The Green Blues Show
Welcome to The Green Blues Show. The latest news – a bit of blues.
In this edition … Killer Robots. A chorus of voices from the AI and robotics community call for a ban. Computer-brain interfaces reveal music in the mind. In our second half hour, Land Defenders in Muskrat Falls, Labrador, oppose hydro dams, and a few thoughts from Canada’s emeritus ecologist.
When God gave Noah the rainbow sign – in the old gospel song – he warned that there’d be no more water, fire next time. As Earth’s temperature rises, it seems both withering fire and cataclysmic floods are our lot.
How else to explain this past summer’s biblical deluge in Houston, and withering wildfires up and down western Canada and the US? According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the incidence of wildfires has quadrupled since the mid-1980s, burning five times longer and consuming six times more land.
Heat, drought and early spring melt are to blame, experts say. Perversely, periodic bouts of intense rain promote forest growth – fueling fire intensity in dry summers that follow. Today’s fires are more destructive and deadlier than ever before. A hundred thousand hectares of land have been consumed by wildfires now sweeping northern California. Twenty thousand residents have been forced to flee, 6000 homes and businesses have been incinerated, and forty people killed.
Last summer’s fire in Fort McMurray, in northern Alberta, wreaked similar havoc, torching a major swath of Canada’s tar sands capital, and forcing 80,000 to run for their lives. This summer, nineteen wildfires merged in the British Columbia interior. The conflagration – a half million hectares in size – was the largest in the province’s history.
Is this season’s spate of hellish infernos, torrential rains and mega-hurricanes a sign of worse to come? If so, US and Canadian government authorities are hard of hearing. Canada’s charismatic Prime Minister talks a good talk about the perils of climate change and the need to abide by the Paris Accords, but ardently supports continued tar sands extraction and oil pipelines. In the States, a draft of the Environmental Protection Agency’s new four-year plan has nothing to say about climate change. It’s enough to make a climate change refugee weep and moan. For others, it’s a call to action.
If climate change inferno isn’t scary enough, how about killer robots. This past summer, a hundred members of the artificial intelligence and robotics community – including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk – published an open letter calling for a ban on autonomous weapon systems. Three thousand have signed on to date. I spoke with AI researcher Ryan Gariepy, the founder of Clearpath Robotics, in Waterloo, Ontario.
We do live in interesting times. Roger Dumas, at the Brain Science Center, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is very interested in how the brain processes music. Roger Dumas is a research associate at the Brain Science Center, at the Veterans Administration Hospital, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Learn more about Roger and his work at www.greenplanetmonitor.net. I visited Roger, in his little studio.
Muskrat Falls is a fifteen-meter water shoot on the lower Churchill River, in eastern Labrador, on Canada’s northeastern coast, 25 kilometers upstream from Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Here, the cash-strapped government of Newfoundland and Labrador hopes to finally turn a profit on the river’s hydro potential. Hydroelectricity from the 1972 Churchill Falls station, on the river’s upper reaches, ended up getting sold to Quebec on embarrassingly disadvantageous terms. The Muskrat Falls and Gull Island facilities will exploit the remaining 35% of the river’s kinetic energy, funneling it on high-voltage lines across the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Newfoundland. The economics of the enterprise don’t impress critics at all. It’s the 100 square-kilometer reservoir – behind a dam built on “quick clay” – that worry locals the most. And methyl-mercury, inevitably released when vegetation is flooded, into waters flowing to Lake Melville. In this zone of freshwater and ocean mixing, fish and seals are abundant, and methyl mercury bioaccumulates. Local Inuit, Innu and Metis Land Defenders have been trying for years to stop the development. There’ve been protests and blockades. Elders have been arrested. I spoke with Amy Norman, Land Protector in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Newfoundland.. Apologies for the phone connection. Listen close.
No one has defended Canada’s freshwaters, as passionately, or with greater authority, than Dr. David Schindler. Limnology, the study of freshwater ecosystems, has been Schindler’s abiding passion for years. From 1969 to 89, Schindler ran the Canadian federal government’s Experimental Lakes Area, in NW Ontario. There, Schindler established that phosphorus triggers algal blooms. Phosphates would soon be removed from detergents. David Schindler is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta. Professor Schindler and I sat down for a chat at the Banff Center, in Banff, Alberta. These days, nothing worries Schindler more than climate change. But he sees the day when renewable energy replaces carbon.