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Extinction Event?

By Guy R. McPherson

08 February, 2011
Guymcpherson.com

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.

Image courtesy of the National Snow
and Ice Data Center, http://nsidc.org/

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 2 C warmer is truly catastrophic (although they downplay the likelihood we’re already committed to this outcome): “We conclude that Earth in the warmest interglacial periods was less than 1°C warmer than in the Holocene and that goals of limiting human-made warming to 2°C and CO2 to 450 ppm are prescriptions for disaster” (the paper is titled “Paleoclimate Implications for Human-Made Climate Change: Draft paper for Milankovic volume”, as described on Hansen’s website). Currently, Earth’s atmosphere contains about 390 ppm carbon dioxide, and simply including methane (one of many greenhouse gases) brings the atmospheric equivalent of carbon dioxide up to about 460 ppm.

Against this background, it is easy to foresee a rapidly and profoundly warming Arctic as a trigger for positive feedbacks such as release of methane hydrates and reduced albedo. These extremely dangerous feedbacks, which forecasters did not expect until the planet becomes 2 C warmer than the baseline (vs. the current level of ~0.75 C warmer), could trigger runaway greenhouse. In other words, the ongoing Arctic defrost could lead directly and quickly to the extinction of Homo sapiens.

Is that important enough for you?

If you’re among the mainstream media, the answer is no. If you’re any politician in the industrialized world, the answer is no. If you want to continue the process of human-population overshoot on an overshot planet, the answer is no. If you’re one of the kingpins of capitalism — or even a defender of capitalism — the answer is no. I’ll go further: If you’re a defender of western civilization, your answer is no. But if you’re among the few people working to terminate western civilization before it terminates our species, it seems we’ve lost this most important of battles.

Like economic collapse, extinction is a process, not 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. It can’t happen here. I’m just another purveyor of negativity to be ignored by a world full of happy optimists hedonists.

I am routinely accused of being an insane terrorist because I want to terminate the industrial economy, thereby giving our species 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?

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 have created for them, and especially for their children. 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.

 


 

Guy R. McPherson is Profesor Emeritus at the University of Arizona. Educated in
the ecology and management of natural resources, his early scholarly efforts
produced many publications of little lasting importance. In mid-career, he
began to focus on development and creative application of ecological theory,
primarily with an eye toward conservation of biological diversity. Currently,
his scholarly efforts focus on social criticism, with results that appear most
frequently on newspaper op-ed pages. In addition, he facilitates research by
students and he prepares synthetic documents focused on articulation of the
links between (1) environmental protection, social justice, and the human
economy and (2) science and its application. These efforts have produced more
than 100 scholarly papers and nine books. In 2009 at the height of a productive career, McPherson left the university to prepare for collapse. He now lives in an off-grid, straw-bale house where he puts into practice his lifelong interest in sustainable living via organic
gardening, raising small animals for eggs and milk, and working with members of
his rural community.

contact information:

Guy R. McPherson, Professor Emeritus
University of Arizona
School of Natural Resources & the Environment and
Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
Biological Sciences East 325
Tucson, Arizona   85721

email:  grm@ag.arizona.edu



 


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