For sale, habitable planet, too late

Wave Breaker

Just another day on the planet of rising waters. Photo: Don McCullough via Flickr.

According to legend, Ernest Hemingway bet his 1920s-era colleagues he could write a complete story in just six words. Hemingway is said to have considered the resulting piece his best work: “For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn.”

Making no attempt to keep up with Hemingway, this article provides an overview of the dire climate-change situation in fewer than 300 words. Perhaps even Twitter users will find time for the entire essay.

Addition by subtraction

Until relatively recently, economic collapse was the only hope to prevent runaway greenhouse. Now that we’ve triggered ten self-reinforcing feedback loops, it’s too late to dodge the missile launched by industrial civilization.

Economic collapse is under way. I see no way to prevent its completion in time to safely decommission the world’s hundreds of nuclear power plants.

At least one decade is required to decommission a single nuclear facility. We need to

  1. Decommission the power plants very quickly.
  2. Develop and implement a plan for tons of radioactive waste.
  3. Reverse the irreversible climate-change feedback loops.

I’m not optimistic.

Resistance is fertile

Lest the reader conclude I’m promoting surrender, let me be clear: resistance is fertile, and it’s a moral imperative.

I do not desire near-term human extinction. But the evidence has overwhelmed me, while others are deep in denial or busily bargaining. Invoking the absence of authorities who agree with me, rather than the authoritative evidence I cite, many people conclude I’m surely mistaken. I’m hoping they’re correct.

I know few ways to explain we’re headed for near-term human extinction. There are more than seven billion responses to the increasingly dire information. I choose to dive into the abyss with eyes wide open, playing court jester along the way. Your mileage may vary.

–Guy McPherson, Transition Voice

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  1. Karla Lindquist says

    This bit on the nuclear decommissioning is something I wrote and asked you about a few months ago because Nuclear power capacity worldwide is increasing steadily, with over 60 reactors under construction in 13 countries.

    Globally there are already 435 reactors.

    The US alone has 104 reactors. The total energy required for decommissioning can be as much as 50% more than the energy needed for the original construction. In most cases, the decommissioning process costs between US $300 million to US$5.6 billion. Decommissioning at nuclear sites which have experienced a serious accident are the most expensive and time-consuming. In the U.S. there are 13 reactors that have permanently shut down and are in some phase of decommissioning, but none of them have completed the process.

    We all see what’s going on at the SuperFund site at Hanford. Years of virtually nothing happening and leaks everywhere.

    These plants rely on water to cool them in a world where oceans are rising, water temps are rising and droughts exist in other regions. It’s a ticking time bomb no one is addressing.

    We all know radiation doesn’t stay where radiation originated. In all the scenarios I can imagine for life on this planet, this one ranks pretty high on the scary scale. A world where no life giving resource is useful any longer? With the staggering world population we have right now, let alone in 10 years?

    I can only wonder what kind of underground Pod world the Gates Foundation has built to avert this catastrophic event for those in his inner circle.

    • AR says

      Underground Pod world? What a wonderful life! No, it’s just better die standing, as the Che said.

      Good luck to everybody

  2. Francis says

    Thank you to the open eyed diving jester….
    Since i am going to lvfe til i am 123 years old, and I am presently 51 years old, we are at least on track for about 72 years.
    during that time i will dive open eyed along with you, resisting with fertility along the way.
    Your writing, has been like a strong cup a joe, keeping me from falling asleep a the wheel.
    Francis from maui

    • Diane H. Messer says

      Many of us have no intention of going quietly (or resigning as a species to “go early” at all); some of us are screaming from the mountaintops, intent to pull us back from the abyss in time. Those of us who are deeply committed to survival of the Earth’s species feel a moral imperative to maintain the struggle as long as we have breath in our bodies. I do this not to save the humans who have knowingly caused these catastrophic conditions, but in spite of them; the collective conscience of caring Homo sapiens demands perpetuation of the innocents. I do share your skepticism, and I thank you for being a beacon in the fog.

  3. Mike Sosebee says

    The people who invested in these nuclear schemes intend to milk them as long as possible and then when the liabilities reached an unsustainable course abandon them to prohibitively expensive clean-up aka the super-fund pot. Who is super-fund? That’s you and me and everyone else; the people left with the mess after the elites have made their profits. As Noam Chomsky pointed out in “Manufacturing Consent”, main stream media are effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function. After almost 100 years of increasingly corporatist media we have a population that is conditioned to obey.

    The vigorous persecution of Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and other whistle-blowers in America is about simple intimidation. The Obama administration gets a walk daily on this…why? Obama is the “four-minute man” that they trot out to the American public to convince us that we have a choice. The right then attacks him as a “left wing socialist” which convinces us that if Obama is left wing we need to keep the debate within those parameters. This is right out of Walter Lippman’s playbook “Public Opinion” 1922. But since the most of America knows virtually nothing about history we will continue down this well worn road to extinction. At this late stage we have effectively un-plugged ourselves from reality.

    “A graceful decline would require leadership. Therefore I strongly suspect we’ll decline catastrophically.” Guy McPherson

  4. paul marcotte says

    Well Guy,
    Once more you’ve managed to make the points crystal clear, and in so few words, maybe some of the younger set will take the info to heart. But then again…

    • James R. Martin says

      ” … maybe some of the younger set will take the info to heart.”

      And that would be a good thing? What will the younger set do with such a view of our situation? I imagine the younger set would forget about attending in any way to any sort of long term future goals (e.g., college, kicking their drug or alcohol addition, what have you). If they have credit cards, I imagine they will live on them for as long as possible while sleeping outdoors in summer, hindden in tents. In winter perhaps they will all pitch in for an apartment, ten of them to a room. There’s no point not drinking one’s self to death in the brave new world described here, nor preventing teenage pregnancies … or anything much. So I guess the younger set will be a bunch of mad slobs. Or will they be studying the technology of nuclear power plant decommissioning, burning the candle at both ends in their overstuffed apartments?

  5. Greg Wsp says

    Forgive the long post:

    “Into Eternity” – is a very good movie presentation of the nuclear problem we all face. The following was taken from a website:
    A documentary film on nuclear waste produced/ directed with the support of the Danish Film Institute, Eurimaces, Finnish Film Foundation, Nordisk Film & TV Fond, Swedish Film Institute, Avek. It’s about what happens to everyday nuclear waste, the kind that comes from fueling nuclear power plants. Enter Onkalo, a nuclear waste vault being blasted out of solid bedrock in remote Finland. Once finished, filled and sealed, it’s supposed to keep radioactive refuse removed from the environment for 100,000 years. But what happens if a curious archaeologist stumbles upon our ‘pyramid’ at its half time or before?

    Now then, much of this radioactive waste created by man will be radioactive for hundreds of millions of years. The radioactivity found in the U238 bearing rock is limited. By increasing the density and then irradiating the rods, humans have created a far more radioactive group of substances that are far more dangerous than the original material. Over 200 very highly radioactive substances are created in a nuclear reactor that don’t exist in nature.

    I am a civil engineer. I was impressed (negatively) that this problem of what to do with all this nuclear waste has not been resolved by any country, except Finland. They have only two operating nuclear reactors. They are closing both reactors. Germany is closing all of its reactors. Russia has decided to build no more reactors after the Chernobyl disaster.

    Unfortunately, the US in the infinite wisdom of this conscienceless President (look at all this man has done in just he past twelve months and the conclusion has to be impeachment), has pushed through getting two new reactors going for the Georgia/North Carolina area. Against all the known hazards and the better judgment of the people there, many of whom showed up and complained bitterly to prevent it, these reactors are going forward. It is a shame.

    Upon watching the above film, you realize all the expense and exceptional problem solving they engaged to get this waste storage facility done. You then reconsider your question: “What should we do with all this waste?” The problem is immense. The way to solve the problem is to take it on like we would take on a probable impact from a meteor…give it everything we have. We should not allow anyone to ever build another reactor anywhere on Earth ever again. The Finns probably have this right. We should essentially follow the lead of Finland and go about making this deep, permanent burial chamber system and let nobody ever again build another nuclear reactor.

    Once the cost of these reactors is counted appropriately, we can easily show that each state could pave 1/20 of their surface areas with solar collectors for the cost of all this nuclear involvement and containment. These solar collectors will provide the necessary electricity until the next leap in solar collector design comes to the manufacturing phase. These new designs are remarkable and the technology will make the process worthy of worldwide pursuit. Current collectors are only about 10% efficient and the newer collectors are expected to reach 20% efficient. That is enough. We can work with that.

    Germany is becoming totally independent of nuclear power by going to solar, wind and renewables for electricity. They have guaranteed that each homeowner, shopkeeper, farmer, manufacturer that chooses to take the risk of building solar and wind power systems will have the government buy that power at a known rate, for a long period of time. That has worked. Germany will be totally free of nuclear power in a decade.

    Regretfully, our government via George H. W. Bush authorized the release of uranium weapons during the first Iraq war. These so called “Depleted Uranium” weapons are very hazardous and carcinogenic. The term “Depleted” only refers to the reduction of U235 from the compounds used to make the munitions and warhead components. The U238 is plenty carcinogenic and when fired in a weapon, is hazardous to the troops as well as the target and general population. The half life of U238 is 4.46 Billion years. The US military has irradiated much of Iraq with U238. The general population has experienced many tumors and ailments common only to Nagasaki and Hiroshima & Chernobyl survivors. Many medical doctors have written about this. Regretfully, this stuff gets airborne with every dust storm. Dr. Busby notes that he detects this U238 in various places in Europe.

    Dr. Chris Busby has much to say on this subject. I recommend that he be sought out for more information.

    I have been discussing this with scientists, architects, electrical engineers, et. al. and expect to be involved in cleaning up all this insane mess we humans have created for ourselves all over the planet. I ask people if they know how many irradiated sites are here in Ohio and usually get responses like: “There aren’t any are there?” I often answer, “Well, the City of Akron has so much radionuclide contaminated waste in the city sewage system they have to haul it to a hazardous waste site for permanent burial!” People think I am crazy when I say it.

    I have plotted all the known spill sites and heavily contaminated nuclear sites around Ohio. There are more than two dozen! These are sites where just visiting them for an hour exposes you to radionuclides that can probably cause damage. The body is able to deal with most external damage when the concentration is low but ingested radionuclides are a different matter entirely. They are often placed by the body where the body would place the analog substance, bones, brain, muscles, etc. The body cannot discriminate radionuclides from non-radionuclides. These substances will continue to disintegrate over time continuing to cause damage inside the tissue.

    The site just a few miles west of downtown Columbus, Ohio is a highly contaminated waste area that was listed on the Superfund list. Once it was abandoned by the original political/war material maker, it will be contaminated for hundreds of millions of years. You cannot clean this stuff up. It only disintegrates…eventually to lead. The prevailing westerlies keep some of these radionuclides in the air over Columbus all the time.

    There are many sites in the Cincinnati, Dayton, Toledo and south central Ohio areas. The first operating nuclear power plant in the USA was built at Shippingport, PA, just downstream of Pittsburgh. The incidences of various ailments, tumors and cancers in the surrounding Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia areas is well documented.

  6. says

    I really don’t know what to make of this anymore. The ideas that I have been exposed to in the past two years are warping me. I feel like I am on the edge of madness, my own skin doesn’t feel right anymore. I feel the ticking of the clock and the hot breath of impending doom on the back of my neck, yet I turn around and it is only me and my thoughts; the world still looks the same, but I can’t trust my eyes anymore.

    I have been an IT professional fo 31 years and was a deep enthusiast for all the amazing things that technology and the power of human ingenuity are able to do. Until the last few years I have been wiling to overlook the down sides. Now I must come to grips with the probability that I have been an agent of evil when I thought I was doing good.

    When you are confronted with the probability that the world that you thought you knew is a lie and could possibly be ending very soon now, either by economic collapse, environmental collapse, War, Disease, etc. etc., how do you stay sane? How do you even know what sane is anymore?

    Sometimes it all seems like just so much Christian Apocalypse Prophesy or maybe a bad rewrite of Mad Max. If this information wasn’t coming from respected people with more education than I could achieve in five lifetimes and who have no financial incentive as far as I can devine (Does Guy have stock options in a survival bunker company?) I would have happily laughed it all away and forgot about it. I’m not laughing, except maybe manically sometimes. Perhaps I read too much Douglas Adams when I was young; Have I finally snapped or am I finally waking up from a hallucination? How can you tell?

    Just keeping yourself occupied and waiting for the end seems a bit hollow. Am I just “supposed to lay down and put a paper bag over my head”. This can’t be real. This can’t be the way that it ends. The human experiment can’t end on my watch, in my lifetime. I can’t make myself believe such a thing because if I do so I, will, just, stop….

    Please someone tell me this is all a bad dream, a cruel joke, a rounding error.


    • Steve says

      Doug, I am in a similar place to you, I think. I have probably never really faced up to the reality of my own end, though at some level I know it will come. But the end of humanity is in a different conceptual space. I have always assumed that humanity will continue pretty much forever and now it disturbs me that it will not. To play one tiny part in the story of life on earth is not much, but it is something. If that story is ending soon then surely it makes all of history quite meaningless.

      But of course we have always known that everything will come to an end so what difference does it really make for that end to be in fifty years instead of fifty thousand. The only difference I can see is that if it is happening sooner then we have to think about it.

      If it makes you feel better I do not believe we are agents of evil. At what point in human history did we have the opportunity to choose a different path?

      I would actually like to know the answer to this question. At what point in human history did we make the decision to follow this catastrophic path? History could have taken any number of paths but I think all of them would have brought us to technology and high energy use.

      Now I’ll ask the same question of this end of history. At what point could we have avoided our current problems? There probably is a good answer to this and the answer might be “Now!”. Apart from that, though, even if we had tried to reduce carbon output in the nineteen eighties, could we have done enough? Maybe five billions were already too many.

      By the way, I don’t necessarily accept that we do face runaway climate change. It is not that I am in denial it is just that I do not myself understand how the climate system works. All I know really know is that some people who seem credible believe that our situation is dire.

      So, Doug… Don’t blame yourself, please. It was that guy who first learned to make fire who cause all our problems.

  7. James R. Martin says

    Doug F. asks:

    “Have I finally snapped or am I finally waking up from a hallucination? How can you tell?”

    Guy McPherson’s opinion to the effect that we’re already well into an irreversible runaway climate catastrophe which, regardless as to what we do, will inevitably lead to what he abbreviates as Near Term Extinction (NTE) is just that. An opinion. It would be premature to treat that opinion as a fact.

    If humanity hasn’t already created the conditions of an unstoppable runaway climate catastrophe heading into NTE, surely we’re dangerouslly close to that tipping point — so dangerously close that we should properly never again utter the worlds “climate crisis” or “climate change,” favoring instead the phrase “climate emergency”.

    My own opinion is that there is a very slim chance that humanity could wake up and avoid the precipice before our trajectory eliminates most of life as we know it (by which I refer to biodiversity, somewhat intact ecosystems…). But the scale of the transformation which is required for the survival of life as we know it is awesome, immense, gigantic! We’d have to very, very quickly tranform from a carbon-intensive, fossily fueled economy to a post-carbon economy–one which emits a small fraction of the carbon it now does. AND we’d probably have to implement a number of carbon sequestering schemes which pull carbon out of the atmosphere. All of this on the basis of a global emergency, with a profound commitment on the part of billions of people all over the world.

    I’d rather give that a try than give up.

    For what it is worth, I’m reading Ellen LaConte’s new book, Life Rules, which I think everyone here should read as soon as they get a chance. I have a hunch that this book is crucial to the task ahead of us.
    And, Doug, I do think her chapter 6 might help you understand the nature of the “hallucination” you wonder about. That chapter goes a long way toward explaining why and how the established world order deliberately cultivates a kind of “hallucination,” a false dream reality which distorts reality on a massive social scale.

  8. Dan Hanrahan says

    The cliche “it ain’t over till the fat lady sings” is very interesting in this context. The catastrophe/apocalypse has not yet occurred. Rather, its seeds are planted and they are being attended to daily, increasingly. However, this window of time in which we see the gas chamber, yet we are not inside of it is an unprecedented moment in world history. It is a moment in which many people (I know not how many) are awakening to the reality of the thanatos nature of this industrial, greed-driven system. Nothing sobers perception like the whiff of one’s mortality (in this case, the mortality of all sentient life on Earth and -as far as we know – The Universe).

    A lifelong progressive and musician/actor/writer, it is only my perception of this mortal scent in the air which has more completely removed the scales from my eyes. I did not not before how economy and ecology drove so much. How could I know? I have many faults; greed is not one of them. I disbelieved that it was avarice behind the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the Irish potato “famine,” the march to drive the native people of the continent into the Pacific Ocean. I had heard of Hannah Arendt’s phrase, “the banality of evil.” What could this mean?

    I knew the sensual pleasures of love, sex, food and the sublime pleasures of art: a John Coltrane aviary exploration, a verse by Caetano Veloso that could encapsulate all of the joys and longing of childhood into a series of rhythmic phrases and soft rhymes. These experiences cost almost nothing and yet they are distilled pleasure and bliss. And so, destroy the world, the future, whole peoples, whole cultures – why?

    I have come to believe the why of “gold fever,” of “wetiko,” of avarice matters not. It simply is. And now we act ceaselessly and fervently UNTIL “the fat lady sings” and… she may not sing. She may begin her aria and gasp and lose her voice. We will take over then, singing choruses of mystery and connection. Revelation.

  9. Nicko says

    I know the world is turning to shit in most aspects.. However I do not believe the human race is doomed. There’s little to nothing we can do about the current direction.. one can try to alarm the masses.. like so many others have been and are doing. However I believe the better solution is to simply plan for the worst at this point.
    And my plan, similar to so many others aren’t that bad … in my opinion atleast :)
    I believe the awful conclusion that this chain of event are gonna leave mankind devestatingly set back indeed. But that may be what we need to correct our way of life.

    Im about to go to bed and can’t really be bothered to write it all out here to great detail to little use at all, simply writing this because I like feedback from outside sources that’s dealing with the same problem I am, in different manners.

    The plan is quite simply, create a society today that is based upon the values of sustainable living with nature, aswell as proper values in terms of living with our fellow life aswell, animals as well as man and our individual selves. And whatever opinion you fella’s may have about spirituality, science does back up that people who meditate and take care of themselves, not just their physical body but their spiritual/emotional body aswell … are generally a whole lot more pleasent to be around then those that don’t 😉

    So to put it in even lighter terms, a society who’s main priority is peace and harmony for all. I know most people believe that is an impossible achievement but I believe otherwise. Surely, people today, probably even including me would find such a living quite difficult to adapt to considering our uprising. But that’s what we have the next generation for, to teach them our mistakes and see them live up to the solution. Rome wasn’t built in a day as the saying goes. Nature takes time to change, all we can do is insist on the direction of the change, and with time it’ll eventually happen.

    And please, don’t mistake my philosophy on peace and harmony for being unrealistic on the terms that man has and always will want more, to develop and to progress in some way. Such a thing is very much possible to achieve in a community such as this aswell.

    F.ex imagine instead of developing things we don’t really need such as weapons to kill eachother and exctinct animal species with, a couple of billion different toys for man and child alike and get our satisfaction for progress from a different source then watching the.. stock market jump up and down as we’re ‘growing our economy’.
    Instead, imagine a civilization who’s need for progress is being satisfied by progress within the fields of life itself… How to make plants and vegetables grow more fruitful and easily without tainting them with unhealthy material for those who digest them. Progress within medicine in a way where it actually ends up discovering cure’s instead of, suspiciously, only finding ways to treat symptoms. A school system that doesn’t teach structure, obidience while at the same time decreasing ones iQ because the only way one learns is by repeating the stuff that people who actually took some time of to think about things.. learned by doing so, but rather encourages learning within the field a child is natural pursuing him or herself. Nor a structure of leadership that ends up enslaving their responsibility, but instead one that provides support and care, like a parent would.

    Many of these things would be impossible to make function in todays society indeed.. but it will in such a society. I know why.. and I know why we will get there if given a second chance.
    This is going to sound very clishè but please.. don’t underestimate clishès. They’re called clishè because it’s something very stereotypical that everyone has heard so much about that they think they fully understand. And something you’ve been exposed to so many times has little to no impact on you after you’ve heard about it the 100th time.. diminishing returns..
    However, very simply put. However, you’ve only learned from them by having been shared knowledge about them… learning about them from experience itself is a whole different thing entirely, and the impact of the experience itself would barely budge at the massive amount of knowledge and understanding one believes he has prior to it.

    Peace and harmony.. what it actually does with a person is simply, yet highly underestimated and missunderstood.. makes them comfortable with living and being alive. Within every moment of their time. Pain is still present in such a state of mind even so, yes, but not suffering. Pain is a physical phenomenon that can bring suffering.. because suffering is pain of the soul. And an unhealthy soul can’t take much pain before it starts to suffer. A healthy soul who has learned how to live in peace and harmony however, he could take more pain then most alive today could without suffering from it.

    So, peace and harmony. Within this state of mind one has a much clearer sight for what one truly wants to pursue in life, ones life purpose if you would.
    Happiness however is what makes it all worth it, what puts you on the field and allows you to play the game with ones heart, instead of merely spectating the game happen. However, as with peace and harmony happiness is also highly underestimated and missunderstood. Happiness is the fuel of life itself, it’s what energizes you, makes you grow and prosper as an individual.. sadly, in today’s society happiness is also very eluding, pretty much as difficult to hold on to as a live fish aswell.

    Happiness isn’t really what people think it is, you see happiness is about being in the flow.
    While in the flow your entire being is focused onto the task at hand and everything else dissapears, the better the task, the stronger the happiness. And there’s two things happiness does with a person.. firstly, it able’s said person an highly increased capability of problemsolving.. and with that I mean coming up with solutions that actually works… for all, and not choosing the lesser evil as today’s trend seems to be.
    The second thing happiness brings to a being.. the strength and endurance to becoming damn near unstoppable in pursue of his or hers goal… that is a glimpse of what happiness really are.
    Combine the power of peace, harmony and happiness all together, and mankind may have finally achieved the first step in the pursuit of why mother nature saw it fit to give man intelligence and self-awareness to begin with.

    To those that think the planet will be doomed when shit hits the fan… our planet have survived so many mass extinctions before. Surely she may finally fall victim to that cancer mankind turned into.. I choose to believe otherwise tho, life on this planet has evidently always prevailed in the end. I choose to make the best of it.
    If man can survive what’s coming, I’ve made it my life purpose to make sure that those who do survive, live with proper values for themselves, life and nature. And does their best making sure the following generations do so aswell..

    I think mankind united would be of equal power to that of the biblical God.. even if the entire planet falls to nuclear winter and radiation poisoning worldwide.. with enough time and opportunity I’m certain we’d find a way to reverse those effects. It probably wouldn’t happend in a year or even a hundred. But as long as it would, and as long as the man who finally re-entered a world ready to grow and prosper knew how to treat it, and the life within her. It would defintively be worth it in the end.

    All life yearns for happiness, animals as much as humans. I believe as intelligent and self-aware beings we have a responsiblity for happiness, not only for ourselves but for all life. And I believe fulfilling that responsibility is what man really was destined for to begin with.

    I apologize for any grammar mistakes, english was never my maiden language and I learned it on the internet so… have a nice day;)

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