Extinction event?

Face of Children

Should we look into the faces of our children and say "We don't care about your future. Money today is more important than your lives tomorrow?" Photo e3 via Flickr.

The Arctic is defrosting as warm Atlantic waters rush through the Fram Strait instead of skirting the southern coast of Greenland. This is an important event, regardless of the deafening silence exhibited by the mainstream media.

How important? First consider the background, from the perspective of long-time climate scientist James Hansen and colleague Makiko Sato, who report the disaster awaiting us at just a couple of degrees warmer is truly catastrophic (although they downplay the likelihood we’re already committed to this outcome.)

Suffocating lifestyle

At the same time Arctic ice is melting, the planet is losing its lungs. Catastrophic drought in the Amazon has it emitting carbon dioxide more rapidly than the United States. Simultaneously, permafrost is thawing and methane stored in eastern Siberia is venting into the atmosphere at an alarming rate. Methane, by the way, is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Against this background, it’s easy to foresee a rapidly and profoundly warming Arctic as a trigger for accelerated responses such as the release of more methane hydrates and fewer reflective white surfaces, such as ice sheets and areas covered with snow. These extremely dangerous feedbacks, which forecasters did not expect until the planet becomes a couple of degrees warmer than the baseline, could trigger runaway greenhouse. In other words, any of these events — never mind all of them at once — could lead directly and quickly to the extinction of you, me and everyone in between.

Is that important enough for you? Or do you still want to debate it with the likes of these guys?

Hello, hello, hello is there anybody in there?

If you’re among the mainstream media, you’re proven you don’t care, and your answer to dealing with this is no, you wont.

If you’re any politician in the industrialized world you’re quaking in your boots over the prospect of being real about anything truly important. For you, the answer is no, you wont go there.

If you’re one of the kingpins of capitalism — or even a defender of capitalism — the answer is no.For you, only money talks.

I’ll go further: If you’re a defender of western civilization, with all its toys, disposability and conspicuous personal consumption, your answer is no, too.

If you’re among the few people working to mitigate the excesses of western civilization before it terminates our species, it seems we’ve lost this most important of battles.

The cumulative effect

Like economic collapse, extinction is a process that leads to an event. The last human on Earth will not die today, tomorrow, or even next week. But it clearly could happen within a generation. Indeed, the odds grow with every passing day while we continue to deny our role in our own demise.

What will it take for the people to act? For that matter, what will it take for the people to notice?

Nothing to see here. Move along. This time is different. We’re not like the Mayans. And the Anasazi. Or the Mesopotamians. Or the Easter Island denizens. It can’t happen here. And I’m just another purveyor of negativity to be ignored by a world full of happy optimists hedonists.

Love in the time of Cholera

I’m routinely accused of being an insane terrorist because I want to terminate the industrial economy, thereby giving humanity an opportunity to persist a few generations longer. At this point, with our knowledge of the adverse consequences of civilization for non-industrial cultures, non-human species, and even the persistence of our own species, how can any sane person want to keep the industrial age alive?

Who would do this to their children?

In the race between collapse of the industrial economy and climate chaos, it seems climate chaos won. Words are no match for the sadness I feel. I can only imagine the agony of parents as they comprehend the horrors we’ve created for them, and especially for their kids.

Or perhaps this childless atheist — as I am labeled by every writer who pens me into a story — cares about the future of humanity more than most parents. After all, nearly every parent with whom I speak — failing to notice the dependence of the industrial economy on the environment — is far more interested in growth of the former, for their child’s sake, than with protection of the latter (for their child’s sake).

We traded in future generations of human beings — all of them — for a few dollars more. We worshiped at the heavenly altar of economic growth, and triggered hell on Earth.

Chaos on this planet isn’t restricted to the climate, and it’s going global this year. We’re witnessing not merely a riot but a revolution, and it’s coming soon to a city near you.

Alas, it’s too little, too late. The American Dream long ago morphed into the American Nightmare. It’s too bad George Carlin couldn’t be here for additional commentary. Rationalist voices are hard to come by. Rationalist voices with a sense of humor are vanishingly rare.

The response remains the same, at least for me. As a society, we will continue to value financial profit over life. Therefore, as individuals we should prepare and maintain durable living arrangements in light of ongoing energy decline and ongoing climate change. And, of course, we must keep fighting to bring down the omnicidal beast that is the industrial economy. Now.

–Guy McPherson, Transition Voice Magazine

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  1. says

    Dear Guy –

    Thank you, thank you for giving such eloquent voice to our fears and trepidations. Keep doing what you’re doing; it truly matters.

    As for your atheism: meet you in the foxhole.

    Best wishes,
    Vicki Lipski

  2. says


    The choice between industrial civilization and the health of the planet is a false choice. This is a framing that only helps the deniers and “koch” types, who are defending their jobs and investments .

    Industry doesn’t have to emit CO2 or other GHGs. We could replace coal quite affordably*, if we wanted to. The same is true for oil. We just have to choose to.


  3. says

    Nick G, there is no comprehensive substitute for crude oil. Wind and solar, which currently account for about 1% of our power, do not substitute for liquid fuels. The industrial economy runs on liquid fuels, not electricity. As a result, the industrial economy has a very limited life, with insufficient time to develop substitutes or scale up with “renewables” (which actually represent derivatives of crude oil): http://guymcpherson.com/2011/01/third-times-a-charm/

    I’m afraid you’ve been infected by a severe case of wishful thinking. It’s not about the money, as you suggest in your essay. It’s about crude oil and its liquid derivatives.

  4. Arne Perschel says

    I completely understand. You’re not alone.
    I shared this article because people inevitably base their opinions on their perceived opinion spectrum. They position themselves according to their self-image and their preferred opinion leader. Opinion isn’t absolute, it’s relative to what’s available in the market of ideas. Your and my opinion, though based on reason and fact, is perceived as an extreme outlier and therefore pushed aside, like a temperature reading of 55ºC in Alaska – it must be a flawed thermometer – or like a juror giving only 5 points to an artistic ice skater, when all other panel members gave scores between 9,45 and 9,75.
    The more often the extreme outlier opinion is heard, the more people will include it in their perceived opinion spectrum and the more credible mainstream scientific opinion (2m SLR, 50% extinction, etc) will sound. (Right now, mainstream scientific opinion is still on the edge of the ‘unheard of’, most people have no clue how bad it is and how desperate scientists are.)
    I believe we can still technically save ourselves. We won’t but we could. Which is probably even more painful than the cold realization that it’s too late.
    FYI: I’m 26 and I’ve given up on my old dream of being a classical pianist about 18 months ago. I’ve become a full time climate hawk, planning to move to a place where I could still reach the age of 50, with a little luck.

  5. says

    The article makes the assumption that the increasing heat content evident in the oceans and atmosphere is anthropogenic in nature, and it almost certainly is not. Increasing heat content of the oceans since 1990 is on the order of 1x10e23 Joules. This is the main driver for atmospheric warming, not the other way round. The cause is almost certainly increasing geological activity over the same period, the number and frequency of quakes in the 5.0-7.0 range has increased dramatically through this period.

    Decreasing industiral activity isn’t going to stop what is essentially a geologically driven process. It may be an extinction level event, but if it is, there is nothing we can do about it.


    • Maggie says

      LOL, Guy…not listening to RE at all.

      Thanks for your essay. With Arne P, I agree–“The more often the extreme outlier opinion is heard, the more people will include it in their perceived opinion spectrum ” More of us need to be saying this stuff all the time. And sharing it everywhere! As I will be doing now, with this.

  6. says

    great article, Guy! i think its important to acknowledge that there are very, very many people thinking about these issues and how we will adapt. growth-based civilization has hit its buffers, but complex societies may still prosper.

  7. says

    It is a strange feeling, to have my worst fears confirmed yet again, but at the same time feeling comfort in not being alone with the views I’ve held for a long time. We’re entering a transition, for sure. It will be one heckuva show. And we not only have front row seats, we’re in the spotlight, on the stage.

    My friends, family, co-workers and others ask why I am depressed, and often I dare not say why. One thing I can tell them – I am not contemplating suicide, but I am reluctant to share the reason:
    I want to see how this ends. Because it is going to end.

    But – as with all endings – will there also be a new beginning?

    • Nayef says

      Yes, there will be a new beginning. Islamic eschatology is completely in line with climate science. It confirms the hard times that we are now currently facing and which will continue to intensify into the future. However, a time will come when the Earth will receive a rain that will cleanse it to the point that it will be like a mirror. I do not doubt you will be skeptical about Islam. I have plenty of resources to prove it to you very easily through logic and science if you would give me a chance.

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