Twenty one scientists say Earth approaches a “state shift”. The ecosphere may change rapidly, never to return. Interview with Dr. Arne Mooers. Planetary boundary talks at Rio+20 w. Oxfam’s Kate Raworth, & Johan Rockstrom of Stockholm Resilience Institute. Interview w. Australian green home builder John Morgan. Radio Ecoshock 120627 1 hour.

Listen to/download this 1 hour program in CD quality (56 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)

Welcome, welcome to a full helping of warnings, despair, good humor, and one man’s example to the world.

I’m Alex Smith, with so much audio we must orient and load up quickly. Direct from the alternative presentations at the Rio Plus 20 conference, you will hear two short hot speeches on the economy that’s never counted, and the assault on a new science of planetary boundaries. Independent environmental journalist Stephen Leahy sent us the exclusive audio of Kate Raworth and Johan Rockstrom in Rio.

Then we’ll journey to Australia. The self-sufficient John Morgan tells us about his 9 star home that needs no furnace or air-conditioner. Plus a look at Australia’s new carbon tax, coming into effect July 1st.

But first, a group of 21 scientists, from very different fields of study, produced a special briefing for the Journal Nature, ahead of the meeting of world leaders in Rio de Janeiro for the second Earth Summit. They concluded Earth, our planet home, could be heading for a massive shift, a new state not seen for millions of years. It’s spine-chilling, so I’ll need to call on my radio side-kick for this program, none other than Charles Prince of Wales.

[Charles quote one]

That is from Prince Charles, as he addressed the Rio leaders by video link, on June 19th, 2012. Watch it on You tube.

Charles demanded scientists and other experts come out of their silos to assess what is really happening in the world. That is exactly what happened when a group of scientists were organized by the Berkeley campus of the University of California. We go now to one of the participants, Arne Mooers of Simon Fraser University.


Listen to/Download the Arne Mooers interview (18 min) here in CD quality or Lo-Fi.

The technical review of the paper published in Nature is here.

Here is a quick summary about this paper, from the Simon Fraser University Press release:

Study predicts imminent irreversible planetary collapse

June 06, 2012

Using scientific theories, toy ecosystem modeling and paleontological evidence as a crystal ball, 21 scientists, including one from Simon Fraser University, predict we’re on a much worse collision course with Mother Nature than currently thought.

In approaching a state-shift in Earth’s biosphere, a paper just published in Nature, the authors, whose expertise spans a multitude of disciplines, suggest our planet’s ecosystems are careering towards an imminent, irreversible collapse.

Earth’s accelerating loss of biodiversity, its climate’s increasingly extreme fluctuations, its ecosystems’ growing connectedness and its radically changing total energy budget are precursors to reaching a planetary state threshold or tipping point.

Once that happens, which the authors predict could be reached this century, the planet’s ecosystems, as we know them, could irreversibly collapse in the proverbial blink of an eye.

‘The last tipping point in Earth’s history occurred about 12,000 years ago when the planet went from being in the age of glaciers, which previously lasted 100,000 years, to being in its current interglacial state. Once that tipping point was reached, the most extreme biological changes leading to our current state occurred within only 1,000 years. That’s like going from a baby to an adult state in less than a year,’ explains Arne Mooers. ‘Importantly, the planet is changing even faster now.’

The SFU professor of biodiversity is one of this paper’s authors. He stresses, ‘The odds are very high that the next global state change will be extremely disruptive to our civilizations. Remember, we went from being hunter-gatherers to being moon-walkers during one of the most stable and benign periods in all of Earth’s history.'”

One of the take homes from this key interview is this: many of us (including myself at times) believe we can stop polluting and things will go back to “normal”. The campaign seems to imply this as well: if we remove CO2, we can go back to Nature as it was.

This new study by the 21 scientists points out a grave risk: in fact Nature makes sudden shifts for which there is no return.

Arne Mooers gives the simple example of the cod fishery off Canada’s East Coast. Everyone presumed if we stopped over fishing the cod, they would return. It didn’t happen. Why? Once this upper predator fish was removed, a completely different ecological system moved in, with different species. Things don’t go back to where they were.

It’s a sobering thought. Mooers says their work cannot absolutely predict a planet-wide ecological shift will happen, or when. It has happened rapidly in the past. We may be seeing some signs, but scientists are not even sure there are a series of warning signs. We may not be able to predict it.

The main idea is a big game changer. Previously, even in reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate models assumed incremental change. For example, if you know sea levels are rising 3 centimeters a year, you can say what the sea level will be in the year 2100.

This paper suggests natural systems don’t work along nice predictable curves like that. Things go along in one way, as they have more or less for the last 10,000 years – but then the climate can experience a big shift, along with the whole ecosphere. Some species disappear, as they are now. Others replace them. Nothing returns the same.


In the campaign to stop or at least limit climate change, what about the economy? Why is Europe skirting collapse? Why are billions of people starving while the rich dine sumptuously on the consumer buffet?

Here is 8 minutes with Kate Raworth of Oxfam, explaining her growing “doughnut” campaign at the Rio +20 side conference. She was recorded live by independent journalist Stephen Leahy, who sent the audio directly to Radio Ecoshock. Thank you Stephen.

Kate explains three giant loop-holes in the way economics is taught in schools. For example caring for families has no economic value (they say). The environment is not factored in. Listen to her short speech – it got enthusiastic applause from the inspired crowd.

Listen to/download these two Rio +20 speeches (17 minutes total) in CD quality here or Lo-Fi here.

Find Kate Raworth’s blog on “Doughnut Economics” here.


But wait. There’s more. No doubt you’ve heard scientists led by the Stockholm Resilience Institute have compiled a chart of 9 planetary boundaries we must not cross, if our civilization is to survive. The citation for the original article published in Nature in 2009 is here.

Get the real goodies direct from the Stockholm Resilience Institute here.

That includes an embedded video of Johan Rockstrom explaining the concepts in a TED presentation. It’s all just common sense, backed up by the work of thousands of scientists. Yes, there are limits to what we can do to Nature and still survive as a civilization. Is anybody surprised by that?

Apparently “yes”. The science of planetary boundaries is now under attack by pollster Ted Nordhaus and the hostile mis-named “Breakthrough Institute.”

Here is the Breakthrough Institute attack.

Be sure and read the comments below, which trash this release.

We uncovered Ted and former green cross-over Michael Shellenberger in two Radio Ecoshock specials back in 2007, as this duo proclaimed “environmentalism is dead”. Here are the links to programs exposing these two, their alleged “institute”, and their funding.

Plotting the Green Death 1

Plotting the Green Death 2

Keep in mind that Ted Nordhaus is not a scientist. He is a pollster. But hey, that’s good enough to unseat years of scientific work by some of our best! Just sow a little doubt, delay some more, and keep those corporate mega-profits rolling in.

As Stephen was recording Johan Rockstrom of the Stockholm Resiliency Institute, backroom dealers were stripping out any reference to “planetary boundaries”. Lazy leaders were quick to jump on the anti-science being pedaled by the Breakthrough Boys. Anything to keep the killer society going. Listen in, as Johan Rockstrom speaks in Rio.


Now, off to Australia!

I really like this interview with John Morgan. In a rural area outside Victoria, in South Eastern Australia, John built a comfortable and affordable home that requires no furnace, no air-conditioning, and no power lines.

Listen to/Download the John Morgan interview in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

In a recent Radio Ecoshock interview with Dr. Guy McPherson, we learned maintaining a comfortable shelter for human bodies is a principal driver for the continuing use of fossil fuels. We create a lot of climate damage just to keep our homes cool in the heat, and warm in winter.

Despite a reputation as a coal exporting country, Australia is stimulating better housing as a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions. With the farming industry and the fabulous barrier reef threatened, Australia has developed a Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme.

Our next guest is going to explain it, and how he gained 9 out of ten stars in his owner-built home.

John Morgan’s eco-house is found in a rural area near Victoria, in South Eastern Australia. As we spoke at the end of June, John is dealing with the cold of the Australian winter.

Morgan house in Australia

This is Morgan’s next generation experimental home. He’s been working away at this since the late 1960’s, and people are still talking about his previous homes, like his self-sufficient house located at Musk near Daylesford in Central Victoria.

As he explains in our interviews, John doesn’t want to be dependent on the grid for electricity or water. He says things like:

“My electricity falls down on me from the sky, so I store it in batteries”.

“My fresh water falls down on me from the sky, so I store it in tanks”.

“I live with high levels of comfort and low levels of cost”.

“I generate zero carbon emissions – so why doesn’t everyone do this?”

“It is not rocket science”.

John is a physicist, and has taught electronics and technical trades, so he does have expertise, even though he is not a rocket scientist.

A whole host of consideration goes into building this latest home. For one thing, John reverses the Australian trend of putting brick or stone on the outside of a house, and then timber framing inside. His wood and lots of insulation are on the outside. The inside walls have lots of masonry, to build up thermal mass to store the heat or cold.

There is a greenhouse tucked on one corner of the place. When needed, he can funnel heat generated there, even on a sunny winter day, into the main house. John is also growing seedlings to reforest part of his 20 acres (formerly a sheep paddock) – plus some of his own food.

John has over 3,000 Watts of solar power on the place, and enough battery power to keep him going for several cloudy days.

The bonus of this place: it isn’t all the expensive. I ask John if we need to be millionaires to be self-sufficient. Not at all. Morgan estimates his place cost about $165,000 Australian dollars in 2008 – about the same now in American dollars. That would be considered low cost for a new home anywhere, and it includes his solar power kit and giant water storage tanks (fed by roof collectors).

To meet that price, which he hoped would encourage others, John did away with anything fancy in the way of architecture. His home isn’t meant to look impressive. It just leaves him comfortable, with no bills to pay – not bad in these deteriorating economic times, with ever-rising energy prices.

You can find out more about John from his contributions to this blog from the rural Australian town of Ballarat.

Here are some more super-efficient Australian home projects to check out.

Building Our 9 star home (blog) in Preston, Melbourne Australia

See also the Permablitz, a permaculture blitz “Eating the suburbs – One backyard at a time” in Melbourne

Here is another one, built in Vale, Perth

Another one in Perth

Here is a quote to explain the Australian rating program:

What is a 9-star energy rated house? According to the NatHERS scale – the federal government-administrated Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme that was introduced to assess the potential thermal comfort of Australian homes on a scale of zero to 10 stars – occupants of houses rated at or around the 10-star mark are unlikely to need much, if any artificial cooling or heating. At the other end of the scale, a zero-rated house means the building shell does practically nothing to reduce the discomfort of hot or cold weather.

As the NatHERS website points out, houses built in 1990 averaged about 1 star on the scale. And before the introduction of national energy efficiency regulations for houses in 2003, less than 1 per cent of Australian houses achieved 5 stars. These days, however, the average “well-designed home” is now being built at around 6 stars.”

We are out of time. I’m Alex, saying thank you for accompanying me on this hard journey. May we meet in a better world.

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