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RSS Feed for 'Eco Shock' podcast (Alex Smith) - Thu Nov 26, 2015 01:52
Welcome back to Radio Ecoshock. Last week's program "Facing the Harsh Realities of Now" with David Wasdell set records for radio and listeners on soundcloud. If you missed it - don't. David Wasdell makes his case that we are already committed to at least 6 degrees of global warming, plus dozens of meters higher seas. Grab it from my web site at, or listen at

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


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

You may want to consider three more ideas. First:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or listen on Soundcloud right now!

Photo courtesy of the Guardian newspaper, UK.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Scientist Justin Mankin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Author Peter Seidel

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

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

This is how our conversation began:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for listening, and caring about your world.

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