at Bluegrass Bioneers, Louisville Kentucky.


These notes were compiled by Alex Smith of Radio Ecoshock. The original source was a video of the talk, posted by Ben Evans of That was made into an audio file by Alex Smith. These notes come in sequence from the audio files, cross-checked with slides shown in the video, and supplemented by some fact-checking links. Anything found in quotes can be presumed to be quoting Guy McPherson from the speech, unless otherwise noted. All other statements are summaries made by Alex Smith and NOT a transcript.

Video found here.


Good news: collapse is coming!

Guy begins:

"The good news this set of living arrangements is nearly done. In the not-too-distant future we'll have no water coming out of municipal taps, no food at the grocery store, no fuel at the filling station, no lights on, here in Empire.

According to these 80 people [names listed on slide] that will happen by the end of this year. Now some of these people have been wrong. Some of them have been wrong many times. Some of them haven't been wrong yet. But I bet they will be, because we only have two months to go. So it wouldn't surprise me if a long decline will end with a sudden and cataclysmic collapse of the world's industrial economy, which has been declining since 1999 or 2000, depending on which metric you use. So for a dozen years of so we've been in decline of the industrial economy.

If you think that can't happen quickly, that an empire can't fall relatively quickly, think about the events of the late 1980's and early 1990's. The last super power doesn't take a dozen years to fall.

This is good news because, if we stop this homicidal suicidal living arrangement...."

Slide: Economic collapse could: slow or stop climate chaos, terminate human population overshoot, slow or stop Sixth Great Extinction, terminate environmental decay.

Back to notes:

* Look how fast the Soviet empire went down

* 200,000 more people on Earth each day to use limited resources

* collapse may not happen this year or next, but must come

* collapse could slow or stop the 6th extinction event

* people are optimistic, they always things are getting better, but things have become worse for the past 50 years of Guy's life.


He starts with the IPCC, in late 2007 which predicted 1 degree C by 2100

1 degree is catastrophic (just look at what is happening already).



Guy says:

Classical economist William Nordhaus hijacked the conversation. He told us 2 degrees was safe, not scientists.


Alex Notes: McPherson is correct about the origin of 2 degree safety limit with Nordhaus. This .pdf document is a relevant investigation, found in the paper "Three Views of Two Degrees" by Carlo C Jaeger and Julia Jaeger:

Here is a quote from that document:

"Surprisingly, perhaps, the first suggestion to use 2° Celsius as a critical limit for climate policy was made by an economist, W.D. Nordhaus, in a graph published in a discussion paper of the prestigious Cowles foundation (figure 1).

There he claimed: 'As a first approximation, it seems reasonable to argue that the climatic effects of carbon dioxide should be kept within the normal range of long-term climatic variation. According to most sources the range of variation between distinct climatic regimes is in the order of 5°C, and at the present time the global climate is at the high end of this range. If there were global temperatures more than 2 or 3° above the current average temperature, this would take the climate outside of the range of observations which have been made over the last several hundred thousand years' (Nordhaus 1977, p.39-40; see also Nordhaus 1975, p.22-23, where the same words are to be found, but without the suggestive diagram). Figure 1 settles an important question about the history of the 2° target.

As Oppenheimer and Petsonk (2005, p.195-6) say: 'In the climate change context, the history of an idea matters. History may illuminate the intended meaning of Article 2, and it could make apparent what notions of danger were cast aside during the debate over Article 2, and which notions have been omitted altogether. A clear understanding of the process through which the concept has evolved could help shape current efforts to reach a consensus interpretation.'

According to Tol (2007), the 2° target was first raised in a statement of the German Advisory Council for Global Change (WBGU 1995). That statement was a comment on the first Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC, held in Berlin and chaired by Angela Merkel, then German minister of the environment. Tol mentions that according to Oppenheimer and Petsonk (2005) the 2° target was introduced by Nordhaus already in the 1970s, but denies this referring to Nordhaus (1991). The latter paper discusses the idea of optimal climate policy without mentioning the 2° target at all."


Back to Guy McPherson speech notes:

* rapid non-linear responses could, will, and have led to ecosystem damage

* that 2 degrees not safe has been known for 20 years, but covered up by the media

* in late 2008, [the UK] Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research predicted a 2 degree rise by 2100


Alex note: actually, in 2008 Hadley Center's head of climate change predictions Dr. Vicky Pope made a worse prediction in an article in the UK Times:

"In a worst-case scenario, where no action is taken to check the rise in Greenhouse gas emissions, temperatures would most likely rise by more than 5°C by the end of the century."

That quote comes from an article Dec 23rd, 2008 by Joe Romm in Grist, here.

So McPherson has understated the Hadley prediction.



McPherson speech notes:

2 degrees will trigger feedback loops to climate catastrophe

Obama's fake surprise that there were no election debate questions on climate - when Obama approved all questions in advance

[Alex: I have been unable to fact check whether Obama's team had pre-approval for all questions]

UNEP [United Nations Environment Program] in mid 2009 predicted 3.5 degrees C hotter by 2100

Next (in October 2009) Hadley Centre says 4 degrees is the new 2 degrees, and it will come by 2060

Global Climate Projects in Copenhagen Analysis (November 2009) predicts 6 or 7 degrees C hotter by 2100

IEA said in November 2010: 3.5 degrees by 2035

UNEP report Dec. 2010: more than 5 degrees C by 2050


Alex notes the 5 degree hotter by UNEP was the upper end of a scale predicting between 2.5 and 5 degree C. This quote is found on page 8 of the report "4 Degrees Hotter" published February 2011 by the Climate Action Centre.

"Analysis in a UNEP report released in November 2010 found that even if governments implement all they have pledged to do, that would "...imply a temperature increase of between 2.5-5C [from pre-industrial times] before the end of the century"

The same quote can be found in this BBC article by Richard Black, published November 23, 2010.

I have not found the UNEP report itself. We could say McPherson cherry-picked the high end number, or used the worst-case scenario.


Back to McPherson notes:

The IEA [International Energy Agency] in November 2011 says the global average mean temperature will be 6 degrees C by 2035. Then the IEA changed that to read 6 degrees by 2100 (9:06 in video).


Notes on McPherson's statement on the IEA 6 degrees: the version of this November 2011 IEA press release says enough emissions will accumulate by 2035 to cause long-term warming of 3.5 to even 6 degrees of warming, but not that it will actually happen in 2035.

Here is the quote from the second to last paragraph of the IEA press release 9 November 2011:

"In the New Policies Scenario, cumulative CO2 emissions over the next 25 years amount to three-quarters of the total from the past 110 years, leading to a long-term average temperature rise of 3.5°C. China's per-capita emissions match the OECD average in 2035. Were the new policies not implemented, we are on an even more dangerous track, to an increase of 6°C."


Back to notes from Guy's speech:

Guy uses this repeated punch line:

"rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage" e.g. at 8:51 of video


The "rapid, unpredictable..." quote comes from a United Nations working group: the United Nations Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases (UN AGGG) in 1990. This statement is also attributed, by Greenpeace to: Rijsberman, F.J. and R.J. Swart (eds.) (1990), Targets and Indicators of Climate Change, Stockholm Environment Institute.

I have not been able to find either source document so far.


Guy says:

over 5 degrees C kills the oceans


Paleoclimatic data suggests there was a massive die-off of ocean life (but obviously not all of it) when the Earth warmed 5 degrees hotter than today. Part of the death was caused by ocean acidification:

"Current rates of ocean acidification have been compared with the greenhouse event at the Paleocene–Eocene boundary (about 55 million years ago) when surface ocean temperatures rose by 5–6 degrees Celsius. No catastrophe was seen in surface ecosystems, yet bottom-dwelling organisms in the deep ocean experienced a major extinction."


McPherson seems to have overstated the case. The oceans would likely not be killed by a 5 degree rise, but ocean life would be severely damaged, unrecognizable for us today, in my opinion.


Guy says:

Ocean phytoplankton produce half our oxygen.


Alex notes: this statement is confirmed by multiple sources. For example: "Half of the world's oxygen is produced via phytoplankton photosynthesis." in "Source of Half Earth's Oxygen Gets Little Credit" John Roach for National Geographic News June 7, 2004



Guy says (remember, this is a quick paraphrase note, not a transcript of McPherson's actual speech):

Good news: none of these assessments include the possibility of the collapse of globalized industrial economy (which could reduce emissions hugely).

Bad news: none of these assessments include positive feed-back loops (which could kill us outright).


Guy points out:

National Center for Atmospheric Research assessment (January 2011) of positive feedbacks take us to 16 degrees C hotter by 2100


Alex notes: Joe Romm at Climate Progress covers that paper well here.

The official citation (subscription required is: LESSONS FROM EARTH'S PAST Science 14 January 2011:

Vol. 331 no. 6014 pp. 158-159 DOI:10.1126/science.1199380]

Guy claims:

Climate scientist Paul Beckwith from the University of Ottawa in October 2012 said a 6 degree C rise is possible within a decade.


Alex notes: The source is Paul Beckwith, B.Eng, M.Sc. (Physics), Ph.D. student (Climatology) and Part-time Professor, University of Ottawa

A video of Beckwith in October 2012 can be found here.

I have not yet found that exact quote. I wrote to Paul Beckwith, and in an email to Alex Smith, Beckwith confirmed he did say that - because paleoclimate records in the past have shown this has already happened.



Guy said:

PNAS [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences] in a paper published February 2009 said climate change is irreversible for 1,000 years


Alex notes: confirmed. This is covered well by Joe Romm at Climate Progress Jan 26, 2009 here.

Also in this NOAA Press release "New Study Shows Climate Change Largely Irreversible" Jan 26, 2009.


Back to notes on Guy's speech:

The current CO2 level today, and any level we get to, will be permanent for 1,000 years, so "" is delusional.

Guy claims our average current CO2 level is 396 ppm [parts per million of carbon dioxide].


Note: I've seen lower figures for our current ppm. For example, in this USA Today report November 2012 says the average CO2 in the atmosphere was 390 ppm. But the Wiki article on Greenhouse gas says current is 397 ppm (without giving a source). One scientific estimate for 2011 puts it at 390.5 (almost two years ago).




Economic depressions are now called "recessions"

UNEP reported (in November 2009) 2008 greenhouse gas emission levels were the highest ever, despite a major economic recession.

Guy says:

2009 emissions were 6.2% higher than 2008 (UNEP figures? McPherson doesn't state the source).

2010 6.5% higher CO2 emissions

2011 up another 3.4%


Alex notes: here is comparison of Guy's annual emissions figures with those given by Tyndall Centre's Kevin Anderson in the "New Clothes for the Emperor" speech in Bristol UK:

Guy 2009 6.2% higher than 2008. Kevin "2009 to 10 global emissions went up by 5.9%" (note slightly different time frame, Anderson using 2009 to 2010...)

Guy 2011 up 3.4%; Anderson 2010 to 2011 – went up by about 3.2% (slightly lower)


Back to McPherson speech notes:

This shows an economic slowdown will not help. Only outright collapse could save us and the ecosphere.

Guy tells the story of University of Utah Prof Tim Garrett's paper showing collapse is only answer. That paper took two years to get published, two critics answered with no reply allowed for Garrett, published in "Climatic Change".


Note from Alex: in his second Radio Ecoshock interview, Dr. Tim Garrett credits Alex Smith with inspiring this paper, after asking a question in Garrett couldn't answer, in the first interview.

Here is that program: "CLIMATE, WEALTH, and ENERGY" University of Utah Physics Professor Dr. Tim Garrett explains why fossil-based wealth leads to both hyper-inflation and a ruined climate. From peer-reviewed paper in Journal "Climatic Change." Only a sudden economic collapse could save us from 5 degrees Celsius global temperature rise by 2100. And we'll get over 100% inflation. One of the most important interviews of the year. From Radio Ecoshock 101119 - 24 minutes. Download/listen to that interview here.

My first interview with Garrett, on Feb 5, 2010 is found here (17 minutes in Lo-fi)

Here is the abstract of Garrett's paper in Climatic Change, as modified Jan 6, 2012


Back to notes from Guy's talk:

Garrett's paper submitted in 2007, printed in 2009 but slide says officially dated February 2011 in Climatic Change.

At his high school talks, Guy says he is not allowed to talk about economic collapse, but it's OK to describe a route to our extinction!


In a Bioscience 2012 paper (dated February 2012), researchers went through Henry David Thoreau's notes of timing of flowering in New England, compared them to today's flower openings. The changes in time of flowering infers a warming of 2.4 degrees in the Concord area since 1840 (the general start date of the industrial revolution). Normal sensors report only about 1 degree of warming there.


Alex notes on this passage: The paper referred to is: "Uncovering, Collecting, and Analyzing Records to Investigate the Ecological Impacts of Climate Change: a Template from Thoreau's Concord" by Richard B. Primack and Abraham J. Miller-Rushing. A .pdf of the full text is here.

Here is the publication reference: BioScience 62: 170-181. ISSN 0006-3568, electronic ISSN 1525-3244 (BioScience, February 2012/ vol. 62 No. 2).



2010 data, published in January 2011 in "Science", says Atlantic water is penetrating the Arctic as never before through the Fram Straight, "defrosting" the Arctic


Alex notes on this passage: here is a good-for-public article about that study, published in ScienceDaily: "Warming North Atlantic Water Tied to Heating Arctic" Jan 28, 2011.

Here is the abstract of the paper "Enhanced Modern Heat Transfer to the Arctic by Warm Atlantic Water" by Robert F. Spielhagen et al "Science" 28 January 2011


Back to speech points:

McPherson predicts an ocean free of sea ice in the Arctic summer by 2015 (16:31 of video)


He then goes into predictions from 5 other sources, the first four peer-reviewed, the last not.

#1  decomposing world boreal forests are releasing lots of carbon

#2  Siberian ground permafrost melting releasing greenhouse gases, principally methane

#3  small methane emissions in Siberia in 2010 became 1 km across by 2011


Alex note: although McPherson appears to be still talking about land emissions, I have only seen the 1 km across figure about a methane plume coming from the sea bed above Eastern Siberia... this needs checking if on land]

#4  2010 drought in the Amazon turned that forest carbon sink into a carbon source

#5  drilling for more oil in the Arctic is a feed-back loop

[Although this item below may actually be McPherson's non-peer-reviewed item number 5:]

Malcolm Light of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group predicts human extinction by 2050 (not peer-reviewed). This could be the "end of the line for the human experience."


Alex notes on this statement: in his blog, McPherson writes: "Malcolm Light, writing for the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, considers one of the many positive feedbacks we've triggered in one planetary region and reaches this conclusion: 'This process of methane release will accelerate exponentially, release huge quantities of methane into the atmosphere and lead to the demise of all life on earth before the middle of this century.' Please read that sentence again. Light is a retired earth-systems scientist."

The source of this statement is this un-peer reviewed posting at AMEG: "Global Extinction within one Human Lifetime as a Result of a Spreading Atmospheric Arctic Methane Heat wave and Surface Firestorm"



McPherson says:

Most people will run from this information.

Some people will deny that they heard it, and deny Guy McPherson as a source.

He quotes Bruce Springsteen: "In the end what you don't surrender, well the world just strips away."

[from the song "Human Touch"]

or... let go, or be dragged


Alex notes: "Let go, or be dragged" is also the title of a blog posting by McPherson September 19, 2012


Guy says:

"I'm over being judgmental about the way people live."

Those living in the interior of a large continent in the Northern Hemisphere are in big trouble.


Alex notes: McPherson describes this, and his ultimate pessimism that we will continue as a species, in his article in Transition voice November 19, 2012 "A Farewell to Arms"



McPherson continues:

We are amazing creatures.

Guy goes into a discussion on the long odds of a sentient being like ourselves evolving at all.


We have triggered Armageddon.

The cause is our drive to consume. McPherson gives us the unflattering dictionary definitions of the word "consume", which also contains ideas like to destroy, totally ravage, burn up, waste, or squander.


McPherson tell us:

Mass consumption requires obedience at home and oppression abroad.


Alex notes: "obedience at home and oppression abroad" is a theme developed in his book "Walking Away From Empire"


Guy says:

As an example of oppression abroad, Guy gives us the Carter doctrine: Middle East oil belongs to the United States.

At home, in Alabama, during the financial crisis, people were dispersed by the illegal use of the National Guard.


Alex notes: I found blog posts, apparently originating with Raw Story (sourced below, but the link is now dead) that the Birmingham Alabama Sherriff contemplated calling in the National Guard, due to budget cuts in his office. However, I have not found confirmation that this was done. McPherson may have misinterpreted this. Perhaps he has the confirmation that it happened, from his book research. McPherson was on the road when I was making these notes, and did not respond to my query about this.

Dead link cited by some:

Here is another version.


Guy continues:

NDAA National Defense Authorization Act was signed in the dead of night with no discussion or debate.

This is the first time since the Magna Carta in 2015 that Habeas Corpus had been suspended in peace time.

In 2000, students by the scores turned their backs silently on George Bush when he spoke at their University


Alex notes: turning their backs was common practice as protests in the United States, and was used repeatedly against George W. Bush as described in dozens of articles and news reports.


Guy continues:

By contrast, when Ray McGovern, former advisor to 4 presidents, stood and turned his back to Hilary Clinton, he was beaten.


Alex notes: this was reported by Democracy Now! on February 18, 2011 here.


Guy says:

No resistance is allowed. McPherson can hardly recognize the country he grew up in.

Once you've seen the truth, you can't unsee it, and can't keep quiet.

Guy saw it, couldn't unsee it, and had to walk away from his tenured job in the system, leaving the University of Arizona.

Thus he wrote his book "Walking Away from Empire"

Alex notes: Amazon listing for Guy's book here.

Guy's blog about the book, with video is here.

Guy tells us:

He believes in "agrarian anarchy" and lives it in rural New Mexico


Alex notes: McPherson describes what he means by "agrarian anarchy" in this blog post: "Defending agrarian anarchy" August 10, 2011.


McPherson continues:

Guy lives in a straw bale house he calls "the mud hut" and practices the gift economy.

Responding to our existential threat is almost impossible, but not quite.

His blog is "Nature Bats Last" is at

That concludes the speech at Bluegrass Bioneers November 2, 2012, as recorded by Ben Evans of Listen to/download the Radio Ecoshock broadcast here.