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)

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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.

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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

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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.

You or anyone can listen to or download just this 23 minute interview with Alisha Graves using these permanent links (in either CD Quality, or the faster loading but lower quality Lo-Fi)

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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.

You or anyone can listen to or download this 16 minute interview using these permanent links (in either CD Quality, or the faster loading but lower quality Lo-Fi)

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We are out of time - in this radio show at least.

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

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Wednesday, April 6, 2016


From the Netherlands, green lawyer Roger Cox: "Is Revolution Justified?" From UK, Glacier specialist Thomas Bauska on the last big temperature jump in a warm world like ours. Plus, scientist Paul Beckwith warns we are in a climate emergency. Radio Ecoshock 160406


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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now.


Despite the spring misery in Eastern North America - world heat records continue to tumble. Ice is melting faster at both poles. We're in trouble, but world leaders are preoccupied with getting elected - or hiding money in Panamanian corporations.

If governments fail our children's future, is revolution justified? That's the question raised by Roger Cox, a prominent green lawyer in the Netherlands. He's not calling for crowds in the street, but real justice. Cox sued the Dutch government for failing to protect the future, and won. That's spreading all over Europe, Canada, New Zealand, and into the United States. Hear Roger Cox explain how it's done.

Who is this revolutionary? In the Netherlands, Roger Cox is partner at the law firm Paulussen Advocaten. He is the power-house lawyer who sued the Dutch government, demanding a 25% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. He won, setting a precedent for people around the world, and we'll talk about that. He founded the "Planet Prosperity Foundation" promoting a circular economy. And Roger is known in Europe as a leader in sustainable real estate development, something almost unknown in North America.

Award-winning lawyer Roger Cox

Roger Cox is also a CIGI senior fellow with the International Law Research Program. The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) is an independent, non-partisan think tank on international governance. My thanks to CIGI for helping to arrange this interview.

Roger's book is called "Revolution Justified."

Download or listen to this 24 minute interview with Roger Cox in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

If you wish to Tweet out the Lo-Fi version of this Roger Cox interview, here is shorter URL for that:


Roger was central to a lawsuit against the government of the Netherlands. The Plaintiffs were the environmental advocacy group Urgenda Foundation, and 900 individuals. Essentially they argued that the poor legislation for emissions reductions by the Dutch government endangered future generations. They won the lawsuit and the government had to enact requirements for bigger emissions cuts, much sooner. The Dutch government agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 percent by 2020 (compared with 1990 levels).

This set an international precedent which is growing into a movement.

A similar lawsuit has been launched in Belgium, and another is pending in New Zealand. Other lawsuits are being considered in Canada, Italy, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and France. The French action follows one legal victory there in June 2015.


The idea begun by Roger, that citizens can sue their governments on behalf of the children, is now being tested in a U.S. Court. See this article on Alternet, and this piece from Australia.

The Oregon-based "Our Childrens' Trust Foundation" has launched a climate lawsuit in the United States. That suit is led by none other than Dr. James Hansen, along with 21 young people, many of them teens.

In another case, launched by the State of Massachusetts versus the EPA, the Supreme Court has already "in effect" ruled that climate change is real and dangerous, Cox tells us.


Of course, waiting for a break in the U.S. Supreme Court (depending on who gets nominated) might take too long to avert disaster. I have to ask Roger, and you as listeners, would a violent overthrow ever be justified? Let's say the Arctic sea ice disappears, and the northern Hemisphere is hit by years of unrelenting storms and heat waves. Crops fail. If governments fail to respond, should we go down quietly? I doubt people will just go along with business as usual, once they see the impacts of an abrupt climate shift.

We're not quite there yet, maybe (see the next interview with Paul Beckwith). It can't hurt to have all lawyers, judges - the whole legal community - become aware of the threats posed by climate change. Roger tells us that local judges, and some state courts, are already moving in the direction of taking climate safety as a real legal issue.


Roger tells us all industrialized countries signed into an international law to protect the climate at the 2010 Climate summit in Cancun Mexico. A few countries, including Germany and Denmark, have followed up, enshrining this protection into law.

Knowlingly breaching the 2 degree C "safe limit" would also be an infringement of human rights, as laid out in various United Nations binding agreements. More legal safeguards were added at the COP-21 climate summit in December, 2015, Paris. There are a lot of international laws, which your government likely agreed to, that lawyers can use to push the government to act on greenhouse gas emissions.


One of our regular guests, scientitst Paul Beckwith from the University of Ottawa, is warning anyone who will listen that we are in a global climate emergency. Forget 2050 or even 2030. Abrupt climate change has arrived, Beckwith says.

Paul has two Masters Degrees. He teaches climate science at the University of Ottawa, while working on his own Doctorate - on the subject of abrupt climate change. Paul is a scientists-activist, with a busy You tube channel, Facebook community, and more - all found on his new web site,

When I checked last, his new video and article is titled "My Condolences to Australia's Great Barrier Reef" (April 3rd).

In this program, I run a slighly edited audio version from Paul's important You tube video "Chat on our ABRUPT climate change EMERGENCY". This just has to get out there, and I'm happy to offer Radio Ecoshock as another way to express how serious our situation really is.

As Paul explains, the shift in climate is coming much faster than most scientists expected. If you want proof, just try this Google experiment:

"Google "climate change” and “faster than expected”, “unprecedented”, etc. and you get gazillions of science articles. Google “climate change” and “slower than expected”, etc. and you get squat."

- from Paul Beckwith's web site.

Download or listen to this 11 minute compact version of Paul Beckwith's warning in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Here is a tiny url for the Lo-Fi version (which works best for people listening on phones, or slow bandwidth) for Tweeting purposes:


We wrap up with an intriguing visit with a specialist in the story of glaciers and ancient climates. Before the 10,000 years of stable climate our civilization grew up in, the great glaciers came and went. The climate shifted with them, sometimes warming as much as 5 degrees Centigrade within 50 years. It's a tough field to understand, and harder still to figure out what applies to climate change today, and what does not. Some climate deniers have played on that confusion.

But the science of past deglaciation is getting better and better. A new paper out from a team of scientists from the United States, Britain, and New Zealand almost crushed my skull with problems. I wrote the lead author, Thomas K. Bauska with my beginner's questions, and he patiently schooled me in patterns of climate change I did not know.

That's why we called on Thomas for Radio Ecoshock. Educated in Chicago, with a Ph.D in Geology from Oregon State, Dr. Bauska is currently a researcher with the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Cambridge in Britain. The paper that stimulated this discussion is titled "Carbon isotopes characterize rapid changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide during the last deglaciation." It was just published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, or PNAS.

As a non-scientist, my first surprise reading this paper was that deglaciation can cause a rise in CO2, and not the other way around.

About ten years ago, people denied carbon dioxide was warming the planet. They jumped on the science of glaciology, to produce the argument summarized as "CO2 doesn't lead, it lags." Can carbon levels rise AFTER a warming, and if so, what caused the initial warming?

Talking about this, Thomas referred me to a 2012 paper published in the journal Nature by Shakun et al. The title is "Global warming preceded by increasing carbon dioxide concentrations during the last deglaciation." You can read that full article (as an online .pdf) here.

As I understand it, the point is this: past climate shifts began with geophysical forces: things like the 100,000 year cycle where the Earth's orbit tilts toward or away from the Sun (a bit). That can start a warming, which then releases carbon dioxide (and methane!) - which becomes a positive feedback effect, increasing the warming much more.

Contrarians argue other forces, like a tilt of the Earth's axis, can cause warming, so carbon dioxide isn't causing warming today. That is so simplistic it's silly.

Regarding abrupt climate change, Bauska et all write in their paper:

"At least twice during the deglaciation a rapid release of 13C-depleted carbon to the atmosphere may have occurred over a few centuries, suggesting that abrupt and significant releases of CO2 to the atmosphere may be common nonlinear features of Earth’s carbon cycle."

A second discussion in this paper seemed familiar to me. That was about changes in ocean currents, as deglaciation developed. We have just seen a giant cold spot appear in the seas south of Greenland, big enough it is thought to be altering the winter weather in Britain.

I wouldn't want to leave listeners with the impression that abrupt climate changes only happened as ice ages ended, and cannot happen now. I have spoken with scientists like paleontologist Peter Ward and Ottawa's Paul Beckwith who assure me there are records of abrupt warming, even from relatively warm starting points.


Considering glaciers at both poles are melting rapidly, as well as all other land-based glaciers melting, can we say we are NOW in a period of deglaciation? In the interview, Thomas said "no" - based on the large-scale deglaciation he studied. Today's melting is comparatively small. However, after the interview, Thomas sent me one further email explanation:

"One interesting question that I wasn't able to answer fully is whether we are currently in a "deglaciation" or not. My gut reaction was to say "not really" because the projected sea level rise over the next century is an order of magnitude less than the last transition from the ice age.

However, this paper really changed my view of future sea level rise. The authors (colleagues from Oregon State) take a long view and project sea level and temperature changes over the next 10,000 years (rather than the next few hundred). For context the compare the past 20,000 years, essentially the last deglaciation and Holocene. This is perhaps the long-term, geologic perspective that the deglaciation that your audience might gain insight from.

As stated in the abstract: 'This long-term perspective illustrates that policy decisions made in the next few years to decades will have profound impacts on global climate, ecosystems, and human societies — not just for this century, but for the next ten millennia and beyond.'

Listen to or download this 24 minute interview with Dr. Thomas Bauska in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

If you wish to Tweet out the Lo-Fi version, here is shorter URL for that:


I'm still working with my team on a classy new web site and blog (combined) for Radio Ecoshock. It will have a much better search function, so you can find the scientist or author you want to hear from. Plus, the new design will really work for all the folks who reach out to Radio Ecoshock by phone or tablet. The new blog will also be compatible with Itunes, so we can raise the number of podcast listeners.

I'll let you know as soon as it arrives.

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Thank you for listening again this week, and caring about our world.