SUMMARY: Why the wild weather & floods across N. Hemisphere, rain at N. Pole? Then Alex talks with David Montgomery, author of “Dirt The Erosion of Civilizations”, with co-author Anne Bikle, new book “The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health”. Radio Ecoshock 160106
Welcome to Radio Ecoshock in this new year of 2016. In this program I’ll talk with two guests who tell us about the erosion of civilizations, climate answers in the soil, and the danger of killing off your own ecology – of microbes in your body. But first in this new year of 2016, I need a little time to talk with you.
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Image courtesy endoftheamericandream.com
AWE AND DREAD
I suppose I knew it would come to this. We’ve just flashed past another awful marker toward a new climate age. At the end of 2015, the hottest year ever recorded, it rained, in the 24 hour darkness, at the North Pole.
Your remember where you were on September 11, 2001. You knew it was a giant wave, a marker where nothing would ever be the same.
Scientists around the world felt the same dread and awe in 2007, when the Arctic ice melted back, revealing a dark sea to the sky for the first time in many thousands of years, maybe even in a million years. It wasn’t supposed to happen in this century. We knew then, the Arctic would never recover. The pendulum swung toward the great melting. More heat from the sun would be absorbed by the planet, changing the energy balance not just in the Arctic, but everywhere.
We’ve run interviews with scientists like Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers, explaining how the loss of that white shield at the top of the world, and a warming Arctic, has changed the Jet Stream. With less difference between the polar cold and the tropics, those high atmospheric winds have morphed from a powerful West-to-East stream, to a meandering river. That river has bends that tend to freeze over regions, and extending the breadth of continents and beyond. As Paul Beckwith has told us, what you get on the ground depends on which side of the stream you are on. It can be extra hot in the West, and extra snowy in the East, or visa versa.
Lately in the northern Hemisphere, we have not had the record-breaking hurricanes that slammed into North America in 2005. We have had straight-running power winds, called “Derechos“. Multiple massive hurricanes, called typhoons in the Southern Hemisphere, hit East Asia this year. The Philippines was raked over, time after time.
What the Northern Hemisphere experienced in late 2015 leads to this quote from Dr. James Hansen, in his book “Storms of My Grandchildren“. He wrote about ” ‘continent-sized frontal storms packing the strength of hurricanes.”. Robert Scribbler reminded me of that.
Hansen writes about such mega-storms as coming in the future, in the next generation. I say we are seeing it now. In fact, we just experienced another transcontinental storm, stretching from California beyond Scandinavia, with waves reaching Russian Siberia.
HOT OCEANS DRIVE WEATHER WEIRDNESS
This story is written in heat maps of the ocean, as measured from satellites. Scientists say up to 90% of the excess heat created by a more carbon-rich atmosphere has been soaked up by the oceans. That’s a slow process, slow to heat, and slow to release. With that buffer, there is at least a 30 year delay for the impacts of our carbon emissions. The climate disruption we are feeling now is from rising greenhouse gas emissions in the 1980’s. We’ve poured in almost as much again since then.
The oceans of the world communicate, slowly, sometimes at great depth, using the system known as “the great conveyor belt”. The seas have been hot, and getting hotter, around Australia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and in East Asia generally. That heat has been moving downward toward the depths for about 15 years, since the last great El Nino of 1997/98. It mixes with colder waters below, which rising, create the La Nina weather systems we’ve taken for granted in this new century.
That cycle has to break. It always does. Now we have El Nino, but with the hotter seas, it’s El Nino on steroids. It’s the strongest El Nino recorded since the development of science.
You will hear endless collection of weather people on television explaining the floods, and soon snow storms, and even the strange warming in Eastern North America, on El Nino. That’s why the cherry blossoms bloomed all up the East Coast. That’s why folks in Phildelphia wore shorts and tee shirts on Christmas Day.
I’ve seen a report that out of over 200 local and national news casts monitored, only one even talked about the possible role of global warming. The other suspect, and notice we are never the suspects, is called “changes in the Jet Stream”. It’s true, but why don’t they ask, why don’t we ask, WHY is this such a strong El Nino? WHY has the Jet Stream changed. Why is the weather so weird, and why is never going to be normal again?
Usually, scientists tell us El Nino has little impact on the Atlantic Ocean. It is an affair of the Pacific. And yet we now see storms that blow over Texas, Missouri, and eastwards, seeming to continue on. In just days there are record winds in Iceland, and still more flooding across Ireland, Scotland, England, and Scandinavia.
In those ocean heat maps, we can see raging heat in the seas off New England. It’s been so hot, the species are changing. It’s still relatively warmer this winter. But that warmer water is being pushed away from Greenland by a new phenomenon that will stay with us for centuries. We now realize that massive meltwater from Greenland has created a pond of cold water in the very North Atlantic. Like putting ice into a drink, the ocean there is colder than it was, even with global warming.
So where are the hot waters of the Gulf Stream to go? They are pushed lower, heading toward Europe. The clash of the Greenland cold blob, and these record-hot waters, create mega-storms, and a storm track that is battering the British Isles again this winter. Centuries-old towns, that have not flooded since the Middle Ages, are flooded now. Historic bridges have washed away. In England, they call this storm “Frank”, but it stretches from Spain to the North Pole.
Yes the mania to contain everything in concrete has had an effect. All those new suburbs and their roads, all the moors drained to raise grouse for the rich – all our activities have disturbed nature’s buffers for heavy rains. Does any of that really matter when more than a foot of rain drops down from the sky in just 24 hours? No one alive in Great Britain has seen anything like this.
CLIMATE INSANITY: SUMMER IN THE ARCTIC WINTER
It doesn’t stop there, or even with the big floods in Norway. The heated waters are pouring up the Norwegian coast and into the Arctic, above Finland and Russia. There is a rural inhabited area in Central-Eastern Siberia called Khatanga. According to Wikipedia, the previous December hight for Khatanga was -.2 C (31.6 F), and the average high in December is -25.5 C, or -13 F. Blogger Robin Westenra tells us that there, in the Arctic Circle, this December it was 79 degrees Fahrenheit, or 26 degrees Celsius. I can’t begin to tell you how insane and how impossible that is.
Here I’m just going to quote from Robert Scribbler’s blog. Nobody can say it better.
“Unprecedented doesn’t even begin to describe rain over Arctic sea ice above the 80 degree North Latitude line on the evening of Tuesday, December 29, 2015. It’s something we’d rarely see during summer time. But this rain is falling through the black of polar night during the coldest time of the year.
There, over the Arctic sea ice today, the rains began in winter time.
As the first front of warm air proceeded over the ice pack to the north of Svalbard, the rains fell through 35-40 degree (F) air temperatures. It splattered upon Arctic Ocean ice that rarely even sees rain during summer-time. Its soft pitter-patter a whisper that may well be the sound to mark the end of a geological age.
For we just don’t see rain over Arctic sea ice north of Greenland during Winter time. Or we used to not. But the warmth that liquid water falling through the black of what should be a bone-cold polar night represents something ominous. Something ushered to our world by human fossil fuel industry’s tremendous emission of heat trapping gasses. Gasses that in the range of 400 ppm CO2 and 485 ppm CO2e are now strong enough to begin to roll back the grip of Winter. Gasses, that if they keep being burned until we hit a range between 550-650 ppm CO2 (or equivalent) will likely be powerful enough to wipe out Winter as we know it entirely over the course of long and tumultuous years of painful transition.
What does the beginning of the end of Winter sound like? It’s the soft splash of rain over Arctic Ocean sea ice during what should be its coldest season.“
CLIMATE EVENTS GREATER THAN ANY TERRORISM
So you see, that is a 911 moment that hardly anyone sees. In fact, it’s far greater than mere terrorism, or human wars over religion and oil. At Chrismas 2015, we saw “the beginning of the end of winter.”
I also suspected the time would come when I could just rebroadcast old Radio Ecoshock shows, since the truth about climate change is already known, already told, and now already come. I said what we’ve just seen is another transcontinental storm. That’s because I first noticed one in 2006, the year I began this radio show. I had to dig that out of the Radio Ecoshock archives on our web site. I think you’ll agree it’s eerily familiar, except now we’ve had another ten years of very driven science, to explain why these things are happening.
So here it is: a few minutes from the Radio Ecoshock show in late 2006, as I describe a transcontinental storm, that sounds so much like today.
PAINFUL TO KNOW
In a way, it’s painful to make this radio show. I hope it’s not too painful to hear. For whatever strange reason, it hurts me to think of rain falling in the winter Arctic. I know that means more people flooded out of their peaceful homes, or blown out of them, further south. I know that means more millions of trees will die in California from the drought, including some of the ancient giants. I know that farmers will struggle, and we will pay more for what can be run through the weather gauntlet. I know it gets harder and worse. I know too much.
Over Christmas I played with my grandson. We made towers where marbles roll down through mazes. We read stories about lions and elephants. Will they still exist when he’s grown? Will everything around him be tossed about by fires, strange frosts, weird rains?
What will I tell him if we give up, and stop trying to save what’s left? What will you tell the children, that you did during the great climate crisis?
NEAR LOSS OF A CLIMATE WARRIOR
All this was driven deeper by the sudden news that over Christmas we nearly lost a powerful climate warrior. You may remember how Daphne Wysham organized the conference call of Mayors and activists against building more fossil fuel infrastructure. If you missed it, download or listen to this 14 minute report from Mayors and activists, as edited for Radio Ecoshock here.
For eight years Daphne hosted the syndicated radio show “Earthbeat”. She recommended Radio Ecoshock to those stations, helping to make Ecoshock what it is today. Daphne has been fighting to save the climate from her new home in Portland Oregon.
Just before Christmas, Daphne and her partner suddenly found themselves plunging into a cold mountain river, their car sinking fast. She was in the water, gulping air from a tiny pocket, for long minutes, before a Sheriff’s deputy managed to rescue her. Both Daphne and her partner were air-lifted to a Reno hospital. Both are going to recover. Daphne has already declared another year of continuing battle to prevent catastrophic climate change. We need her.
So life is short and tenuous. We have a few thousand years of human history behind us, and millenia yet to come. What changes will we leave, in our short visit here on Earth? I shudder to imagine what our descendants will think of us, as we rush to buy more new things, to fly off on vacations, to waste away the world. Or did we strive to localize food without petrochemicals? Did we walk or bike more than drive? Did we use social media and circles of friends to create allies? Is this the year, after the polar rain, after the emergence of transcontinental storms, that we break out of the deadly paradigm of the old fossil age?
You decide what you will do with your life and powers. I’ll keep making radio, keep talking with scientists and activists. I’ll wrap up this selfish little chat with a powerful comment left on the Radio Ecoshock blog, following last week’s optimistic talk by scientist and author Tim Flannery.
NOT REALLY CHANGING ANYTHING…
Listener Wanda Harding wrote:
“I would like to be positive, but, it seems to me, that all these “solutions” are dreamed up to allow for the current, CAPITALISTIC SYSTEM TO CONTINUE… when …and I am going to say it this way… WE KNOW THAT IS A REALLY BIG PART OF THE PROBLEM…. I do not see ANY ideas about REDUCING CONSUMPTION…ESPECIALLY FOR THE RICH… LESS FLYING, LESS BUYING… we just want to keep buying cars and stupid plastic stuff… that we DO NOT NEED… I do not hear anything about coming up with a whole new global culture that is not about consuming….especially things we do not need and activities we shouldn’t be doing… LIKE PROFESSIONAL SPORTS… NASCAR…
Also, Tim brings up women in developing countries needing birth control… yes, they do and I am all for them having it and I bet they really want it…
However, why do we allow the upper classes, the rich to do what ever they want? Why do they not have to change their lifestyles? … Oh,wait, gee they have to buy an electric car…. when someone says that there is a law passed that states that anyone making over maybe, 150,000 a year IS LEGALLY REQUIRED TO PUT SOME TYPE OF RENEWABLE ENERGY SYSTEM ON THEIR HOME … THEN, WE WILL START TO MAKE SOME PROGRESS..
When the rich or even the business sector, is legally limited to how much they can fly or even IF hey can fly… then, I’ll believe we are making progress…
when we start to REALLY go in the direction of small farmers…and use THAT AS A JOBS PROGRAM…and give out land grants for people to do so, and then, the do not have to travel to work in rural areas, negating the necessity of a car… at least not having to run one every day… then, I’ll start to believe we are making progress… so far, all we do is come up with GADGETS… we STILL DO NOT BELIEVE WE HAVE TO CHANGE OUR BEHAVIORS AND LIFE STYLES.. “
Thank you Wanda Harding.
You see how it is? I know many of my listeners are powerful and articulate people. I appreciate so much all the emails you send me. In fact, without listener tips, ideas and criticism, I simply could not continue this program. Radio Ecoshock has become listener-powered. Thank you for giving me another year of opportunity, as hard as the news may be.
I’ve got some great guests lined up for you, including a top scientist from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to explain this year’s Arctic report card. Let’s get to our first guests of 2016 now.
“DIRT”, CLIMATE, AND HEALTH – DAVID MONTGOMERY AND ANNE BILKE
We’re going to take a big journey, into time, and across the globe. Eventually, we will arrive right back at the center of your own body. Our tour guides are Dr. David Montgomery from the University of Washington, and biologist Anne Bikle.
I know this team just released a new book “The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health.” That is a personal journey with a big message for us all.
But at the risk of being rude, I start with David. A recent guest, Benoit Lambert, and several listeners, asked for this interview, based on his previous book “Dirt The Erosion of Civilizations.” That is coming back, not only because we may farm ourselves right out of soil in this century – but also because of the promise we could reverse the process of climate change, putting giant amounts of carbon back into the soil.
David is a “geomorphologist” at the University of Washington. He also won a $500,000 MacArthur Foundation “genius” award in 2008.
This is a deep interview. We talk about how formerly fertile places like Syria and Libya became soil poor, leading to the troubles we see today. It happened even in Colonial America, where tobacco farming stripped the south, forcing migration westward. Soil degradation is happening all over the world, but now there are few frontiers left with new soil to use up. “Dirt” as Montgomery wrote in his classic book, determines the course of civilizations, including the present one.
But the soil also holds promise as a place that can be enriched, rather than eroded with ploughing , agrichemicals and monocrops. The process of putting organic life, and life-supporting microbes back into the soil means enriched food possibilities, but also means carbon can be removed from the atmosphere on a large scale, helping to alleviate climate disruption. Montgomery says we could alleviate up to 15% of fossil fuel use by relatively simple changes to the way we farm.
Here is a fascinating talk by David Montgomery, on You tube. I took extensive notes for my own use, including this: “Agricultural soil loss is not because humanity farms but arises from how we farm.” From Plato to Roosevelt, from his study of 1400 papers on soil loss, Montgomery gives the big picture.
In our Radio Ecoshock interview, we discuss how long carbon can stay in the soil, and the possible role of biochar, to keep it there longer.
Montgomery got a personal lesson on how to restore soil with his partner biologist Anne Bilke. They rejuvenated poor soil in their Seattle area yard for a garden, without using petrochemicals. That gave Montgomery more hope for the future of humans.
But as the two studied the astounding world of microbes in the soil, disaster struck. Anne was hit was a bad kind of cancer – which it turns out is also caused by microbes. There are life-giving microbes, and from a human perspective, life-threatening microbes.
Their second book “The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health” describes a new threat, and a new hope for the health of all of us. Not only is petro-industrial culture killing off life in the soil, it’s killing off the essential balance of microbes in our own bodies. Over-use of antibiotics is just one facet, added to chemical-laden food. This is information you need to know.
Thanks for listening again this year! There’s lots more Radio Ecoshock to come.