We talk with Alan Weisman author of the global best sellers “The World Without Us” and “Countdown”. But first news you may have missed. During the pandemic, while millions wonder where the rent or mortgage payment will come from – all of it played out on a stage of extreme weather! Over the decades, climate change has been building. In the northern hemisphere summer of 2020 it showed up as heat and flames. Radio Ecoshock covers the heat this week, and next.
Watch this blog for an announcement about my new e-book “Extreme Heat”. I’m publishing transcripts from the best Radio Ecoshock interviews, the scientists, physicians and authors, on surviving the coming age of heat. It should come out next week for Radio Ecoshock listeners and blog readers.
THE TOO HOT NEWS
Greta Thunberg just warned humanity has wasted another two years avoiding real action to avert a horrible climate catastrophe. California has been burning. The City of Phoenix just hit 50 days in a row of 110 degree temperatures, over 43 degrees C every day. All the people with homes damaged by Hurricane Laura are praying for more rain – just to cool off in hundred plus heat and no power and no air conditioning. It is strange we give Hurricanes names, but not heat waves – even when heat kills more Americans than all other forms of extreme weather put together. Is something more dangerous when we don’t give it a name?
The headlines rolled in almost as fast as Trump’s Tweets. “‘Extremely Hot Summers’ Now Happen 200X More Often Than 50 Years Ago” writes Dan Miller in the Daily Kos, July 10. Dan is drawing on an updated ‘Bell Curve’ paper from uber climate scientist James Hansen.
Maybe that explains some of the crazy heat around the Northern Hemisphere. Even Fox News reports “Heat wave in Europe sets temperature records in Spain; London sees UK’s third hottest day. Forecasters said the heat wave was fueled by hot air coming northward from Africa” That was on August 2nd. London sweltered under a heat wave for the first two weeks of August. Britons are not used to that. A study a few years ago found less than 1% of UK homes have air conditioning.
Or how about this one from Fox on July 29: “Heat wave roasts Washington DC, breaks record for most 90-degree days in month”. Day after day it was sweaty hot, 32 C. That’s the future. Now if Fox News would just connect the dots to our greenhouse gas emissions heating up the planet. It’s called “climate change”. Real foxes know that, and they are heading higher up in the hills or further north, when they can survive at all.
That was a truly hemispheric heat wave. In Canada’s far north Bathurst Inlet, along arctic waters just above the Arctic Circle, on August 3rd the temperature reached reached 91F – 32.7 C -on August 3rd. That kind of tropical heat just doesn’t happen there. In the world you grew up in, that never happened.
— Richard Heatwave Berler (@HeatwaveKGNS) August 4, 2020
On August 6th, Reuters reports “Canada’s last fully intact Arctic ice shelf collapses.” On the far north giant Ellesmere Island, the Milne Ice Shelf lost “more than 40% of its area in just two days at the end of July”. In any other time, just this event alone should be headline news, and on any other planet, a hot topic for talk shows and the elections. Giant masses of Arctic ice are falling into the ocean. This is a climate alarm bell and warning for every city built on the sea. Rising seas are not a hoax.
But ice is disappearing everywhere. On the same August 6th, the UK Guardian reported “Italian homes evacuated over risk of Mont Blanc glacier collapse”.
AP’s Seth Borensen reports August 20 on new science showing “Record melt: Greenland lost 586 billion tons of ice in 2019”. That is almost double the average ice loss just since 2003. We will lose even more in 2020. I have some guests coming up on Radio Ecoshock to report on the mass loss of glacieres. They Cryosphere is dying folks. The Poles are melting and there are still people arguing that climate change is not real. I have a science interview on the Greenland melt coming up.
The Washington Post headlines: “Record Arctic blazes may herald new ‘fire regime’ decades sooner than anticipated”. The fires in Sibera started as the snow melted and then sent smoke around the Northern Hemisphere. I covered that with EU scientist Mark Parrington in our June 10th show.
Now we learn the carbon dioxide pouring into the atmosphere from a record Arctic fire season released 35% more CO2 into the air by the start of August 2020, than in the whole of 2019, a very active fire year. Some of that carbon dioxide will be slowly recapture by growing trees over the coming decades. But all of that burst of CO2 is up there now. It is too new to know what it will mean.
We are going to need it. Heaven help the American southwest this year. Take this MSN news headline “’A record nobody really wants’: Phoenix surpasses most days at or over 110 degrees”. Yes, Phoenix Arizonians endured 34 days in a row over 110 degrees, or 43 C. It got worse. Phoenix his 50 days of a row over 110!
You can’t imagine what that is like unless you have lived it. People in Darwin Australia get it. Humans go loco, they get upset easily, sometimes angry, feeling closed in – and that is just from the relentless heat, not the pandemic roaring through Arizona at the same time. Everybody is armed. We may as well toss in a match of divisive racist politics and see what happens.
August 10 and CNN Weather warns 80 million Americans got excessive heat alerts with heat records possible over 10 states. From Texas to California and everywhere in between it was Hellishly hot, more than anyone living could remember. The heat poured up into Oregon, Montana, Idaho, and Washington State. If you live in the West, you know what I’m talking about. Now it is September and it is still really hot here, too hot to work outside during the day.
Death Valley California may have just set a new world record for heat. We are not sure, because the two previous records may not have been measured accurately enough. Anyway, 130 degrees F, or 54.4 C, recorded in California this August, is one of the hottest temperatures on Earth. Does that tell us something?
Assuming you have not been off-grid in the bush for the last two months, I don’t have to tell you about the terrifying fires in California. Millions were scurrying around looking for a safe place, while choking out in the smoke. Homes burned and the power went out, cutting off air-conditioning during heat like a big blow drier. The same thing happened to the poor folks in Louisiana when the power stayed out in sweltering heat after Hurricane Laura blew it all down. I have two guests on the California disaster, really the whole West Coast heat and fires, in next week’s show.
Redwood forests up to 2,000 years old were invaded by wildfires. The burn scars are so large from satellites they look like black blobs that ate beautiful parts of California. It hurts me to think about it. And that is more carbon converted from tree trunks and plant matter into CO2 in the atmosphere.
Blackened fire scars visible from space, NASA photo.
I said this was hemispheric heat. Japan was not left out. In the first week of August Japan equaled the highest temperatures ever measured there, in a heat wave that killed over 26 people in Tokyo alone.
And this new heat just keeps on rolling. Going back to our standard for climate reporting, Fox News, we get this headline “Severe weather threat for 59 million, dangerous heat for West heading into Labor Day weekend”.
This summer, one hot August day, I went out on our front porch. I smelled smoke, and saw wildfire flames blazing on a hill just above our house. Not at all what you want to see from your front porch. Only 15 minutes later, a water bomber and bucket helicopter put it out. That is a roller-coaster of emotions, going from “Pack the truck we have to get out” to “sure glad to see help arrive” in less than 15 minutes. And where would we go during a pandemic?
The whole summer of 2020 was a horror movie. Let’s talk to a wise head about it all. This is Radio Ecoshock. Alan Weisman, in depth, up next.
ALAN WEISMAN – AUTHOR, JOURNALIST, CLIMATE MESSENGER
In 2007, American author and journalist Alan Weisman wondered how long the products of human civilization would last if we all disappeared. In his best-selling book “The World Without Us” he suggested, quote: “Say a Homo sapiens-specific virus—natural or diabolically nano-engineered—picks us off but leaves everything else intact.” As COVID-19 created ghost cities downtown, people began sending Alan stories.
In 2014 I interviewed Alan about his book “Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?” Talk about “the population problem” has gone silent again. I doubt COVID-19 will slow population growth at all. Is there anything that can stop multiplying humans, now labeled “consumers”, from eating the last of Nature?
Author and journalist Alan Weisman
I really appreciated talking with Alan. When it all seems too big to understand anything, we all count on hearing from people with a focus, with a specialty for the facts. In his 2007 book, Alan Weisman really did use a deadly virus as a way there could be a “World Without Us”. His thought exercise and all the research he poured into it, still tells us a lot about who we are and where humans must not go, if we are to continue as a species. As he said, his 2007 book was translated into many languages and provoked conversations around the world.
All that is coming back again as we experience the virus, climate change, existential doubt and a longing for reconnection with nature. People all over the world are writing to Alan, sending photos of empty streets in Europe and wild animals visiting downtown during the pandemic shutdown quiet time. Journalists reacted to that, and he’s had dozens of interviews from media all over the world!
As Raffi Khatchadourian wrote June 1, 2020 in the New Yorker:
“Since the pandemic began, people have been citing ‘The World Without Us’ online—posting references to it alongside images of flowers pushing through cobblestone, deer in Grand Rapids, a coyote in Chicago. Friends e-mailed Weisman clips of goats taking over a town in Wales, and schools of fish visible in the canals of Venice. A buddy in Colorado had heard reports of elk, moose, and mountain lions in Boulder and Denver; another sent Weisman’s wife a photo of wild turkeys in a New Jersey housing project, noting, ‘Your husband will understand.’”
Alan is currently working on a new book, which may relate to where hope can be found amid strings of disasters. But Weisman was to make several more research trips for that book, when flying shut down. Now he is gardening and waiting to finish it, while writing occasional pieces for well-known magazines and newspapers. On Earth Day this year, in his Boston Globe article, Weisman tackled the question: “Is the coronavirus pandemic Mother Nature’s revenge?”
ALAN WEISMAN ON RADIO ECOSHOCK
World Without Us 2007 Interview
World Without Us author Alan Weisman on climate, population. Radio Ecoshock interview 2007. 11 MB 13 min
Download here: https://archive.org/details/ES070921
COUNTDOWN 2014 INTERVIEW
You can find details and audio links for my 2014 interview with Alan about his book “Countdown” here.
Bonus: you can hear Alan Weisman’s 2007 book tour speech in Vancouver here. I recorded this September 18, 2007 and it has never been on radio or available before. If you are wondering what would survive of the human experience, if we suddenly disappeared, this speech still works well!
In his role as co-founder of Homelands Productions, Alan has created many radio pieces on Latin America, particularly Mexico but a lot from South America, including some in Spanish. He also does radio on alternative energy, like hydrogen and solar. Find them here.
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