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Near Term Extinction – Is Our Ultimate Demise at Hand?

Guy McPherson’s theories on climate change have been creating controversy in both Europe and the US. Is mankind only a decade and a half away from extinction?

Charles Beare investigates.

Guy McPherson is a man on a mission. It may be the most important mission of his life: Spreading the word about the imminent extinction of the human race in its entirety. Not only that but, as McPherson explains, the destruction of the very systems which have kept our blue planet habitable for life all these billions of years; for our anthropocentric minds, that translates to near-term human extinction (NTE). It is a proposition which is not easy to promulgate. The notion that we are all going to die is, on the face of it, rather depressing and hopeless.

McPherson feels somewhat differently. From his perspective, our impending doom regards we extant humans as the luckiest who have ever existed, or ever will. It opens up new possibilities in how we can live our lives, encouraging us to live “a life of excellence” and calls for us to more fully love those around us. In short, the demise of Homo Sapiens gives us more cause to do what we should be doing anyway – instead of living lives entirely based around, as he puts it, “the acquisition of more crap.”

McPherson, a Professor Emeritus of Arizona State University, is not the only one attempting to popularize this concept. A plethora of well-established figures in the field of climate science have been trying to tell us about the inevitability of abrupt climate change for years. So, what is the evidence?

Climate science is one of the most complex scientific disciplines. Tens of thousands of published papers exist and with each new iteration of research, the news becomes increasingly dire. It behoves us to constantly perform a meta-analysis of the state of current research; a job which has fallen to the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change.

Sadly for the Wise Ape however, the very need to produce reports accurately means that there are any number of committees along with an almost impossible process of consensus building (scientists are just as prone to confirmation bias as the rest of us). From commission to final report can take several years before final presentation, by which time much of the data is quite out of date. Not only does this slow the process down, but it also makes the IPCC one of the most conservative scientific bodies in existence. The fact that their reports are subject to review by government – and therefore corporate interests, results in the same research being couched in terms which make everything (in-so-far as they can) seem somewhat more cosy.

There are a number of reasons why McPherson and those like him believe that anthropogenic (man-made) climate change is now unstoppable, and why the results will be terminal for the human race. Whilst the totality of supporting research is far too extensive for this article, let’s concentrate on a few of the kernels upon which the proposition of NTE rests:

First is the lag between carbon emissions and temperature rise. The generally accepted view is that there is a 40-year lag between emissions and the corresponding rise in temperature. This means, given that our emissions since 1970 have been double those from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, we could be in for a significantly more pronounced increase in temperature than we have so far experienced.

Next and perhaps most importantly, is the elephant in the room: Methane release. Methane is roughly 150-times as powerful a greenhouse gas as CO₂ and has increased about 150-fold since 1750, compared to the 40% increase in CO₂. This is presently accounting for up to 20% of the environmental ‘forcing’ and yet the IPCC report has little to say on the matter.


Largely, it’s because once the plethora of committees have finished vetting the report, their data is up to seven years out of date.

Methane forcing has only recently become something scientists have begun to understand.

Nonetheless, new information is coming to light all the time, and it’s not good news.

This methane is both anthropogenic (agriculture etc.), biogenic (e.g. decomposition, bacterial waste) and as a result of temperature increases which have already occurred.

Methane seeps as a result of sequestered methane hydrates (clathrates) are already occurring as a result of the current rise in temperature – seeps as large as 150km have been observed in the arctic. This notion of sub-sea methane hydrate release has been dubbed ‘the Clathrate Gun’ and evidence reveals that the gun has been firing since 2007.

The IPCC sets the target of keeping carbon emissions low enough to maintain a warming level of 2⁰C.

David Wasdell, a trained mathematician and physicist, and many others agree however, that this 2⁰C rise is already locked in.

As McPherson points out, once the Clathrate gun figures are in (one of a multitude of self-reinforcing feedback loops ignored in the IPCC’s report), that figure is almost certain to lead to an inevitable rise of 4⁰C – and that’s the conservative estimate. A rise like that makes food production virtually impossible, and will decimate the environment, flora and fauna on which we depend.

The list of underestimations goes on. Positive (read self-reinforcing) feedback loops have been almost completely overlooked by the IPCC.

The Clathrate Gun is but one, the albedo effect due to loss of ice cover is another.

The most conservative estimates put the number of unaccounted feedback loops at twenty, and that’s conservative.

We are left now to contemplate how near NTE is, and whether there is anything we can do to prevent or mitigate its effects. In Part II, we shall discuss whether human extinction is indeed inevitable in the short term along with the feasibility of strategies to extend the longevity of our precious biosphere.


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  1. mikestasse

    That’s eight years old……… things have changed a lot in 8 years. Just think how much polar ice has melted since 2007?

  2. stephentardrew

    I am not a doom sayer however there is much that is factual in your account. Many of us keep bashing on though not many seem to hear. Latest Morgam Poll only 6% of respondents thought climate change was a critical issue. Man I think we may be in deep shit.

    “Environmental issues are mentioned by only 6% (down 3%) of Australians as the most important problem facing Australia”

    Economic Issues still biggest problems facing Australia (49%) but Terrorism/ Wars/ Security Issues (27%) and Economic Issues (27%) are equally biggest problems facing the World

    April 29 2015 Finding No. 6209 Topic: Most Important Issues Public Opinion

  3. Pingback: Near Term Extinction – Is Our Ultimate Demise at Hand? – Written by THE AIM NETWORK | winstonclose

  4. mikestasse

    During the past decade, Antarctica’s massive ice sheet lost twice the amount of ice in its western portion compared with what it accumulated in the east, according to Princeton University researchers who came to one overall conclusion — the southern continent’s ice cap is melting ever faster.

    The researchers “weighed” Antarctica’s ice sheet using gravitational satellite data and found that from 2003 to 2014, the ice sheet lost 92 billion tons of ice per year, the researchers report in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters. If stacked on the island of Manhattan, that amount of ice would be more than a mile high — more than five times the height of the Empire State Building.

    Read more:
    Follow us: @sciencecodex on Twitter

  5. miriamenglish

    We desperately need to fix climate change, but people like Guy McPherson are not helping.
    He actually makes it worse by paralysing efforts to fix it. And he gets the science very wrong.
    How Guy McPherson gets it wrong

  6. guest

    According to Eggleton (2013) in Antarctica ‘enough ice melted in 2009 to make an ice block one kilometre wide and one kilometre high, stretching the distance between Canberra and Sydney’ (p. 101).

  7. stephentardrew

    Agreed miriamenglish it can be done it simply requires the will and effort. New technologies will help dramatically. No way will I give up hope or stop the struggle.

  8. jimhaz

    In regard to near term extinction, in my view climate change is a secondary issue, as the most extreme effects are at least potentially able to be limited by science (albeit not without a decimation of variety and natural beauty and the human population). If need be, the world could have a billion machines extracting CO2 from the atmosphere and reducing sea acidity and farming replenishing advantageous sealife like krill. Those left may have to live off jellyfish for while.

    I am seeing no signs whatsoever of sustainability in relation to population or resource usage growth, which involve human desires, mainly greed and capitalism and the concentration of wealth and power – and which will lead to extinction. Without changes in these areas the resources will never be applied as they will be depleted or too expensive/controlled by the time they could be utilized. Sadly in a global marketplace where so much of the worlds population is behind it would be almost impossible to create the circumstances for sustainability.

    I suspect when things start to get bad, as in millions starving, someone will let loose a low survival rate virus. It is the price to be paid for our collective stupidity and greed in allowing the rich and religious nonsense to determine our attitudes to growth and materialism. Probably better than a resource based nuclear war.

  9. AndrewL

    It can be argued that climate change has already started to affect populations through lack of basic resources. The oil wars in Iraq/Syria/Afghanistan causing massive population migrations, wars for control of basic food resources in many South African nations equally resulting in mass migrations. USA secret biologic facilities have already developed foolproof deadly strains of airborne bacteria along with vaccines which will go to the deserved few when things get really out of hand over there. By that stage, even Tony DumbDumbs will be regretting cutting the funding to CSIRO and it may not be as far away as most people think.

  10. mikestasse

    ANY attempts to ‘fix’ climate change with ‘technology’ will just make things worse as ALL technology is made with fossil fuels…..

    IF we want to have any chance whatsoever of avoiding the worst of it, we must put an end to all consumption that isn’t essential to survival. So no technology, we have to make do with what’s already here, and I think it could be done if we changed lifestyles. But I’m not holding my breath, nobody wants to give up their toys…..

    Most people just don’t realise that things are actually quite worse than the media makes out, nobody wants to scare the children…. look at this latest study:

    Global Warming may proceed faster than expected

  11. Kaye Lee

    Considering ‘technology’ means applying knowledge for practical purposes I am not sure how you hope to avoid it mike.

  12. mikestasse

    Kaye, ALL technology as we know it utterly relies on fossil fuels……. it started with steam engines powered with coal, and culminates with computers, each of which needs 250kg of fossil fuels just to make them………

    As we reach the end of the fossil fuel era, so will we reach the end of the technological age. And not too soon either……. we are cooking the planet with technology!

  13. eli nes

    Why is it so difficult for climate change enthusiasts to realise man cannot undo god’s earth. Any christian religious man knows the earth will only be destroyed by god.
    Mrabbott, you are safe in that knowledge but why not take a chance, mrabbott, science is not always an atheist!
    There is so much godly good that could be achieved by expanding the CSIRO and Australian involvement in the climate change bonanza. Mrabbott our science is world class, our CSIRO with only a little help has the potential provide untold billions so we can pay our pensioners? Apologise to god and put a few million into science.
    ps if you put pyne as science minister he may have a success???

  14. miriamenglish

    Eli, perhaps we realise man can undo god’s Earth because of the mountain of evidence that he excels so terribly at doing exactly that.

    Ever since man first appeared about 150,000 years ago he has exterminated the megafauna and decimated the forests wherever he went. Now we have removed about 90% of the large fish from the world’s oceans and are causing enormous dead zones in it, most recently bringing about the deaths of more than 10,000 seals and countless thousands of seabirds due to starvation [ ]. We have set the climate on a course which threatens much of the remaining life on Earth after already having instigated one of the greatest waves extermination in the history of life on Earth, called by many the Sixth Great Extinction Event.

    I do applaud your appreciation of science and the CSIRO, and I concur that they were doing our country and our society an enormous amount of good. Rather than apologising to an imagined god though, Tony Abbott would do better to apologise to Australia for what I’m beginning to believe are becoming treasonous actions. He is betraying Australia and Australians for the profit of foreign corporations and a few greedy Australians who want to carve it up among themselves.

  15. mikestasse

    I can totally understand your faith in technology Kaye Lee, because we are after all totally submerged in it and it does on the surface appear all encompassing……. however, this great article, written by one of my ‘gurus’ because he is one the the most intelligent and best writers on the matters dear to my heart has landed in my lap. Everyone on the AIMN should read this. here are a couple of teasers…..

    The mythic role assigned to progress in today’s popular culture has any number of odd effects, but one of the strangest is the blindness to the downside that clamps down on the collective imagination of our time once people become convinced that something or other is the wave of the future. It doesn’t matter in the least how many or obvious the warning signs are, or how many times the same tawdry drama has been enacted. Once some shiny new gimmick gets accepted as the next glorious step in the invincible march of progress, most people lose the ability to imagine that the wave of the future might just do what waves generally do: that is to say, crest, break, and flow back out to sea, leaving debris scattered on the beach in its wake.

    Unless you’re one of the very rich or an employee of one of the institutions just named, furthermore, you won’t have access to the internet of 2065. You might be able to hack into it, if you have the necessary skills and are willing to risk a long stint in a labor camp, but unless you’re a criminal or a spy working for the insurgencies flaring in the South or the mountain West, there’s not much point to the stunt. If you’re like most Americans in 2065, you live in Third World conditions without regular access to electricity or running water, and you’ve got other ways to buy things, find out what’s going on in the world, find out how to get to the next town and, yes, look at pictures of people with their clothes off. What’s more, in a deindustrializing world, those other ways of doing things will be cheaper, more resilient, and more useful than reliance on the baroque intricacies of a vast computer net.

    Exactly when the last vestiges of the internet will sputter to silence is a harder question to answer. Long before that happens, though, it will have lost its current role as one of the poster children of the myth of perpetual progress, and turned back into what it really was all the time: a preposterously complex way to do things most people have always done by much simpler means, which only seemed to make sense during that very brief interval of human history when fossil fuels were abundant and cheap.

  16. mikestasse

    and another great snippet……..

    Radio and television, like most of the other familiar technologies that define life in a modern industrial society, were born and grew to maturity in an expanding economy. The internet, by contrast, was born during the last great blowoff of the petroleum age—the last decades of the twentieth century, during which the world’s industrial nations took the oil reserves that might have cushioned the transition to sustainability, and blew them instead on one last orgy of over-the-top conspicuous consumption—and it’s coming to maturity in the early years of an age of economic contraction and ecological blowback.

  17. mikestasse

    Yes eli nes……. and Ronald Reagan famously said we need not worry about the environment because the rapture is coming and God would take us all away from the Earth before it all gets too bad……. so let’s party! Or words to that effect…

  18. miriamenglish

    Terry2, that’s depressing… Abbott spreading his xenophobia abroad.

    Mike Stasse, as you know, I tend to disagree with your doom-gloom view of the future, but in these two respects we fear the same things:
    ● the insane abandon with which we’re wasting the fossil fuels that could have made possible the move to a steady state economy (could still, though time is running out), and
    ● the risk of the internet becoming a rich people only technology.

    There are great efforts underway to ensure the internet remains a populist technology (cheap smart phones and tablet computers, cheap and even free satellite communications, Project Gutenberg, The Internet Archive Project, large-scale popular movements against net filters, and more), but how things will fare in the future nobody really knows. We can’t really say whether it will all go wrong, or that we will end up surmounting the hurdles of greed, xenophobia, and profligacy, but nobody really knows yet.

  19. miriamenglish

    Terry2, I just listened to the audio. Not so bad after all. The Europeans are still seeing Abbott’s efforts as cruel, immoral, irresponsible, and illegal. Whew.
    [audio src="" /]

  20. WW3

    They tell me all warfare-equipments, logistical expenses etc etc are sustainable. Is this correct?

  21. Des Pensable

    Tend to agree about the methane gun in the Arctic water. The scientist up there are seeming massive amounts of methane coming out of the sea. The projections are major releases from about eight years from now. There are many times more than all the carbon currently in the atmosphere that can come off and its a positive feedback mechanism. see

  22. Keith

    A couple of slightly more optimistic developments:
    Tesla has just introduced a battery to use in conjunction with solar energy panels, it has been suggested that homes using this technology can be taken off the grid.

    Other studies suggest that methane is broken down by microbes to CO2 and so a big bang is not inevitable. Being converted to CO2 is clearly better than methane being released.

    However, very serious anthropogenic climate change is happening; permafrost is thawing. Permafrost thawing is a signature of an increased temperature range. Whether we support Tony Abbott, Bill Shorten, Christine Milne or Independents; we all wish to see a stable climate.
    It is not a happy situation for anybody when farms, businesses and homes are impacted by drought or flood, or by bushfires.
    A business as usual response to climate change will lead dire consequences, we are experiencing extremes in the Australia where temperature increase has been less than 1C. In regional areas of Siberia temperature increase has been measured up to 5C. Overall, the Arctic is said to have increased temperatures double the world’s average.

  23. Douglas Evans

    I’ve given up actively engaging in the climate change debate because I’m convinced the battle is lost. With what seemed to me impeccable (if chilling) logic Clive Hamilton demonstrated that this is so in his 2010 book ‘Requiem for a Species’.

    Below is the conclusion to David Spratt’s recent summary report ‘Recount: It’s time to do the Math again.’ Read the report for yourself and draw your own conclusions. It can be downloaded here.

    The report concludes:
    ‘In the lead up to the forthcoming Paris talks, policy makers through their willful neglect of the evidence are in effect normalising a 2.5–3°C global warming target. It’s time to “do the math” again. Effective policy making can only be based on recognising that climate change is already dangerous, and we have no carbon budget left to divide up. Big tipping-point events irreversible on human time scales and large-scale positive feedbacks are already occurring at less than 1°C of warming. It is clear that 2°C of climate warming is not a safe cap.

    This evidence demonstrates that action is necessary at a faster pace than most policy makers conceive is possible. Decades of procrastination mean there is no longer sufficient time for an incremental and non-disruptive reduction in emissions.

    Only a whole-of-society rescue plan, understood as action at emergency speed outside of the business-as-usual political mode, can provide hope of retaining a livable planet for ourselves and future generations.’

    Anyone see any chance of ‘action at emergency speed outside of the business-as-usual political mode’? Neither do I.

    Also in 2010 Richard Somerville and Susan Hassol published a Paper in ‘Physics Today’ – available here: This very convincing paper included a graph which showed that if global emissions stabilized around 2017 and began to decline by 2020, thereafter falling by a whopping 9% per annum until 2040 we might just stabilize global temperature rise at around 2ºC – which as Spratt’s summary shows is already highly dangerous.. 9% p. a. is a rate of reduction beyond what is possible without collapsing the economic system.

    Irrespective of the outcome of the IPCC talks in Paris later this year does anyone see any possibility of politicians pursuing such a course of action – one which guarantees their electoral oblivion? Neither do I.

    I am 68 years old and beginning to decline markedly physically. If I was younger and/or more physically capable I’d be looking to secure land with permanent water as far south as possible in Tasmania (or even better, New Zealand) already now. Increasing numbers of others who see the evidence clearly are already quietly doing this. Instead I’m retreating to a retirement home and crossing my fingers that the system can creak on long enough to see my wife and I out in reasonable comfort. I am confident that I will be witness to the middle stages of collapse of the global economic system. The early signs are already plainly apparent. I grieve for my grandchildren who will see the full awfulness unfold.

  24. Douglas Evans

    The articles you link to seem to be predicting something like 20% increase in the rate of CO2 release from the Arctic meltdown irrespective of hungry microbes. Anyone who takes something positive from this is not merely a ‘glass half full’ but a ‘glass overflowing’ sort of person I suggest.

  25. miriamenglish

    I understand your incredulity when faced with do-nothing delusional politicians and self-interested greedy big fossil fool (excuse the pun) corporations who want ever more short term profits at the expense of perhaps civilisation itself. But take heart. The distributed nature of grassroots change means that things can alter very quickly. You are not the only one getting fed up. I think that most Australians are becoming incresingly impatient with Tony Abbott’s lies and his dangerous alliance with those who would happily destroy society.

    ● is an organisation begun by Bill McKibben to lower carbon dioxide from 400 parts per million to the safe level of 350 parts per million. It has spread rapidly around the world to every country with millions of people taking part in various actions.

    ● The Guardian newspaper embarked on a “Keep it in the Ground” campaign to change things and made a podcast series documenting the rationale and trajectory of that project.

    ● The Rocky Mountain Institute has been providing the knowledge and expertise to increasing numbers of organisations to save money by saving the climate. They have published a carefully costed plan to get USA entirely off oil. This plan is backed by the US military who see oil as a massive security failure and are sick of seeing their soldiers wasted on greedy grabs for it. Lately they’ve been concentrating on buildings, because they are our single biggest users of energy. They’ve managed some high-profile projects, such as retrofitting the Empire State Building in New York so that it saves the owners money in energy costs while massively reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. Their work on the Cleveland Clinic brings about $5 million savings per year. These kinds of savings make corporations sit up and take notice. They created a super-strong carbon-fibre composite automobile body to make cars lighter and stronger so they become more fuel efficient as well as safer. BMW have taken this seriously and are investing in making such cars.

    ● Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors is creating electric cars which will gradually become cheaper as production scales up. Combining electric cars with wind and solar power means transportation that is almost emission-free. He is also promoting the TeslaWall batteries that fit on a wall in your house to offer some independence from the grid. That coupled with solar panels is potentially game-changing. At the moment the big electricity providers are dragging their feet and spreading lies about solar users. This could force them to either lift their game and get with the program, or die. (Batteries are really only a temporary solution though. I’m hoping for fuel cells or supercapacitors soon.)

    ● The 3D printer revolution which is gradually gathering pace currently uses plastics made from oil, but there are already techniques to use starch as the starting material for creating the plastic (the starch is made by potatoes from sunlight and air) and there are various plans to make the starting materials direct from carbon dioxide. Imagine billions of people all over the world building things by pulling carbon dioxide out of the air. This could actually reverse the trend of adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Currently we base calculations on slowing our addition of carbon dioxide and hoping mother nature will take it out of the atmosphere for us.

    ● Supercapacitors have the possibility to free us from batteries because they would never wear out. The recharge thousands of times faster than a battery and can be completely discharged without damage to itself. Already there are promising experiments using graphene, and YouTube is full of DIY experimenters trying to tackle this problem.

    The most important thing to remember is that we humans are very bad at comprehending exponential effects. The desire to do something about climate change is spreading. It is starting to have big effects. In Australia electricity consumption grew every year without fail. But it recently fell because people have become concerned about climate change and want to do what they can. This horrified and panicked the electricity companies who had completely misread the situation and had outlaid huge amounts of money of infrastructure, expecting power needs to keep going up. Whether cynical or merely wrapped in their self-deception I don’t know, but the power companies have blamed the solar users for this. But they have it completely wrong. People now use low-energy lightbulbs and switch off unneeded items. They want to save energy. They want a way to fix things. When they all get that chance things will alter with breathtaking rapidity, I think.

    The politicians, by and large are worse than useless — they are actually obstructive. The energy corporations have had untold opportunities to help, but have thrown those away every time showing themselves to be some of the most corrupt groups on the planet. Most of the other companies, large and small, are like mindless beasts. If you give them profitable reason to work in the best interests of mankind they will take it, eventually. But most important are ordinary people. Almost all of us want a better world for our descendants. When we can do that we tend to take it if we can (although we may be buffetted around and turned aside from that purpose by lies from politicians and propaganda from Murdoch and his slimy pals).

    I am mostly optimistic that we will fix this, but it will be uncomfortably close and we will suffer because we’ve let things go so damn far. On rare occasions I slip into pessimism and worry we’ve left it too late and that the likes of Murdoch and big energy have too tight a grip. But in the end I know their power always comes from us. We can switch them off. All we need is a few really bad climate events to change pretty-much everybody’s minds and big energy and Murdoch will lose everything overnight. I look forward to that day and hope Murdoch will live long enough to have his empire taken from him and for him to be imprisoned, and for the corrupt big energy companies to lose every cent.

  26. stephentardrew

    Great positive post Miriam. Am in total agreement however progressives need a much broader voice in the public domain. Just posted about this on “I’m Not and Armchair Critique…” concerning “The Legacy of I. S. Stone” and relevant link.

  27. carlo

    forgive my ignorance but why would Tasmania or NZ be your choice of retreat? would they not also succumb to climate change and water supply’s to dry up and become inhabitable?

  28. miriamenglish

    Carlo, I think he’s referring to the increasing temperatures making places nearer the arctic circle some of the last places with bearable climates. What most people don’t generally get about climate change though, is that weather is like a pendulum. Add more energy to the system and, sure, the entire pendulum moves a bit toward the hotter end, but the pendulum now swings more strongly than it did before, so places not only get hotter, they also get periods of greater cold too, and stronger winds, and worse droughts, and worse flooding. I really don’t think the bottom of Tasmania or the South Island of New Zealand will come through this terribly well.

    We need to be focussing on fixing the problem. When we get a critical number of people motivated and with positive things they can do then things will alter very, very quickly. During the Second World War most of the world’s industries completely changed in a matter of months…in a matter of months. All it takes is the decision by enough people. We already view the fossil fool companies as vile renegade monsters. That is an amazing shift. When I was a kid these companies were the shining light of civilisation’s future. There are already more than a million households in Australia with solar panels on their roofs. People are starting to do things. It starts slow, but it will accelerate. As it gathers speed change will happen much faster than anybody can predict, because it will be billions of people all acting at once.

    The main part that worries me is whether we have enough time. Politicians, mainstream media, and fossil fuel companies have successfully retarded change so much, do we have enough time left to fix this? But all we can do is try. Giving up guarantees that we will lose.

  29. miriamenglish

    Stephen, I missed your comment on the other post. Just now read it, and you’re right, but I think AIMN is getting there. In the USA the Daily KOS started off small and has become one of the biggest, strongest, online progressive voices there. AIMN seems to moving in a similar direction.

  30. Keith

    Douglas Evans, I’m not sure that what I wrote earlier is particularly optimistic. My point, which perhaps was not clear is that a huge upheaval caused by huge amounts of methane being released is unlikely to happen. As more is known about permafrost the extinction in 15 years view is not holding up so well.
    However, if we continue with a business as usual program then we are stuffed in the long run. There is a huge amount of CO2 and methane stored in permafrost areas, the question is how quickly will these greenhouse gases be released? What tipping points will be reached should emissions not be reduced?

    Antoni Lewkowicz presents a very good synopsis on what is known about permafrost.

    Douglas, in the end we have more to worry about with climate change than we do with terrorists. It is more than Intergenerational theft if nothing is done per COALition in relation to climate change.

  31. Douglas Evans

    Anybody who has engaged with the climate crisis knows, as you point out, that the problem has never been the availability of appropriate renewable technologies to decarbonize the world’s economies. The problem is a combination of:
    1. the magnitude and complexity of the task, (vast on both counts).
    2. the time remaining to address the task before it gets beyond our capacity to control (two or three years to peak emissions then 9% p. a. decrease in global annual emissions for about three decades).
    3. the continuing refusal of the governments of major emitters like the US, Canada, Australia, Japan, Russia, Poland etc etc to take action.

    The governments of these countries will not act because:
    4. their funding masters demand that they do not.
    5. the scale of emissions reduction required (9% p.a.) has been assessed as virtually certain to result in the collapse of economies attempting to achieve this goal.
    6. many of those with the power to act either do not believe that the problem is real, or that, even if it is real, that human ingenuity will not be able to find a way to fix it.

    This is not a matter of whether those in power claim conservative or left-ish political genealogy. On this matter, in the substantial number of important nations not pulling their weight to fix this diabolical problem neither side of the political coin proposes policy sufficient to halt warming at around 2ºC. I repeat neither side of the political coin has policies adequate to task. Here a plea to Labor supporters: Please don’t start blathering about the relative virtues of Coalition and Labor – both sides of politics ,here as elsewhere throughout the climatically recalcitrant nations of the world, have policies consistent with 4ºC of warming sometime around century’s end. End of story.
    On the available evidence, if our bacon is to be saved emissions must peak within a couple of years and thereafter decrease at a very rapid rate indeed. Some very serious people – James Hansen for example – believe that it is already too late to achieve 2ºC of warming as the end point of Global warming. But let’s be optimistic and say there’s a couple of years before the train has to be in reverse. Given the above disincentives we simply do not have a hope in Hell of achieving this.

    The policy makers have already accepted this and increasingly talk in terms of stabilizing emissions around mid century and 3 – 4ºC of warming by century’s end. This, of course, is a death warrant dressed up as policy.

    Now I have given you the argument in a nutshell. It is evidence based. The sources are readily publicly available.

    You write: “I am mostly optimistic that we will fix this, but it will be uncomfortably close and we will suffer because we’ve let things go so damn far.” Your ‘evidence’ seems to be the availability of smart technologies and decreasing prices but as I hope I have made clear above, this has nothing to do with why, despite the endless spin from politicians and triumphal happy-clapping from technological optimists we are still heading flat out for the precipice.

    There was a serious debate about how to deliver the climate crisis message in the activist movement a couple of years ago. Should it be framed as a moral issue a la Rudd, an economic issue a la Gillard/Shorten. Even a a political issue a la Abbott and the tin hat brigade? Should it be framed as a health issue? There was genuine concern that telling people truthfully how grim the situation is would promote at best resigned inaction, at worst outright panic. Well I think there is an absolute duty to tell people the bloody truth and at the same time to tell them what they must do if we are (despite the odds) to have a future.

    The truth is this: On the available evidence we are stuffed. Changing the light bulbs, going off grid, buying a Prius, growing your own veggies etc is all important for a host of reasons but even if everybody did this we are still going down the gurgler unless governments are forced to VERY RAPIDLY implement serious policy addressing the issue. Of course there is good reason to believe that whatever they do we are still stuffed but as you say we can’t give up. To be alive is to try to stay that way. The only way to promote change in a democracy like Australia (stop laughing now) is to place unrelenting pressure on the politicians we elect to act. I personally see no likelihood of that but I’m absolutely positive that so long as politicians are allowed to get away with spin as a substitute for action and technological optimists keep talking up the latest breakthrough as the silver bullet we have all been waiting for, far too many people (and here I do not exclude consumers of AIMN) will sit back, breathe a sigh of relief and go back to the Sports Pages.

    I gave up the climate battle not because I think it is already lost (although as I have said I believe the evidence shows this to be the case) but because after six years in which I gave it everything I could, I decided this was a battle for younger people. In the very dire circumstance we find ourselves in however I think there is a heavy responsibility on people who offer online opinion on this subject not to gild the lily. If ever the human race needed a dose of truth and straight talking it is now as, no better than half aware, we teeter on the brink of a wild luge run to extinction. There may be some doubt as to whether this has already started or not but there is no doubt that once started it will not stop.

  32. Douglas Evans

    I had a quick look at the two links you provided in your first post. In different ways they both seemed to indicate that loss of permafrost was likely to boost atmospheric CO2 by around 20%. OK it’s not methane but a 20% supplement to atmospheric CO2, a far longer-lived, if less greenhouse intensive gas than methane, would (I guess) be enough to drive to drive self sustaining warming. It just takes the kettle a little longer to come to the boil doesn’t it?

  33. miriamenglish

    Douglas, I can’t argue with anything you’ve said. And from time to time I give in to despair. It does all look so bleak sometimes with morons like Abbott actually closing his eyes to reality and getting rid of scientists who try to tell him the truth. But then I remember the times in history when big, impossible changes happened suddenly and I realise this could all turn around. It won’t be through the self-important puffed-up idiots in power. It will be us. It will be through billions of ordinary people deciding and telling the dopey politicians and corrupt corporations to go screw themselves. Will it be in time? I guess we’ll find out. Nobody can predict the future. Not you. Not me. Certainly not the half-wits in power.

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