Living with Urgency on a Dying Planet

Guy McPherson

“Closer to home Homo sapiens mammals cannot evolve fast enough to escape the current extinction crisis. Humans are vertebrate mammals. To believe that our species can avoid extinction, even as non-human vertebrates and non-human mammals disappear, is classic human hubris wrapped in a warm blanket of myth-based human supremacy.”—Guy McPherson

Going Dark

By Dr. Guy McPherson

Whale installation made from trash found in the ocean. (Image: Greenpeace Media.

Whale installation made from trash found in the ocean. (Image: Greenpeace Media.

“Some say the world will end in fire,/Some say in ice./From what I’ve tasted of desire/I hold with those who favor fire./But if it had to perish twice,/I think I know enough of hate/To say that for destruction ice/Is also great/And would suffice.”—Robert Frost

Guy McPherson

WESTCHESTER COUNTY New York—(Weekly Hubris)—March 2019—American professor of evolutionary biology George C. Williams died in September 2010 at the age of 83. I doubt he knew we were facing our own imminent extinction when he said, “Most evolving lineages, human or otherwise, when threatened with extinction, don’t do anything special to avoid it.”

By the time Williams died, I’d been sounding the alarm for three years. I was hardly alone. The warnings I’ll mention in this essay were hardly the first ones about climate catastrophe likely to result from burning fossil fuels. A little time with your favorite online search engine will take you to George Perkins Marsh sounding the alarm in 1847, Svente Arrhenius’s relevant journal article in April of 1896, and young versions of Al Gore, Carl Sagan, and James Hansen testifying before the United States Congress in the 1980s. There is more, of course, all ignored for a few dollars in a few pockets.

Rate Matters

The projected rate of climate change based on IPCC-style gradualism outstrips the adaptive response of vertebrates by a factor of 10,000 times. Closer to home, Homo sapiens mammals cannot evolve fast enough to escape the current extinction crisis. Humans are vertebrate mammals. To believe that our species can avoid extinction, even as non-human vertebrates and non-human mammals disappear, is classic human hubris wrapped in a warm blanket of myth-based human supremacy. The evidence indicates humans will join the annihilation of “all life on earth,” as reported in the journal literature on 13 November 2018. After all, humans are alive (some more than others).

The catastrophic, uncontrolled meltdown of the world’s nuclear power facilities is sufficient but not necessary for the near-term loss of life on Earth. “Only” abrupt climate change is necessary to rid Earth of all life.

The response to these warnings, throughout history? Shift the baseline. Ignore the abundant science. Throw caution to the wind.

The corporate media, governments, and most climate scientists continue to adhere to the 2C target proposed by economist William Nordhaus in 1977: “If there were global temperatures more than 2C or 3C above the current average temperature, this would take the climate outside of the range of observations which have been made over the last several hundred thousand years.”

We know quite a bit more about climate science than we did in 1977. And real scientists knew, even way back then, that economists were not to be treated as scientists. It’s small wonder Nordhaus shared the politically motivated Nobel Prize in Economics last year. I wouldn’t have been surprised had he been given the Nobel Peace Prize, thus joining fellow partners-in-specialists-in-genocide Henry Kissinger and Barack Obama.

How Hot is Earth?

Earth is currently 1.73C above the 1750 baseline marking the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. This global-average temperature is the highest ever with Homo sapiens present, according to a 2017 paper in Earth System Dynamics by James Hansen and colleagues. In other words, our species has never experienced a hotter Earth than the one currently driving the ongoing refugee crisis as habitat for humans disappears. And we’re not quite at the 2C limit (sic) established by Nordhaus.

In response to the ever-accelerating crisis known as abrupt climate change, the conventional approach is to shift the baseline. Instead of admitting the planet is nearly 2C above the 1750 baseline, governments and many scientists have determined the baseline is actually 1981-2010, or later. Adherence to the Precautionary Principle is clearly unfashionable.

We’ve known for decades that the 2C number set in stone by Nordhaus is dangerous. We were running out of time” to deal with greenhouse gases in 1965, according to the chief of the American Petroleum Institute. Fourteen years later, it was Edward Teller informing Big Oil they needed to change. Al Gore and Carl Sagan testified to Congress in 1985 that we must act now on climate change. In late June 1989, Noel Brown, the director of the New York office of the United Nations Environment Program indicated we had only until 2000 to avoid catastrophic climate change. About 16 months after Brown’s warning, the United Nations Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases set 1C as the absolute upper limit in October 1990. Climate speaker and writer David Spratt said 0.5C was the upper limit in October 2014.

It was probably too late to reverse abrupt, irreversible climate change in 1977 when Nordhaus shared his genocidal opinion. It certainly was too late to change course in 1989. And comforting words aside, we haven’t done anything to prevent our own extinction in the wake of warnings distant or near.

In October 2018, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicated we have until 2030 to hold global-average temperature at 1.5C above the ever-shifting baseline. Yes, that’s correct: The United Nations is recommending a global-average temperature well below the current temperature as a “target.”

It gets worse, of course: United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres says we have until 2020 to turn this ship around. The only known means by which humans can change the global-average temperature in any direction between now and 2020 is the reduction of industrial activity, which will alleviate the aerosol masking effect and therefore drive the global-average much higher very quickly (the impact of the aerosol masking effect has been greatly underestimated, as pointed out in a 17 January 2019 article in Science). And that’s not the direction we want the temperature to change if we’re interested in maintaining habitat for vertebrates and mammals on Earth. Loss of the aerosol masking effect means loss of habitat for human animals, with human extinction to follow.

It gets unimaginably worse by the day, of course. The latest information from the refereed journal literature finally caught up to me in concluding the Sixth Mass Extinction could annihilate all life on Earth. A paper in Science Reports draws this conclusion based upon the rate of environmental change, consistent with my own conclusions. Five-and-a-half years after I described the horrors of interacting factors, a paper in the 21 December 2018 issue of Science concludes such interactions are tremendously important. Following up on 10 January 2019, a paper in the same publication points to ocean temperatures increasing much faster than expected, thereby ensuring 2018 as the year with the warmest oceans ever recorded on Earth. As one result, Antarctica is losing ice mass at six times the rate of 40 years ago, according to a paper in the 14 January 2019 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

As one who loves life, my gratification from these most conservative of sources is overwhelmed by my sadness at the loss.

The Oceans are Dying

Turning to the ever-warming planetary oceans takes us to a review paper in Science, a premiere refereed journal. The journal article was widely reported by the corporate press (for example, the New York Times), probably because it adheres to the 2100 meme. It’s the standard, halfway-there approach. Color me shocked.

Shifting the baseline is a common trick used by governments, media, and paid climate scientists, as I have explained repeatedly. We were on the brink in 1965, we had 10 years in 1989, and now we have until 2030 or 2020. Shifting the baseline continues, even in the journal literature, which claims we are striving to achieve a target we passed long ago: 1.5C above the pre-industrial baseline.

In the current case, shifting the baseline is hardly the only problem with the recent review paper in Science. Indeed, the article refers to ocean deoxygenation (also known as hypoxia) as if this phenomenon could never occur in the near future, much less today. The study adds to information published in a March 2017 edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences pointing to deoxygenation of the oceans. Neither study draws attention to earlier research indicating deoxygenation could become a major issue by 2030. Nor do they point out obvious, ongoing harbingers. They similarly downplay the rapidity with which deoxygenation can occur, as reported in the August 2017 issue of Science Advances. The latter paper mentions, quite importantly, that dead zones in today’s oceans bear remarkable resemblance to those during the Cretaceous. As pointed out in an article in the 19 December 2018 issue of Science Advances, “ocean oxygen loss may, thus, elicit major changes to midwater ecosystem structure and function.” As expected, plankton productivity is plunging as the base of the marine food web is destroyed by rapid changes in the world’s oceans.

Even US Senator Bernie Sanders is willing to describe ocean deoxygenation as a contemporary issue, as illustrated in the short video embedded below.

The oceans are running out of oxygen, and climate change is fueling the decline. via The Years Project

Posted by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders on Wednesday, December 12, 2018

 The 10 December 2018 online issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences includes a paper titled, “Pliocene and Eocene provide best analogs for near-future climates.” When does the paper propose such a profoundly rapid rise in global-average temperature? As early as 2030, from this most conservative of sources. Following up on 10 January 2019, a paper in Science points to ocean temperatures increasing much faster than expected, thereby ensuring 2018 as the year with the warmest oceans ever recorded on Earth.

It’s not only the world’s oceans currently impacted by hypoxia. Dead zones have already spread to freshwater lakes and streams.

Now What?

Lacking habitat, humans will not survive Earth with a Pliocene-style climate. The same holds for Earth with an Eocene-style climate. Sadly, hothouse Earth is simply not suitable for us. We are vertebrates. We are mammals. Neither vertebrates nor mammals can “keep up” with projected gradual changes. To believe we can adapt to or mitigate for the abrupt climate currently under way is absurdly human.

Precisely zero humans will witness 2100. Indeed, there will be nary a human more than seven decades before the calendar reads 2100. As a result, no calendars will be turned to 2100. Rather, our species has a scant few years left on Earth.

To put it simply, our fate as a species is sealed. We’re headed for extinction in the very near term despite warnings dating from more than 150 years. It’s a tragic tale. And, as foretold by evolutionary biologist George C. Williams, our species hardly made a squeak as the hammer dropped.

Our extinction is imminent. As usual, I encourage readers to live accordingly.

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

Only Love Remains: Dancing at the Edge of Extinction by Guy R. McPherson

Paperback.

Only Love Remains: Dancing at the Edge of Extinction Kindle Edition, by Guy McPherson.

Kindle Edition.

McPherson going dark cover

Guy McPherson

About Guy McPherson

Guy McPherson is an internationally recognized speaker, award-winning scientist, and one of the world’s leading authorities 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-host 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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30 Responses to Living with Urgency on a Dying Planet

  1. Avatar Rogue Composer says:

    As usual. Thank you Guy. Sublimely detailed (the sarcastic, cynical side of me attempting humor for the deaf denialists–know any?). Wonder how many will actually digest your words of Reality; moreso, how many will take them directly to what remains of their hearts’ senses, let alone living with urgency. As the molecular biologist Melissa Price less than sublimely stated: “Stuff is just blinking out.” It’s obvious to any who are connected to more than their delusional screens that stuff is just blinking out. All the astonishing myriad lifeforms perishing for no fault of their own, other than having been existing at the same time as Homo stupidus, i call ‘The Innocents’. My current personal favorite line: “If ya have to do the right things, ya have to leave all the wrong things behind.” –rogue composer

  2. Avatar Gail Coleman says:

    Everything you have warned about is now in progress and quickly! I feel so sad and honestly scared as hell! But you told me a couple years ago to “be here now”. I took that to heart. I am grateful for all you’ve done and for being invited into a little place in your life. May you be blessed!

  3. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    Big thanks, Rogue Composer and Gail Coleman for your comments. Living with urgency is exhaustingly difficult. I understand why few are interested. I appreciate those who are interested, such as yourselves.

  4. Avatar john turcot says:

    Thanks Guy for talking to the wind. Climate changes for the masses is still a far away event, but can we blame them for being ignorant of the condition when the media is hard-pressed to even mention climate change in articles or editorials?

    The blame for the coming possibility of climate apocalypse is on us, not on them. But that entirely another matter.

    As of now : “Australia has posted its hottest summer and the first season in which temperatures exceeded two degrees above the long-term averages, according to the Bureau of Meteorology”

    I read this morning that summer-like temperatures in England last weekend were warm enough to go shirtless on a stroll… in February….

    I live in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. We just broke the all-time record for coldness ever for the month of February. Predicted temperature this evening will be – 15 C., at a time when I have been chasing lost golf balls at this time of year. The temperature hasn’t gone above zero for over one month, and since the jet streams are playing with the normal stuff everywhere, what happens next is anybody’s guess…. and my first guess would be that we ain’t seen nothin yet…

    Nevertheless, although climate abnormalities are being observed everywhere, I would bet my bottom dollar, (forgot, we don’t have those anymore) that most local newspapers in your neck of the woods will make sure climate changes are the last topic anyone will read about.

  5. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    Sadly, john, I agree. The media are complicit in hiding the full truth from the masses.

  6. Avatar Kevin Hester says:

    Guy’s latest essay for The Weekly Hubris reiterates the latest work from Sam Carana explaining how the temperature on this planet is in the process of mimicking Dr Michael E Mann’s ‘Hockey stick’ theory that he came up with, which he no longer can see.
    Whether anyone ‘believes’ this data or not is irrelevant. Following the precautionary principle used to be mandatory in science as is mentioned in the essay yet it has been abandoned at the most important time in history for it to be observed.
    https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2019/02/a-rise-of-18c-or-324f-by-2026.html?fbclid=IwAR3Gei2TVwaMOuKz40_ReU3qYugGj21fNrl3In89Wu70D4FWrG9xL9B7ayk

  7. Avatar S Byrd says:

    Well done, Professor. Faced with cognitive dissonance within a socially engineered culture, it’s difficult to escape the discomforts of reality when it’s all around us…. but thank you for easing the pain. Knowledge IS power in the end.

    “Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.”
    “If you can feel that staying human is worth while, even when it can’t have any result whatever, YOU’VE BEATEN THEM.”
    – George Orwell

  8. Avatar Frank Mancuso says:

    Phytoplankton is absorbing PCB laced marine microplastic and is half gone in my lifetime. The suffocating oceans will not sustain the one billion people they feed and will soon be will be joining millions more displaced hungry people fleeing war, drought, fire, storm, famine. Bees are failing, we have cut half our forests to feed people with beef. Mans greatest motivator is hunger. It will be at our doors long before the tides. War, famine, civil unrest, economic collapse, will follow and it won’t be pretty.

  9. Avatar Professor Broken says:

    Years before pursuing degrees in science and mathematics, I recall asking my father where all that smoke coming from the back of our car idling in the driveway went. “Oh, it just goes up in the sky and far away” he said. I didn’t need to be a scientist yet to frown. I think anyone who has ever spent any time outdoors has had plenty of evidence of our coming disaster staring them in the face. I advocate practicing meditation in preparation for the continuing, mounting, pain. Thanks Doc. May you find peace. May we find peace.

  10. Avatar Alex S. says:

    In addition to Senator Sanders referencing deoxygenation, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortz recently suggested it’s “a ‘legitimate question’ to ask whether it’s moral for people to have children with the looming threat of climate change.” On one hand she’s stating the obvious, yet . . . for an elected official to say this is remarkable. Is this the tip of the (melting) iceberg, an augury that general awareness of our predicament is about to go mainstream?

  11. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    Thank you, Kevin and S. There’s little of Carana’s work in this latest essay, although a favorable comparison is appreciated. Likewise for the masterful Orwell.

  12. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    Big thanks to Frank Mancuso, Professor Broken, and Alex S. for your cogent commentary. Your affirmative responses indicate my message is getting through.

  13. Avatar Professor Broken says:

    I’m with you Doctor McPherson, and with all or most of the comments here. We’ve obviously blasted through numerous tipping points. And as Alex S. says, the facts are sneaking into public awareness. Yet the media are still trotting out people like Patrick Michaels. He would appear to have bona fides, no?

    https://youtu.be/fA5sGtj7QKQ

  14. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    Professor Broken, the corporate media and paid scientists have no motivation to present the full truth.

  15. Avatar John M. says:

    Well stated as always Guy. Human capacity for self deception has no bottom.

    Guy, a lot of links on your site aren’t working suddenly. Are they trying to shut you down? Fortunately I have hard copy on quite a bit of it, but would like to send those links to others that may benefit.

    Best to you as always my friend, live with excellence and purpose with what we have left.

  16. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    Thanks for the update about the links, John M. I suspect it’s a purposeful effort to destroy my message. If you can send me links or titles of the essays with bad links, then I’ll try to fix them: guy.r.mcpherson@gmail.com

  17. Avatar John M. says:

    All links working again Guy. Thank you.

    I agree, I wouldn’t put it past them to do something like that. It’s in their best interests for the public at large to remain ignorant and unaware as long as possible.

  18. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    Thank you for checking, John. Great news.

  19. Avatar Tom Ferry says:

    Kevin Samdbloom, who interviewed you a while back on his show Black Bear News, recently stated (and repeated for emphasis) “more people are leaning toward Guy McPherson’s view than away from it.” He wasn’t just talking about climate scientists and other presenters of reality, but even common people now “feel” like something is drastically wrong and that we’re running out of time (and habitat).

    Thanks for staying the course with your message, keeping us all up to date on the latest news from the refereed journals that most of us couldn’t decipher by ourselves (lots of jargon and specialist-speak in them), and continuing to emphasize the most evolved-human reaction to this news – live with urgency tempered by love and compassion.

    Your message doesn’t get “old” because most still haven’t come to grips with the knowledge that all life on the planet is in the process of going extinct. As the masses take off the blinders of culture, your “view” will increasingly become the norm. As you noted in a recent interview, many current climate change presenters use your words without attribution (but we who hear them KNOW where they came from). Stay strong.

  20. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    Thank you very much for your affirmative message, Tom Ferry. I will soon be taking a week-long break from social media in my latest attempt to live with urgency and love.

  21. Avatar Tom Ferry says:

    The link to your latest radio show leads to a Natural Nurse podcast & NOT NBL with Paul & Kevin

  22. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    Thank, Tom Ferry. That earlier error by the studio has been fixed.

  23. Avatar Alex S. says:

    As Tom Ferry quoted above, “more people are leaning toward Guy McPherson’s view than away from it.” To wit, this recent essay by Catherine Ingram isn’t that far from what Guy’s been saying: http://www.catherineingram.com/facingextinction/

    Folks are beginning to wake up to reality.

  24. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    Thanks for your message, Alex S. I agree with your comment about Catherine Ingram’s essay.

    Ingram was asked to prepare a press release a couple years ago by the organizer and host of a failed Australian tour. She’s clearly been following my work since then. This piece of plagiarism is a great example of the conventional approach to my work, now that people are coming to grips with the evidence I’ve been presenting for more than a decade.

  25. Avatar Alex S. says:

    To employ a cliche: imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

    Guy, while I appreciate your frustration at having your concepts propagated unaccredited, the fact this is occurring — with NTHE now becoming a meme with a life beyond its originator — speaks to the potency and logic of the message.

  26. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    I agree, Alex S. And it’s extremely unprofessional to employ plagiarism. I didn’t let it pass when my students did it. I won’t let it pass when so-called professionals do it.

  27. Avatar Audrey says:

    The important things from a great teacher. Yes!

  28. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    Thank you for the kudos, Audrey. I need them more every day.

  29. Avatar Alex S. says:

    In yet another example of the NTHE meme taking hold, the recording artist/performer Grimes recently revealed the title of her up forthcoming album — Miss_Anthropocene which she describes as “a concept album about the anthropomorphic goddess of climate Change. . . . Each song will be a different embodiment of human extinction as depicted through a Pop star Demonology.” https://pitchfork.com/news/grimes-announces-new-album-miss-anthropocene/

    I don’t if she’s specifically aware of Guy’s work or if she’s simply picking up on the zeitgeist. Nonetheless, this is significant.

  30. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    Wow, Alex S., I had no idea. Once a concept makes the art scene, it’s likely to spread soon. Thank you for sharing.

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