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CLIMATE DEADLINE Wed Feb 25, 2015 22:56 | firstname.lastname@example.org (Alex Smith)
Author Kristin Ohlson
One of the heros of this book is Gabe Brown, from North Dakota. Gabe has a ranch of about 5,000 acres near Bismark N.D. He was losing money using traditional techniques, and switched over to carbon farming techniques, with very few chemicals. He now has a profit well above the County average, partly because he doesn't have to pay for fertilizers. Now Brown advises farmers all over America, and in fact around the world.
Also, we learn from Kristin that we don't have to convert every farm and farmer everywhere to save the climate with soil carbon. David Johnson of New Mexico State University says carbon farming on just 11% of our farmlands could offset all the emissions of an industrial society.
Back in 2011, I interviewed a Vermont carbon farmer, Abe Collins. He helped kick off something called "the soil carbon challenge". Abe Collins was part of a crew, including Peter Donovan, who attempted to get "carbon farming" recognized in the New England carbon trading scheme. As I said in my blog then, why pay big companies to off-set emissions, when farmers can capture carbon - AND feed us sustainably?
On February 23rd, Kristin was in Los Angeles for something called the "Urban Soil Carbon Water Summit". There is a meaningful role that city folks can play too, in the way the big landscape under the city is treated.
Listen to Kristin Ohlson on Radio Ecoshock in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.
Find Kristin Ohlson here on Facebook and Twitter, plus her own web site here.
EUROPE'S CROPS STAGNATING - IS IT CLIMATE CHANGE?
In the past couple of years there has been a tidal wave of warnings that the world cannot feed the extra 3 billion people expected in the next decades. In fact, with the impacts of climate change, we may not be able to feed the current population - which we are doing poorly as it is.
We are not talking about hippy bloggers. These voices of worry come from Greg Page, the conservative executive chairman of the Cargill food empire, from investment gurus like Jeremy Grantham, and from the Pentagon.
That means it is time to talk with the scientists, about what we know, and what we don't, when it comes to climate change and food stress. It will take a series of interviews and programs to do it.
We start this week with new science about climate and the stagnation of food production in the heavily populated European Union. Our guest is Frances C. Moore. She's close to a PHD at Stanford, while working with the MacArthur "genius" award-winning scientist David B. Lobell.
Francis C. Moore, Stanford
Frances is the lead author in two key parts of the puzzle. In 2014 she and Lobell published a letter about the ability of European farmers to adapt to shocks brought on by climate change. At the start of 2015, Moore was the lead author of a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy - titled "The fingerprint of climate trends on European crop yields".
These authors find that climate change is provably a factor in Europe's inability to produce still more food. For example, in wheat and barley, they estimated about 10% of the stagnation was brought on by climate change. Of course, that's averaged over the whole European Union. There are more extreme cases of crop losses in Spain and Italy, for example, where the contribution of climate change would be greater.
This paper shows the impact of climate change will continue to hamper the development of European crops. At the present time, Europe exports a lot of food. If, due to drought, heat waves, or extreme rainfall events, Europe cannot export as much, that leads to food stress in poorer parts of the world. Lack of food can lead to social instability, and wars. Co-author David Lobell published a paper finding that climate stress is linked to civil war in Africa.
Last year, Frances Moore and David Lobell published a letter in the journal Nature Climate Change. The title is "Adaptation potential of European agriculture in response to climate change". In a nutshell, they found the ability of farmers to adapt to a shift in climate depends partly on the whether the farmers consider the problem as a short-term thing, or work on a long-term plan.
In the short-term, the farmer thinks this is just unusual weather, and so makes fewer fundamental changes. The long-term farmer, realizing climate change is happening, may build in better infrastructure to hold water, or to drain water. He or she may look at adaptations in hotter regions and adopt those. Or the farmer may have to change crops to more heat tolerant varieties.
Frances C. Moore is one of the bright young minds at the Stanford School of Earth, Energy, & Environmental Sciences in California. Listen to this 18 minute Radio Ecoshock interview with Frances C. Moore in CD Quality or Lo-Fi
To compare what is happening with climate and crops in Europe to the United States, check out this recent report on "Midwest Agriculture and Climate Risk"
. For the larger global picture, try this article "5 Reasons why peak food is the world's No. 1 Ticking time bomb".
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I'm Alex Smith. Thanks for listening.
Mass Extinctions Past & Present Wed Feb 18, 2015 22:54 | email@example.com (Alex Smith)
Before we go into some fascinating details about the instability of life here on Earth, one quick question: does the study of the past tell us important things about the rapid warming humans are causing today?
Dr. Wignall says yes it does. A look into the record of the past shows us "how the world works", especially in periods of rapid warming and rapid cooling. "It's an experiment that's been run in the past."
Paul studied rock formations, and fossils in them, all over the world, from Poland to my own Canadian Province of British Columbia. But I notice particularly after 2006, most of his papers are co-authored with Chinese scientists. Why is that?
First of all, Wignall says, Chinese scientists were interested in the same questions. But mainly there are rock formations in South China which can read like a book of the past. He's done fieldwork with Chinese colleagues in Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces.
His work has touched on a number of controversies raised by other scientists here on Radio Ecoshock. Let's start with your 2009 paper "Mantle plume: The invisible serial killer". What is a "mantle plume"?
Wignall says: "A mantle plume is a structure or feature within the Earth, in the Mantle. It basically refers to hot material that sort of wells up from the core, from the centre of the Earth, and sort of rises up to just beneath the crust. And when it reaches the base of the Earth's crust, it then creates a lot of vulcanism."
Compared to today's experience of volcanoes, these events were "orders of magnitude bigger scale eruptions". These volcanoes erupted along with carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and some other gases. Very little methane was in those eruptions, "but we think that the eruption of carbon dioxide triggers the release of methane."
A FORAY INTO THE RIDICULOUS
Now I asked Dr. Wignall about the methane, because another wild prediction by Malcolm P.R. Light cited this Wignall paper of 2009. In the Arctic News blog, a chart purporting to explain why "Omnicide" would occur on Earth as early as 2023 was published. By "omnicide" I presume it means the death of all living things.
Citing Malcolm P.R. Light, a persistent contributor to the blog, this chart draws twice on the mysterious "Enrico Mantle Methane Eruption Anomaly". Actually, it's a chart republished first on Light's Facebook page, and then in Arctic News. The creator of the chart/photo is the reliable scientist "Goddessof TruthandLove".
A search for this "Enrico Mantle Methane Eruption Anomaly" finds nothing, except a previous post by Malcolm Light in Arctic news February 28, 2014. It appears he made it up.
That post in the Arctic News blog February 2, 2012 begins with this statement:
"During the Late Permian (Figures 16 to 19) there was a major global extinction event which resulted in a large loss of species caused by catastrophic methane eruptions from destabilization of subsea methane hydrates in the Paleo-Arctic (Figures 16, 17 and 13a)(Wignall 2009)"
So Light's source is supposedly work by UK extinction specialist and our guest, Dr. Paul Wignall of Leeds.
Searching Wignall's works, we do indeed find a paper with ominous titles about a mass extinction event and a "Mantle Plume".
(Wignall P; Racki G (2009) Mantle plume: The invisible serial killer - Application to the Permian-Triassic boundary mass extinction. Comment, Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatology Palaeoecology, 283, pp.99-101.)
But as you've just heard in the Radio Ecoshock interview, the Mantle Plume eruption was not itself methane, although it may have triggered the release of more methane. And in fact, this published Comment by Wignall and Racki was about an earlier paper by E. Heydari at al. Wignall and Racki disputed Heyari's theory that a massive amount of methane was released by a mantle plume event.
In other words, Malcolm Light cites as his source the very work by Paul Wignall THAT REFUTES LIGHT'S THEORY. Talk about sloppy sources and science!
You can verify all this by downloading a .pdf of Wignall's comments here. And then read the disputed "Invisible Serial Killer" theory of a mass methane release (by Heydari et all, not Wignall) here.
BACK TO REAL SCIENCE - "LETHALLY HOT" OCEANS
In 2012, Paul Wignall and his Chinese co-authors published another paper in 2012 that caused a stir. They suggested Earth experienced "Lethally hot temperatures during the Early Triassic greenhouse".
From the Radio Ecoshock interview, Wignall says: "We've recorded the warmest interval probably for the past billion years of Earth's history. It's in the aftermath of this huge extinction 250 million years ago. It seems that that extinction coincided with warming. And we think the warming just got even worse in the aftermath of it, and so produced temperatures - we calculated sea surface temperatures rather than on land. But sea surface temperatures approached 40 degrees Centigrade at times. Which is extremely hot, well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit....
You could just about tolerate having a shower or a bath at 40 degrees [C] but it would feel scaldingly hot. It's a bit sort of like the temperature of hot soup.
This is at the equator. We didn't say these temperatures were all over the world. But the equator temperatures were that and we think at higher latitudes the [sea surface] temperature gets cooler toward the Poles, so the polar temperature were not too bad. But certainly at the equator we think it became lethally hot. So it became impossible for many animals and many groups to live in equatorial waters."
Here is the scientific reference for this work: Sun, Y, Joachimski, MM, Wignall, PB, Yan, C, Chen, Y, Jiang, H, Wang, L and Lai, X (2012) Lethally hot temperatures during the Early Triassic greenhouse. Science, 338 (6105). 366 - 370. ISSN 0036-8075 The full text is available here.
Note this paper was controversial. Some other scientists disputed it, including the team of N. Goudemand, C. Romano, A. Brayard, P. A. Hochuli, and H. Bucher. Read about that here.
But in our interview, Wignall says they are pretty sure they are right about this one. Here is an easy-to-understand article about Wignall et all's theory of lethally hot oceans, this time in the Huffington Post.
In an interview for Naked Scientists, Wignall said all forests were lost at that time, which is an amazing thought. And it was a catastrophic time for insects as well. He tells us about what happened to the trees and the bugs.
DID HYDROGEN SULFIDE FROM THE SEAS KILL OFF LAND ANIMALS?
Author and paleoclimatologist Peter Ward has been a guest several times on Radio Ecoshock. His book "Under a Green Sky" affected me deeply. You can watch a video interview I did with Dr. Peter Ward on this page. Here are the two key interviews with Peter Ward on Radio Ecoshock, as audio files: "Under a Green Sky" (2008) and "The Medea Hypothesis" (25 minutes)(2009). This are still very valid and powerful today.
Dr. Paul Wignall published a paper in 2012 on "green sulphur bacteria" - the same agents Ward suggested arose in the oxygen-poor oceans. He wrote their hydrogen sulphide exhalations may have caused mass death in land animals. So this is more proof that this theory of mass extinctions on land is the best we have so far.
Note that the green sulphur bacteria thrive in oxygen poor oceans. We are already seeing dead zones pop up around the world, due to "anoxia" (lack of oxygen). Other scientists also worry that when the Arctic ice melts, and the climate warms, there will be less ocean mixing, and so more zones where oxygen-breathing creatures die off, and green sulphur bacteria replace them. The theory is that those bacteria breath out the very toxic gas hydrogen sulphide (aka sulfide) - which comes ashore in waves, suffocating land animals.
See this paper:
Richoz S; Van De Schootbrugge B; Pross J; Püttmann W; Quan TM; Lindström S; Heunisch C; Fiebig J; Maquil R; Schouten S; Hauzenberger CA; Wignall PB (2012) Hydrogen sulphide poisoning of shallow seas following the end-Triassic extinction, Nature Geoscience, 5, pp.662-667. doi: 10.1038/ngeo1539
In Wignall's work, I noticed these papers on extinction events are missing the so-called evil twin of climate change, ocean acidification. Wignall says that is because acidification is so hard to study in ancient rocks.
We cover a lot of ground, with this prolific scientist. Please download or listen to this Radio Ecoshock interview with Dr. Paul Wignall, in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.
You can also watch this interview with Paul Wignall on RT TV's show "The Big Picture", done in September of 2013.
Here is another scientific paper co-authored with Paul Wignall you may be interested in.
Song H; Wignall PB; Chu D; Tong J; Sun Y; Song H; He W; Tian L (2014) Anoxia/high temperature double whammy during the Permian- Triassic marine crisis and its aftermath, Scientific Reports, 4, . doi: 10.1038/srep04132
The abstract for that is here. Find the full text download here.
WHEN THE GRID COMES UNDER ATTACK
Though we barely heard about it, in January Pakistan suffered the world's 4th largest power blackout. 140 million people went dark, including the capital Islamabad and the country's largest city, Karachi. It was a terrorist attack, the very thing that has worred top regulators and power companies in America, and in every Western country. Could a major country like the U.S., Britain, or Canada go dark, and for how long? What can we do to prepare?
Our guest is one of the bright young men in American power. Darren Hammell is the Chief Strategy Officer and co-founder of Princeton Power Systems, a company that specializes in bringing rewewable energy online.
Darren Hammell, Co-Founder & Chief Strategy Officer, Princeton Power Systems
Could a terrorist darken a large area of the United States? Could it happen? A first effort already occurred in California. The attack on the southern California substation in Metcalf on April 16, 2014 appears to have been well-planned, and no one has been caught yet. Here is a Wall St. Journal article about it, and a Wiki entry.
The former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or (FERC), Jon Wellinghoff, has been practically yelling about how poorly the electricity system is defended against terrorism. Our guest Darren Hammell agrees and explains.
Then we have the spectre of cyber-attacks. Almost all of this equipment is operated remotely by computers. Acording to the Wall St. Journal, American power companies reported 13 cyber attacks in just the last three years. We also have the example of the state- engineered Stuxnet virus that went after nuclear power plants in Iran. A cyber-attack could even shut off dams in electric generating stations.
Another worry big in some circles is an electro-magnetic pulse, an EMP, from either a single nuclear weapon blasted off in the atmosphere, or due to a solar storm. If we had a so-called Carrington Event, the whole grid could go down, possibly for years.
Finally on our list of big grid vulnerabilities, we have those well known terrorists, the trees, the weather, and human error. There was the big Northeast blackout of the United States and Canada in 2003, that darkened 55 million people. That was caused when a single plant in Ohio went down. Poor switching and a fragile grid multiplied the impact to a quarter of a continent and millions of people.
The four largest blackouts in the world all happened in South East Asia. The two largest were in India, then Bengladesh, followed by the recent power loss in Pakistan. The India blackout of 2012 hit 620 million people, that's almost 10% of the world's humans. Hammell says that is partly because electric systems in south east Asia usually don't have reduncancy. Whereas there are many different switching routes for power in New England, there may be a single large power line carrying all the capacity across parts of India. When that goes down, for any reason, there is no alternative.
Find a list of the world's biggest power blackouts here.
ONE SOLUTION - THE MICRO GRID
Darren Hammel is one of several voices calling for more micro-grids. These are electric systems which can break away from the main grid, and operate independently if needed. For example, a university might have a small generating station, and the ability to have their own micro-grid. These are already being set up, in pioneering ways in several Amercian states.
I just saw an article about four homes in Missouri with rooftop solar panels and a microgrid. The project was built by students and set up by the Missouri University of Science and Technology. When do we move from the pioneer stage of microgrids to full-scale implementation?
The former prison colony on the Island of Alcatraz off the coast of California is another example of an independent power system. This award-winning system is solar powered. Interest in micro-grids in the North East of the U.S. has been growing since Hurricane Sandy.
Find out more about microgrids from this site, and from the US Dept of Energy. Or check out this explanation from "How Stuff Works" and this article from Technology Review.
I don't know if you are familiar with the work of Joseph Tainter, but he looked at the rise and fall of empires with an eye to fragility. When large empires become too complex, they break down, but they break down into smaller more self-sufficient islands, like the Medieval fortress cities that operated as nation states. I wonder if the new need for microgrids doesn't reflect an uncertainty about the future of big systems. Just a thought.
Listen to or download this Radio Ecoshock interview with Darren Hammell in CD Quality or Lo-Fi
THE MEGA DROUGHT
Thousands of scientists met this past week for the annual meeting of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, the AAAS. On your behalf, I attended a couple of presentations for the press. I'm an accredited scientific journalist after all.
There were two big stories from an environmental point of view. The first was a study that finally tries to measure how much plastic waste ends up in the ocean every year - and where it's coming from. The second predicted a greater chance of a mega-drought in the Southwest US - a dry period lasting decades or even hundreds of years. That's happened in the past, and climate change makes it more likely now.
Here is the link to follow up. And here is a popular magazine explanation, from Science Magazine. Maybe this is enough. Or should I contact the mega-drought authors to see if we can line up an interview?
As just a preview, here's a quick summary. By studying tree rings, soil samples and other data, scientists found a series of prolonged droughts in the U.S. Southwestern states, and even into the central plains. These long, long dry periods reached from California, where so much food originates, through to the plains states, where again, a lot of food is grown, or raised as meat on grasses.
The last big drought in that area was in Medieval times. So there are cycles, possibly related to ocean conditions in the Pacific, which can bring about super-droughts even without fossil fuelled carbon in the atmosphere. That chances of a long-lasting drought occurring in any one century are about 5 to 10%. But now with climate change, the odds of experiencing a super-drought in this century have risen as high as 80%. That's a very big chance that agriculture, and maybe even some cities in the Southwest, might have to be abandoned.
As one of the authors, Toby Ault of Cornell University pointed out, the glimmer of good news is the drought was not deep enough to kill off all trees. Otherwise they could not measure tree rings, in some cases going back thousands of years. The definition of a super-drought is not that there is no rain at all, but that precipitation of all kinds drops back drastically, for at least 35 years, and possibly much longer.
Even if rains come, a hotter world means soils let go of their moisture at a greater rate, as evaporation. Soil moisture is the critical factor for plant life, and for species that depend on plants, including ourselves. It's also key to replenishing rivers and water reservoirs.
The authors suggest that society build in planning and infrastructure for prolonged droughts, just as we do for earthquakes in some states, or for hurricanes in others. With climate warming, drought has become a high risk natural disaster.
THE ULTIMATE SOLUTION FOR EVERYTHING: FOUR MORE PLANETS
Now and then, I get emails asking for more solutions. Fair enough. So this week Radio Ecoshock presents the ultimate solution. In this show we have Murray Reiss of Salt Spring Island, in British Columbia, Canada performing his stage routine called "4 More Planets".
I saw this on You tube here, but the audio wasn't great for radio. Murray kindly sent me a better recording.
Murray Reiss is a Salt Spring Island, BC, poet and activist with one foot in the printed page, and the other on the stage. His collection "The Survival Rate of Butterflies in the Wild" was named best first book of poetry published in Canada in 2013 by the League of Canadian Poets. Murray performs as a solo spoken word poet, and as a member of the Only Planet Cabaret.
Next week we'll hear about climate change and crops in Europe. And famous climate scientist Michael Mann joins us.
Find all our past programs as free mp3 downloads at ecoshock.org. Please help support Radio Ecoshock if you can. Radio stations do not pay for the program. Listener donations fund my research, the phone calls, and the broadcasts. I count on you to keep going. Get the details here.
I'm Alex Smith. Thank you for listening.
We end this program with the song "When the Grid Goes Down". It was written and performed by long-time musician and composer Craig Anderton. I can't find a web site for him, but you can watch the You tube video here. Here is Craig's You tube channel.
NUCLEAR EXTINCTION IS POSSIBLE Wed Feb 11, 2015 22:47 | firstname.lastname@example.org (Alex Smith)
Alan Robock, Rutgers.
This "winter" would likely be years, perhaps a decade, where the sun could not penetrate the dust clouds to reach the earth. Therefore all plant life would die, and humans also.
Additionally, a big nuclear war would destroy the ozone layer. When the sun finally returns, you would experience third degree burns in 3 minutes outside, and go blind.
Here is what Caldicott says:
"One of the speakers I have at the Symposium is a man called Alan Robock who is a Professor of Meteorology at Rutgers University. He with a guy called Creutzen has done pioneering work about what happens meteorologically if there is a nuclear war.
It would only take a thousand bombs dropping in a hundred cities. But in fact there are two thousand bombs ready to be launched. Now the nuclear exchange would only take about half and hour to an hour between Russia and America.
And as the cities burn, and they are now filled with toxic chemicals, oil refineries, rubber, plastic, timber, you name it. As they burn, a huge cloud of toxic black radioactive smoke will be injected into the stratosphere. It will remain there for over 10 years. It will block out the sun, almost totally, for ten years, producing a tremendous lowering of temperatures and a short ice age, during which most creatures on Earth, including humans, will freeze to death in the dark."
She adds, "we are talking about the end really of creation, in a certain sense."
We have a previous parallel on the planet. The Chicxulub crater in the Gulf of Mexico, near the Yucatan Peninsula, was blown up when an asteroid hit the Earth 66 million years ago. Scientists found that plants all over the world died as dust from the impact blacked out the Sun, likely for years. Many animals went extinct, and a new age began. Is that what we could create with a nuclear war?
If you can make it to New York City at the end of February, the actual symposium is cheap. Something like $60 a day. I don't know when, or if, another major gathering of people of this stature will happen again. It will be historic.
If you can't make the symposium, the entire proceedings will be broadcast live over the Internet, from this site.
Older people remember the massive marches against the madness of nuclear weapons. Literally millions of people marched to tell their governments to get rid of nuclear weapons. (We can never use them, as you see). I worry younger people just didn't grow up with that nuclear fear, and think this has somehow been solved. It hasn't been solved, and festers like a constant threat to all of us, and everything on the planet.
To be honest Helen, when I read through your list of topics for the symposium, I had the reaction I think many of my listeners might experience. First I was angry, that we still have to deal with all this nuclear madness, and then I wanted to just run away and think of something else. That's pretty common isn't it?
Nuclear weapons are so threatening, we have barriers to overcome, just to get people to allow themselves to listen.
Who will warn the world, and lead us against nuclear madness, when Helen Caldicott eventually retires? Where are the new sane young people?
Good luck Helen, and thank you for never giving up.
Here is my reading list from Helen's seven books that I think you should read. You could start with the latest book she edited: "Crisis Without End: The Medical and Ecological Consequences of the Fukushima Nuclear Catastrophe". That was just published in October 2014. But I also recommend "War in Heaven: The Arms Race in Outer Space" written with Craig Eisendrath, and of course her classic book "Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer to Global Warming or Anything Else."
Download or listen to this 30 minute Radio Ecoshock interview with Helen Caldicott in CD Quality (27 MB) or Lo-Fi (7 MB)
P.S. TWO MORE THINGS
At the end of our interview this week, I also ask Helen Caldicott about the recent deal signed by Obama to promote nuclear reactor sales in India.
And there is distressing news out of Fukushima recently, about the number of kids getting thyroid cancer (a sign of radiation poisoning).
At the end of January, a new video was posted on You tube about the real health impacts at the triple melt-down in Fukushima Japan. A resident there, Chieko Shiina said the Japanese government and health authorities are trying to hide a huge spike in thyroid cancer in children living near the accident site.
The Japanese government does not want the health impacts to get out, because they want to restart dozens of shut-down reactors, mainly to save money to import natural gas. Will the Japanese public let them re-start those reactors, some of them also damaged during the 2011 Tsunami?
ON TO THE COMMONS
The news slaps us in the face: 1% of humans will control more than half the wealth of the world. This is the result of what author David Bollier calls "the market state" - that tight marriage of billionaires, mega-corporations, and our former democratic institutions. A host of problems boil out of this paradigm of power, including climate change. We've been told there is no alternative. David Bollier says there is, and it's an idea we've been taught to hate: the commons. His most recent book is "Think Like a Commoner: A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons".
Whatever that is. It's one of those twisty ideas. The deeper you look, the deeper it gets. David has been at this for 15 years, as an independent scholar, blogger, and writer.
Really, the commons is all around us, in things like the highway system, National Parks and so on. Yet there is a political party in the United States, and in many countries, dedicated to privatizing everything, including prisons, hospitals, and schools. We discuss the forces working against the commons, which is technically called "enclosure" of public wealth.
Another problem with the commons as a tool for survival is our indoctrination. Most of us learned two things in school: the communes all failed, and "communism" is horrible. The multiple failures of the Soviet Union set back communalism for a generation or more.
During the interview, I suddenly realized I totally misunderstood the commons, as Bollier sees it. I was thinking about my own previous experience in the back-to-the-land movement, about enclaves of self-sufficiency like the Amish or something. See the classic "Heavens on Earth: Utopian Communities in America, 1680-1880" by Mark Holloway for example.
But the real commons is not withdrawing into an island. Instead, it is the broad public space we all own.
RADIO ECOSHOCK DEPENDS DIRECTLY ON THE COMMONS
This show is broadcast by about 88 college and community radio stations. These are non-profit organizations, often staffed or dependent on volunteers, who use the public air waves. By the way, none of those stations pay me anything, which is why I am often seeking donations to keep going.
You are probably using a type of the commons right now to read this. Your free browser uses the public commons of cyberspace. There is all kinds of work in the cyber-commons, including open source software, and information hubs like Wikipedia.
But we could do much more, to protect the commons we have left, and to develop new economic models which do not push 90% of the wealth to 1% of the people. Bollier actually gets me hopeful at times (I hate when that happens).
Humans evolved to live in a commons. And despite the 1968 book "The Tragedy of the Commons" - people all over the world work out systems to individuals don't abuse the rights of all. Not only can the commons work, it is working in many places right now. Up to 2 billion humans depend on the commons for their survival. It is the modern capitalist human that is out of step with nature and the reality of the commons. In fact, Bollier makes the argument that implementing this different economic model would be crucial to solving climate change.
From Bollier's web site:
"A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that social trust and cooperation may be an evolutionary reality hard-wired into the human species.4
4, Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, The Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011); Martin A. Nowak, Super Cooperators: Altruism, Evolution and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed (New York: Free Press, 2011). "
David Bollier's web site and blog are a humungous source of info, for beginners and those in depth, about the commons. I was astounded to see Bollier's blog at bollier.org goes back to 2004! That's ancient history in the blog world. He also has a series of free podcasts at the site, great for people to educate themselves from their Ipod or mp3 player.
A couple of his books include the 2012 work "The Wealth of the Commons". He co-authored "Green Governance: Ecological Survival, Human Rights and the Law of the Commons" with Professor Burns Weston.
His latest book, just out really, is "Think Like a Commoner: A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons".
Here is a superb essay by David Bollier, which can introduce you to work on this whole concept of the commons, and what it can do for us.
Listen to or download this interview with David Bollier in CD Quality or Lo-Fi
The appropriate music for this segment is David Rovics song "The Commons". Find folk troubador Rovics soundcloud page here. But I didn't have room to squeeze it in this week. See David perform this song on You tube here.
WRAP UP AND NEXT WEEK
That's our show for this week. Next week we'll talk about the previous great mass extinctions with the British expert scientist Dr. Paul Wignall - and the possibility of our electric grid going down, as just happened when Pakistan went dark at the end of January. Stay tuned to Radio Ecoshock.
Download any or all of our past programs as free mp3 files, from the web site at ecoshock.org.
My thanks to those who supported Radio Ecoshock this week. You make this program (and this blog) possible. Find out how here.
I'm Alex Smith, saying thank you for listening, and caring about your world.
Abrupt Climate Change - Again! Sun Feb 15, 2015 18:50 | email@example.com (Alex Smith)
Dr. James White, University of Colorado
White's specialty is the Arctic, and especially evaluating Greenland ice cores. That's a window into the past 100,000 years or so. Scientists can study different molecules of air caught in the ice, to evaluate the carbon dioxide levels, but also the temperature based on different oxygen isotopes. Advanced science now empowers scientists to see layers of ice right down to a single year. They can also tell how much precipitation fell in that area in a particular year.
I asked James White a question I've been pondering for years - and got a good answer! It's this:
OK, we find temperatures in Northern Greenland went up 1 or 2 degrees in just one or two years. But what does that tell us about the whole planet? The Arctic is warming rapidly right now, but the global mean temperature is only going up slowly. Do abrupt changes in the Arctic really apply to the rest of us?
Here is the best current scientific estimate: the amplitude of polar changes is about 3 times what happens in rest of world. For example a 10 degrees C change in pole may be 3 degrees C change in hemispheric temp, especially the Northern Hemisphere. Change in the Southern Hemisphere might be delayed, possibly for a long period of time, until the ocean heat exchange system catches up to change in the atmosphere. Unlike the North, the Southern Hemisphere is mostly ocean.
Let's get to it. What does this experienced scientist say about abrupt climate change?
In his Nye Lecture, White says this is the biggest moment in human history. It's a watershed moment, but he doesn't like the word "crisis". We are in the midst of the climate change. That is increasingly critical to many issues adaptation, economy, society. How we cope, and all other species cope, depends on how fast climate changes.
His Nye Lecture follows this report came out last year "Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change, Anticipating Surprises". That in turn builds on a 2002 report by Richard Alley.
A key point that comes out in both the lecture and our Radio Ecoshock interview: in addition to abrupt climate changes, we may also experience "abrupt climate impacts".
One example: storms and hurricanes hit the U.S. East Coast, but then with Hurricane Sandy a combination of slowly rising seas, a powerful storm surge, and long-term subsidence flood the New York City subways. All of our human systems have their own "tipping points" - a kind of built in fragility or intolerance that leaves us open to "sudden" impacts.
I could add a lot of examples. Here's just one: if rice is near it's highest temperature tolerance in a particular area, just a small increase in heat could mean rice could no longer be grown there.
HIDDEN TIPPING POINTS
In fact, we don't really know where these sudden impact points are in our civilization. Some tipping points are unseen until they are already passed. White gives the example of an early European explorer going down the Niagara River. A prudent person would stick near shore, but if our explorer was in a hurry, they could make good time down the fast moving river. When they get close enough to hear the roar of the up-coming giant Niagara Falls, it is too late to get to the shore.
The tipping point is not when the explorer goes over Niagara Falls. It is the point several miles back when there was still time to get back to shore. That point would not be seen or known until it was already too late. That is what we have to worry about in so many aspects of abrupt climate change.
"There are many more human systems that have abrupt thresh-holds than there are natural systems".
ABRUPT CLIMATE CHANGE IN THE PAST
The Greenland Ice cores show many instances of dizzying changes. The temperature can go up or down 10 to 15 degrees Centigrade in a few years, or in 40 years. There have been periods where Greenland heated 1 degree per year for 5 years - which is 100 times faster than our current warming. It might plateau there for 30 years or so, and then go into another 5 year period of 1 degree warming per year.
The Earth's climate is NOT STABLE. There have been 24 warming events found in the ice cores in the last 115,000 years. Studying the warming, about 14,000 years ago, as discussed by scientist Geoffrey C. Bohling, they found 10-15 degrees C happening in 1 to 2 years.
Think about what that means for us, who are so concerned about a 1 degree rise in 100 years. Even if we "only" experienced 1 or 2 degrees C rise in 5 years, the impacts could be near catastrophic for humans, plants, and animals. Some systems would break down, and there would be so little time to adapt. Certainly some crops would fail, forest fires would go out of control, and water cycles (rain, snow, drought) would be upset.
White told our Radio Ecoshock listeners: "There are even changes where you get 10 degrees [C] in a year, which is a thousand times faster."
Rate of snowfall can double in 1-3 years, methane goes up 50% in a lifetime, nitrous oxide goes up 10% in a lifetime.
THREE SIGNS ABRUPT CLIMATE CHANGE IS HAPPENING NOW
One of the biggest signs of abrupt climate change is the melt-back of the Arctic Sea Ice, especially starting in 2007. It's not just the stunning change in the extent of the ice, but the thinning of ice, and younger ice, that is more open to wide-scale melting in a hot year.
Here is a video showing the old ice disappearing, replaced only with new ice.
A second great sign of change is that we are in the midst of one of the great species extinctions.
A third indication that an abrupt climate change is happening now is ground water loss in many places of the world. New gravity measuring satellites can detect how ground water is declining (think California for example, or under the Indo-Gangetic Plain in Asia.) A change in the hydrological cycle is one of the great signs of a climate shift.
Here is a graphic from the National Science Foundation which shows Earth morphing from a planet largely covered by deserts, into one clothed in green vegetation, in just 200 years (that happened fairly recently, around 14,500 years ago).
I ask Dr. White how good this ice core science really is. It has progressed a long way, with computer and other technical aids. Plus, they cross-check the information with other markets, such as known periods of volcanic dust, or the records found in sea bed samples. It all fits together into a coherent snap-shot of the planet in different ages.
SEA LEVEL IS A REALLY BIG DEAL
In the Nye Lecture, Dr. White shows a plot from Foster and Rowling from PNAS showing sea level for last 400,000 years. Sea level is very tied to temperature on the planet.
When you heat air, and oceans, that eats away at the land ice. In the public almost no one appreciates the surprising size of sea level rise. It goes from zero to 130 meters sea level change. 20,000 years ago Florida was twice as large as today, and it will go underwater when land ice melts.
People think a foot or six inches is a big deal. Average person can't imagine 20 feet higher really happening.
"We're expecting sea level rise of about one meter by 2100" [32 min] But in the geological record, rates three times faster than that (3 meters in a century) are common."
THE THREE HOW'S OF SEA LEVEL RISE
1. how fast is the change occurring
2. how far
3. how inevitable
Here are more of my notes from the AGU Nye Lecture:
Sea level rise is "a long slow losing battle". [36:20] West Antarctic has started to shed ice and will do so for centuries. It's slow, with abrupt changes within the system.
Federal Flood Insurance may become larger than Medicaid and other government programs - with huge tax implications.
Infrastructure will be hit, and salt water intrudes on fresh water wells.
[38:40] Work by David Archer at the University of Chicago showed the last time Earth had 400 ppm CO2, was about 2.5-3 million years ago. Sea level was 20 meters higher - 65 feet higher!! Earth was less than 2 degrees C warmer than now.
[39:30] Scientists Foster and Rohling looked at relative sea level. There was a fairly stable plateau of about 14 meters higher than today; 45 feet higher, which lasted from about 300 ppm to about 600 ppm; over 600-700 ppm you start to melt all of Antarctica, and sea level eventually goes up 70-80 meters.
We are at 400 ppm, and Jim White bets we will hit 600 ppm at the end of the century.
We say we love our kids, but do we show it? "We live on a water planet, and on a water planet the impacts show up 50 years later, because it just takes a long time to warm up water."
"When one generation is not to set aside short-term profits to deal with the benefit of their children, you're never going to solve this problem because we live on a water planet."
In order to solve some climate problems, White says we have to control population. That means women's education and women's rights. Empower women economically and politically to help prevent catastrophic climate change. Oh, and that makes a better, fairer world as well.
Listen to or download this important Radio Ecoshock interview with James White in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.
Some James White You tube videos are "Dr James White on Methane and Abrupt Climate Change", James White at the Weather and Climate Summit 2012 on the connections between weather and climate change.
RO RANDALL - MORE CARBON CONVERSATIONS
Despite the winter cold covering North American listeners - the year of 2014 was probably the hottest ever recorded. It's another milestone in the road to extreme climate change.
Maybe you've noticed the resistance. Friends, family, or workmates don't want to talk about it. You know the science and truth about warming - and you're stuck with it. Are we alone with this awful knowledge?
Back in 2013, we heard from Rosemary or Ro Randall. She's the UK psychotherapist that co-founded Carbon Conversations - the circles of people who meet to talk about climate change. It's time to connect again.
Ro Randall. Find her blog here.
Their new handbook is now available to the public, rather than just for people who took part in Carbon Conversations. It's called "In Time for Tomorrow". Find it here.
Admittedly this book is geared toward a reader in the United Kingdom. However, it could be used to base a similar "carbon conversation" in other parts of the world. So far, this handy way to express your feelings and worries about climate change has not year reached North America, except for one group leader in Alberta. Are Americans and Canadians finally ready to talk about climate change?
It really isn't easy. Bring up climate change, and friendly conversations can drop with a dull thud, leaving us feeling exposed. How do we handle that?
I found Ro's advice for tackling relatives and work-mates who deny climate change is happening, or that we humans are responsible for it.
First of all, "think strategically". Choose the best place and time to bring it up. That may not be when your in-law proudly announced their new pickup truck. Try later.
Second, don't become the archetype of the scolding parent or teacher we've all rebelled against. It's better to talk about the worries you have personally, and what you are doing - not what the other person "should" do or not do. Let them see you open up without pointing fingers, says Randall.
And third: really listen to the other person. This isn't your chance to overwhelm the person with your vast collection of climate facts, like a prosecutors' summation of the case. It's a chance to let the other person open up about their concerns, reasons and doubts. Let them have all that, and then return to your own wrestling with climate problems.
Don't expect an instant conversion. Just keep planting seeds, and be there as support. As before, you don't know when a tipping point has been crossed, and your friend or loved one will come around.
We have to keep in mind that some people grab the climate issue as part of their explanation of their deeper selves. They may choose to rebel against science for personal reasons that are not easy to explain or change. It can take time, or a sudden trigger, for people to let those fundamental drives go, and wake up to the facts. Until that happens, likely there is no weight of evidence that could convince them.
I find Ro Randall is one of the more thoughtful voices out there on the psychology of climate change. Don't miss this interview.
Listen to Ro Randall on Radio Ecoshock (22 minutes) in CD Quality or Lo-Fi
TALKING DIRTY - ABOUT COAL
Would you like me to talk dirty? Of course, I'm talking about coal, the fossil fuel that can wreck Earth's climate for 50 generations. Unless of course we go extinct along with most other mammals and species long before that.
But hey don't worry about that. American jobs are at stake. That's the message coming from the National Center for Policy Analysis, or the NCPA. It's a tax-exempt organization that's been pumping out the big business message for over 30 years.
These days the NCPA gets big bucks from the Koch brothers, just part of a network of front groups we call the fossil fuel octupus.
The NCPA puts out an alleged "report" which turns out to be a couple of pages written by staffer Jacopo Zenti. Here's the first paragraph of their press release:
"Increasing U.S. coal exports could be good for the U.S. economy, workers, and the environment, according to a new report by National Center for Policy Analysis Research Associate Jacopo Zenti." Really? Coal is good for the environment?
Zenti just used an online coal fact browser put out by the U.S. government Energy Information Administration, the EIA. Since America brags it has the world's biggest coal reserves, capable of sinking us all, I went to the EIA, to see who's buying the black poison.
The buyer's club is suprising. We like to think Europe is getting greener - and many countries there are adding renewable energy at a break-neck speed. In the meantime though, some European countries are buying record amounts of coal from the U.S.
Take Germany. Despite shutting down nuclear reactors after the Fukushima melt-downs, Germany is still on track to achieve 40% of their energy from renewables by 2025. Renewables are now larger than the dirty brown lignite coal German mines produce, and gaining on gas and hard black coal. While the German economy has grown 40% since 1990, electricity demand is actually going down. Even better, German emissions of carbon dioxide in 2014 hit their second lowest level since 1990.
The bad news, as the NCPA tells us, quote:
"Germany imports of American coal doubled from 2010 to 2011, and could continue to rise as Germany shifts from nuclear energy production to coal by 2022.
[And] The United Kingdom and the Netherlands were the two largest importers of American coal in 2012, and American coal exports to Britain were 73 percent higher in the first three quarters of 2012 than in 2011."
European coal and climate activists should take note, and start closing that door to American coal shipments.
Of course the NCPA is bullish on exporting American coal. As they admit, coal burning in America has fallen from 50% of all electricity produced in the 1990's to about 40% now. New power plants in the U.S. are powered by gas, not coal. So they need to sell it overseas.
Efforts to build new coal shipping ports, in places like Washington State and Oregon, have hit several snags, with some projects abandoned, due to the environmental impacts. No worries, the big Wyoming coal mines have struck a deal to ship their climate-killing product through the Port of Vancouver, in Canada. It's like the Keystone Pipeline in reverse.
The biggest black dream is to sell more coal to China, which still runs about 70% of it's expanding economy on coal. And there's always India, still very coal dependent.
Let me quote further from the NCPA press release:
"Yet Zenti says concerns over environmental detriment are misplaced.
'For example, restricting coal exports to China will not reduce its emissions from burning coal,' says Zenti. 'Without American imports, China would simply look elsewhere or consume more of its own coal, which often comes from unsafe, less regulated and environmentally damaging mines.'
The United States should take advantage of the global movement on coal, says Zenti. 'Restricting coal export will not dissuade other countries from burning coal, and will instead hurt the American economy and U.S. workers.'"
This is the classic drug-dealer's argument. We know high school kids will try heroin. We may as well sell it to them, because if we don't somebody else will! You see, worrying about wrecking the world's climate is foolish. Let's make some money here boys! Although it's strange, I can't find any mention of climate change in this coal-lover's press release...
The lobbyists bribing Congress people to boost American coal exports, by slashing environmental regulations, are actually building the next trap door for an economic collapse. Take a look at Canada right now. The Canadian government built their holier-than-thou economic hopes on expensive oil from the Tar Sands. Now that is collapsing with cheap oil prices. Without those oil royalties, Alberta's Provincial budget is in the toilet, along with the Canadian Federal Government. The Canadian dollar has collapsed, losing more than 20% of it's value, in just a few months. All that infrastructure, and all the public spending, is in doubt.
Fast forward just a few short years, as people all over the world demand action to save what is left of the climate. Coal will be the first shoved overboard from the sinking ship. The railways, ports, city budgets, and state budgets built on coal will crash. (Are you listening, Australia?) So will pension plans that invest in coal.
While Germany, and even China, are building toward a renewable future, America seems hell-bent to stay in the horse-and-buggy age of un-burnable fossil fuels. That won't end well. So more coal exports are not good for the economy or the environment. Some people don't mind a big lie, as long as it keeps today's profits coming in.
Nobody tells you about coal like this guy: Robert Kennedy Jr. The world may try to forget what he told Real News back in 2008, but my hard drive never forgets, and You tube remembers... Here is Robert Kennedy Jr. speaking to Matt Palevsky of Real News on the 26th of August, 2008. And don't forget therealnews.com.
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Abrupt Climate Change - YES Thu Jan 29, 2015 02:19 | firstname.lastname@example.org (Alex Smith)
People who want to follow up on this story can search for the paper title: "Offshore permafrost decay and massive seabed methane escape in water depths less than 20 meters at the South Kara Sea shelf" The lead author is Alexey Portnov.
Here is a good article about this Portnov paper.
The full paper, published in Geophysical Research Letters, is available free here
Paul Beckwith adds this comment on the Kara Sea research:
"The Kara Sea info adds more support to what I have said in the past to David Archer, and goes against the mainstream view that it will take 100's of years for heat to move downward in the permafrost to cause significant thawing."
Speaking of scary, Paul pointed me to a press release from NASA about increased solar radiation in the Arctic. We talk about that. Since 1970, the amount of heat being absorbed from the sun, in the Arctic with less sea ice cover, has gone up almost 5%. That doesn't sound like much, but it's a huge bump in solar heating of the Earth, because we are talking about a gigantic area. Read about it from the American Academy for the Advancement of Science here.
OH YEAH, AND ABRUPT CLIMATE CHANGE IS UNDERWAY!
Here is a link to Paul's video on abrupt climate change.
The cats in this video seem distracting but (a) you can't get anything to go viral on the Net these days without cats and (b) I think it's symbolic of how distracted we all are as we discuss these amazing threats. Even while you watch, you may also be thinking of your job, a TV series you like, the next Facebook post, and some trip you'd like to take. And oh yeah, the climate may shift so Montreal Canada feels like Miami, and crops don't grow any more.
In our interview, Beckwith says:
"...and the probability is very high, and increasing all the time, that we will have an abrupt change. I think it's going on myself, and that's the hypothesis of my whole research."
We talk about abrupt climate changes that have happened in the past. In times 40,000 to 70,000 years ago, the Greenland ice cores show a warming of 5 to 6 degrees C within one decade. (Imagine that today!). It has gone as high as 16 degree C change in one decade or two. (Unimaginable.)
"The planet is capable of very large, rapid swings in temperature. We've changed the chemistry of the atmosphere and CO2 and temperature and things, they are increasing at least an order of magnitude, at least 10 or maybe 20 times faster than anything in the geological record."
"I think there's no question that we will have abrupt warming again on this planet. The only question is 'what is the time scale?' Is it going to be 10 years? Is it going to be a hundred years? Is it going to be a thousand years?
The system does change quickly. It goes from one state to another state. I mean it's not a linear thing. There's so many non-linear feed-backs at play that the system is quite capable of switching and switching very quickly."
I strongly suggest you listen to the interview.
Download/listen to this 33 minute interview with Paul Beckwith in CD Quality or Lo-Fi
GLOBAL RISK EXPERTS WARN OF TURBULENT DECADE AHEAD
The world's biggest insurance companies agree. Check out this report from Lloyd's.
"Risks to the environment outnumbered economic threats in the report this year, with experts negatively assessing the preparations in place to cope with extreme weather and climate change."
That report was prepared for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland January 2015.
And then we have Zurich, another of the world's biggest insurance companies. Here are the five biggest risks rated by impact, according to a new report from Zurich:
1. Water crisis
2. Spread of infectious diseases
3. Weapons of mass destruction
4. Interstate conflict
5. Failure of climate change adaption.
I would say four out of the top five risks in terms of impact are climate-related. See if you can pick which ones. Strangely, Zurich lists biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse at only number 10 in terms of impacts!!! If we experience "ecosystem collapse" it's all over, in my opinion.
Zurich also predicts extreme weather events are likely to occur this year.
Regarding an abrupt climate change, whether stimulated by methane or not, it's a doubled-edged sword. If we could experience just a little abrupt warming, and then plateau for a while, maybe humanity would be forced to act. On the other hand, if we just slowly and gradually warm, we may experience the boiling frog phenomenon, where we go over the climate cliff bit by bit, decade by decade, without reacting.
GOOD VIDEO SERIES ON GREENLAND MELTING
During our Radio Ecoshock interview, Paul recommends You tube videos of scientist Eric Rignot talking about the rapid and unexpected melting of ice on Greenland (which will eventually flood our coastal cities). Here are the links: ERIC RIGNOT You tube videos at the AGU, on Greenland melting:
Part 1 (4 min)
Part 2 (2 min)
Part 3 (4 min)
THE LIMA CLIMATE TALKS - PAUL'S REPORT
We also discuss the results, or lack of them, at the recent Climate Conference in Lima Peru. Paul was there, giving a series of press conferences. Here are the links to several of those You tube videos.
1ST PRESS BRIEFING:
COP20: Global Arctic Methane Emergency #1 (12-4-2014 in Lima Peru)
2ND PRESS BRIEFING:
COP20: Global Arctic Methane Emergency #2 (12-5-2014 in Lima Peru) (Paul Beckwith briefing)
3RD PRESS BRIEFING:
COP20: Global Arctic Methane Emergency #3 (12-6-2014 in Lima Peru)
Paul's presentation (in the 2nd Press Briefing) is the best, but I also highly recommend this briefing by Stuart Scott on "Ecology Vs. Economy in the Age of Climate Change".
Paul and I get into some wild discussions about science and climate change, as we always do. This is one of my favorite interviews. I hope you think so too.
INDUSTRIALIZING THE OCEAN CAN LEAD TO A MASS EXTINCTION - Dr. Douglas McCauley
We all fear there is something terribly wrong at sea. Call it extinction, or call it something else, stories of dwindling ocean life are daily washing ashore. A new paper published in the journal "Science" says we are at a cross-roads for marine life. The lead author, and our second guest this week, is Dr. Douglas J. McCauley, head of the McCauley Lab at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
For once this was a science story that did get out to the world. The New York Times and the BBC covered the new science on mass extinction in the ocean. But did they get it right?
The paper is "Marine defaunation: Animal loss in the global ocean." It was published in the journal "Science" on January 16th, 2015.
First of all, note the term "defaunation" rather than extinction. Basically defaunation means removing animals (the paper is about animals, not plants) from their essential services in the ocean. For example, suppose there are still sharks hiding out in some faraway reef (so they are not extinct) - but not enough sharks left to clean up weakness in the food system.
McCauley gives the example of garbage workers. Suppose there are only 100 left in the world. Technically, they are not "extinct". But mountains of garbage pile up everywhere, because there aren't anywhere near enough workers to carry out their function.
This defaunation is happening at sea. It's very hard to say for sure that a species is extinct, everywhere in the hard-to-reach ocean. But we can say they are not where we expect them to be, doing the things we expect them to do.
INDUSTRIALIZING THE SEA
That's point one. The second warning, and this is really new from the paper by McCauley and his colleagues at Stanford and Rugers. Their overview of a huge collection of papers on threats to sea life finds that we are on the verge of industrialization of the ocean.
There are under-sea mines, and many more planned. Mass feeding lots, similar to cattle feed lots, already exist for Tuna. We plan to harvest tidal energy with underwater propellers looking like undersea wind mills. Some countries cramped for land have already built things like airports (Japan) into the sea. We are stripping away protective mangrove swamps to build suburbs in Asia.
The fishing industry is already heavily industrialized. Masses of trawlers are essentially bull-dozing the bottom of the sea flat. It's wrecked the Baltic and parts of the North Sea. Chinese fisheries are flattening all around that country. The Canadian Grand Banks were wiped clean of cod with trawling. That's an industrial fishery. Add in the ability to use sonar, and even satellite guidance, to find fish at any depth.
So McCauley and his co-authors discovered that we are at a knowable point in the history of marine life. Essentially, we are about 200 years behind where humans are on land with the industrial revolution that began in the late 1700's. We know what happened, and is still happening to the species on land as we industrialize.
Image courtesy of University of California
About 500 land animals have gone extinct in the last 100 years or so. Marine scientists think only about 15 animals have gone extinct in the ocean, although, as I said above, it's harder to tell.
I ask McCauley point blank if we are entering the 6th Great Extinction in the sea. The answer is "not yet". But we are headed there.
Creating giant marine parks (sea animals need more space than land animals) is one solution. We've begun to do that, but not yet on a scale to prevent more extinctions.
Marine protected areas also face the challenge of climate change. As ocean waters warm (and that's where most of our excess heating is going) - some marine species can move toward the poles to find cooler water. Sadly, they can't take the estuaries, shallow seas or other breeding places with them. We just don't know what will happen with the hotter seas.
There are other very desperate reasons to hope, not mentioned in this paper. For example, the large scale industrialization of the ocean may not happen. Maybe we run out of fossil fuels, or this civilization has to retreat, due to economic or climatic failures.
We also talk about another study about mass die-offs just came out in mid-January, led by scientists at the University of California Berkeley, and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy. They found increasing mass-die offs in the past 75 years. Fish and marine invertebrates are among the hardest hit.
And then we have another study released last November, this time led by scientists from the Smithsonian Institute. They warn dead zones are increasing, and will greatly expand as the climate warms. Are these dead zones tiny, or are they signficant in the big picture of threats to ocean life?
The paper by McCauley et. al. doesn't attempt to catalog every threat to sea life. I'm alarmed by the huge masses of plastic particles in the sea, and by radiation leaking out of Fukushima, but those aren't in this work. Instead, the point of this new science is to ask "where are we" on the timeline of industrialization and extinction, when it comes to marine animals.
The answer seems to be that we are on a precipice. The optimists (including McCauley) say we can see what happened on land, and so wisely avoid the same slaughter of species in the oceans. The pessimists will say we will fall off the cliff, because we are too blind to change. Is the ocean cup of life half empty, or half full?
PERMACULTURE IN BELIZE
I got a message from our friend Albert Bates, at the Farm. They still need another half dozen students to pull off the planned permaculture workshop in Belize. Personally, I think the carbon from flying to Central America might overcome the carbon saved by permculture. But maybe not. This is not just any course. It features biochar, and knowledge from Latin America, plus Mr. Bates himself. Albert is at the center of a flurry of activity teaching how to restore carbon to the soil.
If those who attend eventually become soil-masters and permaculture leaders themselves, then the carbon savings could snowball. It's your call, if you want to get the in-depth grip on permaculture and soil/climate management.
"We offset everyone's air travel with the trees we will plant and biochar we will make in Belize, no worries. My guarantee."
Here is the blurb, with some powerful guests:
"come to Belize...
Travel far south; to the back of beyond; to a remote valley accessible only by dugout canoe. Study permaculture surrounded by a lush, productive forest of edibles, medicinals and tropical hardwoods. Eat organic food, sleep in dorms powered by renewable energy, bathe in a sparkling pure river....
ALBERT BATES STARHAWK MARISHA AUERBACH CHRISTOPHER NESBITT
Permaculture Design Certificate Course Dates Feb 21 to Mar 6 2015 Place: Maya Mountain Research Farm San Pedro Columbia, Belize
To register, please see http://www.mmrfbz.org or contact Christopher at info(a)mmrfbz.org.
There you go, my first classified ad in the Radio Ecoshock blog. Now Albert owes us, perhaps he'll show up as a guest after the course. We have lots to talk about, especially if restoring carbon to the soil is basically humanity's greatest hope.
Next week we'll talk more science, about abrupt climate change, and those invisible tipping points.
Thanks for all your encouraging emails and tips! Feedback from listeners enriches my life, and this program. Find a handy "Contact Me" form at my web site, http://www.ecoshock.org/contact/
I'm Alex Smith. Thanks for listening, and for caring about our world.
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