Every day tankers and pipelines carry black gold to power industrial society. The coal trains and ships deliver more carbon for the great bonfire of humanity. We know for a certainty, if we keep on burning it all, our planet will become hot, stormy, ice-free with dying oceans and extinction for most big species. Including ourselves.
Now the question: how much can we use, before we tip the climate too far?
This is Radio Ecoshock with Alex Smith.
Interview with scientist Bill Hare:
How much time left to burn fossil fuels? PRIMAP.ORG
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
George Monbiot column in UK's Guardian newspaper
"How Much Should We Leave in the Ground?"
Grist article on Green Mayors
Radio Ecoshock series on Green Cities
Resilient Cities (Australia's Dr. Peter Newman)
Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight Without Oil
Richard Register and Anthony Perl
Building Madness (various speakers)
Urban Meltdown (Clive Doucet)
Speech (53 min)
Clive Doucet interview
HOW MUCH OIL CAN WE BURN?
Two new scientific papers published in the journal Nature at the end of April provide some answers - and it isn't pretty.
So far, one hundred nations have agreed on a limit to preserve a livable world. They say global warming should not exceed 2 degrees Centigrade -that's about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit - past the pre-industrial level. That's the global mean temperature, the average of all places, land and sea.
We are approaching 1 degree of warming already. Some scientists, like NASA's James Hansen, and V. Ramanathan of the Scripps Institution, say there is almost another one and a half degree warming "in the pipeline". That extra degree and a half is bound to come, but hidden in the slow-release ocean, and by short-lived smog. Many of us believe we are already past the dangerous tipping point.
But politicians and the global scientific community are still trying to design programs to keep atmospheric pollution within the 2 degree safe zone. The British journalist George Monbiot published an article in the UK Guardian newspaper on May 6th, 2009, giving some handy figures about our carbon reserves, and projected releases of carbon dioxide. Find that link in my blog for May 21st, at ecoshock.org.
We'll now go to Potsdam Germany, to one of the scientists working on this question. Their paper in Nature suggests humans are on course to surpass the safety limit projected for 2050 - but we'll cross that dangerous boundary much faster, in reality by 2020, the way we are burning up fossil fuels now. About ten years to the limit where a sustainable climate demands we stop using coal and oil completely.
Picture that. We are now using the last of our fossil allowance, driving to work or the mall, lighting up patio heaters and empty streets. Scientist Bill Hare works for the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. He's on the cutting edge. So are we.
[Bill Hare interview]
Climate stress pounds our cities in different ways. California gets fires, drought and draining water supplies. The Southern U.S. cities, and even those in the North East like New York, fear another giant hurricane. In the middle, floods and ice storms have already hit the headlines. All against the backdrop of moving climate zones impacting wildlife and agriculture.
The way your city is run could impact how well you survive, or whether you become another urban refugee. That's why I take the time to record local leaders for livable cities, people like Portland's new Mayor, Sam Adams.
Grist dot org just ran a feature May 1st on 15 Green-Leaning Mayors in America. They included people like Michael Bloomberg, New York City, Greg Nickels, Seattle, San Francisco's Gavin Newsom, and even Richard Daley in Chicago. There is Shirley Franklin in Atlanta, the Mayor of Salt Lake City, Ralph Becker and even the gruff Mayor of Jersey City, Jerramiah Healy. Find a link to the full article in my blog entry for May 14th at ecoshock.org
But Grist missed one of the greenest of them all: Sam Adams, Mayor of Portland. We're here to rectify that. Radio Ecoshock was out to record Sam at an event in Vancouver, April 24th, 2009. This was part of a hot new city series called "Shifting Gears" presented by two universities in Vancouver: Simon Fraser and the University of British Columbia. Sam was introduced by UBC planner Larry Frank, a man who doesn't theorize. As the Bombadier Chair, Frank measures and test how humans really use their cities.
You can find our recordings of two earlier presentations on new city design at our web site. In fact, I'm going to give you a quick rundown on the top city saving speeches on our site.
One of the Shifting Gears speeches no one should miss is called "RESILIENT CITIES Responding to Peak Oil & Climate Change." That was the kick-off book lecture by Australian expert Dr. Peter Newman. As oil declines and climate goes weird, he acknowledges possibility of "Mad Max" social chaos, or armed eco-barracks for the rich. But Newman sees a way to make sustainable cities. It's a realistic but hopeful speech at SFU Vancouver found in the Radio Ecoshock Show January 16th, 2009. Just look in our program archives, at ecoshock.org for the free mp3 download.
Another biggie, with surprising good ideas to survive the peak oil threat: "Transport Revolutions: Moving People & Freight Without Oil" That's by Richard Gilbert and Anthony Perl. How new oil economy reshapes air, road, rail, & shipping toward sustainable power. Look on our 2008 archives, for the Ecoshock Show March 28th, 2008.
Finally there's our program June 6th, 2008 called "BUILDING MADNESS". Buildings emit 48% of fossil CO2 killing the climate. You'll hear six voices on cities, "eco-density," green architecture, and city fascism. Anthony Perle, Richard Register, Larry Franks, Sir Norman Foster, Derrick Jensen, Al Gore, and Guido Wimmers. Is the global stampede to cities sustainable - or just a bubble? This show includes hard info on Israeli electric cars & why suburbs make people fat. The June 6th, 2008 Ecoshock Show at ecoshock.org.
And don't miss our interview with Clive Doucet on Urban Meltdown. Some cities, from Michigan to California, are already breaking down. People flee unworkable cities, and head toward refuge cities - like Portland. Clive Doucet's interview is in the April 24th, 2009 Ecoshock Show.
What makes Portland so green? Such a pleasant place to live? For one thing, years ago city leaders decided to limit the area Portland could cover. They set boundaries that prevented endless suburban sprawl - and encouraged density near mass transit. Portland has one of the highest bicycle ridership in the country. They don't just use street cars - Portland makes them, to sell all over the country. Just part of the new green economy.
These are the things that will preserve your city or town. Let's tune in to Sam Adams, recorded April 24th, in Vancouver.
[Sam Adams speech]
That was Sam Adams, Mayor of Portland recorded at a Shifting Gears event, sponsored in part by the University of British Columbia. Sam is part of a club of green Mayors growing up all over the United States and Canada. Adams works co-operatively with Greg Nickels, Mayor of Seattle, Gregor Robertson, the new green Mayor of Vancouver, and Gavin Newsom, San Francisco’s progressive Mayor. I guess you could call it Cascadia. Let's hope the Obama administration follows through with a promise to build a high speed rail line connecting up these cities.
It started back in the way George Bush abdicated federal action on climate change. Hundreds of municipalities organized to fight off the oil addiction. Despite the collapse of municipal bond markets and falling tax revenues, it still looks like local action is the only way forward. That means you and me. Planning meetings and local politics used to be boring as dishwater. Now it's the best route to survivable - and to cities that are safe for humans. I hope you will get active, where you live.
As we wrap up, I don't want to forget the millions of people now out of work. The latest U.S. estimates I've seen figure there are at least 25 million people cast out or left out of meaningful employment. Millions will become homeless, and somehow, somehow, we need to look after, and re-integrate, all our good people.
So I'll play you a clip from the Q and A following Sam Adam's speech in Vancouver, where Adams talks about the homeless challenge. Then we'll close out with a song that touched me. From the album "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" the Robert Cray Band with "Night Patrol".