“You have likely heard this expression: We learn from our mistakes. The process of science assures that we—at least some of us—will continue along an educational path, up to and until we are no longer able capable of making relevant observations. At some point, of course, we will die and our species will go extinct. Until then, we have the opportunity to live with love, to live with gratitude, and to live with urgency on this most beautiful of planets.”—Dr. Guy McPherson
By Dr. Guy McPherson
“People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are at the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”―Greta Thunberg
POULTNEY Vermont—(Weekly Hubris)— May 1, 2021—I’m not known for my optimistic perspective. Indeed, I’ve referred to hope as a mistake and a lie at guymcpherson.com. However, I hope I’m wrong. About everything, with respect to abrupt climate change.
Sometimes the peer-reviewed literature gets it wrong. Science offers the best available process for understanding the universe and our place in the universe. And yet, sometimes projections and predictions prove to be incorrect. This does not mean the process of science is poor, and it certainly does not mean science is a belief system. Rather, the process of science is self-correcting: When evidence points to an incorrect outcome, scientists learn from the process and make appropriate adjustments.
Unless the United Nations Environment Programme is wrong, the ongoing Mass Extinction Event has been under way for more than ten years: The United Nations Environment Programme reported in August 2010 that we were driving an estimated 150-200 species to extinction every day. This is at least the eighth Mass Extinction Event on Earth, unless the peer-reviewed literature is wrong about that topic. I will quote only peer-reviewed literature from this point forward in this short essay.
The peer-reviewed literature finally acknowledged the ongoing Mass Extinction Event on 19 June 2015 with a paper by conservation biologist Gerardo Ceballos and colleagues in Science Advances titled, “Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction.” Coincident with release of the paper, lead author Ceballos said during an interview, “life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on.” This conclusion is supported by subsequent work indicating that the living planet did not recover from prior Mass Extinction Events for millions of years.
The latest paper by Ceballos and colleagues was published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on 16 June 2020: “Vertebrates on the brink as indicators of biological annihilation and the sixth mass extinction.” Maybe conservation biologist Ceballos and his colleagues are incorrect.
The rate of environmental change is reportedly 10,000 times faster than vertebrates can adapt, according to a paper by Quintero and Wiens published in Ecology Letters on 26 June 2013. But maybe they and their peers who reviewed the paper are wrong.
Mammals cannot keep up, either, as reported in a paper by Davis and colleagues published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on 30 October 2018. Perhaps Davis and colleagues, and their peers who reviewed the paper are incorrect.
Burke and colleagues reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on 26 December 2018 that the best analog for the future is the Pliocene. This paper uses the IPCC’s Representative Concentration Pathways in concluding that we are headed for the mid-Pliocene as early as 2030. The Representative Concentration Pathways ignore dozens of self-reinforcing feedback loops and the aerosol masking effect. The mid-Pliocene was at least 2 C warmer than today. This stunningly rapid rate of environmental change indicates vertebrate mammals will not survive. Maybe Burke and colleagues were wrong in their assessment, despite the fact that it was published in a prestigious, peer-reviewed journal.
The ongoing rate of environmental change is proving too rapid for vertebrates and mammals to adapt, and it is underlain by a high level of industrial activity. Yet a reduction in industrial activity also drives up the global-average temperature as a result of loss of aerosol masking. Unless, of course, the level of aerosol masking has been overestimated by Levy and colleagues in their 18 January 2013 paper in JGR Atmospheres and also by Rosenfeld and colleagues, the latter with their 8 February 2019 in Science.
Earth is already losing habitat for human animals around the planet. A paper by Raymond and colleagues published in Science Advances on 8 May 2020 concludes Earth has surpassed lethal wet-bulb temperatures in tropical and subtropical areas around the globe. The paper is titled, “The emergence of heat and humidity too several for human tolerance.” Perhaps Raymond and his colleagues are wrong, along with their peers who reviewed the paper.
Maslowski and colleagues incorrectly projected an ice-free Arctic in 2016 + 3 years in their paper published in the 2012 issue of Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences. The rate of environmental change resulting from such an event would likely lead to the loss of all life on Earth even without the uncontrolled meltdown of the world’s nuclear power plants in the absence of humans. But Maslowski and colleagues were incorrect, as Earth has not yet experienced an ice-free Arctic Ocean.
Biologists Strona and Bradshaw found that a 5 to 6 C global-average rise in temperature would cause the extinction of all life on Earth. Their paper was published 13 November 2018 in Scientific Reports and was titled, “Co-extinctions annihilate planetary life during extreme environmental change.” The paper includes the following information: “In a simplified view, the idea of co-extinction reduces to the obvious conclusion that a consumer cannot survive without its resources. . . . the removal of resources could result in the cascading (bottom-up) extinction of several higher-level consumers.” I am certain Strona and Bradshaw would be happy to be proven wrong.
There are additional means by which we could lose all life on Earth. Extrapolating from a paper by Mousseau and Møller published in the 8 May 2020 issue of Frontiers in Plant Science, the uncontrolled meltdown of the world’s nuclear power plants is likely to cause the death of all plants. Because plants serve as the base of the food web, species that rely upon plants—which is essentially all other species—will go extinct in the wake of the meltdown of nuclear power plants. The paper by is titled, “Plants in the Light of Ionizing Radiation: What Have We Learned from Chernobyl, Fukushima, and Other ‘Hot’ Places?” I’m guessing Mousseau and Møller would prefer to be wrong.
Schouw and Pauli wrote, “Jetwash-induced vortices and climate change,” which refers to commercial air travel and was published in Earth and Space Sciences Open Archive on 3 August 2020. The abstract includes the following lines: “Because this traffic is highly concentrated along the most frequently traveled routes, the vortices aircraft create have transformed into semi-permanent atmospheric circulation which have widespread effects on how the atmosphere traps and releases heat. It is also possible that these changes alter the loss of water from the atmosphere. This would endanger all life on earth, not just the human population.” Unless, of course, Schouw and Pauli are wrong, along with the editors and peer reviewers for this paper.
You have likely heard this expression: “We learn from our mistakes.” The process of science assures that we—at least some of us—will continue along an educational path, up to and until we are no longer able capable of making relevant observations. At some point, of course, we will die and our species will go extinct. Until then, we have the opportunity to live with love, to live with gratitude, and to live with urgency on this most beautiful of planets.
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