Australian author Tim Flannery with his new book “The Climate Cure: Solving the Climate Emergency in the Era of COVID-19”. Tim is author of the international bestseller “The Weather Makers”. Then from EcoRadio KC Kansas City, guest host Brent Ragsdale interviews scientist/engineer Ye Tao of Harvard: can ground mirrors help cool the planet?
TIM FLANNERY: A “CURE” FOR THE CLIMATE CRISIS
As the North enters winter, Australia is setting still more heat records in their Spring. It was the hottest November ever recorded in down-under country. The whole big continent was hit with a heatwave 4500 kilometers long (2,800 miles). The upper range was expected to get close to 50 degrees C (122 F), with even Sydney in the South (closer to the South Pole) going over 40 degrees C. (104 F).
That’s like a super-summer heat wave in May! The weather is setting up for another round of bush fires like the horrible was of fires sweeping over Australia last year. But even as the country burns, the Australian government is pushing for more coal and gas exports!
By the way, Australian listeners should get my new book “Extreme Heat” here. It’s dirt cheap and includes interviews with Australian heat experts. We are going to be hit with more climate-driven emergencies, even as COVID-19 kills millions around the world and makes rescue efforts even harder.
Tim Flannery is a scientist, an explorer, a conservationist and a leading writer on climate change. He has held various academic positions, served as Director of the South Australian Museum, Professorial Fellow at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne, and Panasonic Professor of Environmental Sustainability at Macquarie University.
PANDEMIC AND CLIMATE
So many people stayed home during the pandemic, the World Meteorological Organization just reported a reduction in our increase of emissions. But they call it a “blip”. As I’ve covered before in this show, what we have is a reduction in our increase of greenhouse gases. Pay attention. That is not a reduction in planet-warming gases into the atmosphere. We have never reduced our carbon pollution by an ounce. We just pollute faster or slower, and with the pandemic it’s been slower for a few months.
In Europe and North America, health care workers are close to burn-out. They see unmasked citizens unwilling to give up even the simplest customs of daily life. Medical professionals have no choice but to fight on – until they burnout, succumb, or improbably stem the tide. After his long fight to bring climate action to Australia and the world, I ask Tim Flannery if he feels the same. I know I do, along with many listeners.
Check this out from the Introduction to Flannery’s new book “The Climate Cure”:
“I do not want this essay to be an obituary. But if that is not to be, we must take the road leading to self-preservation. Climatic catastrophes are already being felt and the threat will only increase in coming years. By 2030 the average increase in global temperatures will reach 1.5°C, and Earth’s climate system is likely to begin to unravel. If we fail to act, dramatic destabilisation will be felt when the temperature rise breaches 2°C, sometime before 2050.
Despair is not an option. Nor is selfish complacency. Instead, this is the moment to ask what you will do.”
Over the years Australian governments made a lot of noise about climate change. Back in 2008, I reported hopefully on the Garnaut Report. So why in a land of bright sunshine is Australia still dependent on coal for electricity?
Australian national emissions are dwarfed by giant polluters like China, the United States or the EU. But when it comes to climate damage, Australia punches far above it’s weight. Australia’s natural gas exports, and the gas that burns and leaks along the way.
LISTENING TO THE LOBBY
Australia has an Energy Minister promoting even more gas use as some sort of clean engine of recovery from the lockdown losses. Are we buying into the fossil fuel companies as saviors from the COVID crash?
Tim’s new book speaks to Australians, but this could just as well be Canada with our dangerous Tar Sands, or any number of countries exporting as much as they can, from Russia to the Middle East. But worst of all for our climate is coal. Australia is the world’s largest exporter of dirty coal, accounting for more than 37% of global coal exports. That is a climate killer.
Flannery’s book says his country is also the world’s largest exporter of natural gas. The Australian government is always bragging about that. But when I consulted various charts of natural gas exports, we find Russia exports four times more gas than Australia. Even Canada exports more. It turns our both the Aussie government and Flannery are talking about “shipped” exports – the Liquid Natural Gas sent mostly to Asia by ships. Other exporters like Russia and Canada are mainly using pipelines.
The Australian natural gas industry releases tons and megatons of climate-killing carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. Like all gas industries, there is a lot of leakage along pipes and drilling platforms. Then, Flannery tells us, about 20 percent of all the gas captured is used to force it into liquid form for shipping. That’s a big burn right there. The ships burn oil in delivery, and then more gas is used and escapes when decompressing and delivering “natural” gas around countries like Japan or Korea. That is NOT a solution for the climate crisis – especially when compared to wind or solar. But governments and industry advertising keeps selling us gas as a “green” solution for climate change. Sorry, that is a lie and a very dangerous one.
I’ve spent years reporting on deadly bushfires in Australia, each horror greater than before. Even in the “normal” extended fire season of late, about 2 percent of Australia’s broadleaf (deciduous) trees burn down every year. Last year (2019 and early 2020) about 21% of those deciduous forest burned. It was a horrifying loss for the ecology of the continent of Australia, and for all the animals that lived there. Water tables will be affected as will whole cycles of natural life. Plus: more tons of carbon held on those trees and shrubs were released into the atmosphere to heat the planet even more.
Add in the long droughts plaguing farmers, the floods this year, and extreme heat. You would think Australians would stop electing salesmen for the coal lobby. How do these two incompatible trends carry on?
In his new book “The Climate Cure” Flannery blames skillful oil, gas and coal interests for continuing bad energy choices. But are we not all responsible? People buy a very expensive car or truck rather than use public transit or buy electric. Too many people drive four blocks to the store for a trinket, or fly a whole wedding party to Fiji. We are easily deceived when it fits our perceived interests too, don’t you think?
I suppose coping with bushfire smoke at least taught Australians that wearing a mask is not a statement about politics or rights. During reporting on the bushfires last year, we saw too much footage of dead and dying animals. As a zoologist, I ask Tim if we can bring our beloved species along with us into the hot unstable world we made.
ADAPTING TO A NEW CLIMATE
Sanguine observers, including many scientists I talk with, admit we failed to stop climate change. Global warming is not just coming. It is already here. So now we must adapt – but can we? Successful adaptation has its own risks. Countries like India earned how to greatly reduce deaths from heat waves or super storms. So it looks like climate change is killing fewer people. Maybe that will keep us all going until the whole system breaks down along with the natural systems.
We are not fooling around here. Last January I interviewed Professor Tim Lenton from the UK. He led a team of top world scientists warning about cascading tipping points. It may already be too late for some. It seems the climate crisis is already well underway. We are committed to more ice melt, hotter seas, hotter everybody for hundreds of years. Is there really a “cure” for the climate crisis?
Flannery agrees with film-maker David Attenborough’s call to “rewild” the planet. We need to plant more and more trees, but also consider planting seaweed forests to capture CO2 under the waves. Silicon rocks can also be used. Even the dust from rock quarries can be distributed to remove up to 2 gigatonnes of CO2 annually.
Despite regressive coal-boosting talk by the Australian Federal Government, Flannery points out most State governments, even Conservative ones, are working to reduce emissions. The best example of a good transition is in South Australia, where they closed their last coal-fired plant in 2015. There is a steel-making plant in South Australia which is working to convert to climate-friendly hydrogen as a coking fuel instead of coal.
I know Australians personally are quickly adding solar panels to their homes, with latest reports suggesting one in four Aussie homes has solar on the roof. They are not waiting for their Federal Government. Flannery says “We will be left behind by our customers” as countries like China, Japan and South Korea are getting out of coal and taking the climate threat seriously. We have news reports that Chinese coal ports have stopped unloading Australian coal – but that is partly related to a trade dispute (over 5G networks by a Chinese company), and may be an effort to prop up the price of Chinese domestic coal. In any event, China has one of the most active climate change policies in the world, so Australia needs to start building a new coal-free economy as soon as possible. That’s true to Canada, the United States, and every fossil-fuel exporter.
In his new book, Flannery calls for three steps that mimic what we have learned during the pandemic. These can apply to any country:
1. stop the spread (curtail exports, cut national emissions on an emergency basis)
2. make sure you help the casualties (support for the transition of coal miners, gas drillers, to climate friendly jobs)
3. search for a vaccine (the many technologies of drawdown to reduce carbon in the atmosphere
I wonder if there is a deeper problem behind our failure to protect the future. We have become entities in a virtual world, surrounded by information flows that make us happy or sad. Is it possible we have a group mind which includes suicidal urges – and if so, can we go anywhere without a stronger will to live?
A TIME FOR CLIMATE ACTION
In his new book “The Climate Cure” Tim Flannery writes:
“I was made Australian of the Year thirteen years ago, in 2007, in recognition of my cause—combating climate change. Since then, humans have emitted about a quarter of all the greenhouse gases ever emitted by our species. I worry about what my country will be like thirteen years hence, in 2033, when the seventy-third Australian of the Year is announced. The increasing probability that we will be in the midst of an unstoppable catastrophe is what drove me to write this book.
During twenty years of urging action to address climate change, I have always believed that a calm, non-emotional approach is most likely to succeed. But as I’ve watched governments ignore the experts and the long-predicted disasters such as Australia’s megafires devastate the land, my view has changed. I now believe that those wanting climate action wrongly think that presenting facts will lead to a solution. Our opponents, however, are willing to mislead and sacrifice the public good in their pursuit of monetary profit. Australians fighting for a better climate future need to start taking risks and thinking big.”
I wonder if there is a deeper crisis behind our failure to protect the future. We have become something in a virtual world, surrounded by flows of incoming changes. Is it possible there is a group mind which includes suicidal urges – and if so, can we go anywhere without a stronger will to support not just our lives, but the very essence of living things on a small planet lost in space?
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A MIRROR ON THE WORLD: CLIMATE SOLUTIONS – YE TAO WITH BRENT RAGSDALE
Is the climate crisis so extreme we need to block out the sun? Putting reflective pollution into the stratosphere could affect weather, essential rains for farms, reduce solar power and possibly impact health. That never-ending project to cool the earth would be expensive. A scientist and engineer at Harvard has a better solution. The story is brought to us by volunteer radio maker Brent Ragsdale, co-host of EcoRadio in Kansas City, Missouri. Let’s listen in.
EcoRadio KC with host Brent Ragsdale on 90.1 FM KKFI Kansas City Community Radio
Ye Tao a scientist and Engineer with the Roland Institute at Harvard University. He came to the climate fight indirectly. Ye Tao was engaged in an ambitious search for better high technology tools for medicine, possible in the mid-2020’s. But he soon realized there might not be a complex medical society to use those tools if civilization was devastated by out-of-control climate change. So Dr. Ye Tao put his bright mind to work on tools for the climate crisis.
The project is called MEER:Reflection. In this radio interview, Ye Tao explains a safer way to cool the planet down.
Dr. Ye Tao, Harvard
Most scientists worry that geoengineering is too dangerous to try on the real planet where we live. This is not an experiment or a lab, but a living planet! For example, if humans inject sulfur particles into the upper atmosphere, they would reflect some of the Sun’s energy back into space, making it cooler below, like a sun shade. BUT that may have nasty side-effects, like changing weather patterns, and perhaps even derailing the rain storms keeping agriculture going. Certainly putting a polluting shade above the Earth would reduce the amount of sunlight reaching us for growing crops, and for solar power. We can’t try it without possibly harming the Earth systems, and even if it did work, some sort of international agreement would be needed, and we could never fail to do it even for a single year, or the planet heats wildly. Imagine a war or, I don’t know, a pandemic or something, interrupts our injection of protective particles.
Because we changed the atmosphere, we do need to reflect some of the Sun’s energy back out into space. That is especially true when there is less reflective sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic. Ye Tao has found ways we can install more reflective surfaces right on Earth’s surfaces. Yes, we could employ reflective glass mirrors in everything we build, from roof-tops to roads. That would be strange (get out your sunglasses!). But to reduce solar energy at a scale we need, it might take changes to the materials on beaches or deserts. Would we have mirror farms? Give this interview a listen to find out more.
It’s a big project. Here is the description from the MEER web site:
“MEER:Reflection is a grand, versatile, and comprehensive engineering project feasibly rooted in the ecological functioning and resource availabilities of planet Earth. It addresses the imminent urgency of climate change due to temperature increase and weather extremes while reshaping our energy production and consumption to renewable energy. MEER:Reflection applies thin film-coated glass mirror arrays to most efficiently achieve
(1) solar radiation management via dynamic control of surface albedo,
(2) renewable energy production,
(3) carbon dioxide drawdown through ocean liming using solar thermally-produced calcium oxide (CaO),
(4) removal of secondary greenhouse gases and air pollutants via mirror-enabled atmospheric photochemical engineering, and
(5) biodiversity recovery via a geographic restructuring of agricultural primary production in a high-CO2 world.”
Brent Ragsdale is a Mechanical Engineer who aspires to be a part of the energy transition. He has long been aware of the greenhouse gas and environmental crisis, and believes we must reduce our impact on the Earth’s biological systems. Not only does he strive to burn less hydrocarbons and make purchasing choices based on his values, but he also shares his knowledge of both the problems and potential solutions with others in an effort to inspire change.
Radio host Brent Ragsdale, Kansas City
Brent volunteers as a co-host of EcoRadio KC, on 90.1 FM, KKFI, Kansas City’s Community Radio. He also works as a Business Development Manager with Willdan’s Performance Engineering Group in Lawrence KS. He and his wife Patti live in a Passive House type home they built on a 4-hectare farm near Tonganoxie KS where Patti runs a small business growing native plants.
My thanks to Brent for finding this idea and guest, and doing the hard work, despite the pandemic. Do you have a good idea for Radio Ecoshock? Would you like to produce a segment, for an international audience? Be sure to email me first to see if your idea is good for this program! My email address is email@example.com
I’m Alex Smith. Thank you for listening, and caring about our world.