Author Richard Heinberg on new book “Our Renewable Future: Laying the Path for One Hundred Percent Clean Energy”. Plus plankton expert Dr. Michael Behrenfeld: is the foundation of ocean life in trouble? Radio Ecoshock 160629

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You want a nice green world full of solar panels and wind machines? So do I, but as we are about to find out, that isn’t going to be easy, if it’s possible at all. Of course, trying to survive in a climate wrecked by fossil fuel emissions may not be possible either.

Richard Heinberg Wikipedia is known around the world as an energy expert. He’s a leader and Senior Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute, author of 13 books, and a returning guest on Radio Ecoshock. So when I got his newest book, written with David Fridley from the Berkeley Lab, I expected a triumphant plan for our transition to renewable energy in that post-carbon world. I was surprised, and we are all in for a big surprise, about how hard this change is going to be. It’s all in the new book “Our Renewable Future: Laying the Path for One Hundred Percent Clean Energy” published in June 2016. Richard Heinberg returns Radio Ecoshock.


Richard Heinberg

I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked. Richard is are known for taking a hard doubtful look at things like oil reserves and coal industry hype. Now he and co-author Fridley dig into the realities of renewables. Just to be clear, David Fridley works at Berkeley Lab, which is part of the U.S. Department of Energy, although the lab is run by the University of California. Lately David has been a key advisor to the government of China about installing renewable energy there, which is being done on a colossal scale. Fridley speaks Mandarin.


David Fridley


The whole green-dreaming world felt empowered when Professor Mark Jacobson of Stanford wrote an article in Scientific American in 2009. Jacobson said we can make the switch to alternative energy by 2030. When I interviewed Mark in late 2014, he felt even more certain it’s all possible. I get Richard’s take on the Jacobson plan.

Essentially, Heinberg thinks Mark Jacobson spoke primarily about production, trying to reach levels we use today. Fridley and Heinberg find this may be unrealistic due to a large number of bottlenecks. Fossil fuels are used everywhere, not just to power cars. In this interview, we discuss cement production, which accounts for about 5% of global greenhouse emissions. Our civilization is literally built on concrete.


But it doesn’t end there. Agriculture is the single largest user of fossil fuels, when you add it all up. We’re not just talking about the fuel used by tractors and farm implements. There’s the fertilizers (often made from natural gas), the pesticides and herbicides (usually refined oil products). THEN we refrigerate all kinds of foods, all the way to markets. Some of those markets are overseas, like fruit flown in. But wait, none of those are the biggest part of fossil fuels in the food chain. That comes with industrial food processing, all the machinery and chemicals used to make modern “food”. We talk it through, as Richard points out there are over 10 calories of fossil fuels in every calorie of mass market food!

Other products, like some pharmaceuticals and paints, currently have no known substitute without fossil fuels. These may be the last uses for oil or gas. Some people can’t keep living without them.

Yes we look at the problem of getting renewable energy to produce enough power to replace all those solar panels and wind machines when they expire in 20 or 30 years. Plus there is the sudden jolt of greenhouse gas emissions that will happen when we use fossil fuels to produce the first mass wave of real alternative energy.

Given all that, Heinberg and Fridley’s book goes beyond Jacobson, to look at the demand-side economics. We are going to have to live with less, if we want a climate we can live in.


While you may want Richard Heinberg the book to go over, and for reference, the authors think it’s so important they are also making it available free online! The entire book can be found for free at There’s also a Facebook discussion Post Carbon Facebook .

Download or listen to this 24 minute Radio Ecoshock interview with Richard Heinberg in Heinberg CD Quality or Heinberg Lo-Fi

You can read Richard Heinberg’s famous long-running blog here at Heinberg his web site.


I really wonder if masses of people are willing to reduce their carbon imprint, by giving stuff up, by staying close to home, and having fewer energy slaves. We seem so addicted to the powers fossil fuels give us, like the ability for some to fly anywhere in the world anytime, or for many to visit relatives more than a hundred miles away, or a single farmer to grow food on 1,000 acres with fossil machinery and chemicals. We have a thousand super powers. Who will give that up?


Critics complain about intermittent power when the sun doesn’t shine, or the wind doesn’t blow. For years, I have claimed civilization can cope with intermittent power. Hundreds of millions of people with uncertain electric supplies have done it for years (in Lagos, in India or wherever). We can run our washing machine when the sun or wind are available. I think we could even run factories and mass transit the same way. When power is available, the wheels of commerce turn. When it isn’t, we tend our gardens, our families and our lives. Post your own ideas on our renewable future in the comments section below.


Basic life forms of the ocean are the source of most of the oxygen we breathe. Are they in deep trouble? Did you know plankton can affect the development of clouds, another surprise in the climate story.

We’re talking about plankton and climate change, with Dr. Michael Behrenfeld. He’s is a Senior Research Scientist and Professor at Oregon State University. Mike specializes in marine algae research. Behrenfeld is also the principal investigator for a special 5-year NASA project called NAAMES – the North Atlantic Aerosols and Marine Ecosystems Study.


Michael Behrenfeld

Download or listen to this 27 minute Radio Ecoshock interview with Michael Behrenfeld in Behrenfeld CD Quality or Behrenfeld Lo-Fi

That seems like a good place to leave it for this season of Radio Ecoshock. Somewhere out in the ocean, there is still air so pure that human-driven dust cannot be found. Where there is no dust or pollution, there can be no rain – not even steam forms on a hot cup of coffee, as Behrenfeld tells us. It’s wild to think there are rain deserts in some parts of the open ocean.


According to Michael Behrenfeld, who is an acknowledged expert on satellite records of plankton, there is no evidence these essential ocean creatures are being killed en masse by climate change. That runs against headlines published in the Independent newspaper on July 28, 2010 titled “The dead sea: Global warming blamed for 40 per cent decline in the ocean’s phytoplankton”. That frightening article was based onPlankton death a study published July 2010 in the journal Nature, by Daniel G. Boyce et al. It’s called “Global phytoplankton decline over the past century.”

However, there has been a re-evaluation in reading satellite data on plankton, based on a point made by Mike Behrenfeld in this interview. Scientists have found that when conditions warrant, phytoplankton have less color, and may have been harder to see.

In September 2015, NASA released a study showing diatoms, the largest phytoplankton algae, have declined by more than 1 percent globally every year from 1998 to 2012. Most of this decline was in the Northern Hemisphere, especially in the northern Pacific Ocean. But Dr. Behrenfeld did tell us that regional declines have been found, even though there is no published evidence, yet, supporting a global decline of all plankton. The balance of types of plankton may also be changing.

Remember, in my show posted January 20, 2016, Russian-trained plankton modeler Sergei Petrovskii said we don’t yet know whether plankton will thrive or die off as the oceans warm. That’s still a topic of scientific study and debate. But Petrovskii also said his models show that in either case, thrive or decline, plankton reaches a crisis point where a massive die-off can occur. Here is a link to the blog for that show.

But for now, I’m going with this picture of an ocean which is struggling, but far from dead. That’s an important part of Radio Ecoshock. We have plenty to worry about. There’s no doubt our future prospects are cloudy, if not dire. I’ve had dozens of scientists on the show already this year who explain why. But not all the bad news on edgy web sites is backed by scientific proof!


There is also a tendency in the public to expect, almost hope for the worst, and soon. Some of us are tired of the strain. We want to see the end times before our lives end. It’s been that way for thousands of years, at least for Christians, who may die disappointed they didn’t see the terrible battles and Christ returning.

Other thoughtful people realize our civilization is a heat engine, as the Utah scientist Tim Garrett told Radio Ecoshock listeners a few years ago. We eat up ancient forests for throw-away products. We dig up radioactive rocks and make them even more concentrated and poisonous. We burn fossil fuels for entertainment. We hunt and kill rare animals and plants for fun. We can’t go on as we are, and still leave a working ecosystem for our descendants.

There are serious scientists who will tell you, often off the air, that only a severe economic crash can avert a mass extinction event. All the financial signs are flashing that collapse is coming, but then the machine keeps running somehow. Most of us want it to keep going.


After 45 straight shows, peering into the dark future, I’m more than ready for my annual vacation. It’s summer in the northern hemisphere. It will be a working vacation for me, as I harvest our large garden, and put away lots of good food for the coming winter. That’s how I stay sane, and that’s part of the reason I can afford to donate my time for the science and activism that is Radio Ecoshock.

I still need your support to help pay for free downloads of the show, around the world, plus the web site and other ongoing costs. I’m so grateful to those who have kept me going so far. Listeners make this program possible. Please consider either a one-time donation of any amount, or becoming part of the team of subscribers who give $10 a month. Find out how at


For the next few weeks, I’ll be broadcasting shows from the large archive of past interviews. I’ll be picking from programs that were downloaded thousands of times by listeners, some of them tens of thousands of times. These are the voices which either reflect our minds, or challenge them deeply.


Feel free to browse all our past programs, to load up your IPOD, computer, or mp3 player for summer listening, or winter in the southern hemisphere.


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Of course the Radio Ecoshock show is still free for all listeners (thanks to your donations).


Of course the podcast and blog only come out after the broadcast by our 94 participating non-profit radio stations. That’s the backbone of the show and by far our largest audience, in the United States, Canada, the UK, and Australia. I deeply appreciate the volunteers and staff who make these radio stations work, mostly advertising free, well out of the corporate lens. Frankly, at this point, only non-corporate media is willing to risk talking about the whole truth of climate change, our energy predicament, and the peril to all creatures.


Which leads me back to two last things. As I said, despite the real scientific warnings, we have to be wary of apocalyptic messages that are not based on evidence. Second, as Richard Heinberg reminds us, there may be a way to safety with renewable energy, but it’s not easy. The changes each of us need to make are fundamental and difficult. We have to do a little better with nature every day, and a lot better every year.

I’ll still be watching the world news, and checking new science. I may toss a new tune on Radio Ecoshock Soundcloud, or blast out a short You tube video. You’ll get notice of that from my Twitter feed @ecoshock. If anything extreme blows up, or something just can’t wait, I’ll probably do a new show or two. I hope not.

I’m Alex Smith. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to learn, along with you, from some of the best minds of our generation. I’ll be back with more original interviews at the start of September. Until then, please stay tuned, as the best of Radio Ecoshock comes your way.