Welcome to another round of Radio Ecoshock. I’m Alex Smith, with two of the world’s top climate scientists talking about the severe challenges we face right now, and in the future. From the United Kingdom, we have Dr. Kevin Anderson, who pulls no punches. Then Rutgers distinguished scientist Alan Robock tells us why geoengineering might not be a good idea. Open your ears and your mind to what’s coming next.
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DR. KEVIN ANDERSON TELLS IT LIKE IT IS
Dr. Kevin Anderson is a Professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester, UK. He’s also Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre, a multi-university project for the study of climate change. Kevin has advised the UK government and European Union.
Find Kevin’s web site here.
As I reported in my Radio Ecoshock show in 2012:
“In a devastating speech at the University of Bristol Tuesday November 6th, 2012, Professor Kevin Anderson accused too many climate scientists of keeping quiet about the unrealistic assessments put out by governments, and our awful odds of reaching global warming far above the proposed 2 degree safe point.
In fact, says Anderson, we are almost guaranteed to reach 4 degrees of warming, as early as 2050, and may soar far beyond that – beyond the point which agriculture, the ecosystem, and industrial civilization can survive.
Kevin Anderson is from the UK’s premier climate modeling institution, the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, and the University of Manchester. He delivered the speech ‘Real Clothes for the Emperor, Facing the Challenges of Climate Change’ at the Cabot Institute of the University of Bristol in Britain.“
NOW WE GET THE UPDATE
Is Kevin Anderson more optimistic 3 years later. Hardly. Practically nothing has been done about greenhouse gas emissions in the real world, and years of climate talks have not made any progress.
Still, we talk about new science, and our increasing focus on the details of what will happen as climate disruption sets in.
The climate denialists like to says that climate scientists fly about the world to conferences. Personally, I think these scientists should do exactly that, to meet and match up research. If there is a last plane flying, these are the people who should be on it.
But Kevin Anderson has taken the whole issue to heart, saying each of us must make personal sacrifices. He’s pretty well stopped flying. Yes Kevin was just advising the World Bank at a conference in Iceland, but he took a more fuel efficient solution: a rather unpleasant trip on a merchant marine ship. The waves were wicked he told me.
Dr. Anderson will attend the Paris climate talks later this year. He can go by land, using the Chunnel. It’s loud and clear. All of us have to re-evaluate who we are and what we do. Are you bored with winter, or just bored, and want to fly to an exotic location? Be sure and kiss the kids and grandkids goodbye, as you add to their future misery…
We talk about new science showing climate change is speeding up, and what it all means. He’s a powerful voice, don’t miss this interview.
ALAN ROBOCK on NUCLEAR WINTER, GEOENGINEERING AND CLIMATE CHANGE
What if geoengineering to save the climate turns out badly? What could go wrong? Alan Robock has some questions, and the science to back them up.
As a Distingushed Professor of environmental science at Rutgers University, Alan has published over 200 peer-reviewed scientific papers. He’s an Editor at the important Earth Sciences journal called “Reviews of Geophysics”.
Alan has been a lead author in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
I also ask Dr. Robock about another application of climate science: what happens if there is an exchange of nuclear weapons. Could that stop global warming?
WHY GEOENGINEERING MAY NOT BE SUCH A GOOD IDEA
I do a lot of research for each guest. To be honest, I don’t have time for detailed notes on this week’s interview with Alan. It’s very powerful, and loaded with science and reality – as befits a major contributor to science, and to the web site realclimate.org.
Instead, I’m going to give you my notes on a web presentation by Alan Robock and some of his students.
Find this online article here.
Reasons geoengineering may be a bad idea
Climate system response
1. Regional climate change, including temperature and precipitation
2. Continued ocean acidification
3. Ozone depletion
4. Effects on plants of changing the amount of solar radiation and partitioning between direct and diffuse
5. Enhanced acid precipitation
6. Effects on cirrus clouds as aerosols fall into the troposphere
7. Whitening of the sky (but nice sunsets)
8. Less solar radiation for solar power, especially for those requiring direct radiation
9. Rapid warming when it stops
10. How rapidly could effects be stopped?
11. Environmental impacts of aerosol injection, including producing and delivering aerosols
12. Human error
13. Unexpected consequences (How well can we predict the expected effects of geoengineering? What about unforeseen effects?)
Political, ethical and moral issues
14. Schemes perceived to work will lessen the incentive to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions
15.Use of the technology for military purposes. Are we developing weapons?
16.Commercial control of technology
17. Violates UN Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification
18. Could be tremendously expensive
19. Even if it works, whose hand will be on the thermostat? How could the world agree on the optimal climate?
20. Who has the moral right to advertently modify the global climate?
We find a graph showing (a) warming at our current emissions rate up to 2050 (b) SRM by dumping 3 Million tons a year into the Arctic only from 2008 to 2030 (b) Dumping 5 million tons a year into the tropics in the same period, and 10 million tons a year into the tropics.
The Arctic experiment seems to lower Earth’s mean temperature by about .2 degrees C, which could be said to counter-act or gain about 20 years in the emissions pathway. After stopping in 2030, the heat level regains entirely the original pathway upward without geoengineering.
The 5 million tons a year into the Tropics has a of about .4 degrees C, but as soon as it stops, it starts an upward curve parallel to the un-geoengineered curve, but lower by about .1 degrees by 2050.
The 10 million tons a year causes a significant drop in temperature, going from .8 degrees C above the 1951 to 1980 mean in 2020, to about .3 degrees below that mean temperature (-3 on the chart). That’s a drop of 1 degree C. However, when geoengineering stops in 2030, the temperture rises again to about .1 degree C of where it would have been anyway, or 1 deg C warmer than the 1951 to 1980 mean temperature.
The Arctic drop expands over much of the Northern Hemisphere, but doesn’t affect the Southern Hemisphere much.
So it would affect acidity or rain and lakes, and reduce sunlight to both crops and solar power installations, in the Northern Hemisphere. The impacts don’t stay in the Arctic. The impacts seem greater in Russia’s north than in North America.
Precipitation also drops, the planet gets drier as it gets cooler. The tropical drop affects the whole world, but precipitation is greatly impacted in certain spots, like Northern Australia. The precipitation changes more than the temperature.
Note that the Arctic sea ice continues decline even with the 3 MT year drop in the Arctic, not much differently than having not done it at all.
“Both tropical and Arctic SO2 injection would disrupt the Asian and African summer monsoons, reducing precipitation to the food supply for billions of people.”
ALAN ROBOCK ON NUCLEAR WINTER
Alan and I discuss “nuclear winter” in our interview. I ask him if he thinks a major nuclear war would lead to human extinction. Unlike Helen Caldicott, he’s not so sure it would.
Alan tells us about the “Toba event” that scientists think occured about 74,000 years ago. A huge super-volcano erupted in Indonesia (leaving a hole and lake today). The sun was blotted out for several years, likely decimating plants and animals.
Genetic scientists chimed in that research into the X and Y chromosomes of humans seems to show a “bottleneck” possibly around the same date. Some scientists speculate that humans declined to around 10,000 individuals (for the whole of planet Earth!). That would explain why most of us share some of the same genes.
If we could survive Toba, Robock says, some people somewhere might survive the nuclear winter after a war.
We also talk about what would happen if India and Pakistan got into a “minor” nuclear war, with the smaller weapons they have. There is no “minor” nuclear war. Aside from the millions of people dead, again the cities burn with so much dust that the sun would be dimmed – all over the world! Crops in North America and Europe would suffer greatly. Food shortages would appear.
That means that any nuclear exchange anywhere happens to all of us. We can’t just push it aside as a matter in some foreign lands. That is also why nuclear weapons can never be used. We really only bomb ourselves.
ALAN ROBOCK AT THE NYC SYMPOSIUM ON THE THREAT OF NUCLEAR WINTER
Title of Robock talk at the New York City Symposium: (in the morning of Day One, February 28, 2015):
“Nuclear Famine and Nuclear Winter: Climatic Affects of Nuclear War, Catastrophic Affects to the Global Food Supply“
You can listen to or download this 19 minute presentation by Alan here. It was delivered at this “Symposium: The Dynamics of Possible Nuclear Extinction l February 28-March 1, 2015 at The New York Academy of Medicine” sponsored by the Helen Caldicott Foundation (my thanks to Helen, and Dale Lehman of WZRD radio for recording this 19 minute talk).
You can find audio of all the speeches from the Symposium available for free download here.
In ground burst type of nuclear explosion, fires start with tremendous smoke, but also parts of the ground are blown into more particles in the air. Some obscure the sun, some reflect it, so very little sun reaches the ground. That causes rapid drops in surface temperature, devastating crops.
The smoke in the air also heats the upper atmosphere, which then destroys ozone. More ultraviolet radiation reaches the ground, also devastating for life.
Nuclear winter would be more cold, dry, and dark at the surface, but loaded with ultraviolet light.
The problem has not been solved.
In the 1800’s one volcano caused such cooling it snowed in July, crops suffered in the “summer that never was”. That’s nothing compared to nuclear war.
Reagan and Gorbechov had info from both Russian and American scientists telling them a nuclear war has no winners, only losers in a nuclear winter. They both said that information from scientists helped them end the arms race.
There are now 9 nuclear nations. The current arsenal can produce a nuclear winter that would last decades. A smaller local war would not create freezing conditions at ground level, but would be terrible where it occurred, and create severe effects on agriculture around the world.
1906 Earthquake in San Francisco filled the land with smoke, firestorm for 3 days. All buildings but stone ones gone. Same in Hiroshima.
There are about 16,400 nuclear weapons in the world now. Russia has 8,000 US has 7,000. Other countries only have a couple of hundred each. That’s all it takes to be a deterrent.
As in our interview, Alan spoke about the hotspot of India and Pakistan – the subject of a study, with 50 Hiroshima size weapons. It would create 6.5 million tons of smoke. Even 5 million tons of smoke can affect climate. 20 million people would die directly. He shows a movie of where the smoke would go.
Most would go into the stratosphere, beyond the level of weather, where rain cannot wash it out. So it would cover the world and last for about a decade. (Inadvertent geoengineering?) It would become 1.5 deg C or 2 degrees Fahrenheit colder. That would be “climate change unprecedent in human history, colder than the Little Ice Age” (10:20)
Two other climate models were run to check this simulation. All three found basically the same results.
In China, the largest food producer, for about 10 years rice would be down about 20 percent, winter wheat 40%; in the U.S. corn would go down by about 20%, soybeans 15%.
But it’s much worse than that. The actual bombs of today are much, much more powerful than the Hiroshima-sized bombs used in these studies. One Trident submarine can produce about 1,000 Hiroshimas. The U.S. has 14 Trident subs, and that is just half the American arsenal.
That could be 150 million tons of smoke, and 7 or 8 degrees C colder! Every possible target in Russia and the U.S. had a possible 9 nuclear bombs targetting it. Even with just one on each target, we can still produce the same amount of smoke.
14:40 “yes this would solve the global warming problem” “I did a calculation, if you produce that much smoke and you stop producing CO2, the global warming is gone”.
15:04 “So what’s new in this work? A nuclear war between any nuclear states using much less than 1% of the current nuclear arsenal can produce climate change unprecedented in recorded human history” “Such a ‘small’ nuclear war could reduce food production by 20 to 40% for a decade.”
They revisited nuclear winter calculations made in the 1980’s, and the current US and Russian arsenal can still produce global temperatures below freezing. Old 1980’s computers were less powerful than an Iphone. Now modern models confirm those results.
They can only test this theory in little bits, using analogs, like winter cold.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
New START treaty signed between Obama and Medyev (sp) signed in 2010. In 7 years, each side would bring arsenal down to 1550 per side. Due to a loop-hole on bombers, it might actually be about 2,000 nuke weapons each. That could bring world total down to about 5,000 weapons.
If instead the U.S. and Russia went down to about 200 each, like other nations, that could be enough to prevent a complete nuclear winter. “We wouldn’t be able to produce enough smoke to actually cause temperatures to go below freezing, and sentence the entire world to famine.”
Maybe a billion people would die with just a nuclear war between India and Pakistan.
The late Carl Sagan, a leader in nuclear disarmament in the 1980’s said: “For myself I would far rather have a world in which the climatic catastrophe cannot happen, – independent of the viscisitudes of leaders, institutions, and machines. This seems to me to be elementary planetary hygiene, as well as elementary patriotism.”
“We’ve already banned biological weapons in the world, chemical weapons, land mines and cluster munitions.”
Support ICAN the international campaign against nuclear weapons wants to ban nuclear weapons.
Ends with Dr. Zeuss quote: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.“
HEATHER WOODBURY – AS THE GLOBE WARMS
As the climate crisis deepens, we don’t know how to grasp it. That’s when we call in the arts, our pathway to the heart and the inner brain. Heather Woodbury has a one-woman play with a huge cast for this coming Earth Day. Heather has been recognized in the performing arts with awards. Her work has spread into books and public radio, and inspired many.
Now Heather is launching a climate change novel on stage. It’s called “As the Globe Warms”.
Listen to or download this interview with Heather Woodbury (10 minutes) in CD Quality.
In this program I play a quick clip from “As the Globe Warms” the audio eco-comic novel by Heather Woodbury. The clip comes from here.
Here is a 2.25-minute scene from Episode Nine.
The whole series will be finished and available on Earth Day this April 22nd. I love that Heather tested this piece in Florida and Texas, where climate change dare not say it’s name…
Here is a description of the new audio play, from the PR blurb:
“Timely and entertaining, ‘As The Globe Warms’ humorously explores surviving on a planet veering toward social and ecological crisis; Gripping,funny and sexy, the drama crucially connects the dots between climate change, America’s religious-secular polarity, and economic inequality. The protagonists are a working class family on the brink of extinction who befriend Tea Partiers, desperate scientists, off-the-reservation-Evangelicals, and come together via a strange form of eyewitness testimony from bees, bats, polar bears, and frogs.
Woodbury, an OBIE-winning actor and recipient of the Spalding Gray Award, is known for novel-sized solo works that combine serial storytelling with high-wire performance. *What Ever*, her 1990s stage tour-de-force, was adapted and broadcast on public radio, hosted by Ira Glass, and published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Filmmaker Richard Linklater (*Boyhood)* likens being engrossed in her serial works to “living INSIDE a novel.” Laurie Anderson calls her “an incredible one-woman Dickens.” And The Irish Times writes of her work “What if the great American novel turns out to be a piece of theatre?” (Fintan O’Toole)“
LISTEN TO The Newest Episodes from the current podcast here.
WATCH a scene from the original crowd-funded webcast here.
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I’m Alex Smith. Thank you for listening, and caring about your world.