SUMMARY Humans pumping more carbon, faster, than in last 66 million years. Lead author Dr. Richard Zeebe from U of Hawaii. From The Center for Climate and Security, Shiloh Fetzek on origins of Syrian conflict, Ret. Brigadier General Gerald Galloway, on what the Pentagon knows about climate threats. Radio Ecoshock 160330.

Humans are tossing more carbon into the atmosphere ten times faster, and in much greater quantities, than at any time in the last 66 million years. We’ll talk with the lead author of that study, Richard Zeebe.

Then, with the turmoil of the Middle East spreading into Europe, Africa and beyond, we ask two specialists on the driving role of drought, heat and climate change. Our guests are analyst Shiloh Fetzek and retired American Brigadier General Gerald Galloway.

I’m Alex Smith. Welcome to your world.

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In the Guardian newspaper on the 21st of March, we find this headline: “Carbon emission release rate ‘unprecedented’ in past 66m[illion] years.” It then says “Researchers calculate that humans are pumping out carbon 10 times faster than at any point since the extinction of the dinosaurs.”

To understand what this staggering situation means, we go to a new paper published the same day in the journal Nature Geoscience. The title is “Anthropogenic carbon release rate unprecedented during the past 66 million years.” The lead author is Dr. Richard E. Zeebe. He’s published or co-authored about 75 scientific papers since the 1990’s. Richard is a Professor at the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at the University of Hawaii.

From Honolulu, we welcome Richard Zeebe to Radio Ecoshock.

We are looking for clues to our current fling with heating the world. I’ll bet many listeners hear “66 million years” and think this will be all about an asteroid hit and the end of the dinosaurs. But really the focus of this paper is on a climate changed world about 10 million years closer to us, around 56 million years ago.

I’ve had a couple of scientific guests who describe relatively rapid global heating, say in 50 years or less, but always moving from a time of massive glaciation toward a warmer period. The Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum or PETM, is more useful for us, because there was a spike in global temperature even when the Earth was already ice-free.

One reading of this new paper is that perhaps we have been lulled to sleep by earlier paleoclimatology. We looked back at ice cores, for example, and decided climate change is a long drawn-out process, so we have time to change our energy systems and adapt. Zeebe and his co-authors say this research uncovers: “a fundamental challenge in constraining future climate projections.”

Then finally, his team ends with this short statement: “future ecosystem disruptions are likely to exceed the relatively limited extinctions observed at the PETM.” It sounds like we are in a free-fall where conditions on Earth may become hotter and more changed than the hottest period known to science since the dinosaurs. That’s frightening.

The stunning new research paper was published in the journal Nature Geoscience on March 21st, 2016. Here is a link to the abstract, But if you use the link provided in the Guardian newspaper article, and wait patiently for a few seconds, the full paper shows up in your browser as a .pdf file. It’s one of the most important papers so far this year. This interview with Richard contains some stunning perspectives on where we stand, and where we are going.

Listen to or download this 15 minute interview with Richard Zeebe in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


A new kind of creeping war is developing in Europe. It constantly threatens to re-appear in the United States and Canada. Meanwhile bombed cities spread across the Middle East . We hear rumors that climate change is a hidden factor driving Middle East discontent. Is it true?

Our guest Shiloh Fetzek writes about deep connections hardly reported by the press. Shiloh provides research for a non-governmental organization called “The Center for Climate and Security” – where she is a Senior Fellow for International Affairs. She is also Senior Fellow for Environment, Climate Change and Security at International Alert in London.

Shiloh Fetzek

In an article about Syria with Jeffrey Mazo, Fetzek writes:

More than 70% of the country’s freshwater resources come from transborder flows, the bulk from Turkey via the Euphrates River.”

What is the over-all status of that regional river water system. Has Turkey taken more, and left less, via up-stream dams? Is precipitation lower? How much is “water politics” and how much real climate pressure? We talk that through.

It is fair to say the agricultural collapse in Syria was badly mishandled by the Assad regime. As Fezak tells us, the Assad government cut fertilizer subsidies, and subsidized prices for farm diesel, at the critical time, during the drought.

When rainfall is low, farmers all over the world try to pump up the difference from ground water. Why didn’t that work in Syria? For one thing, as we’ve said, the subsidies for diesel fuel needed to run the pumps was cut. But the real problem developed over time. The Syrian government favored large scale agriculture of water-hungry crops. The irrigation system was often based on open canals, which lose far too much by evaporation in the hot desert sun.

All over the world, displaced peasants and farmers are moving toward cities that are not prepared to handle their numbers. One author described Earth as slum city. Why was this global movement so much more serious in Syria? That’s because there were already over one million refugees from the Iraq war living in Syrian cities. That’s added to hundreds of thousands of long-time refugees from Palestine. Even the slums were full when the Syrian families started pouring in from the countryside. They lived in tent camps on the outskirts with no services.

Do we know for certain that displaced Syrian farmers formed part of the opposition to Assad government, or added to attempted revolution? Those statistics are not available. We do know the farmers were very upset with the lack of aid, and the way most of the country’s wealth was channelled toward an ethnic minority living near the coast. It was a tinder box of discontent. Some of those same families are now in tent camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Some of them made it to Greece, and on to Europe. Some of them drowned trying to get out.

When I study climate projections for the Middle East during the second half of this century, most sources predict even fewer water resources, greater desertification, and longer periods of dangerous heat. That heat, linked with humidity in some Gulf regions, is projected to go beyond the tolerance of humans to go outdoors. I wonder if we will see an even greater exodus, even more migration – to anywhere cooler.

We’ve had several guests who explain the medical consequences of a high heat-humidity index. But hardly anyone can explain the social impacts of finding more days too hot to go out, too hot to work, and nights too hot to sleep. This is a hidden factor that can drive individuals crazy, and societies to the breaking point.

Listen to or download this 21 minute interview with Shiloh Fetzek in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


Before winding up, I would also like to point out this critical article at The Center for Climate and Security: “US Embassy in Iraq Issues Mosul Dam Failure Warning“. It’s incredible.

The dam in Mosul Iraq could break.

Here are some points from a Factsheet issued by the U.S. State Department, courtesy of the Climate and Security article: (any bold type is my addition)

The State Department Factsheet lists a series of ways in which the failure of the Mosul Dam and the resulting floodwave will have catastrophic consequences in a region already facing significant threats, and gives new meaning to the concept of “cascading disasters.”

Here is a sampling of some of the potential consequences of a dam failure drawn from the factsheet:

The approximately 500,000 to 1.47 million Iraqis residing along the Tigris River in areas at highest risk from the projected floodwave probably would not survive its impact unless they evacuated the floodzone. A majority of Baghdad’s 6 million residents also probably would be adversely affected— experiencing dislocation, increased health hazards, limited to no mobility, and losses of homes, buildings, and services.

The flood will severely damage or destroy large swaths of infrastructure and is expected to knock offline all power plants in its path, causing a sudden shock to the Iraq electricity grid that could shut down the entire Iraqi system.

Two-thirds of Iraq’s high-yielding irrigated wheat farmland is in the Tigris River basin and probably would be heavily damaged.

Some parts of Baghdad would be flooded, which could include Baghdad International Airport.

Much of the territory projected to be damaged by a dam breach is contested or ISIL-controlled, suggesting an authority-directed evacuation is unlikely, and that some evacuees may not have freedom of movement sufficient to escape.

Evacuation warnings that occur in the narrow window between the detection of a breach and the impact of a flood wave would be subject to electrical blackouts, technical and bureaucratic delays, or rejections by communities that probably would not grasp the urgency and scope of the threat, suggesting that prior awareness of risk could improve mobilization time in the event of a breach…

It’s huge, and so far, no one is acting to prevent this catastrophe!

It’s not just Iraq. Check out this article: Peter Gleick on Syria: Water, Climate and Conflict. Climate Change and Trouble with Pakistan’s Reservoirs and Dams


Shiloh and her colleagues, including Francesco Femia, sent me a good list of articles for further research. Here are some of them. Surf and learn!

Syrian climate change, drought and social unrest.

NOAA on climate change and Mediterranean droughts.

April 2012: The Other Arab Spring: Tom Friedman writes an Op-Ed on the subject, citing the work of the Center for Climate and Security, and interviews with others.

February 2013: The Arab Spring and Climate Change: The Center for Climate and Security and partners release a multi-author volume on the subject, edited by Caitlin Werrell and myself and including a preface from Anne-Marie Slaughter. Our own piece in the volume includes a slight update of the 2012 article on Syria, as well as a look at Libya’s post-conflict water and climate woes. Dr. Troy Sternberg writes about climate, China, Egypt and wheat prices, which builds on his previous journal article in Nature.

January 2015: Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought: Kelley et al publish a study in PNAS which makes an important contribution to the literature. While we had drawn a connection between the dramatic precipitation decline in the Middle East and Syria from 1971-2010, the drought in 2006/7-2010/11, natural resource mismanagement, and social unrest, this study demonstrated that the drought that lasted from 2007-2010 was “2-3 times more likely” because of anthropogenic climate change. Big deal.

February 2016: Spatiotemporal drought variability in the Mediterranean over the past 900 years. The recent study by Cook et al.

Still thirsty? Here are more key resources on Syria, and the climate change connection, from Shiloh:


There are institutes where top scientists regularly prepare projections of a world thrust into severe climate change. You can bet there are parallel “war-rooms” where the military plans out their role in a stressed-out warming world.

Here to tell us about preparations and planning in the American military is retired U.S. army Brigadier General Gerald Galloway. He is a Visiting Scholar at the US Army Corps of Engineers Institute for Water Resources. After 38 years in the U.S. Army, Galloway joined the faculty of the University of Maryland. He’s worked at Westpoint and the White House, always with a focus on sustainable water use. Gerald has three Master’s degrees, and a Ph.D. in Geography from the University of North Carolina. He is also a member of the Security Advisory Board at The Center for Climate and Security.

Gerald Galloway

There are plenty of high-placed politicians who continue to question the importance of climate change to our security. Does the Pentagon think it’s real? Yes indeed, says Galloway. The American Military has involved climate change in all their planning. There have been a series of reports for the Pentagon, including this one which found that climate disruption is a far greater threat than terrorism.

Dr. Galloway specialized in water resources for decades. And for decades we’ve heard about the coming water wars, especially in the Middle East. Have they arrived? Surprisingly, the answer is “no” and “not yet”. Galloway says that so far nations have managed to negotiate reasonable water deals with each other, realizing that water supply is so vital, the only other option is war.

Here is a fascinating Al Jazeera article, with excellent coverage by Mansur Mirovalev, explaining why Uzbekistan may be the location of the first real water war. I’d love to have Mirovalev on this show, but so far I’ve been unable to reach him.

It doesn’t take an expert to see that many millions of people in Bangladesh are going to be displaced by sea level rise in that low-lying country. When they move, there is no where to go, in a region already heavily populated and impoverished. Could that become a military situation?

I’m also thinking of China, and their war on terror with the Muslim Uyghur people on their Western flank. That’s also part of a region expected to be hit harder by desertification, and temperatures too high for traditional crops. I’ll bet that’s a watch-point for the American military as well.

But the classic cases so far are in North Africa and the Middle East. Libya is constantly water stressed. Egypt is barely coping, and now has to import most of it’s grain. The drought that hit Syria for several years also impacted southern Turkey, Iraq, and the list goes on. Gerald Galloway gives us a tour.


On a tactical level, the armed forces have to work out how to power themselves in a world where fossil fuel use becomes constrained. I ask Gerald what the U.S. military doing to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. We are also told the United States military is the largest single user of fossil fuels in America. Is there an awareness that all those emissions are actually fuelling a more dangerous world, through climate change?

FYI, the US military was exempt from reporting on greenhouse gas emissions under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. They lost that exemption in the Paris climate talks of 2015.

It’s fascinating to get Galloway’s insider view of how the Pentagon is working to (a) adapt to a changing climate (b) reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and (c) think about how to protect America, it’s allies, and American interests in the coming climate disruption. Despite the misgivings many of us have on all this, it’s still true that when hurricanes or typhoons flatten a country, or millions of desperate people need aid, it’s usually the U.S. military that shows up for large-scale food drops, evacuations, and medical aid. We expect the American military to be there to help.

Along those lines, the new Canadian government under Justin Trudeau has announced a return to Canada’s long-term role of using their military for aid in emergencies, and peace keeping, instead of war. We’ll see.


In the 1990’s, Gerald Galloway chaired a report for the White House on the Great Flood of 1993, along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Parts of the south have flooded again this year. In fact, we’ve seen more extreme rainfall events in many parts of the United States. Galloway says we are NOT prepared for flooding well beyond the ordinary, and could do a lot more to prepare for that aspect of climate change. You can read Galloway’s 29 page report here.

A lot of military planning is necessarily kept secret. But I think climate response is not a good candidate for secrecy, because we all face a global problem. Is there a way for the Pentagon to involve the American public more on this issue?

I would like to thank The Center for Climate and Security for helping to arrange this interview with Retired Brigadier General Gerald Galloway.

Listen to or download this 19 minute interview with Gerald Galloway in CD Quality or Lo-Fi


One final word: background news reports indicate the Belgian/French terrorists were planning an attack on a Belgian nuclear facility on the outskirts of Brussels, but felt too pressured by police searches to wait. Washington had already warned Belgium of lax security at privately run reactors there. Footage of a Belgian reactor official was found in a terror hide-out. A security guard for a Belgian reactor company was shot dead on Thursday. Two employees with complete clearance to the Belgian Doel nuclear power station left to join ISIS in Syria in 2012. What did they tell ISIS?

Belgium is about the size of the State of Maryland, or one and a half times the size of Wales in the UK. A plane crashing into poorly stored spent fuel there, or a bomb inside a reactor, could irradiate the entire country. Instead of confronting the mega-risk, the government of Belgium keeps extending the life of already old and unsafe reactors. That’s a kind of self-terrorism.

A dirty radioactive bomb, or even blowing up a working reactor, remains the golden dream of those who hate. The United States, Canada, pretty well every European country, and even dear old Australia are always prime targets for nuclear terrorism.

In her weekly nuclear update, Australian campaigner Christina MacPherson reminds us of this:

“Nuclear terrorism a possibility in Belgium – and elsewhere. But oh no, not in Australia! Except – has everyone forgotten Willy Brigitte? Brigitte was sent to Sydney in 2007 as part of a cell that trained terrorists in Pakistan, with a plan to bomb the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor, was convicted in France.”

Keep up with Christina here on the Web, and here on Facebook.

We only have to slip up once, and they only have to win once, to illustrate why nuclear power is not safe for anyone. There is still time to shut down the nuclear industry.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


Assuming nothing too big blows up in the next week, our next program asks: in the face of government unwillingness to protect a safe climate, is revolution is justified? Stay tuned, and thank you for caring about our world.

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