Friday, March 14, 2008

Dirty Coal, Dirty Politics, Wasted World

Before I launch into the script for this week's Radio Ecoshock show, I want to get the key information into your hands. Here is new science, just published in the March 7th, Geophysical Letters scientific journal, explained by Ken Caldeira, senior scientist of the Carnegie Institute.

Apparently, every bit of CO2 we emit eventually warms the atmosphere for thousands of years. Read on.

KEY QUOTES FROM AN INTERVIEW WITH KEN CALDEIRA, Senior Scientist, Carnegie Institute, from the Mebourne 3CR radio program "Zero Emissions" in early March, 2008. Transcribed from the Radio Ecoshock show, March 14th, 2008.

Ken Caldeira:

But the basic idea of that paper, and we've all seen curves of how, when you emit CO2 into the atmosphere, at first the concentration is high, but then as it gets absorbed by the ocean, and then the land biosphere, and the concentration in the atmosphere goes down.

And then, I'm involved in another project looking at how long it takes, so within some decades, to a century, a good fraction of that gets removed from the atmosphere. And then, that remaining portion that's in the atmosphere takes many thousands of years to go out of the atmosphere.

And so most people have assumed that the warming influence of the CO2 emission would follow that same curve - that there would be a lot of warming at first, and then it would rapidly diminish, so that on a century timescale it wouldn't really be much warming from the individual release of CO2.

But what we've found was something very much different. That the ocean is a large body that can absorb a lot of heat. And in order to heat up the atmosphere, you really need to heat up the ocean. When CO2 is first released into the atmosphere, it traps out going heat radiation, and that trapped heat at first mostly goes into heating up the ocean. And so it takes a few decades for the ocean to warm up, and then once the ocean's warmed up... when you warm the entire ocean through, the timescale for the ocean to cool off again is about a thousand years or so.

And our simulations only went out about five hundred years, but at the end of five hundred years, you more or less have about as much warming as you had at the maximum warming after the CO2 emissions. And so this idea, that "Oh, this CO2 emission warms the Earth, and then in a century, or two centuries, it's mostly away" is really the wrong picture. More accurate is to say that each emission of CO2 produces a step, you know, increase in temperature that remains pretty much level for many centuries, and then decays away over many thousands of years.

In a way, that kind of simplifies the discussion. Because each increment of CO2 emission leads to another increment of warming. And so it's obvious then, that if each CO2 leads to another increment of warming, that if you don't want more increments of warming, that means you can't have any more CO2 emissions. It's pretty straightforward.


Host: I was just wondering, if you did a very fast reduction in CO2 emissions, say in other words, we stopped using fossil fuels in power stations and cars and what have you, presumably we'll get a quick reduction in the aerosols, the soot and the dust and what have you, and then a slower reduction in the atmospheric levels of CO2. I'm just wondering if that spike would need to be offset in some way.

Ken Caldeira: Again, I think the climate system is very difficult to predict, but you're right that if we were to go cold turkey today, and just turn off every power plant - that the immediate response of the system would be to warm things up, as the sunlight-reflecting aerosols, the sulphate aerosols that power plants emit go out of the atmosphere, and we did a calculation, that actually the average coal-fired power plant cools the Earth for about the first seven years, because it's sulfate emissions have a cooling influence more than the CO2. But then, after seven years, the CO2 accumulates enough to overwhelm the sulfate cooling. And then of course the CO2 levels remains high in the atmosphere for many thousands of years. And so, you are right that there would be a short-term warming.


Ken Caldeira: With regard to geo-engineering, the thing that I'm most afraid of with geo-engineering is not really the direct climate effects, but it's political effects. If people see it as an alternative to emissions reductions, then I'm against it.

And so, as long as we're building coal-fired power plants, and building big sports utility vehicles, and things like that, - your know, if you do geo-engineering under those circumstances, you are just allowing thos people - allowing us - to continue living that kind of way, living in a CO2 emitting economy.

I think I would be against geo-engineering, unless we've already gone pretty far along the road to eliminating CO2 emissions, and then decided that that's not enough to prevent the environmental problem.



I had an opportunity to brief some Congressmen, this is now a couple of years ago, on this issue. And I was asked this same question about the stabilization target, and I said the same thing "Oh we have to think about emission targets."

They said "Well, what's the right emission target?" And I said, well it's zero, and they laughed.

And I said, "Well look, if you think emitting carbon dioxide is wrong, then zero is the obvious target." And I used the metaphor, if you think mugging little old ladies is wrong, we don't ask "Oh, what's our target for the rate of mugging little old ladies?"

You know, we say we think it's wrong, and we're going to try to eliminate the mugging of little old ladies. And I think it's a similar thing. [with CO2 emissions.]


OK, now here is how the rest of the Radio Ecoshock program goes.

[Opening melange of clips on extinction, storms, Obama, kids from Zero Carbon intro, with Manu Chao music]

It's Radio Ecoshock, rocking this week with el grupo Manu Chao. We have Barack Obama and John McCain on climate. Pop quiz: which one works for the coal lobby, while the other pumps big nuclear?

[Which big business lobby do you want for President?...][Hokey Soviet game show music]

Meanwhile, American super-scientist Ken Caldeira says [clip][ we are creating a new mass extinction.] We'll hear Caldeira explain why zero carbon emissions is the best hope we've got.

Never mind. Coal is still king. Great Britain, having exhausted it's natural gas wells in a few years, is planning to back to coal (boo!! clip). Canada is having second thoughts, saying it won't help any more "dirty" coal. And Canada has just announced that new tar sands plants will have to capture and store their carbon. Back in the coal mines, the U.S. government has quietly cut a billion dollar program that subsidized new coal plants. We'll dig into all that, including a quickie update, on carbon capture and storage, in many countries, from last week's expert, Professor Mark Jaccard.

Did I say mass extinction? Things looking a little bleak? We'll hear new material from the radical deep green author, Derrick Jensen - exclusive to Radio Ecoshock.

[Manu Chao Politiks Kills]

Oh my God. When heavy precipitation falls as snow, all the "Ice Age is Coming" climate deniers pile it on.

As the ocean warms, year after year, more water vapor goes into the warmer atmosphere. Then it fall out, all of a sudden - as Heavy Precipitation Events. HPE - learn that and weep. It can happen as flash floods, following a big drought. Or, if the air is a few degrees colder, it dumps half a meter of snow. Some places will get more snow, due to climate change. That sounds counter-intuitive, but that's the way it works, according to our best science.

As James Hansen points out, "January 2007 was the warmest January in the period of instrumental data in the GISS analysis, while, as shown in Figure 1, October 2007 was # 5 warmest, November 2007 was #8 warmest, December 2007 was #8 warmest, and January 2008 was #40 warmest. Undoubtedly, the cooling trend through the year was due to the strengthening La Nina,..."

Keep up to date on all that at, the blog by Joseph Romm, a former Dept of Energy official, and author of "Hell and High Water." One of the top climate blogs, at

In early March, we experienced yet another transcontinental super-storm. From Texas to Canada, record heavy snow. It moved on to huge wind and wave warnings in the UK, and a powerful storm across Europe.

[Weather clips US, Canada, Britain]

Over two thousand people downloaded my previous feature "Stormy Future" from the Ecoshock features page, at More than ten thousand downloaded a BBC feature on whether Europe can survive 3 degrees of climate change. And the top music download from the site continues to be "Power From Above" - a solar-powered gospel number by Dan Berggren - that's ber two g's ren of New England. Grab that underground green hit from the Ecoshock music page, visit or get the whole album from

[clip of Power from above]

But why worry about mass extinctions, or the dull crash of the American economy? We have the Barack and Hillary Show, with John McCain singing baritone.
[crazy oompah Manu Chao clip]

We'll hold our skirts up, so they don't get muddy, and give Republican nominee John McCain 3 minutes or less to state his position on climate change.

[John McCain clip]

[Manu Chao clip: Politik Kills]

Now we'll change 180 degrees, well, 20 degrees, and get Barack Obama on the record. Tune right in, and listen closely to the first questioner. Who is he really?

[Obama clip]

Obama, the man from Ohio the coal state, which he lost incidentally to Hilary Clinton, - has a pre-crafted script of people who will ask questions, at this rally. Carefully included is Mike Draper, from "Americans for Balanced Energy Sources." That's the coal lobby with a fancy name.

According to Associated Press, March 1st, 2008, Americans for Balanced Energy Sources paid the CNN TV network 5 million dollars, for at least 6 of the Democratic candidate debates, plus other network ads. Six whole programs, paid by big coal. And that's just part of the 40 million dollars, these balanced Americans will pay out this year for the elections. What a democracy!

[William Burroughs: "Are These The Words of All the Powerful Boards and Syndicates of the Earth?"]

But coal does have a problem. Almost 60 planned coal plants were scrapped in the U.S., just last year. The American government has quietly dropped a billion dollar subsidy scheme. The Department of Agriculture has doled out over a billion bucks to the coal industry for new plant construction since 2001, but official James Newby said there will be no such sugar money in 2009.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper reports, quote:

"At the time of its suspension, at least four utilities were lined up for loans totaling $ 1. 3 billion — for projects in Kentucky, Illinois, Arkansas and Missouri. A project in Montana was denied funding last month. Two more were recently withdrawn: last October in Wyoming and earlier this week in Missouri."

Maybe this has something to do with the lawsuit filed by EarthJustice, to cut off the black subsidies for coal.

The Canadian government has just announced a new climate policy that apparently pours cold water on new coal plants there - unless they can be carbon free. The Canucks even promise to demand carbon capture and storage for any new tar sands facility, built after 2012 - that is after the current huge expansion by the multinational oil companies now polluting the land and skies of the Canadian West. The oil sands has been labelled the world's must destructive industrial project. It is a climate destroyer, dragging out oil, while burning up natural gas, and.... why go on. At least the madmen in Canada finally see there must be a limit, to this mammoth carbon smokestack, dragging us all into....HELL.

[song Streetlight CO2 song]

I'm Alex Smith, this is Radio Ecoshock, and we're talking dirty - dirty coal, that is.

In Britain, John Hutton, the Secretary of State for Business is announcing government support for new coal plants there, claiming that greens have blocked necessary power plants. The UK government is about to approve a coal burner at Kingsnorth in Kent - the first new coal-fired power station built in Britain since 1984.

The company, E.ON UK, says it will demolish an existing coal plant, and replace it with newer technology - including capture of carbon, which will be stored under the North Sea. They call it "clean coal" - but none of this technology exists in England so far. Nevertheless, the government is planning another seven new coal-fired plants.

Giant steps backward for Britain, which has closed down its archaic coal industry, and now imports from abroad. You can bet the strong environmental community there will be fighting back.

So what is happening with so-called "clean coal" in the United States? The Bush administration axed the 1.5 billion dollar experimental carbon capture and storage coal plant. Was it just the need to send another $12 billion to Iraq this month, or was the technology just unworkable? The coal industry has been chanting "clean coal" as though dirty coal has been magically fixed. It hasn't.

Let's hear what our energy expert from last week's show, Mark Jaccard, told the audience about upcoming coal research, at a speech in Vancouver, in March.

[Jaccard clean coal research clip]

We'll hear more about coal construction financing next week, in the Radio Ecoshock does Wall Street special.

[Wall Street promo clip]

Moving on to that mass extinction thing.

A web site I check daily is: The Raw Story, at Great tips on things we need to know, and things we wish we didn't. In amongst the Eliot Spitzer gossip, and more Obama-mania, is this little headline: "Carbon Output Zero to Save the Earth".

That's right. Not 60% by 2050. Not even the 90% cut demanded by Professor Garnaut's report for the Australian government. Zero carbon emissions. Nada. Ladies and gentlemen, turn off your engines please. Or we're toast.

Two different studies came out in the past week, saying we have grossly underestimated the impacts of carbon on the atmosphere. We are going to focus on the paper published by Ken Caldeira and Damon Matthews in GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 35, for March 2008. The best article about it is byJuliet Eilperin, published March 10th, in the Washington Post.

Ken Caldeira is the senior scientist at the Carnegie Institute. He became well known for his provocative ideas about geo-engineering, to avoid climate catastrophe. But as we will hear next, Caldeira says geo-engineering is a last resort, - AFTER we take the SUV's off the road, and make all the sensible moves to cut carbon. We have a fine interview with Caldeira, done by a weekly Australian public broadcast show called "Beyond Zero". Of course there is a lot of interest down-under, where a vast drought has deeply damaged the country.

I'm going to play you 3 short clips from the half hour show. [Transcribed at beginning of this post] You can download the whole thing from 3CR radio in Melbourne, at - or grab it from the climate solutions page of

Here we go with an interview with Ken Caldeira, telling the awful truth.

[medley of 3 Ken Caldeira clips]

I found it interesting to hear that the soot from coal plants actually cool the Earth, for about 7 years, until the accumulation of carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere overwhelms the global dimming effect. After 7 years, it's all just heating from there on out. The coal plants last 30 to 50 years, and the warming, as we have just heard, will last longer than most human civilizations.

Now we know what our target is. Not only do we need to stop emitting greenhouse gases. Humans will have to invent ways to drag the excess carbon out of the atmosphere, to save themselves. Sad, silly humans.

[Pinky and the Brain clip]

When we hear world-respected scientists, like Caldeira, and a thousand others, talking doom talk, isn't it time to give up a few hours of TV a week, and get active yourself?

What can you do?

The radical green author Derrick Jensen gets asked that question, at almost every talk he gives. His answer is frustrating, and right. No one can tell you what your mission is. The trick, is to follow what you love. Jensen loves salmon, the great fish that travels from mountain streams to the wild oceans, only to return exactly to their birth-place. If we let them. And it turns out, to save the salmon, we have to end industrial civilization as we have known it. That's all.

The European Union has just come out with a new report on climate change. It projects wars and revolution, as the climate wipes out agriculture, especially in Africa, but in many parts of the world. Javier Solana, the EU's chief foreign policy coordinator, and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European Commissioner for external affairs have warned Europeans to expect millions more climate refugees. Ecoshock listeners have already heard this dire prediction for Britain, from James Lovelock's speech to the Royal Academy last winter, available from our website.

[JL_Immigration Clip] Lovelock's speech clip on refugees]

[clip on European Union]

Just another news blip, on a far-away place. Doesn't it seem like we are in a mass hallucination, as the world climate flips?

Here is a clip from a speech I recorded in Vancouver in October of 2007. Nobody else has this speech, except, I suppose, the under-cover cops, with their hidden microphones. Derrick Jensen on the nightmare.

[Jensen clip mass hallucination]

Or, this is how the socialist eco-revolutionary thinker, Joel Kovel, put the problem:

[the big predicament 1 and 2]

We can call it the big predicament.

And how do we keep hope alive? Again, here is Derrick Jensen:

[Jensen clip on keeping hope alive]

The alchemy is to find your rage, and turn it into love. Strong love. Active love.

Be sure and tune in next week, for our special, "Wall Street and the Climate Crash".

And check out our website at, for a lot of free downloads, to stir your mind.

I'm Alex Smith, for Radio Ecoshock. Most of our music clips this week were from the new album by Manu Chao, "La Radiolina". This is one of the world's best activist bands, blasting out insane energy, and sweet energy, in many languages. Here they go, with "Welcome to Paradise"

[Manu Chao, Welcome to Paradise]

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Mark Jaccard: 20 Years of Climate Failure

Why have all the political climate plans failed so badly? Targets are set, with big announcements, and yet greenhouse gas emissions just keep going up, and up.

Canada's Professor Mark Jaccard has developed scientific models, to study how governments cope with the climate challenge. His results are solid, and controversial.

Just knowing about the climate threat is obviously not enough. As consumers, we know, but just keep polluting. Some politicians mean well, but we can't seem to change our carbonized society. If knowing is half the battle, getting real protection for our atmosphere requires the other half: the dirty work we all want to avoid: taxes and compulsory controls on greenhouse gas emissions. Laws with teeth.

This talk is about how nice guys finish with a wrecked climate. Maybe we have to seek other arrangements - with plans that nobody likes. Comfortable consumers don't want to change, politicians don't want to lose votes, business doesn't want to lose money. So, how can we really get emissions down?

Who is Mark Jaccard? Professor Mark Jaccard is a much sought advisor, to many levels of government. Based out of Simon Fraser University, in British Columbia, Canada - Jaccard has served on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He leads the School of Resource and Environmental Management, at Simon Fraser University, in Vancouver, Canada. For several years Jaccard Chaired the B.C. Utility Commission - in charge of the energy supplies for millions. Jaccard is the author of 90 scientific papers, and three books - including "Sustainable Fossil Fuels" and his latest: "Hot Air," co-authored with famous Canadian journalist Jeffery Simpson.

As one of the few people with real solutions for governments, Jaccard is in constant demand. He has advised the Chinese government, the Canadian government, and worked with other scientists around the world. In addition to a 20 year teaching career at Simon Fraser University, Jaccard has his own consulting company, and is also funded by the C.D. Howe Institute.

Throughout all this, Mark Jaccard tries to maintain the unbiased stance of science. He is not an environmentalist, a business hack, or a politician. Jaccard has analyzed why climate policies fail, and how they could work, in any country. The facts, as he finds them, are controversial, and yet increasingly implemented by governments. That is why we need to learn from this speech delivered in Vancouver on March 4th, 2008 at the Canadian Memorial United Church.

The speech was organized by VTAAC, Voters Taking Action on Climate Change. It was recorded by Radio Ecoshock.

Studies and models by Jaccard's team, and bolstered by other social scientists all over the world, tell us that human habits are very hard to change. I guess we can include oil addiction.

It also seems there are several layers of "knowing" about something. I may "know" that smoking is bad for me, and still smoke. But at some point, I "know" I have to quit, and do. Reaching that gut level of knowledge that leads to real action is the key, when it comes to controlling greenhouse gas emissions. How can we do it?

The problem gets worse because governments are basically geared to inaction on any contentious issue. They don't want to upset voters. Jaccard says environmental groups haven't helped, by insisting that solutions to the carbon energy problem are "easy" and "cheap". The Greens say we don't need new power plants, because energy efficiency will take care of the problem. In his speech, Jaccard goes over a long history of seeking energy efficiency, and says the reality isn't so easy or cheap at all.

Just take the example of refrigerators. Fridges got more and more efficient from the 1950's to the 1970's, without any real government pressure. But that good news was blown away by people buying larger fridges, bar fridges, coolers to take to the beech, and just plain more fridges per household. Sometimes efficiency just leads to people using more of the product, not less.

The solutions of subsidizing green choices doesn't work either, says Jaccard. First of all, some people will buy energy efficient appliances, for example, without any government subsidy. The real trick is to find those people who were going to buy a gas hog, and give the subsidy to them - that leads to a real gain. But how can you find the people who need the subsidies?

And how can you develop a subsidy for all the new and crazy uses people find for energy? A government just works out rules for gas BBQ's (with an accompanying growth of bureaucracy) - and then people start bringing "outdoor heaters" to soccer games, not to mention patio heaters for bars, and a thousand other uses not envisioned by anyone. The subsidy games ends up very wasteful, not hitting the right people, and creates more and more government workers and offices to look after it.

Anyway, countries like Canada who have depended on the light touch methods - like "information," "energy efficiency," subsidies, and "change your light bulbs" - have already experienced 20 years of failure. Like almost every other country in the world, including the United States and Europe, Canada's carbon emissions have just kept skyrocketing. None of that works in the real world.

The awful truth is: when it comes to a problem this big, the individual cannot solve it. Jaccard asks: "What did you do to reduce your sulfur dioxide emissions?" back in the '80's when Acid Rain was the big problem. Obviously, governments made big industry clean it up. We didn't do much, other than complain the lakes were dying.

Same thing for climate. When the modelers add up all the benefits of changing light bulbs, going for more mass transit, and buying green - the planet still goes under with climate change. In fact, it takes massive social change, including big industry, to have a hope of preventing the worst of climate change. And that takes a kind of bravery of leadership in governments - that we haven't seen so far.

The inconvenient truth about social behavior: somebody has to make us do it. Again, Jaccard gives the example of school zones. Almost any sane person will agree that drivers shouldn't speed through school zones when there are children about. Surely, just common sense, good will, and love of kids will make these school zones safe, since we all agree it is good? No...we have patrol cars handing out tickets, stiff laws, fines - because someone needs to enforce the law.

Ditto carbon emissions.

Despite his earlier book "Sustainable Fossil Fuels" - Jaccard isn't pushing "clean coal" or anything like that. In this speech, he claims to be agnostic when it comes to using a carbon tax, a cap and trade system, or a hybrid that uses market mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gases. Any of those can be designed to work, he says, so long as the government is willing to enforce laws that work in reality.

Personally, as soon as I hear the words "climate policy" my eyes glaze over. I've heard so much bull-shit, and seen so many fabulous announcements and "super-green" plans go down uselessly. So, I had low expectations for this speech. Surprise. Professor Jaccard has been lecturing for 20 years, with students who challenge him - so he does know how to communicate. It's a good speech - which taught me some of the realities we need to know, if we demand that governments act on climate. Act how? What really works?

I'm hoping people in many countries will check out this speech, especially in America, where a lot of tough decisions need to be made, to reduce the load from one of the world's biggest polluters. The climate threat is so huge, we all need to understand "climate policy" - and what to demand.


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