to oil. Transport that oil prequel, using more energy, to specialized refineries that can deal with heavy oil, which is again a more intensive process with more emissions, and you get products like diesel fuel.

That's all there is to it, compared to light oil that can be easily pumped out of the ground in the Middle East, or from the sea-bed off Norway. That is why oil from wells requires about 1 barrel of oil to produce up to100 barrels of oil, while the tar sands require the equivalent of about 1 barrel of oil to produce at best about 5 barrels of fuel. The ratio is so low, that if all we had was tar sands oil, civilization as we know it would collapse. There isn't enough return on energy investment to have all the energy left over that we depend on.

That is why the tar sands oil is among the dirtiest energy sources, from an emissions perspective, of any fuel in the world. Even most Canadians don't know this. The people whose paychecks depend directly on the Alberta energy industry don't want to know. In fact, many react with surprising anger when you tell them. And they can say with a straight face that black is white, that tar sands oil is cleaner than oil from Venezuela or Norway.

As American author Upton Sinclair said: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”


Here the Fort McMurray tragedy becomes another repetition of classic human error. After evey disaster, every politician, local to national, promises "we will rebuild". That's what they said after Hurricane Sandy, or Hurricane Katrina. That's what they always say.

Fort McMurray was already entering a stage of collapse when the fire hit. Rebuilding everything is the bridge to nowhere.

Look, I have family who evacuated from Fort McMurray, with nothing but their car, their kids and their dog. The harsh truth is that many, many people in Fort McMurray were one credit card payment away from utter bankruptcy. Tens of thousands of jobs were lost as expensive oil was crushed by cheap Middle Eastern oil, and cheap fracking oil.

The sad truth is that most Canadians, who used to be great savers, instead became addicted to debt. They built mini-mansions in the northern wilderness at inflated prices. They bought monster pickup trucks for $70,000 dollars, on 8 year payment schemes. They bought off-road vehicles, boats, clothes, the lot, mostly on credit. Because a person with a high school education could make over $100,000 a year, Fort McMurray became a party that could never end. Drug use and drug crime was phenmomenal for the size of the city. It was all ripe for a fall, and it fell.

Countless evacuees are showing up on the news with absolutely nothing, after ten years or more working in the gold mine that was the tar sands. They were on the edge of bankruptcy, with no savings. And now they are climate evacuees who don't know they are climate evacuees. The heart-ache is just beginning. The bill to the taxpayer is just beginning. This will take years to sort out, and some people will never recover. The people of Fort McMurray will fade out of the headlines, perhaps pushed out by the next extreme weather event, or giant storm. But the blow to Alberta and Canada will go on and on.

It's come to the point where trees are now a threat to any city. My own home could be next, or yours. There is practically nowhere that cannot burn out of control. Ask people in Australia, California, or the Himilayas, Indonesia, almost anywhere. I'm sure some cities will try to cut down the forest around them, maybe even limit tree planting within city limits. That just releases more carbon, and reduces the ability of trees to absorb carbon dioxide.

As Paul Beckwith says, we have entered the age of the climate casino. You could be the next climate evacuee. No city is safe, from some sort of climate extreme. Nobody is immune.


The only solution is to recognize reality and tackle the root of the problem. That means converting away from the fossil fuel-based civilization. That process begins with closing down the worst and most polluting forms of fossil fuels. At the top of that list are two fuels: coal and tar sands.

Coal in Western countries is going bankrupt. It still fuels most of India, China, and much of the developing world. The tar sands could shut down tomorrow, and the oil glut would still continue. We don't need them. Canada must stop promising to rebuild that deadly infrastructure, stop subsidizing the dirtiest oil, and adopt a plan to close down these facilities entirely within five years, if not immediately. That's what it takes.

The alternative is to keep on suffering, if we can keep on at all.

I'm Alex Smith. This is Radio Ecoshock, for the world.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


This week: why knowing more about climate change could help you stall doing anything about it. Decision expert Joe Arvai joins us. We'll end with a voice from the first refugees from rising seas. But first, an industry insider says recycling is a myth that just postpones the inevitable collapse.

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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now.


Canada's Tar Sand city, Fort Mac, had to be completely evacuated today due to the sudden arrival of intense fires. At over 70,000 people, it's the largest evacuation in the history of the Canadian province of Alberta. Some homes and businesses have burned for sure. At least one gas station exploded. Gas supplies ran out as panicked residents tried to fill their big trucks and SUV's.

My gut reaction is simple: what the heck did they think was going to happen? If we pump out the world's most polluting energy source, the result is a changed atmosphere. Nothing stays the same, and bad things happen.

The temperature that third day of May in Fort Mac was 32 degrees, about 90 degrees Fahrenheit. That's at least 30 degrees F. above normal, and way past any record heat for the day. The whole Arctic is heating wildly, and guess what, that includes the sub-Arctic where we find Fort Mac and the tar sands operations. This fire is no surprise event.

The humitidy rating was 14 percent. If the humidity and temperature were the same, it would be extreme fire risk. This was worse than that. The Jet Stream entered one of it's blocking phases which locks in this strangely hot May weather. That's partly due to another record low set for the extent of Arctic sea ice last winter. New science is just out, from Jennifer Francis and others, explaining how this works.

Large parts of the Boreal forest, in Canada, Scandinvia and Russia will burn. That will add even more carbon to the skies, and reduce forest cover. The forest "sink" is gone.

The same sort of blocking mechanism in the Jet Stream held a steady rain over Houston Texas last month. The floods were monumental. Houston is another oil capital. And again we have to ask: What did they think was going to happen?

As we saw with a flooded Calgary Alberta a couple of years ago, the self-styled "oil capital of Canada" - guess what: oil production facilities and the cities that support that industry are not immune to climate change. That whole extended system, on which we all still depend, is exposed to continuous interruptions and damage from climate disruption.


Don't get me wrong. I don't gloat about the troubles of others. My own village was home to hundreds of fire-fighters last summer. We couldn't go outside for two weeks because of the smoke. We housed three fire refugees. These are real people, with real lives, and I feel for them, for the worry their kids feel, all of it.

I also know I filled up my tank with gas today. It wasn't likely from the tar sands, or maybe it was. Nobody tells us where it come from, and we have not consumer choice. Anyway, I'm guilty too, although I try, and keep trying, to reduce my greenhouse footprint.

Even so, I know the people working in the tar sands need to stop working there. They are directly helping to wreck the world. If the fires burned over the production facilities of the Canadian tar sands, that would be a gift to our grandchildren. Maybe it will help prevent the even worse fire storms, and severe storms of all kinds, developing in the coming decades. One of the world's top climate scientists has just published a monumental paper warning of the coming super-storms. I'll be covering that in coming shows.

The fires at Fort Mac are another desperate sign of the times. We need to wake up before the nightmare becomes the only reality. The evacuated residents should never go back. They will. Some will hate me for saying it. But the future will judge whether we can react to reality, or just go down with the burning ship.


The truth can be difficult to hear. It's even harder when somebody kicks a sacred green cow like recycling. When John Buffington wrote to me about his new book saying recycling is a myth standing in the way to a greener world, I got defensive. When he told me he was a corporate exec for a major American beer company, I told him "no".

But Jack, as he's called, is also a post doctoral researcher at one of the premier universities in Sweden, the country with the lowest landfill rate in the world. Add that to my own doubts that what I "recycle" is actually heading anywhere useful, and here we go, with the new book "The Recycling Myth: Disruptive Innovation to Improve the Environment".

Jack Buffington

In the old days, a person could see the local dump, and maybe pluck out a few things that could be used by someone. Now waste hauling is a huge industry, and you say it's so efficient we don't have to think about the problem, even as much as we did in the 1970's. Is the "success" of the waste industry part of the problem?

Some European countries cut their landfilling by incinerating up to 50% of the waste stream. As someone who has looked into the chlorinated bits and heavy metal particles coming out of those incinerator stacks, this scares the heck out of me. However Buffington says the Swedes at least have some tech to capture those emissions.

These allegedly "green" bottles, like "NatureWorks" from Cargill, do they just naturally biograde? No! It takes an industry process, with few facilities, consumer don't know the difference between PET and PLA. In a landfill it takes up to 1,000 years for these "organic" bottles to decompose.

Why are consumers not told about this really strange industrial process required to "compost" so-called bio-plastics?The city of San Francisco gave up on them.

I loved Buffington's Chapter sub-head tilted "EU SUSTAINABILITY: SLOWING DOWN PLANETARY COLLAPSE". The real deal is: food and drink containers, with a few exceptions, are not designed for recycling at all. Our confidence in the recycling game may be preventing us from going all the way to really natural containers.

We compare recycling in Sweden, Germany, the UK and Japan, and of course America.

In the village where I live, everything except glass is dumped into a single big metal bin. That is hauled "away" and I've heard it is shipped all the way to China to be separated and processed. That sounds insane, and it must be hard on China. What really happens to that trash in China? Buffington says the Chinese have just passed new laws to limit the garbage (literally) coming into that country.

I'm told the last paper recycling mills in Canada are at risk of closing, because these single use "recycling" bins produce paper and carboard soaked in so much food waste they can't be used for quality paper.

For now, the actual value of the materials recycled is less than the cost to grab it out of the waste stream. So what, should we just landfill everything? Buffington dreams of containers that actually help nature. He imagines real solutions involving supercomputers, nanotechnology, and 3-D printing. I worry that's a bunch of cool tech into the mix, hoping that will solve our waste problems.

The other problem with changing current recycling, while we wait for a big solution, is that big solution may never come, just as the problem of nuclear waste disposal was always promised but never came, despite 50 years of high tech.

My final complaint is this statement in his book: "A model of consumer austerity is not only un-american, and anti-evolution, but also unnecessary" I couldn't agree less. I think we need a complete reorganization of civilization to live within the planetary means. Do you really believe we can just tweak the consumer model of society?

John or Jack Buffington does research for the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. He's also a specialist in supply chain management for MillerCoors Brewing in Colorado. Buffington has written several books including "Progress, Technology and Seven Billion People: A New Solution for Capitalism".

I think his newset book "The Recycling Myth: Disruptive Innovation to Improve the Environment" is definitely worth the read, whether it's for business people, politicians, - but especially for greens who need to get real about the greenwashing going on about our waste.

Download or listen to this 26 minute interview with Jack Buffington in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Does concern about climate change depend on the culture where you live? If you know more about it, will you be more likely to support action? New research has some answers which may surprise you.

Our guest Joseph Arvai is an expert in how humans make decisions. He's the Max McGraw Professor of Sustainable Enterprise, and the Director of the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan. Joe is also co-author of a new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Joseph Arvai

"Knowledge as a driver of public perceptions about climate change reassessed" in the journal Nature Climate Change, was published online April 25, 2016. Joseph Arvai is a co-author. Other authors are from the Institute for Environmental Decisions in Zurich, Switzerland.

The group studied cultural attitutudes toward climate change in Canada, China, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. Essentially they found people care more about climate change when the human causes are identified. But their interest becomes less when they are told the details about the physics, CO2 levels, and all that.

This is serious for me, as a science broadcaster. I spend a lot of time talking with experts about the details of how Earth systems respond to greenhouse gases. Am I actually "dampening" public concern, and if so, what should I be doing to raise demand for action?

In a presentation Joe Arvai made while at the University of Calgary, you suggested an ethical oil station, with a menu of choices, based on sources, carbon emissions and more. That's a fascinating idea. What if we had informed choice about the fossil fuel products we buy? You can see his talk on You tube here.


While he was in Calgary, Arvai startled people by suggesting the oil-dependent economy of Calgary could go downhill fast as Detroit did. That was published in Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper - just before the oil prices crashed along with the Calgary employment and real estate scene. In 2013, his argument seemed crazy. Now it seems too plausible.

Download or listen to this 23 minute Radio Ecoshock interview with Joe Arvai in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


The first voices of refugees from rising seas are trickling in. I play you an 8 minute introduction from a half hour program from "Earth Matters" radio in Melbourne, Australia. The people of the remote Cartaret Islands off Papau New Guinea find the sea has turned against them.

Find the rest of the half hour program on refugees from rising seas at Earth Matters, 3CR radio, Australia. The web address is for Earth Matters is You can find that climate refugee show here.

The Pacific Islanders are running out of time. We did it, nobody helps them, nobody takes responsibility. It's just the start of pulling back from rising seas, first in distant places, then in your own country.

Radio Ecoshock is also out of time for this week. I'm Alex Smith. Thank you for listening, and caring about our world.

We go out with a bit from my new climate song "Change This Thing".

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Earthquake Time Bombs!

UK Geo-hazards expert Dr. Bill McGuire ("Waking the Giants") on recent quakes & links to climate change. Oregon Professor Robert Yeats new book "Earthquake Time Bombs" - most cities at risk from quakes or mega-tsunamis.

About 12,000 years ago there was a period of "volcanic storms", so many erupted. The Earth was unstable, rocking and rolling with Earthquakes. Geologists know climate change destabilized the Earth's crust. Bill McGuire wrote an influential article in the Guardian newspaper about this in 2012.

Does that sound too fantastic? The weight of ice miles thick poured into the sea as that latest ice age ended. Released from that weight, land rose. Long-standing pressure points reacted, and the world shook. As the article in Live Science says:

"McGuire conducted a study that was published in the journal Nature in 1997 that looked at the connection between the change in the rate of sea level rise and volcanic activity in the Mediterranean for the past 80,000 years and found that when sea level rose quickly, more volcanic eruptions occurred, increasing by a whopping 300 percent."

Now, after recent big quakes in Japan and Ecuador, with more under-reported quakes around the world, some scientists are beginning to wonder if climate is starting to destabilize geology again. We talk with one of the world's best geophysical hazards experts, Britain's Dr. Bill McGuire, author of "Waking the Giants".

Even if that time of extra volcanoes and quakes is farther into our future, the threat of everyday earthquakes and tsunamis is larger now. That is because so much of the doubled and tripled human population lives near the sea. We've built our mega-cities - and nuclear power plants - within tsunami range. Eight thousand years ago, an earthquake caused an undersea land-slide off Norway. The tsunami raced around the whole North Atlantic, reaching up to 30 meters high - that's well over 90 feet.

Adding to it all: we've globalized the economy based on a network of mega-cities. Several of them sit on well-known faults that are bound to blow, with quakes well above 8 on the Richter scale. The most precarious is the financial hub of Tokyo Japan. We'll talk about what happened the last time Tokyo was nearyl levelled, and the next time, which Japanese scientists say is over 90% likely within the next couple of decades.

The aftershocks would be in the world's shaky financial system. Would a big quake in Los Angeles, Vancouver, or Tokyo be the trigger for a massive collapse in the global economy?

That's why our second guest, Dr. Robert Yeats from Oregon wrote his book "Earthquake Time Bombs". We'll go into that risk in depth.

I'm Alex Smith, as we shake up the world with Radio Ecoshock.

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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now!


First Japan and then Ecuador. When major earthquakes strike, the media rush to Dr. William McGuire. He's a Volcanologist and world-known specialist in extreme geologic events. McGuire is Emeritus Professor of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at University College London. Bill has advised the UK government on global threats, and appears often on TV.

McGuire was also an author of the 2011 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change regarding extreme events. His latest book is "Waking the Giant: How a Changing Climate Triggers Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Volcanoes."

Dr. Bill McGuire

How could climate change affect earthquakes or volcanic action? One simple way is that in places like Iceland, a thick ice crust has covered over active volcanoes, like the Eyjafjalla Glacier. As that ice melts, it will enable the volcano to explode into the air. As we found out when the Eyjafjallajökull volcanoe erupted in 2010, the shroud of ash can shut down air travel over most of Europe. Research published in Geophysical Research letters tells us about a complicated process when the weight of ice allows land to rise, changing the melting temperature of Earth's crust. That could lead to more volcanoes in Iceland, and perhaps in other currently frozen places.

But that's the simple stuff. We know from geologic research that in previous times of mass ice loss, during global heating, the Earth started to rock and roll. Bill McGuire explains how in his book "Waking the Giant" in this Radio Ecoshock interview.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock 19 minute interview with Bill McGuire in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

So is climate change causing more quakes right now? We don't know, says McGuire. It's still early days for ice melt, despite the billions of tons lost from Greenland and Antarctica each year. There isn't enough signal among the noise to tell, given that there are always some earthquakes every year around the world. We don't yet know exactly when climate change will kick in. The largest impacts, the days of "volcanic storms" could be 5,000 or 50,000 years away. We don't know, and Earth has never had such a rapid trigger as human burning of fossil fuels. Until we know more, this expert says we should be careful about attributing each and every earthquake to climate change.

The deadly 2015 earthquake in Nepal could have a different climate angle. McGuire tells us that a heavier than normal monsoon season (which can be influenced by climate change) - can make the plains below Nepal heavier. This extra mass weighs on the great pressure point as the continent of India crashes into Eurasia. That might increase the quake risk in Nepal.

The only good news, McGuire tells us, is that a heavier ocean (with more meltwater in it) might actually calm the kind of deep ocean tectonic movement that caused the giant tsunami in Japan in 2011 (the one the knocked out the Fukushima nuclear plant). BUT those changes is sea levels and mass may increase the risk of undersea landslides that can create tsunamis, huge waves, around a whole ocean basin.

I hope our east coast North American listeners noticed that on-going threat from a collapse in the Canary Islands. There have been sea-slides before which created massive tsunamis all around the North Atlantic basin, from the United Kingdom to Canada, America, and right over Carribean islands. We really don't have to live on a fault line to be part of Earth's geologic pageant. Or course not everyone agrees that a mega-tsunami is likely. You can find out what a mega-tsunami is here on Wikipedia.

On April 20th, the Seismological Society of America (SSA) began it's 2016 Annual Meeting in Reno, Nevada. High on their list is the Cascadia subduction zone which runs just off the west coast of North America, from northern Vancouver Island in Canada to southern Oregon in the U.S.

There's been enough science to know this pressure point between two massive tectonic plates of the earth moves in a jolt every 400 to 600 years. That last one was in the year 1700. We don't know when the next one will be, but it's due. Aside from possible wreckage in Vancouver, Seattle and other coastal cities - the resulting tsunami would sweep clean the coasts of California and Hawaii. It would probably reach Japan, as it did in 1700.

The really huge threat, not just to the citizens but to the whole financial world, is a big quake - larger than 8 points - in Tokyo.

I read this at the Infowars site (not usually a reliable source):

"Scientists at Tokyo University estimate there is a 98 percent chance that, in the next 30 years, Japan will be hit by an earthquake equivalent to the “Great Kanto” of 1923, which measured 8.9 and killed an estimated 142,800 people. Seismologists at the Japan Meteorological Agency, however, put the odds of this happening at 70 percent."

So I checked those numbers with Bill McGuire. He says the numbers sound right. In any case, when the odds are so great, you can expect a quake relatively soon. Yes modern buildings in Tokyo are better designed for quakes, but McGuire says there are at least 80,000 wooden homes in Tokyo that could burn. In the past, he has called Tokyo "a city waiting to die".

Maybe that's extreme, but considering Japan is already in big financial trouble, still the second or third largest holder of U.S.Treasury bonds (which they could have to cash in), and still one of the top three financial centers of the global economy - a quake there just might trigger the next Great Depression.

Bill McGuire appears in this You tube video where he introduces four major threats. That's for another of his books "Global Catastrophe: A Very Short Introduction".

You can also read Bill's new short story about climate change and mass migration, called "Incoming" - at his web site


You can divide the human population into two kinds of people: those who have experienced a major earthquake, and those who have not. Each thinks differently.

Robert S. Yeats says we don't think about quakes nearly enough. Sooner or later, and likely sooner, a mega-city will be hit with something that makes the 911 terrorist attack in New York look small. His new book is "Earthquake Time Bombs" and he should know: Bob Yeats is a professor emeritus in geology from Oregon State University, author of the book "Living with Earthquakes in California" and co-author of "The Geology of Earthquakes".

Professor Emeritus Robert Yeats

Five years ago, Bob Yeats was interviewed by Scientific American. He told them Port au Prince in Haiti was in jeopardy due to a major fault line and lack of money to prepare. A week later, 100,000 people died in a catastrophic quake. Was that just chance? Yeats says "yes" because no one can predict an earthquake with exact timing. We do talk about new technology which can pick up the advance waves of a quake and give folks a very short warning.

We begin by looking at what we can learn from the deadly earthquake in Kathmandu Nepal - not the smaller one that hit in February 2016, but the big one in April 2015. Aside from the thousands killed, and hundred thousands homeless, some world heritage sites were destroyed, while modern buildings stood. What are we supposed to do to preserve the treasured past?


Reading this book, and it's a good read, I was surprised to learn that it's a mistake to go outside. When I was young, I was in the deadly 1971 earthquake in Los Angeles. Everyone ran outside, in their underwear in some cases. We had to look out for teetering palm trees - they have small roots - and power poles, but it seemed better than being crushed in the house. Why stay inside when an earthquake starts to rock and roll?

Yeats tells us about the bartender in a California quake who refused to let his patrons out the door when a quake struck. They would all have been killed by the pile of falling bricks. Certainly downtown in a modern city you might be killed by falling glass from tall buildings. It's a tough question, whether to say in or run out - but Yeats says you have better odds by remaining inside.

The second lesson of the Los Angles quake is that the first three days can be the test of surviving well, or not at all. Gas lines blew up into fires, electricity went out. In a worse quake, food deliveries would stop, and likely food stores would be looted and then empty. Meanwhile there are frightening aftershocks, so you may have to camp outdoors.

Right now Turkey is almost in civil war. Buildings collapse there just because of poor building standards. We talk about the risk in Turkey, and also in giant Mexico City.

Bob and I also discuss quake preparedness, both at the government level and personally.

I spoke to Robert Yeats at his home in Corvalis, Oregon.

Download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock 33 minute interview with Robert Yeats in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

In an email, Bob writes:

"Be sure to tell your listeners about my online book, Living with Earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest, available at It is available free since the book is used by emergency management. Canadians might legitimately take issue with the gringo-centric term "Pacific Northwest". The subduction zone goes about halfway up the continental margin off Vancouver Island. The tsunami chapter includes a description of the 1962 tsunami off Vancouver Island.

You can track quake activity now from a new mapping system from the US Geological Survey here. It was announced that for the first time, this map also includes human-induced earthquakes from fracking, although I didn't see that on their main map today.

You can monitor world earthquakes daily here.


Will we see a new wave of volcano eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis as climate heating melts the ice caps? Even without that, our just-in-time globally linked financial system is not suited to large-scale disasters. Add in the shaky economic times with unsupportable debt everywhere, mix in dwindling resources and the hits from extreme weather - it might not take much to darken our future.

Meanwhile, where I live in Canada, food prices went up 14% in just the last month. When I talked with our mega-hazards expert Bill McGuire, he had just come in from planting potatoes in their home in the highlands. His family moved out of London. I'm heading out tomorrow to plant my own potatoes in our little village plot. I moved out of Vancouver. Coincidence? Maybe.

I'm Alex Smith. If you can contribute to Radio Ecoshock, please do it here.

Thank you for listening, and caring about our world.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


Signs climate has entered abrupt shift. Includes Dr. James Hansen's video abstract of new science. Special report on smoke pollution from Indonesian peat fires by correspondent Yew Jin Lee, with 3 experts. Sample from "Unwelcome Guests" #726 "The Flight from Death". Radio Ecoshock 160420

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

You can watch this 3 minute video summary of this program.

Or listen to the program right now on Soundcloud!


It's funny how things build up, how they leak out, finally reaching us. A couple returned to my village from their winter in the Philippines. She grew up there. They had never been so hot, and so dry. They are religious, and they prayed for at least a cloud, to get relief from the relentless sun.

Then I get an email from a radio friend abroad. He's Robin Upton, the producer who revived the deep alternative show "Unwelcome Guests" when Lynn Gary retired. Google it, or go to As an aside, Robin said the heat was in the unbearable range. Heat laced with humidity - over 35 degrees C, or 95 Fahrenheit became the daily normal, flaring up above that at times. Upton was writing from his adopted home in Bangladesh.

A headline flickered in my brain, a one-off story asking if India was experiencing the worst drought ever. Or maybe the worst since 2002. Hundreds are dying of the heat. Fields have burned off dry. The only hope for millions, maybe hundreds of millions, is an above-average monsoon season, this June to September. In the meantime, in parts of the State of Maharashtra, a Criminal law forbids more than five people at a time at any water supply. The authorities fear conflict, maybe violence.

By the way, the super hot weather is melting snow and ice on Mount Everest faster. Changes in the cryosphere in the Himalayas may even create more heatwaves in Europe! Everybody is included in climate change.

Vietnam flashes up in my news and Twitter feed. Along with India and Bangladesh, Vietnam is going through a hot punishing dry period. Vietnam is normally a major exporter of rice. This year, not. A band of suffering has taken over south Asia. Yes, its partly because of El Nino, but a super El Nino adding it's might to the upward pace of global warming. That is one of the world emergencies being blotted out of our minds and screens by endless celebrity trivia, and fake political choices.

Drought in Vietnam


During this past week, climate scientist Paul Beckwith ventured into our darker places. Paul is frustrated with scientists who are constantly surprise the climate beast is roaring already, in so many ways. The global community has had 21 COP meetings, the Conference of the Parties to a Treaty that has done nothing to stop escalating emissions and committment to a climate-damaged future.

Maybe, Paul wonders, a regional nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan would stir up enough dust, to block enough sun, to cool us down for a few years. The dust of a decent sized nuclear explosion would spread throughout the northern hemisphere, likely cooling the planet an astounding one to one and a half degrees, within weeks. It might put a halt to the wildly growing melting of Greenland. The cooling might save the last of the reflective Arctic Ice cap.

Paul's second video on local nuclear war, explaining further, is here.

It's not just Paul talking about this. You can find a 2010 article on the same subject by respected scientist Alan Robock (and Brian Toon) as published in Scientific American here.

Paul explains we have lots of nuclear weapons. Just one big one from Russia or America would do the job. The cooling would last at least five years, maybe ten. Of course then the world would jump to new heat levels, because we've just hidden another ten years of huge greenhouse gas emissions under the nuclear cloud. Maybe we'd have to blow off two the next time.

As Beckwith stands in front of a screen explaining nuclear winter, I spy in the right hand corner another graphic explaining the nuclear explosion would also demolish most of the protective ozone in the Northern Hemisphere. Those who go outside without wearing a protective bag would ratchet up their risk of cancer. Everyone would have to wear eye protection to prevent blindness - at least everyone who could afford the special sun glasses. I suppose that didn't happen during nuclear tests in the 1960's, but then many seniors are getting multiple skin cancers. I just had one removed.

The whole project goes crazy, and Paul knows that. I think he's just telling us how serious this climate shift is, how we We are deluding ourselves about climate action, and the fact that we are not ready to cool the planet in this emergency.


Which brings me to James Hansen. Many of you know Dr. Hansen, the former Director of the Goddard Space Center of NASA - as the man who warned the U.S. Congress about dangerous climate change in 1988. He's struggled with this threat ever since. Last summer, Hansen and a collection of prestigious academics around the world, broke scientific protocol by publicly speaking about their research.

Paul Beckwith did a series of nine videos to explore and explain what Hansen and his co-scientists were saying. Find that video series on You tube, or at

This March, they officially published their study. It got some press. It's huge. Why haven't I said anything about it on Radio Ecoshock?

There are problems. First, of course I invited Dr. Hansen to appear on this program. I got no reply. I have no inside track to reach him. Hansen can pick his world media for appearances.

Second, there has been a fairly strong chorus of criticism of this paper. Of course a few complained that the process was broken. But Hansen says this scientific warning is much too important to wait a year before telling the population what is coming.

Other scientists simply disagree with either his conclusions, or his method of reaching them. A few have said, for example, that Hansen and team did not reach their vision of an ultra-stormy future in a ruined atmosphere by using models.

The paper refers to evidence of super storms, that could move 1,000 ton boulders inland from the shore. We can see these mysterious boulders on Caribbean islands. This is part of the paleoclimate record, but there are questions about how the Hansen team connected those time to these times. It is possible that the vision of dangerous and damaged decades to come was assumed, rather than proven. At that point, and really before then, I am not skilled enough to judge.

Plus, I think Hansen can be mistaken. I believe his promotion of nuclear energy as a solution for climate change is mistaken. I hope to have more on that in a future show.

That is partly why I haven't covered this story. Another part is a deep feeling that I might not be able to bear knowing what Hansen knows. You see, we've all been sold a picture of slowly developing climate change. In countless interviews scientists have cautioned that melting glaciers like Greenland and Antarctica will take hundred of years at least. The global mean temperature has only been going up slowly. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is discussing how we can still burn more fossil fuels, peak in a decade or two, and gradually come down, with quite survivable impacts. The seas will only rise slowly. It's the mantra of changes in geologic time.

If James Hansen is right, all this is wrong. The stakes are enormous, far larger than anything humans have experienced, bigger than the Earth has seen in more than 50 million years. The speed of change may be absolutely new.

I'm slowly collecting my files and links on the Hansen paper. He's gone to the press saying James Hansen is not an extremist. The science is what it is, the rapid changes we are seeing speak loudly. On March 21st, Hansen put out a video on You tube, explaining the work. It's 15 minutes long. If I can't interview the man, we still need to hear him speak. Here is James Hansen with "Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise and Superstorms Video Abstract."

In a way, Hansen spoke partly to other scientists. The full impact of what could happen is not explained, although I suppose for a scientist of his calibre to warn "all Hell will break loose in the North Atlantic" is pretty clear. Losing most of our coastal cities by the end of this century is clear enough. The time of the great storms is left to our imagination.

I'm going to re-read this paper, watch another dozen videos, listen to the scientific back talk. I'll come back to this paper when I know more. I'm also in touch with some of the co-authors of the paper, to get their views in coming programs.


Meanwhile the recording of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at Manu Loa Hawaii hit another frightening record of 409 parts per million. We started at 280 ppm at the beginning of the industrial revolution. During most of my life it has climbed slowly but surely. Now it's peaking, so that the new lows will be the old highs, and the new highs have never been seen on Earth for many millions of years.

Greenland has begun its summer melt season in early April. That's another record. Worrying news is pouring in from a wave of scientific papers around the world. My jaw drops, my nerves tingle, at least a dozen times a week. No one can keep up. All we know is that it's coming, and we are sleepwalking into a new more dangerous world. Sometime soon, or maybe yesterday, we reach the damage that can never be undone in thousands of years.

We are writing our wills for our descendants. Through our actions and inactions, we promise them a damaged atmosphere, with unstable weather and strange seas. The bugs, the plants and the other animals will move and change as they can. The future of our species cannot yet be written, even by the most imaginative science fiction writers, or poets of tragedy. Unless we can pull off a miracle of collective action, the future will be distorted beyond recognition. That is the only certainty.


We talked about the dry heat in East Asia, and the possibility of creating dust to cool the world in an emergency. But there is already a long season of smoky haze hanging over a lot of Asia, especially over Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Unfortunately, that smoky is unlikely to cool anything. It comes from burning tropical forests in the islands of Indonesia. There is black carbon in it, which will soak up sunlight and heat. Even worse, a lot of the fires are actually burning peat, that compact vegetative matter just one step below coal for carbon pollution. When the biggest peat fires erupted in Indonesia in a previous El Nino of 1997-98, it launched that country into the top three greenhouse gas polluters in the world. The peat fires continue, as big corporations and small land holders clear and drain the tropical forests, transforming them into palm oil plantations.

Check out this image of smoke from Indonesian fires covering Thailand and beyond

I got an email from listener Yew Jin Lee, offering to ask the experts why haze was covering Malaysia and Singapore yet again. Yew Jin is a Master's student studying Environmental Sciences at the University of Cologne in Germany. He carefully crafted this report for Radio Ecoshock.

For Radio Ecoshock, Yew Jin Lee interviews Dr. Helena Varkkey, senior lecturer at the University of Malaya; Alan Tan, professor of the National University of Singapore Law School; and Dr. Rachel Carmenta, Post-Doctoral Fellow at CIFOR " the centre for international forestry research in Indonesia.

Under the smoke, endangered creatures like the Orangutan, and tropical plants, are disappearing as the forests are cut, and peatlands burn. My thanks to Yew Jin for digging into this, with original radio for Ecoshock listeners. Don't forget, you can download this radio report, or share it with others, using thesse permanent links:

Asian haze interview (17 minutes) in CD Quality.

In "Lo-Fi" (lower quality mono, suitable for those with low bandwidth or listening/downloading via mobile phones)

If you want to Tweet or share this on Facebook, here is a shorter URL for the Lo-Fi version:


Near the beginning of this program, I mentioned Robin Upton, now a resident of Bangladesh. Robin rescued one of the most popular underground radio shows, called Unwelcome Guests. It was founded by New York State resident Lynn Gary, who ran produced the show for years and years. Unwelcome Guests covers alternative speeches and ideas in depth, with a two hour show each week. You can get it at, or at

As we play out this week, you will hear just the start of a full program #726 on the work of Ernest Becker. His book "The Denial of Death" won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-fiction in 1974, just before Ernest died. Only the Western culture struggles so hard to deny the reality of death, and I think that is directly connect to our parallel denial of abrupt climate change.

Good bye from me, Alex Smith for this week.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


With what we know about climate change, should anyone add another child into that future? We'll get two points of view from women who write about it: Madeline Ostrander and Alisha Graves. Then we hear recent science from Dr. Marcus Donat proving extreme rainfall events, and extreme drought will continue and get worse as the planet warms.

I'm Alex Smith. Buckle up, and off we go, in this week's Radio Ecoshock.

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

What's in this program? Check out This week on Radio Ecoshock - preview (2 min 30 second) You tube video

Or listen to the show on Soundcloud right now!


When we talk about "The Conversation" it is usually the far-too-late talk about sex by parents with their kids, who already know all that. Today, we are going to re-label "the conversation". It's an inner talk you have with yourself, and and a careful dialog you might share with close friends. The question is touchy and heavy: knowing the climate is going to be wrecked, with huge consequences for humans and nature - should I bring a child into that world?

As Madeline Ostrander put's it: "How do you decide to have a baby when climate change is remaking life on earth?" That's the title of her latest article in The Nation magazine. Ostrander is also a contributing editor at Yes! Magazine.

Journalist Madeline Ostrander

Beyond the personal decision to have a child, there is often an indirect pressure, in one direction or another, by the previous generation, by the grand-parents. I am an example. We had two children, and they revolutionized my life in many good ways. But now I worry a little too much about our grandchild and his future. Part of me is quietly glad our other child has not had kids. But then I am sad for what that grown-up will miss that I had.

Most North Americans and Europeans can never again experience what I had, in community, but more especially with nature. There were empty lots and it was safe to play in them without adults watching. There were woods within easy walking distance. We spent two months of every summer on an island in a Canadian lake. Nature and I are siblings. For millions of people, who think they are well off, their children can probably never experience this. Perhaps we can say, even without climate change, there are reasons not to have children in this civilization, in the state it's in.

There are a few pockets left of natural sanity in all countries. So the question becomes not only "should I/we have this baby" but also: WHERE should this baby grow up? Am I willing to move to a place with space, clean air, clean water, with much more safety and outdoors? I'm sure women from Beijing to Berlin are troubled by this question: "Is this is a place to have a baby?"

I think that politics, and mainstream media that makes politics entertainment, is hopelessly distant from this conversation we are having, about to baby or not to baby. This whole conversation, and the fears behind it, are driven underground. It's pretty well impolite to mention at dinner, at parties, at work, at school - anywhere.

Madeline tells us about a group in New England called Conceivable Future. They host meetings for young people to discuss this dilemma. The banner on their web site says "The climate crisis is a reproductive crisis".

Part of the problem in tackling this of course, was the early prediction (1970's) by Paul and Anne Ehrlich about "the population bomb". It was supposed to have exploded by now in mass death and famine, that never happened - partly due to advances in agriculture. The group they founded, Zerio Population Growth, has now been renamed as Population Connection.

Judging by emails I've received from listeners, this issue is far, far from solved. Some folks think I haven't given the population issue enough coverage, or even suggest I'm afraid to cover it. This show answers that, I hope.

Download or listen to this 21 minute interview with Madeline Ostrander in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Or if you would like to share the phone-friendly Lo-Fi version (please do) - you can use this shorter URL:

My thanks to Caitlin Graf at The Nation magazine for her help arranging this interview.

And how about this: ABC Australia is writing about how hot weather can reduce women's desire for sex...the article is "Climate change and your sex life".

Even if we say a minority of men and women are concerned enough about climate change to seriously question having a child, two things: first, knowledge about the uber-threat from climate disruption is growing rapidly in the general population, despite the Koch Brothers. That means what is now the minority may be the cutting edge who define a whole new movement or current among humans.

Second: whether it's just you, or a hundred million people, this question is one of the most important decisions made in a person's lifetime.


The old saying about the circus: "There's a sucker born every minute". But hundreds of new humans are born every minute, as the human population continues to multiply. Many will be Western-style super consumers, the ones who drain resources and fill the skies with greenhouse gases. If we can't control that urge, a major climate disruption may do it for us.

"Green sex" - Do it for the climate. We'll find out what that means with Alisha Graves. She has a Masters in Public Health from the University of California. She's co-founded and leads a group called the Oasis Initiative, which stands for Organizing to Advance Solutions in the Sahel.

Alisha Graves is also a research fellow for Project Drawdown, a group of scientists and other experts working to create a livable climate future, led by Paul Hawken.

Public health expert Alisha Graves

To hear some environmental groups tell it, all we have to do is install solar energy and drive electric cars - problem solved. But can we really tackle the climate issue without talking about population?

Our instant mental defense is to tell ourselves it's those billions of peasants "over there" somewhere who are responsible for the population impact. What's wrong with that idea? Think of it this way: if you decide not to have a child, you have done far more to reduce greenhouse gases than buying an electric car or installing solar panels. That is because every new consumer born is a heat engine.

We talk about the IPAT formula: I = P × A × T

As Wikipedia explains it, "Human Impact on the environment equals the product of Population, Affluence, and Technology. This shows how the population, affluence and technology produce an impact. The equation was developed in the 1970s during the course of a debate between Barry Commoner, Paul R. Ehrlich and John Holdren."

Sex is such a powerful urge. It can drive our lives even when our brains are barely involved, maybe especially when our brains are weak. Do you believe that rational debate can change sexual behavior? It's interesting to discover that half the babies born in the United States were unintended. So fifty percent of the time, there was no conversation like "should we do this?" Meanwhile, states like Texas are making it harder and harder for a woman to access a safe and legal abortion. At times I'm sure we are going backward in population control, not forward.

Then Alisha gives us a quick snapshot of conditions in the Sahel. That's the region in Africa just south of the Sahara Desert. The Sahel country of Niger has the highest fertility rate in the world: huge families born into utter poverty and lack of health care. Studies show that half the children of Niger are stunted, both physically and mentally. The Oasis Initiative is seeking solutions.

Alisha links to the paper titled "Reproduction and the carbon legacies of individuals" by Paul Murtaugh and Michael Schlax as being useful in this whole debate on climate and population. You can read the full text as an online .pdf here.

Of course, you should also check out the Project Drawdown web site.

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News about record rains, or sometimes snow, has become so frequent, I could report on it every week. Just recently, a half dozen people died in recent floods of Louisiana. Parts of Brazil were hit with half their average monthly rainfall in one day. In the desert, the United Arab Emirates recently recorded their highest single day rainfall ever, 50 times normal for March.

New research says this is only going to get worse as the world warms, but with an unexpected twist. A letter published in the journal Nature Climate Change is titled: "More extreme precipitation in the world’s dry and wet regions." In Sydney Australia, we've reached the lead author, Markus G. Donat, a research fellow at the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales.

Dr. Markus Donat

This is important research. Along with journalists around the world, Joe Romm quotes Markus Donat in this article on Climate Progress. But if you listen to my Radio Ecoshock interview, you'll be surprised to find that Joe got Donat's research a little bit wrong. It's all about the long-held slogan "the wet areas get wetter, and the dry areas get drier". Markus says that was true of a global model where the oceans are included, but not necessarily true on land (where it matters most to us). Yes will get more extreme droughts and super rainfall events, but like everything else about climate change, it's not quite as simple as that.

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

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