SUMMARY: Retired ecology Professor Guy McPherson says extreme climate change will wipe out humans before 2050. Psychologist Carolyn Baker says grieve now for lost future. Environmental Horticulturist Kim Eierman on eco-beneficial home planting. Radio Ecoshock 140910
LISTENER WARNING: If you are feeling depressed or even considering suicide, this is not the program for you. People suffering from PTSD may want to think twice. The subject matter is very depressing. However, in next week’s show I will attempt to counter the argument made by our guests, with at least some bleak optimism, and why we may not be doomed.
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GUY MCPHERSON ON OUR EXTINCTION
Let me ask you: Do you have days when you feel we are doomed as a species? That’s every day, for our next guest.
When a successful Professor of Natural Resources, Ecology, and Evolutionary Biology left the University of Arizona, for his mud hut retreat, he probably didn’t intend to stir up the world. But that’s just what Guy McPherson has done. He’s becoming a voice for the worst fears of many people.
In fact, McPherson says climate change has gone so far, so fast, humans will become extinct before 2050. Dr. McPherson makes his case, and offers ways to cope with the ultimate bad news, in a new book co-authored with psychologist Carolyn Baker. It’s called “Extinction Dialogs: Living with Death in Mind“. That’s coming out this Fall.
Eventual human extinction may not be as impossible as it sounds. In addition to James Lovelock, two of the world’s top scientists, Professor John Schullnhuber in Germany, and Dr. James Hansen, formerly of NASA, have worried we’ll blow past any survivable limits to climate change. In a speech to the “4 Degrees of More” conference in Australia, Schullnhuber suggested that if we reach 4 degrees, the whole thing could easily slide to 8 degrees, which most of us would agree is beyond human tolerance. Hansen wondered if we might blow off the atmosphere altogether, as apparently happened on Mars. That possibility has since been discounted by other scientists.
Most of the big name scientists, other than James Lovelock, hedge their warnings with the idea that we could still save ourselves IF we mount a huge campaign to switch energy to renewable sources, and stop our carbon-wasting ways. Guy says it’s too late for all that. We have already committed the Earth to a severe shift in climate, beyond the survival limits of not just our civilization, but of our species.
Let’s find out why Guy McPherson thinks we are finished.
I ask Guy what he means by extinction. Does he mean most humans die, but there would be a few left in caves or around the Arctic ocean, as Dr. James Lovelock once suggested? His exact reply was: “I’m a conservation biologist, and when I say extinct I mean every member of the species is gone.“
McPherson has woven the risk of nuclear power into his story of our end times. He’s right to say that if the global electric grid goes down, for any reason, whether due to a massive collapse, or a solar flare or big nuclear war – then up to 400 nuclear reactors could melt down like Fukushima.
However, we don’t know for sure that even those events would bring all electricity down, all over the world. So we may add a lot of radiation, leading to millions or even a billion cases of cancer, but that’s not enough to depopulate the world, much less cause our extinction. That’s my opinion, and I’m dead-set against nuclear power. I think they should all be shut down as soon as possible.
Guy says the oceans are dying. Anyone who lives near the ocean, as I did for 25 years, knows that isn’t true – yet. A growing chorus of the best oceanographers do say ocean acidification from our carbon pollution can change the whole food chain in the seas, hugely reducing an essential source of human food. The oceans may fill up with acid tolerant plants and animals, lots of jellyfish. But I haven’t found one ocean scientist that says the ocean is dying right now.
It’s a serious worry though. Up to 96% of all ocean life did die off in the planet’s greatest mass extinction event, the Permian, known as “The Great Dying.” That was about 248 million years ago, and may have been due to global warming. But we think it took a long time, perhaps happening over a couple of million years. Certainly it didn’t happen in a couple of decades.
THE CLATHRATE GUN
We talk about the threat of methane erupting in large quantities from shallow sea beds, and the melting permafrost. The sea-bed methane is frozen in a watery cage – the technical name for them is “clathrates”. Some scientists have suggested that previous mass extinction events occurred when clathrates melt in such quantities that a methane burst destablized the climate into a rapid heating. Methane is at least 20 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Some scientists say for short durations (a few years) methane may be hundreds of time worse than CO2.
This extinction-level emission of frozen methane is called “the clathrate gun”. Guy McPherson says the clathrate gun has already fired. He talks about recent explorations into the Arctic measuring methane, and maps released by the Arctic News blog, showing very high levels of methane around the northern polar region. Other scientists, such as climate scientists David Archer, and Gavin Schmidt – both previous Ecoshock guests, disagree, saying the amount of methane released so far in the Arctic is not signficant, compared to our CO2 emissions. David Archer interview here. They also note that methane emissions being discoverd in the Arctic may not be new, but may have been venting for a long time. We don’t know all that yet.
WHEN HUMANS GO EXTINCT?
Nevertheless, Guy McPherson insists the clathrate release has begun, meaning it is too late to do anything about climate change. Our fate is sealed.
I ask Guy how he arrived at the date of 2030 as the time when humans would be extinct. Guy said he had not calculated the date himself. He relied on outside sources. The only other person he pointed to making that prediction was Malcolm Light, who posts on the Arctic News blog. The exact date humans will go extinct, according to Malcolm Light, is found in this blog posting.
I’ve broadcast and blogged about the serious problems with accepting Malcolm Light’s predictions as science. His blog posts are just that – not papers that have been published in a peer-reviewed journal. His methods are suspect, as I outlined in detail in this blog posting last year.
In this interview, Guy gave us a scenario which leads to extinction. It involves:
* a dying ocean
* extreme weather killing off plants, and with them, agriculture
* a burst of heating due to methane
* a list of 37 positive feedback loops which ratchet up the speed of warming
* emissions of radiation from the world’s 400 nuclear plants, when the world’s power grids fail (partly due to climate chaos)
That isn’t a very good summary. You need to listen to the interview to get Guy’s explanation properly.
We also touched on the difficulty of facing this end-time, and the recent suicide of the iconic figure of the collapse movement, Michael C. Ruppert. In his last months, Ruppert accepted near-term extinction as a reality, and had Guy McPherson on his Lifeboat Hour radio show. Most of Mike friends though, say he had discussed suicide many time in the past, long before discovering near-term extinction. His closest associates think Mike’s own personal problems overcame him. Still, I think human extinction is not a discussion for unstable or stressed out people.
I wanted to give Guy (and Carolyn Baker) a full opportunity to explain their case, without my interrupting with objections. That’s the purpose of this show. I’ve reserved my reservations for next week’s program.
If you are tracking the development of various streams of our future and deep climate thought, this is going to be an interview of record and importance. Its’ a hard interview to hear if you love life. Don’t sell your possessions or make that good-bye video just yet. Be sure and tune in next week when my guests and I try to make the case that humans won’t go extinct any time soon. Think deeply about what Guy McPherson says, but don’t miss next week’s show.
FOLLOW-UP LINKS FOR THE GUY MCPHERSON INTERVIEW
There were a couple of points where I asked Guy to send me his sources. That happened quickly, as Guy appears to keep an exhaustive database of his sources – something he’s had to do for his new book.
1. First I asked for the title and author of paper in Geophysical Letters published March 2013 showing warming has accelerated. Here it is:
Magdalena A. Balmaseda, Kevin E. Trenberth, and Erland Källén, 2013, Distinctive climate signals in reanalysis of global ocean heat content, Geophysical Research Letters 40(9):1754-1759. (viewed 5 September 2014, dx.doi.org/10.1002/grl.50382)
2. I wanted the title, date, and link to the analysis by Sam Carana on the effects of exponential release of Arctic methane.
Sam Carana’s analysis from 1 April 2013: http://methane-hydrates.blogspot.com/2013/04/methane-hydrates.html
3. What is the journal article mentioned, where the author suggests we could lose all of the ocean’s phytoplankton?
Stephanie L. Hinder, Mike B. Gravenor, Martin Edwards, Clare Ostle, Owen G. Bodger, Patricia L. M. Lee, Antony W. Walne, and Graeme C. Hays, 2013, Multi-decadal range changes vs. thermal adaptation for north east Atlantic oceanic copepods in the face of climate change, Global Change Biology 20(1):140-146. (viewed 4 September 2014, dx.doi.org/10.1111/gcb.12387)
4. Guy mentioned “David” Jaczko, former NRC Chairman. He meant Gregory Jaczko. While I found news articles with Jaczko saying the Indian Point reactor should be shut down, I didn’t find one where Jaczko suggests it could take 60 years to do it. Guy tells me that time estimate by Jaczko is “within this clip, shot by citizen journalist and filmmaker Pauline Schneider: https://vimeo.com/83563406 “
There is also a members-only Facebook page devoted to near-term extinction. Find that here.
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF EXTINCTION: CAROLYN BAKER
I’ve been in contact with Carolyn Baker for years. We’ve talked in private and on the air about collapse, transition, the incredible flash-floods around Bolder Colorado where she lives, and the psychology behind our ability to deny many big changes are happening. Carolyn also sends me daily news links, from her news service. Some of the stories I’ve received through Carolyn led me to Radio Ecoshock interviews.
So when Carolyn Baker agrees with Guy McPherson, and co-authors a discussion about how to handle their realization that we are too far gone to hope for a way out, I have to pay attention.
Carolyn is less willing to put any date on when human extinction might occur. She’s more concentrated on how people can handle this ultimate knowledge. Her solutions include offering life counselling, and leading workshops on how the hospice movement applies now in the last days of the human race. Hospice, if you don’t know, is defined in Wikipedia as “a type of care and philosophy of care that focuses on the palliation of a chronically ill, terminally ill or seriously ill patient’s pain and symptoms, and attending to their emotional and spiritual needs.”
Human civilization is, Baker contends, terminally ill. Most of us just don’t know it yet.
With that position in mind, Baker says we should start caring for one another. Her starting point, it seems to me, is to help people experience the grieving process. What are we grieving for? Everything that will be lost from a formerly bountiful planet. All the plants, the birds, the bees, the animals, the landscapes, and then finally humans, which will go extinct as our ecology spins out of control.
Once we grieve, then there is the work of living in a caring and meaningful way. Then even joy is possible, in our golden years, so to speak. Although Baker knows they will be difficult years.
Personally, I’m starting to think that Baker’s process is probably worthwhile, even if we don’t go as far as believing humans will become extinct. It is certain that gorgeous creatures are already going extinct, maybe daily. As things are going we are likely to lose iconic animals, like lions and elephants, but also countless species we don’t even know about. We are already losing landscapes like the glaciers in Glacier National Park, and maybe soon a lot of the Amazon and Congolese rainforests, with all those species therein.
If we keep polluting at our current rate, it’s also possible our descendants will be buffeted by outrageous storms, failing agriculture, rising seas, and many other things. So we may grieve in advance for them as well. Our recent guest from the Australian Psychological Society, Susie Burke, agreed that grieving is appropriate at this time. But she says “don’t stop there” and turn that grief into activism. Find that S. Burke interview here.
Carolyn and I have a thoughtful conversation that might stir up a few people. You can listen to or download this interview as a separate item here, but I think it’s better as part of the whole program, with Guy McPherson as well.
Carolyn Baker is a one-woman whirl-wind. She produces a daily news service with the bleakest headlines from around the world – plus some tips for more positive living. She’s the author of several books, including “Sacred Demise”, “Navigating the Coming Chaos, A Handbook for Inner Transition” and “Collapsing Consciously, Transformative Truths for Turbulent Times“. She’s been a leader in the Transition movement. Following the untimely death of Michael C. Ruppert, Carolyn is the host of the popular Lifeboat Hour radio show, every Sunday night on PRN.
Follow Carolyn Baker at her “Speaking Truth to Power” web site here.
Her latest book with Dr. Guy McPherson is “Extinction Dialogs, How to Live with Death in Mind”. You can pre-order the book at carolynbaker.net.
DOWN TO EARTH WITH KIM EIERMAN
Leaping from such a tall building as extinction, at the close of this program we land in our own backyards with environmental horticulturist Kim Eierman. She tells us how to live with nature, instead of creating the “green desert” of lawn-culture.
Sometimes big changes come one yard at a time. You know we need to move from lifeless lawn culture toward letting nature – yes messy nature – occupy our landscapes and our lives.
That’s why I’ve called up Kim Eierman, the eco-beneficial gardener. Kim teaches at the New York and Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, and gives talks and workshops across America. She’s an award-winning Environmental Horticulturist and Master Gardener. It was a relief to here this level-headed person cram so many useful down-to-earth tips into such a short interview.
We are going to have to call Kim back, because I sense a wealth of information in her. Meanwhile you should check out her web site.
You can download or listen to this short interview with Kim Eierman here.
I hope you can tell I respect both Guy McPherson and Carolyn Baker. But at a gut level, and in my brain, I object and disagree with their conclusions. In next week’s Radio Ecoshock show, we’ll take a look at the other side of this argument, – whether the impacts of climate change will move that fast, and how worth-while human lives could continue into the long future.
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Meanwhile, I have two pots of home-grown tomatoes stewing on the stove, and a big box of ripe pears waiting in the basement. I have to can them tonight, or they will go bad by morning.
The first frost is threatening to strike here, and I have about 20 tomato plants with lots more green fruit still waiting to ripen. I guess I’ll be out there by tonight’s bright moon, hanging old sheets over my plants. It’s busy, busy time around the harvest.
As one of next week’s guests would say: “stay well”.