Investigating claims of near-term extinction for humans. Clips from Guy McPherson, John D. Cox, Dr. David Archer. Interview w. John Michael Greer. Analysis of predictions by Malcolm Light of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG). Radio Ecoshock 130605 1 hour.
THE LAST GENERATION?
Mike Ruppert: “The last time you were on about a year ago, you said essentially at that point, that the only thing that could save us was an immediate cessation of all industrial activity. How much further do we have to go now?“
Dr. Guy McPherson: “I strongly suspect that because of those positive feedbacks, even completion of the on-going collapse will not prevent near-term human extinction as a result of climate change – a scenario that would involve geoengineering, a complete collapse, and 27 other miracles that you might come up with that would actually allow our
species to persist beyond another human generation.“
Are you living in the last human generation? Now that the 2012 Mayan Calendar craze is over, there is a new movement claiming we are heading into “near-term human extinction”. One group says the Northern Hemisphere will be devoid of people by the 2030’s, with the population of the Southern Hemisphere dying out a few years later.
Why? Due to a combination of events caused by climate change. The Arctic will release very high levels of methane gas. It will come, they say, from frozen methane on the shallow sea bed, now exposed by the end of sea ice. And from the land, from rotting vegetation frozen over the ages in the Permafrost, now released.
Methane is at least 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. For a few years, it may be as much as 100 times more powerful. If a lot of methane is released in a decade or two, global mean temperature may rise more than 10 degrees Centigrade some say. It could be twice that in the Arctic. Could our complex industrial civilization could survive? It’s unlikely agriculture could feed our current billions. Most current species would disappear in the 6th great extinction. Are humans immune to extinction?
Is it happening already? Arctic sea ice is melting more each year. should we try to cool the Arctic, if not the world? That’s the view of a small but growing group of scientists and concerned citizens. It’s called geoengineering.
Most scientists caution we have not reached such a desperate stage yet. Geoengineering could just make things worse. It’s never been done; we don’t know the side-effects.
Two weeks ago we had the Australian author Clive Hamilton on Radio Ecoshock. Clive explained the big risks of attempting to block out the sun, called Solar Radiation Management. In his book “Earthmasters” Hamilton describes a somewhat unholy alliance of billionaire Bill Gates, a small clique of worried and respected scientists, some nuclear weapons lab types, and some of the world’s biggest oil and coal companies. They are all pushing geoengineering to cool the world.
We are going to investigate near-term human extinction. We’ll peer into one of the primary sources of this idea, Malcolm Light, from the Arctic Methane Emergency Group.
You may find some of his solutions outrageous, but they have been presented in all seriousness to the British Parliament. The AMEG group wants geoengineering to start this year, in 2013.
We’ll hear who is spreading this ultimate climate despair. Some are people I respect, my friends. Others are from the fringe, the anonymous spaces of the Internet.
I also interviewed a German scientific expert on extinction, and a widely published author. It’s a wild mix, as we encounter the strangest and most fearful prediction of human demise.
Oh, and one more thing. I can’t give you the final answer. We don’t know yet, do we? In fact, as collapsenik Dmitry Orlov writes in his blog, we can never know whether we are extinct!
LISTEN TO THIS RADIO ECOSHOCK SHOW RIGHT NOW!
GUY MCPHERSON ON RADIO
Let’s begin with that voice that tweaked my brain. My Radio Ecoshock Show for December 5th, 2012 was called “On the Road to Extinction.” It features a speech by Dr. Guy McPherson, delivered at the Bluegrass Bioneeers Conference in Kentucky. Guy, you will remember, is a qualified natural scientist who left the University of Arizona to pursue his own free speech. I wondered if the extreme statements Guy made about extreme global warming were true. I spent two days cross-checking pretty well everything he said. I posted my results online. His sources all checked out.
None of those scientific papers and authoritative reports said humans would go extinct before 2050. Guy McPherson made that jump, in part due to a frightening scientific-looking paper by Malcolm Light. I’ll get to that.
These days Guy’s blog “Nature Bats Last” features stories like “The irreconcilable acceptance of near-term extinction” by Daniel A. Drumright, and “On the Acceptance of Near-Term Extinction” by Gary Gripp and “Preparing For Near-Term Extinction” by Carolyn Baker. These people explain how they came to accept that humans are done-for, and soon. How do we cope with living in the end-times? There are others, a growing chorus of others. They take this belief very seriously, as if already proved by science and developments in the real world.
I think humans will still be around, trying to survive a continually warming world, for hundreds of years, if not more. Shortly, I’ll explain why. We’ll hear about the long human history of end-times thinking from popular author and commentator John Michael Greer. I’ve got a Radio Ecoshock reading from a new book by Asoka Bandarage about current trends of extinction in aboriginal peoples. Author John Cox wonders if we might choose extinction.
You can hear more of Guy McPherson on near-term human extinction on the Gary Null Show on May 14th, 2013. Find it on here on prn.fm.
JOHN MICHAEL GREER WEIGHS IN
Before we go digging into the science of near term human extinction, let’s get a different view, this time from John Michael Greer, author of over 20 books and the Arch-Druid.
Essentially, Greer points out we’ve had a string of “end of the world” incidents, from Y2K to the end of the Mayan Calendar. Greer thinks we’ll always need a replacement for that kind of thinking, and “near-term human extinction” could be it. He has his own theory of a bumpy decline which he calls “catabolic collapse“.
Greer was heavily criticized by those who believe near term human extinction is inevitable and is a scientific point of view. When I raised the danger that all sorts of end-times seekers and tin-foil types would pile on board this new idea, participants in the Near Term Extinction discussion site, – yes that’s online already – they said “of course, we know that. But that doesn’t change the science behind what we are saying.”
MALCOLM LIGHT PREDICTS A METHANE FIRESTORM
*** UPDATE: A spokesperson for AMEG (Arctic Methane Emergency Group) says Malcolm Light is no longer a member of the group. Their web site has not been updated (it still lists Light as a member) but he has left. The AMEG plan for the methane emergency no longer includes Light’s Arctic drilling and HAARP radio waves as solutions. Calls for other geoengineering, including chemtrail-like spraying of sulphates, remain. ***
Let’s look at that science. In his seminal post June 20th, 2012, titled “We’re Done”, Guy McPherson links to this quote from Malcolm Light: quote: “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.”
McPherson has defended Malcolm Light and the Arctic Methane Emergency Group in a various places, including Transition Voice, the organ of the U.S. Transition Movement.
Now remember, I’m not questioning McPherson’s other sources, including Utah Professor Tim Garrett, the International Energy Agency, and a long list of others. I’ve checked those, and Guy is right. They are frightening predictions of warming up to 6 degrees Centigrade, or more, by 2100 – a climatic catastrophe for sure.
I’m concerned with the conclusion that we will be wiped out, soon, and especially using Malcolm Light of the AMEG group as a source.
Malcolm Light’s core article, posted on The Arctic Methane Emergency Group web site is titled: “Global Extinction within one Human Lifetime as a Result of a Spreading Atmospheric Arctic Methane Heat wave and Surface Firestorm“.
In what looks like a scientific paper, complete with complex graphs and charts, we find this stunning announcement: “The absolute mean extinction time for the northern hemisphere is 2031.8 and for the southern hemisphere 2047.6 with a final mean extinction time for 3/4 of the earth’s surface of 2039.6.“
Well that’s pretty precise isn’t it? On August 2031, say goodbye for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. There is a lot in this article. I won’t call it a scientific “paper” until I can find evidence it was peer-reviewed or published in an official journal.
This theory, and the radical solutions I’ll discuss in a minute, were presented to the Britain’s Environmental Audit Committee. The UK Parliament responded to this all-party committee’s report “Protecting the Arctic”. This AMEG paper went beyond the fringe into serious consideration by a major government.
What was the Committee told, as published by AMEG? Quoting from Malcolm Light’s article, “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.”
We get slightly different estimates of when humans will go extinct in notes to one of the complex graphs in Light’s article. It reads:
“Figure 8 shows a different method of interpreting the extinction fields defined by the (12 +-3) + 6% year long lifetime of methane (IPCC, 1992) assumed to have been instantaneously injected into the Arctic atmosphere in 2010 and the lifetime of the globally spreading methane atmospheric veil at different methane global warming potentials. The start of extinction begins between 2020 and 2026.9 and extinction will be complete in the northern hemisphere by 2057. Extinction will begin around 2024 in the southern hemisphere and will be completed by 2087. Extinction in the southern hemisphere, in particular in Antarctica will be delayed by some 30 years. This makes property on the Transantarctic mountains of premium value for those people wish to survive the coming methane firestorm for a few decades longer.“
Let’s pick up on that key phrase “assumed to have been instantaneously injected into the Arctic atmosphere in 2010“. That leads to a building block of the whole theory, and the panic to geoengineer the planet.
An unlikely source has disputed the essential point. Somewhere out there in cyberspace is a person who made tens of thousands of posts on the site democraticunderground.com. She or he used the name “Muriel Volestrangler” – which just happens to be an alias used by British comedian John Cleese.
“Muriel” says Malcolm Light cherry picked the very worst single measurement of methane release in 2010, a startling spike reported by the American agency NOAA, from the Arctic Svalbard base on the day of November 16th, 2010. Light uses that spike for all his subsequent frightening calculations.
But here is what New Zealand blogger, Climate Show radio host Gareth Renowden wrote in his “Hot-Topic” blog about the graph Malcolm Light used:
“The graph comes from NOAA’s Earth System Research Labs Global Monitoring Division’s new data visualisation web page here (you’ll see a CO2 graph first, but click on the menu to the left of the graph to get the methane version). The readings for the last year are preliminary, and shown in brown. The last five data points are so far off the chart that they are almost certainly going to be rejected as being caused by local contamination. That’s happened before — the green dots show when — and at the moment other Arctic sites are not showing a similar rise. However, Svalbard is close to sea floor methane hydrate deposits that are known to be venting gas“.
— end Quote from Gareth Renowden at hot-topic.co.nz
Muriel Volestrangler tells us the data points showing the big methane spike have been revised by NOAA, who always said such measurements were provisional. I checked. The spike is gone. The steady rise over the decades is back. You can see it for yourself at the NOAA site linked above.
Therefore, most of the calculations in Malcolm Light’s paper are not based on reality. They show what could happen, maybe, if there was ever a big release of methane in the Arctic, which continued at the new high level. But that hasn’t happened at all. There’s no doubt about it. Actual methane levels in the global atmosphere have NOT spiked beyond the gradual increase expected. No emergency. Yet. Although it could happen…
Volestrangler finds several more gross assumptions, all for the worst, and unprovable hypothesis in the Malcolm Light paper. Muriel writes:
“But since the basis for it all is a one month anomaly at one measuring station, which has since been counted as a false reading, it is all based on a mistake. He’s taken that one month error, and extrapolated it until the world has heated up by 14 degrees C, which he says will therefore be an extinction event.”
It’s good news if Malcolm’s paper is faulty, unless you have an agenda that requires governments to act in panic.
WHO IS MALCOLM LIGHT? AND WHAT DOES HE WANT?
At AMEG we find only this: “Malcolm Light, specialist in earth sciences, blogger at globalwarmingmlight.blogspot.com”. He claims a PhD from the University of London, but we are not told in what field.
I checked that blog address, but globalwarminglight has been taken over by companies selling financial services. Dead end.
An article at the Ecologist Magzine describes Light as an inventor and retired professor. Not much information there.
In a post at peakoil.com, Light says of himself: “Malcolm Light, retired Arctic oil, mineral and climate researcher”. Getting closer.
I followed up on papers published by Malcolm Light, which he cites in his AMEG posting. Here is one titled “Saline Fluid Flow and Hydrocarbon Migration and Maturation Related to Geopressure, Frio Formation.” It’s from the place where Malcolm Light worked: The Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas, Austin. He is a petroleum geologist who spent most of his career in Texas preparing information to assist extraction of fossil fuels.
Now we understand the vision that Malcolm Light is advancing to solve the climate crisis – a solution which hardly anyone in the environment community knows about.
Digging around on the Net, we find Malcolm Light has two main answers for the methane emergency. Other scientists like David Archer at the University of Chicago dispute there is any such emergency at this time.
PROJECT LUCY (IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS)
The first he calls “Project Lucy”. I found it at the Iowa City Climate Advocates site. In this paper, Malcolm Light gives himself a new description, quote: “Malcolm Light, PhD (Univ. of London), consultant with many years of experience in methane, diamonds and numerous related topics.”
Here is Light’s solution Number 1. Quote: “Project Lucy therefore aims to design, build and test a microwave transmission system targeting low-altitude methane clouds with the aim of breaking the first C-H bond as soon as the methane erupts into the atmosphere from the Arctic Ocean. The transmitters can be mounted on submarines, planes and after 2015 on boats and drilling rigs when the Arctic ice cap has melted.“
Light also calls for the use of HAARP, the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program super radio wave broadcasting facility in Alaska to break up methane. He wants to use the multi-billion dollar secret military facilities, in both the United States and Russia, to emit a very specific frequency. Not only will this break up methane into less harmful chemicals, Light claims. It will create a bi-product of nanodiamonds, tiny flecks of diamonds, in the upper atmosphere, which would serve to reflect more sunlight away from Earth. Lucy in the sky with diamonds.
Malcolm Light bases this whole radio waves kill methane and makes diamonds theory on experiments in making artificial diamonds, under high pressure, in laboratories. No one has ever tried what he suggests. so far I can’t find a scientist who can make any sense out of this proposal in the real world. Perhaps someone could try it and see, if anyone would fund the research.
At least I like the idea that radio will save the world! That matches my own hopes with Radio Ecoshock.
ARCTIC DRILLING TO SAVE THE WORLD – THE ANGELS PROJECT
Malcolm Light’s second way to save the world from the alleged Arctic Methane Emergency is far more dire. Characteristic of the answers seen by a petroleum geologist, or big fossil fuel companies, his solution is to install a massive array of gas drilling rigs in the Arctic, trying to capture methane from the sea and land, before it can rise up into the atmosphere.
This second plot is has the delightful name “The Angels Project“. I found this in a PowerPoint presentation by Light, titled “A Proposal for the Prevention of Arctic Methane”. “ANGELS” is an acronym for “Arctic Natural Gas Extraction Liquefaction Sales“.
The sub-title reads: “A Proposal for the Prevention of Arctic Methane Induced Catastrophic Global Climate Change by Extraction of Methane from beneath the Permafrost – Arctic Methane Hydrates and its Storage and Sale as a Subsidized “Green Gas“ Energy Source”.
One slide says:
“This ‘methane hydrate gun’, which is cocked and ready to fire at any moment, is an extremely serious scenario that will cause abrupt climate change (CCSP, 2008; IMPACTS 2008). Even if this subsea volume of Arctic methane is released over a longer interval of some ten to twenty years it will still result in a massive feedback on global
warming and drive the Earth on an irretrievable plunge into total extinction.”
Shell Oil, Exxon/Mobil, StatOil, and all the majors will be thrilled to hear we MUST start massive drilling for natural gas in the Arctic, right away, or go extinct!
“After 2015, when the Arctic Ocean becomes navigable (Figure 5. Piomass in Naumer, 2012) it will be possible to set up a whole series of drilling platforms adjacent to, but at least 1 km away from the high volume methane eruption zones and to directionally drill inclined wells down to intersect the free methane below the sealing methane hydrate permafrost cap within the underlying fault network.”
He predicts huge methane plumes erupting from certain identifiable areas of the Arctic Sea (from troubled areas of the sea bed). These should be capped instead by drilling rigs, and the energy used instead of oil or coal.
Quote: “Separated methane is stored in LNG tankers for sale to customers as a subsidised green alternative to coal and oil for power generation and for air and ground transport.“
And here is how the world will be convinced to burn this methane:
“Support should be sought from the United nations, World Bank, national governments and other interested parties for a subsidy (such as a tax rebate) of some 5% to 15% of the market price on Arctic permafrost methane and its derivatives to make it the most attractive LNG for sale compared to LNG from other sources.“
“This will guarantee that all the Arctic gas recovered from the Arctic methane hydrate reservoirs and stockpiled, will immediately be sold to consumers and converted into safer byproducts. This will also act as an incentive to oil companies to produce methane in large quantities from the Arctic methane hydrate reserves. In this way the Arctic
methane hydrate reservoirs will be continuously reduced in a safe controlled way over the next 200 to 300 years supplying an abundant “Green LNG” energy source to humanity.”
I note the “safer byproducts” of burning methane (natural gas) is carbon dioxide, the global warming gas that lasts up to 100,000 years. Malcolm glosses over that.
So… we will run the world from the Arctic methane erupting from clathrates and permafrost melting? Global warming will force us to capture this massive source of greenhouse gases and convert our society to methane power. Forget about solar or wind power, tidal, or simple changes to drastically lower power use. We’ll turn lemons into lemonade as the Arctic warms. We’ll spray sulfates too, using aircraft, to cool the Arctic, and hope those radio waves create some reflective “nanodiamonds” in the upper Troposphere or lower Stratosphere to further deflect sunlight. It’s a total industrial solution to the woes of industrial civilization.
Think about this for a moment or two. As I say, we are forced to extract and burn still more climate-wrecking fossil fuels or go extinct, Malcolm Light claims. But we only have a limited amount of carbon we can still burn and stay below two degrees. I doubt there is enough left in that budge even to build and install this fleet of Arctic drilling rigs. Never mind the huge emissions required to convert methane into LNG.
No such Arctic drilling has been tried. Shell Oil’s attempts last year turned to disaster when they tried to withdraw their rig before winter. It crashed aground in Alaska.
Beyond that, we haven’t a clue whether the methane will really appear mainly along certain fault lines Malcolm Light has splashed across a colorful graph in his AMEG paper.
None of that research has been done. Does anyone really believe we can capture meaningful amounts of methane from a geologic release occuring across the vast Arctic tundra, and coastlines tens of thousands of miles long? The whole world economy would have to be converted to drilling rigs to capture a tiny percent of the methane. It doesn’t make sense.
Adding it up, it’s a huge and possibly dangerous fantasy, with near-term human extinction nowhere in sight.
The UK government responded to the Environment Audit Committee’s report by saying they do not envisage an ice-free Arctic in the next few years, or a collapse of the major ice sheets on Greenland.
“Geo-engineering techniques for the Arctic at present do not offer a credible long term solution for tackling climate change. Further research is needed to understand how such techniques work and their wider impacts on climate systems. In the meantime, therefore, we remain unconvinced that using ‘technical fixes’ is the right approach and
efforts should not be diverted from tackling the fundamental drivers of global climate change.“
There are all sorts of curiosities lurking around in the AMEG plan to save the Arctic, and the world. They suggest the move away from burning dirty bunker oil in ships is a mistake. Ships should burn the dirtiest, most sulfur-laden fuel we can find, to add more sun-deflecting clouds. Commercial aircraft, they suggest, should get fuel additives that create chemtrails to ward off the sun. Unbelievably, they use the word “chemtrails” thus setting off another whole Internet hive of paranoia.
You can download AMEG’s plan for the Arctic as a .pdf file here.
In fact, I think a case can be made that Malcolm Lights paper does two things:
First, it creates a story to bring the public, and even environmentalists, on board for massive gas drilling in the Arctic. That’s something the big oil and gas companies want badly.
But it also stirs up the noise level around climate change, which may be just as important to the major energy companies. As University of Chicago climate scientist David Archer told us in a Radio Ecoshock interview, once the public becomes over concerned about methane, coming from the far away Arctic, we can forget about our own roles in burning carbon every day, in our cars, homes and factories. It’s carbon dioxide that really counts in the long run. Carbon dioxide, not methane, will last determine the heat of the world for the next 100,000 years – for millennia after the short-lived methane has broken down.
CLIMATE SCIENTIST DAVID ARCHER ASKS “WHAT METHANE EMERGENCY?“
Let’s hear a few words from David Archer on Radio Ecoshock. Check out this Radio Ecoshock interview from our February 15, 2012 show.
That was climate scientist David Archer, author of the book “The Long Thaw” and an editor at realclimate.org. We talked on the Radio Ecoshock Show February 15th, 2012, as part of my survey of three scientists, including AMEG’s Peter Wadams interview here.
Read more about David Archer and the methane debate here at Joe Romm’s blog at ThinkProgress.
Perhaps in the next few decades we will see a significant burst of methane from the Arctic. It’s something that should be monitored much more. We should spend a billion dollars on research, to determine the real level of threat from the frozen methane in the shallow sea beds, and from melting permafrost on land. I’ve done several Radio
Ecoshock shows about all this, and will continue to do so.
I think AMEG has done some good work. We’ve had good interviews from ice expert Dr. Peter Wadhams from Cambridge, and Paul Beckwith from the University of Ottawa. Paul taught us all about the jet stream, the latest science. I hope to have him back as a guest.
But I think the paper by Malcolm Light is flawed. It may be based on faulty data and unproven assumptions. At this point it’s nothing more than an interesting idea, in the realm of science fiction.
We may very well experience a methane emergency in the Arctic. It’s possible without the work of AMEG we might not be watching as we should. Let the group carry on, but without the histrionics about near-term extinction of humans, and re-assessing their role assisting big fossil fuel companies, whether intended or not.
I’m Alex Smith. This is Radio Ecoshock.
OTHERS WORRIED ABOUT EXTINCTION
I can’t wrap up a show on human extinction without saying that other very serious scientists, public policy wonks, and artists are deeply concerned with it. As we learn more about biology, it’s apparent that all species have gone extinct sooner or later. You may recall my interview with Dr. Peter Ward about the Medea Hypothesis – that all forms of life are ultimately self-destructive. Find that on our web site with a Google search. Or listen to my 25 minute interview with Peter about the Medea Hypothesis here.
In last week’s program, I considered one argument for our survival – that some humans will continue to live directly from nature even if our complex world civilization fails completely. We heard from National Geographic author Scott Wallace, and his book “The Unconquered”. If you missed that, download it here.
We hear other ways of facing ultimate threats to our humanity, from the author of a brand new book titled “Sustainability and Well-Being”. As I read through my review copy, I was startled to find author Asoka Bandarage says some humans are already going extinct. In fact, the aboriginal people we were counting on may be the first to disappear. In the show I play you a reading from that new book, recorded for Radio Ecoshock by Asoka from her book “Sustainability and Well-Being“, published by Palgrave.
We may not go extinct in some wave of deaths, but in smaller collections of endangered humans.
This is another reason why I disagree with the theory of near-term human extinction. It doesn’t fit with what biologists know about extinction, unless you believe a Malcolm Light type apocalypse where the whole atmosphere catches fire or the oceans suddenly die.
DR. FRANZ ESSL ON DELAYED EXTINCTION
To understand more, I called up Dr. Franz Essl. He is from the Department for Biodiversity and Nature Conservation, in the Austrian Environment Agency, in Vienna. Essl was co-author of a new paper titled “Europe’s other debt crisis caused by the long legacy of future extinctions“.
I intended to play you the interview, but… to be honest the phone line was too poor to get audio easily understood. I apologize to you and Dr. Essl.
Here are some of the highlights of that interview.
Essl began by explaining that species go extinct after a long delay. Quote:
“In ecology there is an understanding that species reaction to changes in environment often follows with considerable delay. That means the impact of changes caused by human activity like habitat fragmentation or habitat loss often translates with a delay of years, or many years, or even with decades to the full loss of species in the given habitat. This is well understood on a local level.
So if a site is being reviewed to a fraction of it’s former size we can expect quite a substantiation fraction of species will finally go extinct in this habitat. However we are not aware of a scheme of this phenomenon on a larger scale, so if this applies to the full range of species on a large geographical scale like a continent. This was the reason we started to analyze this phenomenon on a larger scale, to get an idea of how important this might be on a global scale.”
What they found was amazing. Changes to ecology say in 1910, before the First World War, determined exinction of a species up to one hundred years later.
The authors chose Europe because most members of the EU had similar record-keeping on biodiversity, records that went back at least a century. European countries also kept track of Red List species, those who were most endangered.
I asked: It seems important for the public to realize extinction is not just about polar bears, tigers or some exotic large mammals in far away places. Are there dangers of extinctions of simple plants and fish in Europe?
Essl said: “If you have a close look on Red Lists in each country in Europe, you see quite a lot of species which are in the most severe categories in the Red Lists, which means they have a strong risk of getting extinct in these countries.
We also analyzed the proportion of species which are Red Listed in Europe. We looked at seven different taxa ranging from fish to mammals, and also to plant species like ?? plants. And what we found was the currently on a national scale in Europe between 20 to 40 percent of species are already considered to be at risk of getting extinct in the future.
So there are many species. Some of them are prominent species well-known to the wider public because of their conspicuousness, or their activity. Others are much more species that are at risk of getting lost at the national scale which are much less known. However they might be very important in eco-function or conferring other benefits to human well-being. So this is really a very important phenomenon.
And I have to say not only a European phenomenon of course. It’s also a phenomenon which applies at the global scale. So the IUCN [International Union for Conservation of Nature], which is the global conservation union, which provides Red List assessment on the global scale has found in a recent assessment in the year 2012 that approximately 30 percent of all vertebrate species are being at risk of getting lost globally in the coming decades.
That’s really a very important phenomenon that we have created and I am convinced of a global extinction problem.“
Thirty percent of all vertebrate species, which includes mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish! Earth’s ecosystems, this study found, works at a slower time-scale than humans. We haven’t realized the delay factor. Many species we see now are already headed for extinction, determined perhaps a generation ago.
If pre-war social and industrial expansion caused such damage, I shudder to think what the new chemicals released in the 1970’s and 80’s will do decades from now. Or the mass expansion of cities and industrial agriculture.
Dr. Franz Essl told me:
“I suspect in regions which have just been transformed even more strongly than Europe, recently, like in emerging industrialized countries, for instance China, or other South East Asian countries, or countries who have lost a large fraction of their natural habitat in their recent history like some countries in the sub-tropical and tropical regions, might expect an even more delayed, or more pronounced delay in species loss.
This is particularly worrisome because many of these countries are the mega-biodiverse countries which means the most, or a huge proportion of global biodiversity. And a very strong delay of species extinction. That might mean lots of species are really at risk of getting lost in the long term.“
This study did not even try to calculate the impacts of climate change. Socio-economic development itself was enough to drive massive extinctions. Climate change will add to that in the coming century.
The paper “Europe’s other debt crisis caused by the long legacy of future extinctions” was published in April 2013 in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Another take-away from this look at the biology of extinctions, I think, is that humans are very unlikely to go extinct all of a sudden. We may have already set the stage for out extinction, but it may take a hundred or more years to play out. Personally, I think humans will limp along, surviving through changes larger than anyone has dared to imagine.
Make no mistake, I’m deeply worried by the reports we carry on Radio Ecoshock.
The author of the new book “Scatter, Adapt and Remember“, Annalee Newitz, thinks humans will survive anything. She looks through our ways of surviving past crisis despite incredible odds.
Even James Lovelock, the British inventor and scientist who years ago warned we were doomed to massive climate change, didn’t predict a total end to the species. He speculated humans would end up as a few breeding pairs surviving around the Arctic Sea, the last place cool enough to support our mammalian life form. But given the
climate record so far, that would take hundreds of years, if it ever gets that bad.
WILL WE CHOSE EXTINCTION? JOHN D. COX
Perhaps we can only go extinct if we accept that as our fate. Our last clip comes from 2005, by author and long-time Sacramento journalist John D. Cox . Cox was speaking at the launch of his book “Climate Crash: Discovering Rapid Climate Change and What It Means to Our Future“. He brought up one of the few cases of extinction in our recent history, namely the Viking settlement on the coast of Greenland. They were hit by climate change, as the times became colder.
Find the full John D. Cox book launch on C-Span here, as recorded July 12, 2005 at the National Academy of Sciences. My clip comes from the Q and A.
John D. Cox asks, why did the Norse fail in Greenland, while the Inuit survived? The Norse failed to adapt, there was a cultural identity which prevented them from learning from the Inuit. They chose to become extinct there. Will we decide to adapt? Or will we decide to stay the same, and thus be extirpated?
Will we choose extinction, even when more natural ways of survival are known, are right before our faces? Are we too inflexible to survive, to wedded to the many fossil powered slaves we all enjoy, from cars to dishwashers and vacation flights?
As John Michael Greer suggests, we may bump down some hard stairs for a few hundred years. I expect plenty of mass die-offs, a decrease in human population, and forced climate migrations. But in 2050, I think my grandson will be alive, and despite all, he’ll be glad to be alive. That is the way we are.
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I’m Alex Smith. Don’t give up to near-term extinction thinking. Use wit, love and persistence to change the paradigm. And don’t be afraid to have fun.