The Fire Next Time

“Nature will not yield to any combination of weapons and surveillance. The Sixth Mass Extinction and abrupt climate change are subject to neither human will nor a change in the living arrangements of humans. This time, nature bats last.”—Guy McPherson

Going Dark

By Dr. Guy McPherson

Viktor Frankl, Auschwitz survivor and witness.

“Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of.  And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake.” —Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Guy McPherson

WESTCHESTER COUNTY New York—(Weekly Hubris)—October 2019—It seems the world is on fire. The “fire season” throughout the world has been, and is, characterized by record-breaking events. Just as my life has been shaped by wildfire, contemporary society and ecosystems currently are being influenced by epic wildfires. I suspect it will not turn out nearly so well for society as it did for me. It seems we have entered into the biblical prophecy in which God gave Noah the rainbow sign: there will be no more water, but the fire next time.

After a few years of hard labor, as a teenager, in the agricultural sector, my first job with steady pay and additional benefits was as a wildland firefighter for the Idaho Department of Lands. Specifically, I worked five summers between my undergraduate semesters as one member of a helitack crew, driving a truck or riding in a helicopter to dozens of wildfires in a million-acre protection area. An over-developed work ethic matched by a competitive drive and an inability to sleep deeply, made me quite adept at this job. I could hike all day with a heavy pack, then pound the ground for hours with the firefighter’s favorite tool, the Pulaski. After a 30-hour shift, I could sleep a couple of hours and start all over again.

Back in the years when a college degree did not destroy the future of the person receiving it, I paid my way through school by fighting wildfires. It was hard, dirty work for relatively little pay. I used that pay, and a plethora of scholarships, to fund my undergraduate degree in forestry from the University of Idaho. This bachelor’s degree in the early 1980s led directly to graduate school, where I spent five years lighting prescribed fires and conducting ecological research. These experiences led on to a postdoctoral research position, which led, in turn, to a visiting assistant professorship, which blossomed into a tenure-track position as an assistant professor at the age of 29 years. I stayed on campus for 20 years, albeit two decades interrupted by stints at several other colleges and universities as well as a year-long stint in the non-profit world.

There is a good reason I spent nearly my entire adult life working in the academy. Pursuing the “life of the mind” suited me well, and I was fortunate enough to have parents who encouraged learning from an early age. As one result, my life has been characterized by hard work and enormous privilege. Although I abandoned campus life more than a decade ago, I continue to pursue work I love, and a life of service to society. That I earned enough money to support myself financially for more than ten years is further indication of my privilege (as well as my frugality).

My path was further cleared by my birth in 1960 into a set of living arrangements unlike anything the world had ever seen. The dawn of the computer age was accompanied by expansive economic growth and relative peace in the United States. I was born between episodes of overt militarism, and therefore avoided military duty. The backwoods, redneck logging town in which I was brought up, along with the naiveté of youth, meant that I largely failed to appreciate, much less contribute to, the American Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. 

There is another revolution underway today, one characterized by environmental changes unlike anything the world has ever seen. We are in the midst of the Sixth Mass Extinction on Earth. We are in the midst of abrupt, irreversible climate change. The fires we are witnessing are symbolic of profound environmental change. So, too, are the floods, with their “rain bombs” and “land hurricanes,” that threaten the grain production underlying industrial civilization.

The much-vaunted, so-called “non-negotiable” American way of life is threatened. The threats do not emanate from societal pressure, as was the case during the 1960s and 1970s. Rather, the “non-negotiable” American way of life is threatened by pressures that cannot be overcome with militarism. Nature will not yield to any combination of weapons and surveillance. The Sixth Mass Extinction and abrupt climate change are subject to neither human will nor a change in the living arrangements of humans. This time, nature bats last. 

Far sooner than most people can imagine, habitat for human animals will vanish from Earth. Far sooner than most people realize, every member of our species will go extinct, as did the previous species in the genus Homo.

I am no fan of the Sixth Mass Extinction. Belief is voluntary. Sadly, participation is mandatory, for all of us.

I am no fan of abrupt, irreversible climate change. Belief is voluntary. Sadly, participation is mandatory, for all of us.

I am a huge fan of finding my mission, that is, the purposes of my life. Although we can no longer stave off the factors contributing to the demise of our species, we can choose to participate in finding our purpose. We can choose our response to the direst of predicaments, thus bringing to mind a quote from Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning: “Between a stimulus and a response there is a space. In that space is the power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. The last of human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any set of circumstances.” I would add only that we can choose not only our attitude, but also our actions.

Note: The image of Viktor Frankl “at” Auschwitz used to illustrate this essay derives from “Balanced Achievement.”

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


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

Kindle Edition.

About Guy McPherson

Dr. 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 16 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-hosts 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. Visit McPherson's Author Page at
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14 Responses to The Fire Next Time

  1. Bob Sikora says:

    I feel so enraged by the economic fundamentalism that I find a peculiar satisfaction in the demise of it all. Perhaps microbial life is the foundational and greatest expression of life on this earth.
    O bla di life goes on. Beyond mind and intellect I consider the nature of spirit/soul giving origin to ‘LOVE’. So in finality only Love Remains. Here’s to love, Dr. Bob Sikora. Thanks for you Prof.

  2. Thomas Billings says:

    Those asteroids flying by this week are a hope. I can envision a worldwide 300 ft to 800 ft tsunami that will take out civilization in 2020. Then, in 7 days, nothing green. Then ice building from north to south while the dust, debris and radioactivity settle to earth. ( I’m hoping to not be within 3000 miles of impact since I don’t like heat). I’m just glad to be here for the finally.

  3. David Emery says:

    Dr. McPherson,
    I have written you the same note for many years now, so I will not change it now.
    I thank you for your work and I wish you and your loved ones the best during your days of living.

  4. Guy McPherson says:

    Thank you, Dr. Bob. I raise a glass to you with your own sentiments. Likewise to you, David Emery.

    Thomas Billings, I love the idea. I’d prefer a direct hit, even with the heat. It seems fitting in light of The Fire Next Time.

  5. Bob Owens says:

    i have been learning from You over the last 3 years, scary, interesting, life changing information, learning what i have learned from You has changed how I approach my life today.
    The time i spend with my grandchildren, daughters and Loved Ones is richer knowing what I have learned from You.
    Growing up in Vancouver B.C. I used to sit with the Hippies in the 1960’s and listen to their theories, how industrial civilization was going to kill us all, save the Planet was heard often.
    Too Late, maybe even then.
    I just wanted to say Hi and Thank You for all Your sacrifices to get this message out to those of Us that would rather know than not.
    Bob Owens

  6. Guy McPherson says:

    Thank you for your affirmative message, Bob Owens. The hippies had it right in the 1960s, even though it might have been too late even then. “If we could turn back time …” imagine where we could go from here.

  7. SnowByrd says:

    Thank you for Your Altruistic Genius Work & may you & yours find Peace.
    The hedonistic and self-indulgent ways of humanity shall perhaps forever pause…

    [Verse 3: Don Henley = “Hotel California”]
    Mirrors on the ceiling
    The pink champagne on ice
    And she said: “We are all just prisoners here
    Of our own device”
    And in the master’s chambers
    They gathered for the feast
    They stab it with their steely knives
    But they just can’t kill the beast
    Last thing I remember, I was
    Running for the door
    I had to find the passage back
    To the place I was before
    “Relax,” said the night man
    “We are programmed to receive
    You can check out any time you like
    But you can never leave!”

  8. Guy McPherson says:

    Thank you, SnowByrd. Great song by a great songwriter. As usual with him, there is more to the song than immediately meets the ear.

  9. Bob Cartwright says:

    Guy, Thank You for sharing your wonderful insights of our present condition.
    “What if tomorrow never comes?
    The problem is that even if we intellectually understand that time is fictitious, that the present is all we ever have, have had, or will have, we don’t seem to get any points for that level of understanding. For if we precede to live, as we have since early childhood, as if the past and future are not only separate but actual times, but somehow, more important than the present, then we deprive ourselves of the only time we can ever truly love, the only time we can truly know peace, joy happiness, freedom, wisdom, compassion, the very things we say our lives are all about!”
    Excerpt from: “Open and Innocent, the gentle, passionate art of not knowing” by Scott Morrison

  10. Guy McPherson says:

    That is a brilliant excerpt, Bob Cartwright. Thank you for sharing.

  11. Tom says:

    Hey Guy,

    I look forward to reading your Weekly Hubris pieces, Guy. Here I can respond with kindred spirits.

    We’re watching the slow-motion train wreck of civilization in awestruck horror and amused confusion, as our habitat spirals into chaos and we descend into madness and darkness. The cliff edge approaches. Thanks for being around at this special moment – I too have benefited by your message and have adjusted my attitude as a result.

    Keep ’em coming!

  12. Guy McPherson says:

    Thank you, Tom. I suspect I’ll keep writing until I’m forced to stop. Comments such as yours make it a pleasure.

  13. Don Schofield says:

    A grim truth, with no consolation. Thank you for your insight and courage, Guy.

  14. Guy McPherson says:

    Thank you for your complimentary comment, Don. It’s always good to hear from a fellow contributor to Weekly Hubris.

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