Seven Distinct Paths to Loss of Habitat for Humans

Guy McPherson

“Our membership in the animal kingdom comes with the ability to predict that loss of habitat will cause the near-term functional extinction of our species, as with other animals. In other words, loss of habitat makes us functionally extinct. Shortly thereafter, and to my great sadness, our species will disappear from this most glorious of planets.”—Guy McPherson

Going Dark

By Dr. Guy McPherson

The sad, sure way of the Dodo.

Guy McPherson

WESTCHESTER COUNTY New York—(Weekly Hubris)—June 2019—Humans are animals, although hubris occasionally allows us to forget this fact. As a result of our membership in the animal kingdom, we require habitat to survive, as I have mentioned in my earlier writings for Weekly Hubris.

Our membership in the animal kingdom comes with the ability to predict that loss of habitat will cause the near-term functional extinction of our species, as with other animals. In other words, loss of habitat makes us functionally extinct. Shortly thereafter, and to my great sadness, our species will disappear from this most glorious of planets.

The rate of environmental change is tremendously important as we seek to understand loss of habitat and, therefore, functional extinction. The ongoing, accelerating rate of environmental change at the planetary level points to our untimely demise in the near future.

In this short essay, I point out seven phenomena that have us headed toward the planetary exit in the near future. There are more than seven paths pointing toward our imminent demise, and any one of them will be followed shortly thereafter by extinction.

Contrary to personal opinions, the so-called “elite” among us do not have the ability to survive in bunkers for the several million years that will be required to persist beyond the end of the Sixth Mass Extinction.

That I do not understand the point of attempting to persist on a lifeless planet reflects my love of life. 

Earth is currently experiencing the highest global-average temperature with Homo sapiens present, as I pointed out in my March essay in this space. As I noted two years before that, we are fortunate to be alive at this time in history. As Homer remarked in the Illiad, any moment might be our last. This essay points out the various means by which our species can take an early off-ramp from the freeway of life.

The first of the seven means by which we could lose habitat was reported by Dr. Natalia Shakhova and colleagues at the European Geophysical Union meeting in 2008: a burst of methane from beneath the Arctic Ocean. They reported the “up to 50 Gt . . . hydrate storage as highly possible for abrupt release at any time.” Note that they did not indicate that an ice-free Arctic was required for such a release of methane.

Methane is more than 100 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, and the abrupt release of even half the 50 Gt concluded upon by Shakhova and colleagues would cause loss of habitat for humans within a matter of months.

The relatively shallow seabed of the Arctic Ocean is not the only source of methane on our fragile planet. This potent greenhouse gas is also being released at exceptionally high levels from terrestrial permafrost in the Arctic region. The abrupt release of methane from at least these two sources is contributing to an exponential rise in atmospheric methane.

Industrial activity will continue to drive up temperatures as a result of increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The current levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (more than 400 ppm) and methane (more than 1,500 ppb) assure planetary disaster awaits in the relatively near future. These are two of more than 40 greenhouse gases. Long after we have been warned about the consequences of burning fossil fuels, our continued societal addiction is leading where addictions typically lead: disaster. This time, it’s a disaster at the scale of our species instead of the individual level to which most of us are accustomed.

Paradoxically, human habitat can be lost not only via increased industrial activity, but also via decreased industrial activity.

The aerosol masking effect, or global dimming, has been described in the peer-reviewed literature since December 2011. Coincident with industrial activity adding to greenhouse gases that warm the planet, industrial activity simultaneously cools the planet by adding aerosols to the atmosphere.

These aerosols block incoming sunlight, thereby keeping cool our pale blue dot. Reducing industrial activity by as little as 35 percent is expected to cause a global-average temperature rise of 1 degree Celsius within a few weeks, according to research on the aerosol masking effect.

Such research was deemed collectively too conservative by a paper in the 17 January 2019 issue of Science, which is among the most highly respected of peer-reviewed journals.

One means by which industrial activity could decline is a collapse of the financial markets, long predicted by many leading experts on the topic.

Items three and four combine to create the phenomenon known as the McPherson Paradox, named by my friend and supporter Bill Eddy: increasing industrial activity warms the planet, and decreasing industrial activity warms it even faster. Thus is created the ultimate Catch-22 for humans on Earth: we are damned if we increase industrialization, and also damned if we decrease industrialization.

Doomed if we do, doomed (faster) if we don’t.

The ability to grow, store, and distribute grains at scale is a defining element of industrial civilization, as with all civilizations. A significant decline in grain harvest will surely drive this version of civilization to the abyss and beyond. Considering the 83.3 percent decline of earthworms in agrichemical fields relative to other areas as reported in the 1 June 2018 edition of Soil Systems, as well as the Midwestern “land hurricane,” I cannot imagine we can sustain this set of living arrangements much longer.

The looming ice-free Arctic Ocean, projected to occur in 2016 + 3 years, will represent the first such event in history. The profoundly negative scientific impacts of this eventuality were summarized by the President of Finland during a press conference with President Donald Trump in August of 2017, and many times since then: “If we lose the Arctic, we lose the globe. That is reality.”

Finally, the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) that began early this spring will release heat from the ocean to the terrestrial biosphere, as is typical for ENSO events.

The ocean acts as a “battery” that stores carbon dioxide and heat. The release of heat from the ocean during an ENSO event likely will be sufficient to exacerbate ongoing heat waves and failing production of grain crops. Will these negative consequences doom us to functional extinction? It seems likely.

From a certain perspective, functional extinction is only the beginning of the end for Homo sapiens. Most of us would still persist for a few days beyond functional extinction. I have pointed out in this space that a few days can seem like a long time, especially relative to seconds, minutes, or hours. May we all appreciate our time on this most magical of planets, regardless the timing of our own terminal diagnosis.

Note: The image used to illustrate Dr. McPherson’s essay derives from[https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/mass-extinction-global-planet-start-year-2100-a7957886.html].

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.

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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31 Responses to Seven Distinct Paths to Loss of Habitat for Humans

  1. Avatar Tom says:

    Hello Guy!
    It seems with each passing week that the mainstream media and many other people (many of whom disparaged you and your vision for our trajectory) come closer to your point: we’re going extinct.

    Back in the old NBL days (when you had a comment section and decent people chiming in), it seemed so far off. Now we have arrived.

    Thanks for keeping up the important message for all these years, going on unpaid journeys to present to small and medium groups of the curious, the choir, and the curmudgeons to spell it all out and to indicate a course of action (do what you love)!

    Because of all that, which i continue to view, read and hear on your blog, i live accordingly – with death in mind, and cherishing my moments.

    You will probably stop traveling soon as i expect dark times ahead through the summer and into fall of this year. Political and economic turbulence, increasing natural disasters, the continuing marine (and now avian) die-offs (as well as insects) are taking their toll on our ability to persist. Severe weather is now a feature rather than an anomaly where most of the grain is grown in the U.S. Food shortages should start before too long, and then chaos will begin to unravel civilization. i’m not looking forward to any of it.

    Enjoy your time, Guy – and thanks for everything.

    Tom

  2. Avatar JOHN H ONEILL JR says:

    You have failed to address our governments answer to global temperature rise: Nuclear winter. Indeed, if man can cause one thing he in his hubris can assume to cause the opposite. A limited artificial ice age essentially negates the majority of your findings potential outcomes. What say you on this very real possibility?

  3. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    Thank you, Tom, for your affirmative comment. I suspect you’re correct about the dark times ahead. Indeed, I’m surprised I’m still able to respond electronically across the miles.

    I am certainly not looking forward to the grid going down and all that comes with that event. I’d rather be wrong than right about everything I’ve said and written about abrupt climate change.

  4. Avatar Alex S. says:

    I’m in concordance with Tom’s comments above. Below are two recent examples of just how fast thing are degrading.

    https://www.irinsider.org/environment-1/2019/4/28/the-worlds-second-largest-emperor-penguin-colony-is-disappearing’

    https://imherald.com/2019/01/16/extreme-heat-wiped-out-one-third-of-australias-spectacled-flying-fox-species/

    Soon, it’ll be our turn.

  5. Avatar Ego says:

    In line with projections, there’s been too much rain in the wrong places causing potentially POOR WHEAT & significantly LOWER CORN production & quality due to late planting. (CORN usages: corn cereal, corn starch, corn oil, corn syrup, livestock feed, ethanol & mfg.)

    ‘By May 12, only 30 percent of the nation’s corn acreage had been planted, 36 points behind the 5-year average.” Source: https://weather.com/news/weather/news/2019-05-15-late-spring-2019-cool-wet-delayed-crops

    “Soybean planting is off to a very slow start, with only 19% planted. That’s well behind last year’s 53%… as of May 19, 49% of this year’s corn has been planted. That’s behind last year’s pace of 78%… but lags well behind the 5-year average of 80%.” Source: https://seekingalpha.com/article/4265451-corn-soybean-planting-still-lagging-latest-crop-progress-report-wheat-great-condition

    “Many believe the latest U.S. government-issued [World Agricultural Supply & Demand Estimates] report may have OVERestimated both acres planted and yields based upon current weather patterns.”….The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Crop Progress report released Monday, covering the week ended May 19, showed that corn in 18 states stood at 49% planted, versus the 2014 to 2018 average of 80%. Spring wheat planted in six states stood at 70%, down from the five-year average of 80%.
    https://www.marketwatch.com/story/corn-wheat-futures-climb-to-multimonth-highs-as-us-planting-has-slowed-2019-05-20

    As the ill-informed continue their “reward-driven” ignorant complacency, with focus on the worship of false gods (money, sports athletes, Hollywood idols, etc. ), expected shortfalls from global climatic conditions will persist and worsen.

    Thanks for caring. We appreciate your many brilliant contributions.

  6. Avatar Pete says:

    Judge me as you will, but for the sake of the rest of life on the planet, the sooner us humans become extinct, the better. This is something I realised 30 years ago, at the tender age of 21. We’ve done nothing useful on the planet. I never ever thought I would see the day when the Koala bear became extinct. I read this sad news only today – they are what is termed, functionally extinct as the individuals remaining are too few in number, and are infected with disease, that they will not be able to break out of their situation. No doubt a scientist somewhere in the world will try and create a new Koala bear from their DNA, sad creatures that we humans are.

  7. Avatar David Emery says:

    As the previous comment so succinctly stated, thank you for your work and your efforts.
    I wish you the best on your journey, wherever that may take you.

  8. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    JOHN H ONEILL JR, I suspect the U.S. government knows what I know about the aerosol masking effect. If so, there will be no nuclear Armageddon.

    Alex S and Ego, the evidence is looking ugly. I agree that our near-term demise looms.

    Pete, I might agree except for the nuclear waste we leave behind. By not cleaning up our mess, we are dooming all life to death.

    Thank you, David.

  9. Avatar Professor Broken says:

    Another spot on summary, Doc. Thanks. Eventus stultorum magister. I, as did Dr. Bartlett, tried for many years to communicate the value of numeracy to college students. I suspected long ago that the message fell mostly on deaf ears. Even now, as it would seem that almost anyone could observe firsthand, and get a feel for, exponential effects, there seems to be little awareness.
    With respect to moving on now to more important and immediate discussions, which you have clearly already done, I wonder if you recall the lectures of Alan Watts. His presentations of eastern philosophy to western ears have been a great help to me over the years. In the following, he emphasizes the need for honesty among humans with respect to death and dying. He hits many of the points you have been making. There is a bit of a gap in the following recording but there are wise things to be heard. If this is all old stuff to you, please forgive my presumption.

    https://youtu.be/qLCej5RkLv0

    Professor Broken

  10. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    Thank you, Professor Broken. I’ve been listening to Watts for years. His ability to turn the mundane into affirmative, self-healing action is unparalleled.

  11. Avatar Professor Broken says:

    Watts gave strong arguments for not lying to grandma about her imminent death. Scientists have an obligation to relay information even when the truth is unpleasant. To do otherwise will surely fuel mistrust. There is a lot of lying to grandma still going on, no?

  12. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    Professor Broken, lying is among the actions humans do best! Sadly, I suspect some people will continue to lie until they are incapable of speaking at all.

  13. Avatar David H Kemp says:

    Thanx for teaching me… every… day… in… love.

  14. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    Thank you, David. Your comment, and others like it, sustains me and my work.

  15. Avatar Julie Hay says:

    I just love your articles, posts, lectures and talks, all of it, and I am encouraged to read all the comments above, (bar one), these were greatly affirmative of all you’ve done for all these years and from obviously intelligent people, you’ve tirelessly warned humanity Guy, and woken a multitude up from their slumber, take heart that it has been worth it, and I am privileged to have been so enlightened by you, even at this late hour, saying thankyou just doesn’t seem enough.. At the edge of extinction only love remains

  16. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    Thank you very much, Julie, for your affirmative comment. It’s my only pay, and you and others make it worthwhile.

  17. Avatar Michael Troy says:

    The meaning of Rosebud involves the movie Citizen Kane made 70 years ago by Orson Wells. Charles Foster Kane was the hero and he lived an American dream of great wealth. His last dying word was Rosebud. The plot involves the search for the meaning of Rosebud. Rosebud was the name of his boyhood sled. A past of simple happiness and herein is our dilemma. What is the last thing we will remember before we die? Is it our loved ones? Is it that steak dinner and that red wine? Is it a dream of utopia? Most people I talk to do not want to know about the end. They say if it comes, it will come and then they stop talking to me. I suspect it will be the word Mommie — the chosen word of those who died in Vietnam. Professor, I have hope. Yes I do. Hope that you are right.

  18. Avatar Star Messenger says:

    Well, Guy, it’s June 11, 2019, 1:25 A. M., are you still here? If so, what’s the latest…?

  19. […] Sulfates do have a cooling effect, but this effect may fall away as society grinds to a halt and stops co-emitting sulfates alongside other emissions in the process of burning fuel, as Guy McPherson has pointed out repeatedly, e.g. in this recent post. […]

  20. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    Thank you for the explanation, Michael Troy.

    Star Messenger, I’m still here. The “latest” is presented here and also at guymcpherson.com.

  21. Avatar diy says:

    Thanks for sharing your info. I really appreciate your efforts and I will
    be waiting for your further post thanks once again.

  22. Avatar NJ Lechnir says:

    Thank you Guy for all of your valuable research and insight. Explaining what the seven paths are have been enlightening yet sobering and thought-provoking. I first reached out to you by email when you were living in Belize. You’ve since moved to New York and continued sharing your message. What do you find has been the biggest adjustment with moving back to the states after living so long in Belize?

  23. Avatar Pete G says:

    Pete (May 28th) – I’m afraid you’ve been slightly duped by the Australian Koala Federation’s pre-election hyperbole. Koalas are not functionally extinct. There are healthy populations all over Australia. Locally some are in steep decline but that’s not the case overall. This article in New Scientist may help:

    https://www.newscientist.com/article/2203655-no-koalas-are-not-functionally-extinct-but-they-are-in-trouble/

  24. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    Thank you for your comments, diy, NJ Lechnir, and Pete G.

    The biggest change is two-fold, one in each direction. The convenience is positively amazing. The urban zoo is no match for the wild jungle.

    With only 80,000 individuals remaining, it’s a little optimistic to declare all is well with koalas. I would suggest all vertebrates and all mammals are functionally extinct in light of the aerosol masking effect. Soon, and far too late, we will know for certain.

  25. Avatar Professor Broken says:

    Wow Doc. Watched your testimony to the New Yorkers. Thank you for again showing so much courage and especially for using the term hospice under that spotlight. I do hope you will be forthcoming about what kind of reaction you get, or perhaps got immediately. It seemed pretty quiet. Perhaps some of the emotional comprehension Teller was talking about was occurring, even if for only a few in attendance.

  26. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    Thank you, Professor Broken. I was promised 5 minutes. Had 4. Didn’t get to my main point. I posted full details here a couple hours ago: https://guymcpherson.com/2019/06/yesterdays-testimony/

  27. Avatar Brian says:

    Hello Guy,
    You say that we could get a 1 degree Celsius rise within a few weeks and give a link to support this, but the article you link to (a 2013 article) says that 35% de-industrialization will lead to a 1 degree Celsius rise by 2100. Where does the “few weeks” come from? Is the link wrong?

    In a recent interview you referred to a paper that you could not recall the author of that refers to a 2 week rise in temperature. 2013 is not recent so is there a new paper on this topic? The 2019 paper you link to does not mention timescales but calls for a reassessment of aerosols in the formation of clouds, so it cannot be that one.

    Thanks
    Brian

  28. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    It’s always 2100, Brian, the trick to convince the masses we have ample time. James Hansen said in an interview conducted in December 2012 and posted on YouTube the following month that the aerosols fall out of the atmosphere within 5 days. The consensus among other climate scientists is about 6 weeks. I’m taking a conservative approach, as usual.

    An interview coincident with the 2019 paper in Science by Rosenberg et al. concludes the paper by Levy et al. underestimates the heating by half. So it could take less than a 20% reduction in industrial activity to trigger the rapid 1 C rise.

  29. Avatar Paul Chace says:

    Guy,thank you……
    Bad idea to invest in real estate now???
    Why your dismay of dahr jamails work??

  30. Avatar Guy McPherson says:

    It’s a poor time to invest in anything except love, Paul. Dahr is a plagiarist who has slandered me. I’m no longer surprised by such betrayal.

  31. […] Sulfates do have a cooling impact, but this effect may fall away as society grinds to a halting and stops co-emitting sulfates alongside other emissions in the process of burning gasoline, as Guy McPherson has pointed out repeatedly, e.g. in this recent post. […]

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