Mass Extinction: It’s the End of the World as We Know It

Dahr Jamail | Mass Extinction: It’s the End of the World as We Know It Monday, 06 July 2015 00:00
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Dahr Jamail By Dahr Jamail, Truthout | Interview 

Mass Exctinction(Image: Death valley, ghostly visage via Shutterstock; Edited: JR/TO)

Guy McPherson is a professor emeritus of evolutionary biology, natural resources and ecology at the University of Arizona, and has been a climate change expert for 30 years. He has also become a controversial figure, due to the fact that he does not shy away from talking about the possibility of near-term human extinction.

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While McPherson’s perspective might sound like the stuff of science fiction, there is historical precedent for his predictions. Fifty-five million years ago, a 5-degree Celsius rise in average global temperatures seems to have occurred in just 13 years, according to a study published in the October 2013 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A report in the August 2013 issue of Science revealed that in the near term, earth’s climate will change 10 times faster than during any other moment in the last 65 million years.

Truthout caught up with McPherson in Washington State, where he was recently on a lecture tour, sharing his dire analysis of how far along we already are regarding ACD.

Dahr Jamail: How many positive feedback loops have you identified up until now, and what does this ever-increasing number of them indicate?

Guy McPherson: I can’t quite wrap my mind around the ever-increasing number of self-reinforcing feedback loops. A long time ago, when there were about 20 of them, I believed evidence would accumulate in support of existing loops, but we couldn’t possibly identify any more. Ditto for when we hit 30. And 40. There are more than 50 now, and the hits keep coming. And the evidence for existing feedback loops continues to grow.

In addition to these positive feedback loops “feeding” within themselves, they also interact among each other. Methane released from the Arctic Ocean is exacerbated and contributes to reduced albedo [reflectivity of solar radiation by the ice] as the Arctic ice declines. Tack on the methane released from permafrost and it’s obvious we’re facing a shaky future for humanity.

You talk often about how when major industrial economic systems collapse, this will actually cause a temperature spike. Please explain, in layperson’s terms, how this occurs.

Industrial activity continually adds reflective particles into earth’s atmosphere. Particularly well known are sulfates produced by burning coal (“clean coal” has a lower concentration of sulfates than “dirty coal”). These particles reflect incoming sunlight, thus artificially cooling the planet.

These reflective particles constantly fall out of the atmosphere, but industrial activity continuously adds them, too. When industrial activity ceases, all the particles will fall out within a few days. As a result, earth will lose its “umbrella” and rapid warming of the planet will ensue. According to a 2011 paper by James Hansen and colleagues, the warming will add 1.2 plus or minus 0.2 degrees Celsius. Subsequent research indicates the conservative nature of this paper, suggesting termination of industrial activity will add a minimum of 1.4 degrees Celsius to the global average temperature.

What indicators are you seeing that show the possibility of major economic collapses in the near future?

We cannot sustain the unsustainable forever, and this version of civilization is the least sustainable of them all. It teeters on the brink, and many conservative voices have predicted economic collapse this year or next. According to a June 2012 report by David Korowicz for the Feasta group, a disruption of supply will trigger collapse of the world’s industrial economy in as little as three weeks.

The supply disruptions to which Korowicz refers include water, food and oil. We can add financial credit to the list. In other words, credit could dry up as it nearly did in late 2008. Or the bond markets could trigger hyperinflation. California could have insufficient water to grow enough food to support much of the US, and not long from now. The list goes on.

Go into detail about what you’re seeing as far as indications of abrupt climate change.

When I’m in the midst of a speaking tour, as I am now, I deliver a presentation approximately every day. Lately, I include a [different] indication of abrupt climate change [in] each presentation. In other words, I’ve been coming across evidence every day.

Recent examples include the June 19, 2015, paper in Science Advances: We are in the midst of the sixth great extinction. According to the abstract, the “sixth mass extinction is already under way.” The lead author, in an interview, said, “life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on.”

What are other factors you feel people should be aware of?

We’re in serious human-population overshoot. We’re driving to extinction at least 150 species each day. Nuclear power plants require grid-tied electricity, cooling water and people getting paychecks. Without all these, they melt down, thus immersing all life on earth in ionizing radiation.

There’s more. Much more. But all the evidence points toward our individual deaths and the extinction of our species in the near future.

But most importantly, we get to live now.




3 thoughts on “Mass Extinction: It’s the End of the World as We Know It

  1. Global Warming, Endangered Species: The Conservative Mind and Flat Earth Thinkers: Climate change and the conservative mind (denial) seem to reflect the republican right wing brain which also doubts evolution, probably think they are the center of the universe and the world is flat, and the earth is only less than 10,000 years old and man co-existed with dinosaurs. I have had this discussion many times. Deniers do not believe that man has anything to do with global warming, even if they believe there is global warming. Some do not seem to dispute the facts of global warming (record temperatures, melting icebergs, flora and fauna moving northward each year). They argue that warming is cyclical and that the earth has gone through warming periods and cooling periods before and that co2 is natural and at about 4% of the atmosphere, all of which is true. However, the amount of carbon dioxide spewed forth in the atmosphere is 50 times higher than anything that has happened in the past 800,000 years up to 15 million years ago. Species are threatened with extinction, 1 in 3, and climate is a factor. Species used to become extinct a few per 1000 years, now a few per 10 years. Almost half of the world’s animals have disappeared in the past 40 years. Species decimation is almost totally a man caused affair. We are in the 6th major extinction, and it is caused by man: animal farming (aka ranching), coal fired energy plants, fossil fuel transportation. Global warming threatens man and many other species and it has man’s footprint all over it. But then we have the right wing, conservative mind arguments that economics demand a suspension of EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and ESA (Endangered Species Act) enforcement and power. They argue: Let the market respond to the need for green, alternative fuels, and they argue that we really need to exploit the wilderness remaining. Some argue that carbon dioxide is normal, natural gas, which it is. But the facts are that we are spewing it forth and other greenhouse gases exponentially since the dawn of the Industrial age (1790) and especially the last 40 years. Plants and animals have gradually been moving northward. The polar bear’s habitat is dwindling as it is for most wildlife. There are many negative effects on animals becoming evident.

    By far climate change scientists, except a fringe group, agree that global warming is happening and it has man’s footprint all over it. Of 1,3,950 scientists’ peer reviewed climate changes studies, only 24 deny it. I have to assume that the 99% know what the deniers think they know. Readings all around the world show that temperatures have risen steadily since the Industrial Age with 2/3 of the warming since 1975 (NASA). The oceans are rising 60% faster than expected (IPCC) according to researchers in USA, France and Germany (Climate Impact Research). Ten of the warmest years on record have been since 1998.

    I am beginning to understand the republican mind: Anything that interferes with unfettered capitalism or their “belief systems” is not believable and likely a scientific or liberal conspiracy. The republican mind can make up reality in their alternate universe and Fox News will help them, just like they do in politics, economics and social issues, but they will cook and be buffeted by super storms and live in drought and heat too. But I bet they will keep denying it. Or, maybe the earth will slip quickly into an ice age. But even if they are cooking or freezing, they still will not believe it or that there is anything wrong with their thinking. It is the best of all possible unfettered capitalist worlds to them, and better yet if they can get rid of EPA, ESA, and have total state by state control of wildlife management, even on federal/public lands and no environmental controls. Oh yes, and they want state by state control of educational issues and standards, and social issues. But they want those federal dollars without any control. National public land is their land to do with as they want, which means exploit the rest of it on a local basis. The glaciers are melting and most may be gone in Glacier National Park within 10 years, but there is no global warming to them, so hand them a coat, it is a cooling trend. If we can’t burn coal here, ship it to China and let them burn it, oops what is in the wind? Never mind, just more CO2, soot, acid rain, acidic oceans, so never mind the deniers assure us that it is okay, and that we are alarmists, and that it is just an environmentalist plot to control the masses.


    Global warming theory is a lot of hooey Cal Thomas is contends global warming is not happening, saying the earth actually is cooling Check out this story on

    Farmers adapt, union recognizes climate change effects Some farmers have turned to no-till machinery, replaced flood irrigation with sprinklers and drip systems, or invested in better insurance to adjust. But those options are expensive.

    Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet: The 10 warmest … 22, 2015 – Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet: The 10 warmest years: Not exactly forever ago. Last week NASA and NOAA announced that 2014 topped the list of hottest years ever recorded. Yikes! What’s worse, the ten warmest years ever recorded have all occurred since 1998.
    Farmers adapt, union recognizes climate change effects Some farmers have turned to no-till machinery, replaced flood irrigation with sprinklers and drip systems, or invested in better insurance to adjust. But those options are expensive.

    Global warming is no fantasy, folks . Global warming is no fantasy. Check out this story on

    The Science of Fox News: Why Its Viewers are the Most Misinformed
    By Chris Mooney, AlterNet
    Posted on April 8, 2012, Printed on April 13, 2012

    The Republican Brain: Why Even Educated Conservatives Deny Science — and Reality
    By Chris Mooney, AlterNet
    The Republican Brain: Why Even Educated Conservatives Deny Science — and Reality
    By Chris Mooney, AlterNet
    Posted on February 22, 2012, Printed on February 28, 2012

  2. There were climate changes in the past with glaciation in some areas and pluvials in others. But the causes were likely solar and geologic, etc. Now we are causing the problems and the animals of the planet are the first to suffer and die.

    Conservatives and fundamentatist don’t want to believe it because to face the facts would require unwelcome sacrifices and the admission that God would actually allow harm to their precious selves.

    It is possible climate change won’t kill all of us. Maybe there will be a pandemic of some virulent and fulminating infection. Earth could also be hit with a giant asteroid. Or all the rogue nations could go nuclear.

    There could be more than one path for H. sapiens to exit.

  3. I must comment on the great photo composite accompanying this article…..well done by the photographer! Wildly interesting also that burning coal creates reflective particles in our atmosphere that help cool the planet…trying to wrap my brain around that statement.

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