Planetary Hospice

Guy McPherson

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“More than 15 years ago, while editing a book about climate change, I concluded that habitat for humans would be coming to an end soon due to abrupt planetary warming. I knew we’d go extinct shortly thereafter. However, the information was too traumatic to act upon, and so I locked it away back in that dark little safe place in my head where I didn’t have to think about it.”—Guy McPherson

Going Dark

By Dr. Guy McPherson & Pauline Schneider

The late, great Planet Earth.

The late, great Planet Earth.

“The meanings of life aren’t inherited. What is inherited is the mandate to make meanings of life by how we live. The endings of life give life’s meanings a chance to show. The beginning of the end of our order, our way, is now in view. This isn’t punishment, any more than dying is a punishment for being born.”―Stephen Jenkinson

Schneider-McPherson

SAN ANTONIO Belize—(Weekly Hubris)—October 2018—The ongoing Sixth Mass Extinction is driven by abrupt planetary heating at a rate approximately 10 times faster than any prior extinction event on Earth. Emissions of greenhouse gases and the rate of extinction during the Sixth are proceeding at about an order of magnitude faster than during the Great Dying, the worst of the five prior Mass Extinction Events.

The Great Dying, which occurred about 250 million years ago, led to the demise of more than 90 percent of the species on Earth within a period of about 900 to about 19,000 years (the virtual absence of multi-cellular life in the wake of the Great Dying, along with the absence of humans, constrains greater precision in estimating the timing of this extinction event).

Ultimately, of course, every species goes extinct, just as surely as every living being dies. Ours is the seventh identified species in the genus Homo, and our six known predecessors have already blinked out.

More than 15 years ago, while editing a book about climate change, I concluded that habitat for humans would be coming to an end soon due to abrupt planetary warming. I knew we’d go extinct shortly thereafter. However, the information was too traumatic to act upon, and so I locked it away back in that dark little safe place in my head where I didn’t have to think about it. The information percolated in the crock pot of my mind, cooking, just like Earth.   

I was a busy professor, after all. I had students to teach, books to write, research to conduct, awards to win. Who has time to think about one’s personal death, much less extinction of our species? I was busy conducting research, applying the Socratic method in my classrooms, speaking publicly about relevant issues, and battling university administrators who were constantly siding with money over principle.

After nearly 18 years of award-winning teaching complete with receipt of the highest academic awards from my home department and also from the University of Arizona, my department head removed me from teaching classes in my home department. This act was simultaneously the deepest insult and greatest reward a professor could receive. I could have easily stayed home and collected my ivory-tower paycheck. I hadn’t been fired, after all, which left me with a difficult choice: stay home watching re-runs of bad television shows while I collected my checks, or find alternative teaching venues. My commitment to service led me to the university’s Honors College, where the dean welcomed my voluntary efforts to teach Honors students. While I was at it, I extended my educational efforts by joining the founder of Poetry Inside/Out, a program which focused on incarcerated individuals and, from that moment forward, the students in my Honors courses, as well.

In 2007, I started to blog about abrupt climate change, our imminent extinction, peak oil, and the murderous culture of industrial civilization. The evidence indicating that civilization is an omnicidal heat engine indicated that only collapse of civilization could extend the run of our species. In a perfectly imperfect world, that would have been true. The details behind three very important phenomena interfere with the ideal world, however: abrupt climate change, global dimming, and the unplanned meltdown of the world’s nuclear power facilities.

Meanwhile, the crock pot in my brain was still stewing and I hatched a wily plan to extend the lives of my wife and myself, while also serving as an example of right action as I reduced my ecological footprint. I cashed in my retirement funds and created a platinum-grade, off-grid homestead in the wilds of southern New Mexico. And then I impatiently waited for everyone to follow me. After all, who wouldn’t follow an entertaining, award-winning professor out of the city and off the grid? 

Crickets.

It wasn’t long before I realized it was a good thing nobody had followed me. What I had not calculated into the scenario when I began the arduous process of forsaking civilization were: 1) abrupt climate change, 2) global dimming, and 3) uncontrolled meltdown of nuclear facilities.

These three factors create the perfect storm of “We’re SOL and there’s no turning back the clock.”

Abrupt climate change is under way, and it has precedence on Earth. It has no precedence with humans on Earth because abrupt heating removes habitat faster than most animals can keep up. Humans will soon join that undistinguished, never-to-be-seen-again crowd.

Global dimming is the Catch-22 of global warming. Greenhouse gases trap solar radiation and warm the planet, as most people know. But as industrial activity produces greenhouse gases that warm the planet, it also produces aerosols that act as umbrellas to cool the planet. These aerosols reflect incoming sunlight before it reaches the surface of Earth. Whereas greenhouse gases stay in the atmosphere for a long time, locking in ever-increasing temperatures for at least a thousand years, aerosols fall out of the atmosphere within about six weeks.

If we clean up our carbon-dioxide-spewing act, the sulfates fall out without being replaced and humans lose habitat on this jewel of a planet within about six weeks.

The additional bad news is the likely meltdown of more than 450 nuclear reactors throughout Earth due to a combination of continued abrupt warming and the resulting collapse of civilization due to the inability to grow, store, and distribute grains at large scale.

It doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to imagine the scenario we’ve seen in plenty of disaster movies. We’ve also seen it happen at Chernobyl and Fukushima, two ongoing nuclear disasters. Imagine Fukushima times 100 and no willing, paid people around to contain the damage.

What does that look like? It looks like lethal mutations resulting from bathing in ionizing radiation, until we can no longer procreate. It also looks like Earth’s atmosphere being vaporized as our only home is turned into a dead planet that will never come back from this extinction event.

And guess what? Nobody is working on any of these three predicaments! At this late stage, they have become insoluble predicaments. Forty years ago, we might have had a chance.

Acting even 20 years ago might have given us the chance to persist in a post-apocalyptic world. But today, the two chances of solving the predicaments in which we are embroiled are zero and none.

Earth is in Stage Four. She has little time remaining.

The crock pot in my brain is just about boiling over at this point and I realize I am going to have to admit my own mortality is imminent. That’s nothing new to me, or to any of us. We all knew, even when we were kids, that one day we were going to die. Most of us didn’t think it would happen for a long time, but we knew it would happen, eventually.

Most of us could not have imagined we’d be taking the entire living planet into the abyss with us. Or that there would be no one left to write dirges for us, or tell the story of how hard we fought to save our home and all Her lovely creatures.

When a patient is in Stage Four cancer with days to live, do the doctors keep telling her they are going to save her? Do they tell her they will invent a cure to turn back the clock? Of course not: That would be lying. Medical doctors who are decent human beings arrange for the patient’s hospice care so she can be comfortable and have a chance to say good-bye to her loved ones in a safe space. In hospice, patients can complete relationships and be spared a death of agonizing pain or loneliness, much less filled with the false hope of a miracle cure that is never coming. (Stephen Jenkinson has done a great deal of work on this topic—he calls it the “death trade”—and it is worth taking the time to read his books and listen to his interviews.)

It was the horrific combination of abrupt climate change, global dimming, and nuclear reactors’ melting down that led me to conclude that my own crock pot was done. I fully embraced the terrifying reality of our situation, in all its tragic beauty. We are going extinct, and soon. The only reasonable way for me to walk into this strange and alien future is with the analogy of hospice. Every one of us, together. More than seven billion people saying good-bye to each other in hospice. We no longer need worry about careers, reputations, mortgages, where we’ll get our water from, warlords, pandemics, or the truly mundane aspects of life such as washing dishes, taking out the trash, or doing laundry. In the end, these mundane tasks seem oddly bittersweet. 

On a person’s deathbed, she is generally either alone or surrounded by the people she loves. She isn’t thinking about anything except the people who meant something to her during her life. Because at the edge of extinction, only love remains.

Pauline-SchneiderPauline Schneider,  née Panagiotou, was born in Nigeria, brought up in Greece, spent most of her adult life in New York state, and now lives on a 57-acre homestead she created in western Belize. She is a New York-certified secondary school teacher, New York Botanical Garden-certified landscape designer, author, videographer, and documentarian.

To order Dr. McPherson’s books, click the cover images here below:

McPherson going dark cover

McPherson Walking Away from Empire - A Personal Journey cover

Guy McPherson

About Guy McPherson

Guy McPherson is an internationally recognized speaker, award-winning scientist, and the world’s leading authority on abrupt climate change leading to near-term human extinction. He is professor emeritus at the University of Arizona, where he taught and conducted research for 20 years. His published works include 14 books and hundreds of scholarly articles. Dr. McPherson has been featured on television and radio and in several documentary films. He is a blogger and social critic who co-hosted his own radio show, “Nature Bats Last.” Dr. McPherson speaks to general audiences across the globe, and to scientists, students, educators, and not-for-profit and business leaders who seek their best available options when confronting Earth’s cataclysmic changes.
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25 Responses to Planetary Hospice

  1. Robert Schick says:

    Guy: your recent discussion on The Reality Report sent me returning to Schopenhauer. One writer states S wrote: “Every increase in intellect beyond the ordinary measure is an abnormality that disposes one to madness due to the withdrawing from the mundane concerns of human Life…” (i read that as: instead of engaging his 2 varieties of aesthetic experience: the beautiful and the sublime). i’ve felt trapped by the mundane since childhood and music has been the creative release and ‘cure’ for that, along with this most beautiful of planets that continues to be trashed by the mundanity of human hubris. My motto has been: “Surround yourself with beauty; the other option sucks.” Thank you, and Pauline, for hanging out with us amidst the human folly.

  2. john turcot says:

    Dear Guy,

    I’ve followed most of your lectures and writings for a long time. The one thing I have most admired is the consistency of your messages. If I may present my opinion on the matter, it is that most people hear, but seldom repeat the message that you are sending, believing in the hope that time may still be on our side. I myself have held that opinion for a long time, but as time goes by, and the excellent narrative that you present in that we are basically fucked, as Kevin Hesner likes to emphasize, is getting harder and harder to avoid, or deny.

    The combination of the greenhouse effects and dimming effects acting in unision is a dilemma which, as you indicate, may indeed prove to be a predicament, at least in terms of the survivability of most life on the planet, if not all of it in the wake of the irradiation that will prevail come nuclear plant meltdown time.

    For what it’s worth, I do wish that there would have been more people such as yourself who would have dedicated their time and survival means to a just cause. I did personally imagine a human social living protocol that would have changed the nature of human existence , but if the predicaments that we find ourselves in are indeed locked in, I’m afraid the lateness of possible actions that would save our collective necks may just be a little too late.

    Thanks for your presence and your dedication. John Turcot

  3. William Pothier says:

    Guy,
    I appreciate you baring yourself like this. Anyone who thinks that you destroyed your career on purpose just to be able to now tell everyone that the world is going to end just doesn’t understand what the word credible means. You could have launched your message from the cheap seats while still collecting your paycheck but you put your money and future life where your mouth is and I for one thank you for it. Soon the students in my Disasters class will understand this as well. All the best to you Guy.
    Bill Pothier

  4. Jef says:

    I know it is like discussing the adhesive used on the bandaid covering the gaping, gangrenous wound but I have some thoughts on global dimming.

    Although the aerosols block some of the suns radiation they are still coming in and then being blocked from going back out by CO2. I imagine that the radiation is warming the aerosols too and then warming the atmosphere directly so over all there is still considerable warming happening just not on Earths surface directly.

    The reason I believe that this distinction is important is because most people see global dimming as a good thing, even something we should build on and increase as a solution to global warming. Which it absolutely is not!

    I too built the lifeboat/small farm around the same time with the thought that it would serve as a possible positive example/alternative as well as considerable other efforts to build community. I got a little traction in the beginning but all have returned modern civilization and all its trappings. I have now pulled back on the emphasis on production here on the farm and focus more on all of the life that is attracted to the oasis I am fortunate to have here. I often refer to it as less farm, more hospice for all of the living flora and fauna that come here.

    Cheers Guy & Pauline

  5. izzy says:

    I’m pretty old now, but it occurred to me long ago that human beings eat experience, and then extrude meaning. What’s coming would likely choke a pig.

  6. Guy McPherson says:

    Wow! What an informed, intelligent, and thoughtful set of comments. Big thanks to each of you, Robert, John, Bill, Jef, and Izzy.

  7. judy pearce says:

    I have recently concluded that Gaia would be much better off without human beings. We simply don’t deserve to live on this beautiful planet.

  8. Guy McPherson says:

    I agree, Judy, with a caveat: Gaia’s pain comes from humans within civilization. The earlier version of Homo sapiens was gentle and downright harmless in comparison.

  9. francine nickerson says:

    I’ve worked many hospice cases in my life and have found the last thing to get turned off is the oxygen. Once that happens the patient generally expires within minutes. I’ve been watching our oxygen decrease rapidly and believe we are seeing the increasing effects of this in all species at present. I understand the grief process very well and have accepted we all have an end. The thing is, anger and depression never seem to leave me and I feel that’s alright too. Thank you for all you do in helping all of us to understand and to come to terms with the inevitable end which is quickly approaching.

  10. andy gardener says:

    “The ongoing Sixth Mass Extinction is driven by abrupt planetary heating at a rate approximately 10 times faster than any prior extinction event on Earth. ”

    as much as i agree generally with what guy says, i have to take issue with the absurdist claim above. surely the asteroid that devestated the planet 65 million years ago would have caused extinct rates thousands of times higher, due to it instantly obliterating a significant proportion of all lifeforms! the current ‘industrial megacancer’ extinction event might be extremely rapid compared to the geological crawl of the ‘great dying’ of the permian, (and whether it will be as devastating is yet to be seen) but what we do know is that it pails into insignificance compared to a major asteroid event in terms of life cleansing effectiveness.

  11. Guy McPherson says:

    Thank you for your informed comment, Francine.

    Andy, the asteroid caused abrupt cooling, not heating. As a result, the extinction rate and outcome were far lower than the post-Permian event and the ongoing Sixth.

  12. John Librano says:

    Thank you for your research.

    If I understand correctly, you’re predicting the extinction of all planetary life in the near term, resulting from the three-phase process:

    1) abrupt climate change, 2) global dimming, and 3) uncontrolled meltdown of nuclear facilities.

    Suppose the third step can be avoided by some miracle of last-minute international organization and preventive action:

    Under that optimistic scenario, how many years (+/-) from October 2018 does Mother Earth have before humanity becomes extinct?

    < 5 years? i.e. before 2023
    5 – 10 years? i.e. 2023 – 2028
    10-20 years? i.e. 2028 – 2038

    When is the global warming pause of the last ~20 years going to be replaced by the 'abrupt climate change'?

  13. Guy McPherson says:

    You understand me correctly, John. I’ve long predicted the last human will die in a bunker surrounded by the bodies of like-minded sociopaths in 2025.

  14. David York says:

    Guy, you mentioned a while ago that you thought the concept of Global Dimming was introduced quite recently, but I first learned about it from a BBC Horizon documentary “Global Dimming” which came out in 2005. There is a copy on Youtube: https://youtu.be/c0BMyT4RCzY. (I tried to post a better copy on my Youtube channel and got hit for copyright violation. I dunno…)

  15. Guy McPherson says:

    Thank you, David. I’ve long known about the BBC documentary. By “recent knowledge,” I’m referring to the refereed journal literature. First mention there was in December 2011.

  16. Alexander Kershaw says:

    After living under the shadow of the mushroom cloud, literally in Nevada, when Fukushima happened and the infant mortality on the West coast spiked 35%, I could no longer ignore the reality. I weighed the options and decided to move to the Southern hemisphere. 99% of the nuclear reactors and 100% of the nuclear weapons are in the Northern hemisphere and the air and water masses do not mix much.
    As to extinction: Humans are the only complex organisms to live in most habitable ecosystems with the exception of cockroaches and rats and those are hitchhikers. With our complex brains and hands and various cultures, it will take only a few to survive to replenish the planet. Humans left Africa 70 or so thousand years ago, picked up some DNA from our close relatives and proceded in a relatively short time to inhabit everything outside of Antarctica. If nothing else humans are resilient and flexible. Everywhere they went before civilization, even the Arctic and the Amazon, they manipulated their environment. Perhaps civilization will disappear, not such a bad thing, but humans will be the last complex organism to go outside of the deep oceans.
    Global warming will probably reverse as soon as enough die that industrial agriculture is abandoned. Jared Diamond has said the agriculture is humanity’s greatest mistake. There is actual evidence to support this idea. When 95-98% died after Columbus the abandonment of gardens and fields, the take over of weeds, grazing animals and trees took so much carbon from the air that temperatures world wide dropped 1C and there was the Little Ice Age. photosynthesis is a great balancer.
    https://www.sciencenews.org/article/columbus-arrival-linked-carbon-dioxide-drop
    In the meantime eat organic/biodynamic, grass fed and pastured, grow your own, keep bees and chickens, avoid industrial agricultural food, put 50% ethanol in the tank of your car and then sit down to a bees wax candle lit dinner with friends and toast with a biodynamic wine.

  17. Guy McPherson says:

    Alexander, I hardly know where to begin with your misinformed comment. There is no reversing abrupt, irreversible climate change. There is no habitat for human animals on a dead planet. There is no habitat for human animals on a significantly depleted planet marinating in the ionizing radiation that forced your departure from the Northern Hemisphere.

    There is one atmosphere. It is completely mixed within a year. Perhaps you know about the mixed mess of a jet stream. Perhaps not.

    There is one ocean. It is mixing rapidly. Perhaps you know about the boundary between the Atlantic and the Arctic disappearing, as reported in the Washington Post. Perhaps not.

  18. John Mann says:

    Thank you for your service and attention to detail, Dr. McPherson.

    I’ve always spent a lot of time outdoors, inevitably becoming intimate with some of nature’s rhythms and cycles. Being outside daily basis has resulted in my bearing witness to an ongoing, unmistakable collapse of insect and bird populations. Simple notice of species decline, combined a with lifelong interest in the sciences, subsequently compelled painful introspection regarding humanity’s various suicidal impulses.

    It seems to me that among those impulses possibly the first and worst has been humanity’s struggles to distance itself from – and impose itself on – the natural, sustaining world. We’ve forgotten our bodies are made of, ultimately return to and are absolutely dependent on the very earth we subjugate and scorn, “intelligently.”

    Humans subjugated their cosmically-granted gifts of perception and awareness to pursuit of the twin follies war and destruction of the life-giver. All in pursuit of absolute, self-absorbed superiority for one’s person and tribe.

    I’ve little doubt your dire predictions will manifest. Call it either justice or karma. Both fit.

    One quibble: In-re Chernobyl and Fukushima you write about, ” … no willing, paid people around to contain the damage.” I submit there IS NO containment. Fukushima sports three fully melted-down reactor cores, corium masses that nobody knows the exact location of. Onsite workers are there to monitor emissions and perform surface decontamination work.

    At Chernobyl, a graphite-pile reactor, a gigantic “cover” was built some distance away from the destroyed pile, then moved on specially built rails over the entire complex. Built at the cost of billions of euros, its purpose is to minimize emissions that can’t be stopped for tens of thousands of years. Constantly attacked by extremely high levels of ionizing radiation, the ‘cover’ is expected to last about a century … some fix.

  19. Guy McPherson says:

    You’ll get no argument from me, John. The strong tendency toward conservatism in my writing sometimes gives the impression I’m optimistic.

  20. K says:

    I have two small children and I am scared. What do I do now? How do I prepare? Do I try to go to a safe house farm or is is not worth it? Better to stay here at home knowing and pretend to them everything is fine?

  21. Guy McPherson says:

    K, yours is a question I receive frequently. How does one live with a terminal diagnosis, especially when the “patient” is a child of mine? I have a few suggestions, and I’m not a parent (a choice I made a long time ago). I will address this topic in next month’s essay, with a focus on me. I’ll start here.

    I know nobody better at living in the moment than children. I’d encourage you to let your children live as freely as they’re able.

    I’m not sure how much of this information applies to your situation. I’ll offer it anyway. Perhaps you will find something useful:

    I am asked nearly every day for advice about living. I recommend living fully. I recommend living with intention. I recommend living urgently, with death in mind. I recommend the pursuit of excellence. I recommend the pursuit of love. It’s small wonder I am often derided, mocked, rejected, and isolated by my contemporaries in the scientific community.

    In light of the short time remaining in your life, and my own, I recommend all of the above, louder than before. More fully than you can imagine. To the limits of this restrictive culture, and beyond.

    For you. For me. For us. For here. For now.

    Live large. Be you, and bolder than you’ve ever been. Live like you’re dying. Because you are.

  22. Elizabeth Boleman-Herring says:

    Guy, it is a privilege to be one of your publishers. The response just above shines off its virtual page…..

  23. Robert Schick, rogue says:

    Don’t know if you’ll see this Guy. Just read your latest interview w/Rajani Kanth. As always, thank you. For me, 2 sentences you stated: “I don’t know any ordinary people. I only know extraordinary people.” (of course there may be different ways to interpret that), so i’ll only go by my personal one: “i know far too many ordinary people. i avoid them whenever possible. Now, i attempt to only communicate with extraordinary people (and Lifeforms–The Innocents), which of course simplifies dealings with most people. Also, thanks for the Lennon song. That’s me now. Of course Lennon was, and still is, disparaged by ordinary people. i’ve also placed him, with a short song of mine in my opera ‘Sphere (The Most Passionate Love Triangle Never Imagined)’, titled: ‘Lennon Would Be Pissed.’ And of course he would be. Sincerely, rogue composer (the program wouldn’t allow me to write ‘composer’ next to my name…go figure…)

  24. Nancy Kehoe says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful analysis on the current state and future of our beloved planet. I’m wondering how you arrived at 2025/26 as the end year. Why not 2024 or 2030, for example?

  25. Guy McPherson says:

    Thank you, Elizabeth. It’s a pleasure working with you.

    Nancy, this analysis is for your welcome curiosity: https://guymcpherson.com/2016/08/the-politics-and-science-of-our-demise/

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