The cultural taboo against talking about global warming – George Marshall. Report on world fires and global smoke July 2014. Review of movie “Snowpiercer” by Gerri Williams. New song: Time of Trials by Alex Smith.
In just a few minutes, we’re going to talk about the unspeakable. Why do humans shy away from talking about climate change. In the work place, at family dinners, all around, we instinctively sense the unfolding tragedy of global warming isn’t a welcome topic of conversation.
Lifetime environmental activist and human rights campaigner George Marshall will join us from Wales in the UK. His new book is titled “Don’t Even Think About It – Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change.” That’s going to be a fascinating ride, from the Texas Tea Party to why we lie to ourselves. Don’t miss it.
But first, I know Radio Ecoshock is one place we CAN talk about climate change. There is huge news coming from fires in the United States, Canada, and Russia. Fires so many and so large this spring and summer of 2014 may be the largest fire season ever. They create their own local weather systems, and have rapidly become a chain-reaction of carbon that could trigger changes to world weather we’ve barely imagined.
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ROOF OF THE WORLD ON FIRE
Right about now, in the middle of July 2014, much of the Northern Hemisphere is covered with a blanket of smoke. It’s smoky in the valley outside my door, from the forest fires in British Columbia and Eastern Washington State. The runaway fire in Washington is the largest ever in that State’s history. We are rapidly approaching the age of superfires, where humans have no hope of controlling them.
There’s been a smoke haze over Edmonton and western Canada from all the fires further north. In fact, those smoke particles have blown 5,000 miles further east, reaching the Great Lakes and cities like Toronto.
It’s not just Canada. Over at the Weather Underground, Jeff Masters and his crew have posted a video showing a blackened haze pouring from numerous fires in hot, drought-striken western states all the way to the Great lakes, into Ohio. According to a NASA map released July 18th, the smoke has even reached Maryland, West Virginia, and Tennessee. All this is a danger to people’s health, especially to the millions of new cases of asthma springing up across America, and around the world.
Last week there was even a thick black arm of smoke running up to the Arctic, to Hudson’s Bay and Baffin Island. It’s starting to reach Greenland.
That isn’t the worst of it. More gigantic fires are racing uncontrolled across the Canadian Tundra in the Yukon. These are beasts that reach from the tree tops to the deep peat below the soil surface. These are the most powerful fires seen in decades in the North. The smoke clouds look like volcanoes have erupted. Thirty one new fires popped up a single day, with at least 2500 fires this year, and almost 3 million acres burned so far. Canadian authorities report the area burning is six times greater than the 25 year average.
The dean of Canadian wildfire experts is Dr. Mike Flannigan, a professor of Wildland Fire in the University of Alberta’s renewable resources department. I’ve recorded and played you his talk at the American Academy for the Advancement of Science conference in Vancouver in 2012, and broadcast it April 18th of that year. I’ve interviewed him directly for this program. Then, and now to the media, he emphasizes, quote:
“What we are seeing in the Northwest Territories this year is an indicator of what to expect with climate change.” “Expect more fires, larger fires, more intense fires.”
Some of those fires are so hot they sterilize the ground. In some places, Flannigan says, the slow-growing Boreal forest may not return, especially after multiple burns.
In just a minute, I’m going to explain why this growing trend to a burning sub-Arctic, and especially this year, is a danger to us all, wherever you live on the planet.
But first, let’s escape the North American news lens to get the other part of this story. Siberia is burning, again.
The year 2012 was a terror for forest fires in the Russian sub-Arctic. The Russian authorities admit 548 wildfires that year, with a loss of 22,500 hectares, over 50,000 acres. The reality may have been much greater.
As of July 10th, 2014, the Itar-Tass news agency reports 13,500 hectares burned. It’s so dangerous, local authorities in Siberia have banned residents, or anyone, from going into the woods. NASA reported the Siberian smoke had curled round the world to reach the west coast of America.
According to the Moscow Times, on July 18th, the size of fires in the Buryatia region doubled overnight. The Siberian Irkutsk region already declared a state of emergency in May as fires raged there.
Once again, the particles from these fires will rotate around the upper northern hemisphere, around the world.
So let’s review some basic facts. Due to our carbon emissions, and increasing methane emissions in the Arctic, heating in the polar and sub-polar regions is the fastest on Earth. It was tens of degrees warmer in Alaska last winter, and tens of degrees warmer than the average around 1950, for the whole Canadian sub-Arctic, and for much of Siberia. The Yukon has seen temperatures you might expect in a Colorado summer. Like the American West, it’s been abnormally dry in the Canadian north-west, as the slower Jet Stream seems to freeze into a constant weather blocking pattern.
Being the Arctic, there are collisions with colder air masses, and from that, lots of thunder storms. Lightening sets the tinder below ablaze.
As Mike Flannigan told us on Radio Ecoshock, the thinner sub-Arctic soils dry out amazingly quickly. Just three days after a rain-storm, the soils can be tinder dry, in hot weather. And they are getting plenty of hot weather.
There are so many reasons why these fires are really a global climate emergency. You know Boreal forests were carbon sinks, soaking up a lot of our excess carbon, and storing that CO2 in the woody fibre of the trees. But when they burn like this, Boreal forests reverse that process, releasing CO2, loading the atmosphere. Add methane coming from both melting permafrost on land, and shallow sea beds in the Arctic Sea, and we get localized warming. That’s the positive feed-back effect – the way the Arctic climate is spiralling out of control into warming never known during the time of humans on this planet.
That extra heat melts more sea ice, which exposes more dark ocean to the summer sun’s 24 hour rays, making the ocean hotter, eating away at the edges of glaciers, speeding up ice loss. And so it goes.
SOOT A MAJOR FACTOR IN RISING SEAS AND GLOBAL WARMING
There is another even more serious threat here. Some scientists have reported that up to half of all melting of glaciers and snow in places like Greenland, comes from the deposition of black particles, falling out of the atmosphere. Some of that is just our urban pollution wafting north, captured by the winds circling toward the cooler poles. They call it “dark snow”. The darker color, even if just a shade of gray, attracts much more heat from the sun than a pure white snow. This soot, from all sources (fires, ships, cities) is causing significant ice melt, and then rising seas. Other science indicates up to 18% of all global warming comes from soot and other air pollution.
The same effect has been measured by scientists in the Rocky Mountains. Black particles, mostly from Asian coal burning, turn snow a grayer color, resulting in earlier spring melts, a longer fire season, and more forest fires in North America. Carbon soot bounces around the world, creating more warming, creating more carbon soot…
With that extra heat in the Arctic, more ice melts, which will speed up sea level rise around the world. You may be
on a low-lying delta in Bangladesh or coastal Australia, and get the extra sea rising due to these far-away sub-polar fires.
Underlying much of this, says one of my favorite bloggers Robert Scribbler, is the change in the Polar Jet Stream.
Read this from Robert’s blog posted July 17, 2014:
“Potential Amplifying Feedbacks in Context
During recent years, scientists have been concerned by what appears to be an increased waviness and northward retreat of the northern hemisphere Jet Stream. This retreat and proliferation of ridge and trough patterns is thought to be a result of a combined loss of snow and sea ice coverage over the past century and increasing over the past few decades. In 2012, sea ice coverage fell to as low as 55% below 1979 levels with volume dropping as low as 80% below previous values. Over the past seven years, not one day has seen sea ice at average levels for the late 20th Century in the north.
Meanwhile, northern polar temperatures have risen very rapidly under the rapidly rising human greenhouse gas heat forcing, increasing by 0.5 C per decade or about double the global average. It is this combination of conditions that set the stage for fixed ridges over both Russia and Canada creating extreme risk for extraordinary fires.
Should both the current sets of fires continue to rage under anomalous high amplitude jet stream waves setting off extreme heat in these Arctic regions, it is possible that large clouds of heat absorbing black carbon could ring the Arctic in a kind of hot halo. The dark smoke particles in the atmosphere would trap more heat locally even as they rained down to cover both sea ice and ice sheets. With the Canadian fires, deposition and snow darkening are a likely result, especially along the western regions of the Greenland Ice Sheet — zones that have already seen a multiplication of melt ponds and increasing glacial destabilization over recent years…..
And though climate models are in general agreement that the frequency of fires in tundra regions will increase, doubling or more by the end of this century, it is uncertain how extensive and explosive such an increase would be given the high volume of fuel available. Direct and large-scale burning of these stores, which in tundra alone house about 1,500 gigatons of carbon, could provide a major climate and Earth System response to the already powerful human heat forcing….“
Read that whole post in Robert’s blog here.
Robert Scribbler adds this as an update:
“Atmospheric black carbon and methane loading (more in a new post) likely contributed to temperatures in the range of 95 degrees F (35 C) near the shores of the Arctic Ocean’s Laptev Sea yesterday as recorded in the following screen capture from Earth Nullschool/GFS…“
When the high Arctic is 95 degrees, 6 degrees hotter than the same day in Richmond, Virginia – we can truly say the roof of the world is on fire. We are in it now. Global warming is feeding itself, with multiple feed-backs, and the big action is thousands of miles away from you, far from the big city news cameras, from all the trash filling our air-waves and our minds. As climate disasters continue to unfold, most of us are not even paying attention.
Although, here is a good article about the multiple feed-backs of forest fires in Mother Jones.
Radio Ecoshock listeners are, and it’s up to us to spread the word, starting those difficult conversations that nobody wants to talk about. Stay tuned as George Marshall tells us why its hard, and how to do it.
GEORGE MARSHALL – THE SOCIALLY ENGINEERED SILENCE ON CLIMATE CHANGE
Scientists warn we are headed into catastrophic climate change never before seen during human existence on this planet. Yet the most alarming facts hardly touch the lives of most people. Author George Marshall found out why. He says our minds are programmed to ignore climate change.
George is an old-school environmentalist, having worked as a senior campaigner for both Greenpeace in America, and the Rainforest Foundation. In 2004 he co-founded a charity based in Oxford UK, called the Climate Outreach and Information Network. They specialize in reaching all sorts of organizations, from churches to service clubs, scouts, trade unions and governments.
Now he’s written a new book “Don’t Even Think About It – Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change.” From Wales, George Marshall joins us.
Author and activist George Marshall
This interview is quickly becoming one of my favorites. George explains how people most anxious about climate change can turn to denial as a way to avoid that unpleasant/horrifying feeling. Polls taken in places where climate change has added to a disaster, like Hurricane Sandy, find that people who were inclined to deny climate change become even more convinced “it’s just natural weather” or “God’s Will”, rather than our carbon pollution.
Perhaps this explains why Australians, very hard hit by drought, floods, and fires, could elect a climate denier as Prime Minister. Or why people in the American south (also hit by droughts, floods, and extreme heat) elect Tea Party members of Congress who swear climate change is an elaborate hoax.
George Marshall has met with Texan Tea Partyers, and tries to tell them that ignoring developing climate change will lead to the their worst nightmare. In the near future, desperate people may demand a climate dictator, taking away the rights and freedoms cherished by the Tea Party and Libertarians.
In fact, discouraged by seeing the same old faces at every climate rally, George and the Climate Outreach and Information Network are making special efforts to reach out to conservatives, to explain their most basic values are threatened by this problem.
Climate change is not an environmental issue, Marshall says, and it’s been a mistake to label it that. It’s a threat to all people, and all people need to become involved. He even found some Evangelical church leaders who raise climate change as a threat to the unborn. You may feel differently about abortion and women’s rights, but we have to agree global warming is certainly a threat to the unborn.
We also have an fascinating chat about the work of Eviatar Zerubavel, Prof Sociology, Rutgers University. Eviatar has specialized in those possible topics of conversation that are somehow sidelined, and seldom talked about. You know, the silences we all agree on.
When I was growing up, the Holocaust was such a silence. I learned about it by accident from a book on my Grandfather’s bookshelf. No parent, teacher, or anyone living told me about it, and it was never mentioned in any conversation. Now climate change is like that.
Perhaps you disagree, as Radio Ecoshock listeners are among the few to really talk about climate change. But polls in many countries consistently show, Marshall says, that one third of people have NEVER had a conversation about climate change. Even climate-aware people always over-estimate the actual number of conversations they have about it. The topic is forbidden at most dinner parties, or gatherings of any kind. Younger women with children are the least likely to talk about it, or tolerate talk about it. Even though this threatens their childrens’ future more than anything else! We have to find a way to break through the social silence.
I ask George how to speak to a family member, work-mate, or associate who is very strongly denying climate change. You should listen to his helpful answer, but in a nutshell, don’t try to tell them how wrong they are. That doesn’t work. You can start out with respect for their willingness to take a position, and then explain how YOU came to your decision, without pushing it on them. George explains all that better than I can.
We get into the psychology of why the human brain did not evolve to understand or respond to a long and slow threat like climate change. This is key stuff. Give it a listen.
Climate Outreach and Information Network, or COIN, also helped broadcast “Climate Radio” with Phil England, a host I admire and learned from. The archives for that program are at climateradio.org. Phil is doing occasional climate broadcast these days, sometimes for Resonance FM in London, which also broadcasts Radio Ecoshock.
Now we are seeing melting Arctic ice, extreme rains and flooding, especially in the UK, or massive droughts and fires in the sub-Arctic of Canada, Alaska, and Russia. Many of us hope the public will finally get on board for climate action,. Is it possible many people will harden their resistance to the truth instead? How nutty will this get?
I’d like to point listeners to a another really useful video on George’s site. It’s from a 2009 lecture Marshall gave at the University of West England. That is called “The Ingenious Ways We Avoid Believing in Climate Change”.
Or watch it on You tube here.
George’s web site is climateconviction.org
There you have it. I’ve worried we don’t have the mental capacity to face the climate challenge. Now activist George Marshall has done the homework, and published an essential new book “Don’t Even Think About It – Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change.” Find the book it the usual places. It’s available in Europe now, and will come out in North America in August 2014.
SNOWPIERCER – ALMOST BUT NOT QUITE
If you were thinking of seeing the new climate-aware action film “Snowpiercer” – our own Gerri Williams has a cautionary review for you. Gerri is an independent radio journalist who also reports for Radio Ecoshock.
Essentially while Gerri was pleased to see a popular format action pic with ANY connection to climate change, this one isn’t what she was waiting for. It’s got the violence and all that, but doesn’t really capture climate change, but rather the opposite, a freezing world after geoengineering efforts to stop climate change have gone horribly wrong. Despite the awful cold winter in central and Eastern North America last year, cold is not our problem. We’ve just had the hottest April, the hottest May, and the hottest June ever recorded.
You can be sure climate-driven media of all kinds will grow as our predicament deepens. There is a very busy Facebook page for cli-fi media now. The Collins dictionary is recognizing the word cli-fi, and major authors are already endorsing it. Gerri’s right, given how hard it’s been trying to get the real science of climate change out to the public, climate fiction, films, drama, and art of all kinds may be our last best hope.
I’m sticking with radio. You can download all our past programs as free mp3 files, perfect for your phone, IPOD, or computer, from our web site at ecoshock.org. Or try things out on our Soundcloud page.
ANOTHER PATHETIC CLIMATE SONG
We’ll go out with another of my attempts to create a new wave of electronic music, so popular with the younger generation who will live with continuous climate challenges. Like the cli-fi authors, I’d love to see music carry more of the message, both of climate despair and the hope of a response worthy of intelligent creatures.
I’m Alex Smith. Thank you for listening to Radio Ecoshock and please join us again next week. This is my new song, “Time of Trials”. Download it from Soundcloud.