This Is What The World Would Be Like If Humans Had Never Existed

Basically, we’d see large mammals everywhere.


If humans had never existed, the whole world would look strikingly similar to the Serengeti of Africa. There would be lions in America, and elephants and rhinos roaming Europe.

That’s the conclusion of a new study that details how human-driven animal extinctions have influenced the distribution and populations of large mammals around the world.

“The study shows that large parts of the world would harbor rich large mammal faunas, as diverse as seen in protected areas of eastern and southern Africa today, if it was not for historic and prehistoric human-driven range losses and extinctions,” Dr. Jens-Christian Svenning, a biologist at Aarhus University in Denmark and a co-author of the study, told NBC News.

<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop="caption">The natural diversity of large mammals as it would appear without the impact of humans. The figure shows the variation in the number of large mammals (45 kilograms or larger) that would have occurred per 100 x 100 kilometer. The numbers on the scale indicate the number of species. </span> Credit: Søren FaurbyThe natural diversity of large mammals as it would appear without the impact of humans. The figure shows the variation in the number of large mammals (45 kilograms or larger) that would have occurred per 100 x 100 kilometer. The numbers on the scale indicate the number of species. Share on Pinterest
<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop="caption"><span style="color: #818181; font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 10.0799999237061px; line-height: 16.7999992370605px; background-color: #ffffff;">The current diversity of large mammals. It can clearly be seen that large numbers of species virtually only occur in Africa, and that there are generally far fewer species throughout the world than there could have been.</span></span> Credit: Søren FaurbyThe current diversity of large mammals. It can clearly be seen that large numbers of species virtually only occur in Africa, and that there are generally far fewer species throughout the world than there could have been.Share on Pinterest

The study was published last Thursday in the journal Diversity and Distributions. The researchers analyzed what the natural distribution of large mammal species would be if not for the impact of humans.

The study expands on the scientists’ previous research, which showed that the mass extinction of large mammals during the last ice age and in subsequent millennia was largely linked to the spread of modern humans, not to climate change.

Based on their most recent analysis, the researchers concluded that sub-Saharan Africa is virtually the only place on Earth with the naturally high diversity and population of large mammals that would be seen elsewhere if not for humans.

“Most safaris today take place in Africa, but under natural circumstances, as many or even more large animals would no doubt have existed in other places,” Dr. Søren Faurby, a postdoctoral fellow in bioscience at Aarhus and lead author of the study, said in a press release. “The reason that many safaris target Africa is not because the continent is naturally abnormally rich in species of mammals. Instead it reflects that it’s one of the only places where human activities have not yet wiped out most of the large animals.”

Global Warming: The Future is NOW! Part 1

Looking at the news on the subject lately, it would seem that the Pacific Coast is climate change central. Starting with the sad excuse for a snowpack last winter and the near total lack of rains since then that’s led to the current and ongoing drought, which in turn is contributing to the catastrophic fires across the West, it’s looking like Nature has set her sights on our part of the planet.

But the fact is, global warming is a worldwide problem. July has joined a dozen or more previous months in getting overall “hottest on record” nods—like it or not.

If you’ve been following this blog recently, you might have had your fill of Okanogan Complex fire updates, or general articles with anecdotes about the other changes to predictable patterns the Earth is undergoing thanks to Anthropogenic Climate Disruption (or simply, too many humans creating too many tons of carbon). And if you’re any kind of self-respecting misanthrope like me, you may be wondering why it all matters. Certainly not so any future generations of humans can enjoy this wonderful place in the cosmos.

No, there’s much more than just us that’s worthy of our concern in this climate change catastrophe.

Global warming is about more than our comfort level or success. The harsh reality is that climate change is a major factor in the ongoing biodiversity emergency contributing to our current extinction spasm, namely The Sixth Great Mass Extinction–the one that we humans are causing and will more than likely be our undoing.

All of the West’s weather woes lead back to a blocking ridge of high pressure which is associated with the massive “blob” of warm water that’s been stuck for some time now off the West Coast and wreaking havoc with otherwise dependable patterns. A March 2008 interpretive handout from the USFWS, “Seabirds of the Pacific Northwest,”  that I picked up at Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, Oregon, actually does a surprisingly good job of spelling out the situation we’re in.

Changing Ocean Conditions

Weather is a major factor in sea bird success on the North Pacific coast. In productive breeding years, ocean winds cause an upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich water which results in a plankton bloom. Plankton are the base of the food chain upon which larger fish and ultimately sea birds depend. In El Nino years the ocean warms which alters ocean currents and prevents upwelling. This results in a crash in prey populations causing large-scale breeding failure and adult mortality in sea birds.

Expected rises in ocean temperature due to global climate change may be similar in effect to El Nino events. However, unlike El Nino which is short-term natural phenomena that disrupts marine food webs periodically, global climate change represents a more pervasive and permanent change in the ecosystem, the consequences of which are unknown. In fact, climate change is often perceived to be a future threat, but the reality for our marine wildlife is that it is happening now and scientists are struggling to unravel the interrelationships within marine ecosystems to predict how those systems will respond.

In 2015, the warm water has spread from Alaska to Mexico

I was going to title this post “Connecting the Dots on Climate Change,” but since this map only has one dot and it happens to be centered over “the blob” –climate change’s tie-in to everything that’s actively plaguing the West–I’ll let Canada’s The Weather Network explain it in excerpts from their article, “This weird ocean blob is linked to our worst weather. Here’s how”: Rodrigo Cokting Staff writer   Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The devastating winter in Atlantic Canada, the drought in California and the lack of snow in many BC ski resorts all have one thing it common: The Blob, an unusually warm mass of water in the Pacific Ocean that stretches from Alaska to Mexico.

The Blob, past and present, plays a key role in extreme weather and disruptions to the natural world across North America during the past two years, and is likely to do so for another year at least.

Described first by University of Washington climate scientist Dr. Nicholas Bond, The Blob is a large body of water sitting off the west coast, stretching from the American state of Alaska all the way to Baja California, Mexico. This anomaly first appeared in the Pacific ocean during the winter of 2013 to 2014, about 800 kilometres off the coast and brought remarkably warm water to the region. Peak temperatures anomalies at one point were greater than 2.5C.

The Blob has since moved towards the coast and is connected to some of the biggest environment stories since the shift. Snow regularly appeared as rain on the west coast, leaving plenty of ski resorts wondering where all the snow went. Cities all across the Maritimes broke snowfall records in 2015 with places like Saint John, New Brunswick exceeding their previous record high by nearly 70 centimeters. California finds itself in the middle of the worst drought to affect the state in more than 100 years. Salmon are changing their natural pathways. Birds are showing up dead along both coasts. It’s at the point now where meteorologists consult its position and importance when compiling forecasts.

Scientists are taking a closer look at the extent that The Blob can affect the world. Meteorologists at The Weather Network have been factoring in the warm water since it first appeared in the Pacific.

“This phenomena was a very important consideration in developing our past several seasonal outlooks and it is a significant factor as we look at the upcoming summer,” The Weather Network’s Dr. Doug Gillham said. “[These new studies] identify a key variable that we used to make our predictions.”

But to understand the Blob, you need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

“The actual wave pattern that causes the anomaly in the east originates in the equatorial pacific,” University of Washington’s Dennis Hartmann said. “It’s kind of like El Niño except in a different location. It’s characterized by a high pressure centre off the west coast of North America.”

Hartmann says that this pattern, often called pseudo-El Niño follows a large arc trajectory to affect North America, and has many consequences including the formation of the Blob.

In 2015, the warm water has spread from Alaska to Mexico

In 2015, the warm water has spread from Alaska to Mexico

The warmer water of The Blob, in turn, has a direct relationship with air temperatures and humidity levels over the nearby land, which contributed to the warm and dry winter that much of the West Coast saw the last couple of years.

“I’m confident this effect is extending to British Columbia,” he said. “It doesn’t make much of a difference in circulation patterns like wind but it does seem to impact the temperature and moisture properties over the area.”

The lack of moisture could have affected the wildfire season that plagued the northwestern parts of North America.

“When there are warmer winters the landscape dries out that much faster and the fire season becomes longer,” Bond said, explaining how the Blob could have had a secondary impact on the West Coast. “Oceans also affected humidity so conceivably it could have an effect on likelihood of thunderstorms but right now that’s just pure speculation.”

While the West Coast has had winter with above average temperatures, the East Coast suffered from the opposite problem.

“The pattern set up a weather dipole along North America. Cold and snow in the east while keeping things dry in the west,” Hartmann said. “The combination of the ridge to the west and through in the east pulled the cold air into places like Chicago.”

And it’s not just Canada feeling the consequences of the pattern. California has been going through a rough time, struggling to find water. Hartmann believes that recently, the drought may have a link to all these weather problems.

“This pattern contributed to the drought in California,” Hartmann said. “They’ve been having it for four years but the pattern made it worse during the last two years.”

But it’s not just people feeling the effect of the Blob. The anomaly is having troubling consequences on the wildlife according to Dr. Ian Perry, a research scientists with Fisheries & Oceans Canada.

“October and November saw some the highest water temps we’ve ever seen in certain locations along the B.C. coast. The temperatures in that warm body of water are about 3.5 to 4 degrees above normal. It’s the kind of temperature excursion we might statistically expect once every 400 years,” Perry said. “Coastal temperatures in some locations have been recorded since the 1930s and we’ve never seen some of these numbers.”

These warm waters have led to interesting changes in the wildlife including a redistribution of some species.

“The warm water has brought a lot of animals that we might usually see further south into B.C. and into Alaska,” Perry said. “We’ve seen albacore tuna as far up as into Alaska. Normally they might go as far north as Washington.”

The Pacific salmon has an even more peculiar behavior change due to the Blob. The species usually returns to the Fraser river in B.C. via one of two routes. Most of them come in through the southern part of Vancouver Island, swimming through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the international boundary between Canada and the United states.

But due to the warm water, the salmon are taking the longer route home swimming around northern B.C. and back down. The warm water is acting like a big plug and forcing the fish to bypass their preferred way back home.

“This has implications because we have a treaty with the U.S., that allows them to fish Pacific salmon. They get a certain amount of the catch because the normal route goes through the Strait of Juan de Fuca which is accessible to both U.S. and Canadian fishermen,” Perry said. “This time it’s been mostly Canadian fishermen that had access to the fish.”

If the Blob continues it could affect more than just swimming patterns. Perry says it could also lead to decreased populations in the following years.

“The salmon coming back spent much of their winter route in the north Pacific. They might come back a little bit skinnier but we don’t really expect major impact in the numbers,” Perry said. “The real question will be the fish going out in 2015. If these warm conditions stay along the coast, the juvenile salmon going out may starve and not survive well. There could be fewer salmon coming back in 2015, then 2016, then 2017.”

Warm water spells trouble for young salmon due to the difference in the zooplankton it contains,much smaller and less nutritious than the type that inhabits cold water.

“It’s the difference between having a roast beef dinner every night versus eating a stalk of celery every night,” Perry explained.

While we’ll have to wait and see if the salmon will be affected by the Blob, a bird commonly seen in B.C. is already suffering the devastating effect of the less nutritious water.

Cassin’s auklet is a small, chunky seabird that commonly breeds off the northern tip of Vancouver Island. After a successful breeding period during the spring of 2014, the birds have washing up dead all across the shore between Washington and Oregon at rates as high as 100 times the normal amount.

“It’s a combination of two things: the good breeding that happened in spring and the warm water that came toward the coast. A lot of these young birds were not familiar enough with how to find food in a different environment,” Perry said. “A lot of the birds that wash up ashore appear to be starving.”

It’s becoming clearer with every passing day that The Blob is going to have serious ramifications for as long as it stays in the ocean, and at least for now it seems to be comfortably parked off the west coast.

“It’s still there now and still pretty anomalous so the coastal weather and coastal biology will continue to be affected by that,” Hartmann said before adding that other conditions could mitigate the effect.


A pair of August 25, 2015 articles in the Daily Astorian hint to the dire straits we’re all in today:

Last fall, tens of thousands of the Cassin’s auklet, a small seabird, died. Parish said there was a correlation between warmer waters and a change in the distribution of food. 

“We’re kind of hoping we don’t have another repeat season,” she said. “The North Pacific is pretty darn warm and has been for some time,” Parish said.  

But there is usually upwelling, making it cooler along the coast and providing the common murre “a fair amount of food.”  

Josh Saranpaa, assistant director of the Wildlife Center of the North Coast in Astoria, said the center has received about 12 birds a day over the past month, many from Cannon Beach. The majority, about 90 percent, are common murres. 

“Every bird we’re seeing is starving to death,” he said. “It’s pretty bad.” 

With warming ocean temperatures, fish are diving deeper than the birds can handle in some areas, he added.

The high number of starving adults along the North Coast, even experienced scavenger birds, indicates a “serious sign of a stressed ecosystem,” Parish said.

Saranpaa said seabirds are biological indicators, a way to check an environment’s health…

Richard Leakey, in his book, the Sixth Extinction: Patterns of Life and the Future of Humankind, points out that, “marine regression” is associated with nearly all the previous mass extinctions. With warming, ocean acidification, jellyfish and toxic algae replacing plankton blooms throughout the areas, it’s starting to look like marine regression is happening here. Perhaps I should have titled this post, Mass Extinction: The future is now.

Stay tuned for Part 2



Meat-eaters may speed worldwide species extinction, study warns

Diets rich in beef and other red meat can be bad for a person’s health. And the practice is equally bad for Earth’s biodiversity, according to a team of scientists who have fingered human carnivory—and its impact on land use—as the single biggest threat to much of the world’s flora and fauna. Already a major cause of extinction, our meat habit will take a growing toll as people clear more land for livestock and crops to feed these animals, a study in the current issue of Science of the Total Environment predicts.

“It’s a colossally important paper,” says Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at Bard College in Annandale-On-Hudson, New York, who studies how human diets affect the environment, and who was not part of the study. Researchers have struggled to determine the full impacts of meat consumption on biodiversity, Eshel says. “Now we can say, only slightly fancifully: You eat a steak, you kill a lemur in Madagascar. You eat a chicken, you kill an Amazonian parrot.” That’s because species-rich habitats are being converted to pasture and feed crops as the human appetite for meat swells.

But others disagree that livestock production is the leading cause of habitat loss. “They’ve created [a] stickman to be knocked down,” says Clayton Marlow, a grassland ecologist at Montana State University, Bozeman, “without accomplishing anything for either the ecosystem or the poor.”

Previous studies have explored links between modern livestock production and climate change, water pollution, and the loss of some herbivores and top predators such as wolves and lions. “But how is it impacting other species?” asks Brian Machovina, an10405311_308608659330466_3235603653435958062_n ecologist at Florida International University in Miami, and the paper’s lead author.

To find out, he and his colleagues looked at studies that identified the world’s biodiversity hotspots—those areas that contain the highest percentage of endemic plant and animal species. Most are located in tropical nations. Then, the researchers picked out countries that are most likely to expand their industrial livestock operations, and determined where and how much land will be lost to grazing and growing crops to feed livestock. Using data from the Food and Agriculture Organization and other studies about the production of cattle, pigs, and chickens in these countries from 1985 to 2013 and the amount of land the livestock required, they extrapolated the likely future expansion of agricultural lands. Finally, they created maps of overlap.

Many of the places expected to see the greatest shift in land use from forest to livestock are in 15 “megadiverse” countries, which harbor the largest number of species, Machovina says. “By 2050, given current trends, these countries will likely increase the lands used for livestock production by 30% to 50%”—some 3,000,000 square kilometers—the researchers estimate.

The habitat loss is so great that it will cause more extinctions than any other factor, the study notes, particularly when coupled with other deleterious effects of livestock production, including climate change and pollution. “These changes will have major, negative impacts on biodiversity,” Machovina says. “Many, many species will be lost.”

The trend toward meat-eating is already having an impact, the scientists say.

Citing other studies, they note that more than three-quarters of the land previously cleared in the Amazon region is now used either as pasture for livestock or to raise feed crops for domestic and international markets. And the rapid deforestation there continues: Another 1898 square kilometers of forest were removed over the last year. Further, more than half of the Amazon’s Cerrado, a woodland savanna ecosystem known for its rare species, has also been cleared for raising cattle and soy. Habitats have also been—and continue to be—lost throughout Central and Latin America for the same reasons, the scientists say, who see a similar future for Africa.

By revealing where the most flora and fauna will disappear as lands are converted to agriculture for meat production, “the study equips us with a means to quantify the costs of our dietary choices in terms of species loss,” Eshel says.

The study also “suggests potential solutions that merit serious consideration,” notes ecologist David Tilman from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, who was not part of the work. To stop the loss of biodiversity, Machovina and his colleagues recommend that people limit meat consumption to 10% of their calories; eat more fruits and vegetables; replace beef—the most land-hungry meat—with pork, chicken, and fish; and change livestock production practices. But Tilman warns this won’t be easily done. “The challenge is to find solutions that meet human needs and simultaneously protect remaining natural habitats.”

Meeting the challenge of “feeding the world’s growing population with a shrinking land base” can’t be done without “intensive animal and crop production,” says Marlow, who argues that the real problem facing biodiversity is the loss of arable land to development such as urban and slum sprawl. He adds that developing countries are adopting industrialized livestock production because it’s efficient and “the only way we can feed the world’s growing population.”

6 endangered animals poachers are hunting into extinction

Jessica Phelan, GlobalPost 2:55 p.m. EDT July 31, 2015

Screw the Skeptics—Humans Are to Blame!

First there were the global warming skeptics and anthropogenic climate change deniers; now we are hearing from the downplayers and confuse-the-issuists like those who keep blaming everything on El Nino—a temporary, natural, cyclic phenomenon, not linked with human-caused climate change.

Another example of an effort to hold humans harmless is the debate around what is to blame for the early mass extinction of Pleistocene megafauna: humans or climate change? (unbelievably, still being debated after all these years.) Indeed, has recently put out two differing articles with opposite titles, one blaming humans for what is known as the Pleistocene overkill (in an article entitled: “Humans Blamed for Extinction of Mammoths, Mastodons & Giant Sloths“, the other backing the climate change as the agent primarily to blame, (Still, even that new study blames humans for the coup de grace that finished off the species now extinct).

Recently there has been much clamor over the damage done by “invasive species,” yet, those species transported by humans’ ships, etc., cannot be blamed for “invading” the areas that they hadn’t yet populated. In every case, the exotic species were part of humans’ “wrecking crew” as John Livingston referred to them. Livingston went on to say in his 1994 book, Rogue Primate:

“There is no doubt about the identity of the first runaway exotic species, or of the role of that species in the extinction of other species worldwide. As ecologists Paul and Ann Erlich say, ‘It seems highly likely that humanity got an early start at the business of extinction.’ The prehistoric evidence, circumstantial though it may be, is persuasive; in the historic period the evidence is no longer circumstantial…The extinction events of the last 100,000 years or so may well rival the [five] great kill-offs of the distant geologic past…

“Even those who oppose the human-overkill theory cannot deny that the mega fauna extinctions coincided remarkably with the movements of Homo over and between the continents.

“Although the Pleistocene overkill theory is not accepted everywhere in academic circles, it really does not matter whether it is accepted or not. What does matter is the sum of the human accomplishment in historic time. It is estimated that between 1600 and 1900 we eliminated about 75 birds and mammals (there is no count of other taxa), and between 1990 and the present another 75 (again species other than birds and mammals not being monitored). The British ecologist and resource manager Norman Meyers remarked: ‘The rate from the year 1600 to 1900, roughly one species every four years, and the rate during most of the present century, about one species per year, are to be compared with a rate of possibly one per 1,000 years during the great dying of the dinosaurs.’

“Many authorities feel that by the time we entered the decade of the 1980s, we were already disposing of species (of all kinds) at the rate of one per day, and the number for the 1990s could well be one per hour. No longer of course, are we concentrating on ‘megafauna’: we have worked our way well down the scale of size. We have reduced, simplified, homogenized, and pauperized Nature everywhere on the planet to an extent that cannot be biologically recoverable. Extinct species never rides again; new species require untrammeled heterogeneity and purity of habitat. Neither would appear to be in the cards. The human achievement has been breathtaking in its suddenness, total in its scope. This could only be the work of a placeless being—in an ecological sense, one utterly lacking in both intrinsic inhibitions and extrinsic controls…[up until now, with global warming—a fever, if you will ] there was no immune system on Earth to repel the exotic invader. Everywhere, the transplant ‘took’.

“The Pleistocene produced an array of very large animals. Then, all at once, the megafauna was drastically reduced. The great creatures fell like dominos in an extinction spasm the like of which had not occurred, it would seem, since the obliteration of the dinosaurs. What made it dramatically different from other such events that had preceded it was the fact that species vanished without replacement….”


Earth has lost half of its wildlife in the past 40 years

See picture gallery of wild animals facing decline

George Monbiot: It’s time to shout stop on this war on the living world

Species across land, rivers and seas decimated as humans kill for food in unsustainable numbers and destroy habitats

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

06 July 2015

Written by 
Dahr Jamail   By Dahr Jamail, Truthout | Interview

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.

To see more stories like this, visit “Planet or Profit?”

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.

McPherson fears that we are well along in the process of causing our own extinction.

Prior to that, the Permian mass extinction that occurred 250 million years ago, also known as the “Great Dying,” was triggered by a massive lava flow in an area of Siberia that led to an increase in global temperatures of 6 degrees Celsius. That, in turn, caused the melting of frozen methane deposits under the seas. Released into the atmosphere, those gases caused temperatures to skyrocket further. All of this occurred over a period of approximately 80,000 years. The change in climate is thought to be the key to what caused the extinction of most species on the planet. In that extinction episode, it is estimated that 95 percent of all species were wiped out.

Today’s current scientific and observable evidence strongly suggests we are in the midst of the same process – only this time it is anthropogenic, and happening exponentially faster than even the Permian mass extinction did.

In fact, a recently published study in Science Advances states, unequivocally, that the planet has officially entered its sixth mass extinction event. The study shows that species are already being killed off at rates much faster than they were during the other five extinction events, and warns ominously that humans could very likely be among the first wave of species to go extinct.

So if some feel that McPherson’s thinking is extreme, when the myriad scientific reports he cites to back his claims are looked at squarely and the dots are connected, the perceived extremism begins to dissolve into a possible, or even likely, reality.

The idea of possible human extinction, coming not just from McPherson but a growing number of scientists (as well as the aforementioned recently published report in Science), is now beginning to occasionally find its way into mainstream consciousness.

“A Child Born Today May Live to See Humanity’s End, Unless …” reads a recent blog post title from Reuters. It reads:

Humans will be extinct in 100 years because the planet will be uninhabitable, according to Australian microbiologist Frank Fenner, one of the leaders of the effort to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s. He blames overcrowding, denuded resources and climate change. Fenner’s prediction is not a sure bet, but he is correct that there is no way emissions reductions will be enough to save us from our trend toward doom. And there doesn’t seem to be any big global rush to reduce emissions, anyway.

McPherson, who maintains the blog “Nature Bats Last,” told Truthout, “We’ve never been here as a species and the implications are truly dire and profound for our species and the rest of the living planet.”

Truthout first interviewed McPherson in early 2014, at which time he had identified 24 self-reinforcing positive feedback loops triggered by human-caused climate disruption. Today that number has grown to more than 50, and continues to increase.

A self-reinforcing positive feedback loop is akin to a “vicious circle”: It accelerates the impacts of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD). An example would be methane releases in the Arctic. Massive amounts of methane are currently locked in the permafrost, which is now melting rapidly. As the permafrost melts, methane – a greenhouse gas 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide on a short timescale – is released into the atmosphere, warming it further, which in turn causes more permafrost to melt, and so on.

As soon as this summer, we are likely to begin seeing periods of an ice-free Arctic. (Those periods will arrive by the summer of 2016 at the latest, according to a Naval Postgraduate School report.)

Once the summer ice begins melting away completely, even for short periods, methane releases will worsen dramatically.

Is it possible that, on top of the vast quantities of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels that continue to enter the atmosphere in record amounts yearly, an increased release of methane could signal the beginning of the sort of process that led to the Great Dying?

McPherson, like the scientists involved in the recent study that confirms the arrival of the sixth great extinction, fears that the situation is already so serious and so many self-reinforcing feedback loops are already in play that we are well along in the process of causing our own extinction.

Furthermore, McPherson remains convinced that it could happen far more quickly than generally believed possible – in the course of just the next few decades, or even sooner.

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.


As ice melts, Polar bears could find last refuge in Canada’s High Arctic

Canada’s High Arctic could become the last stable refuge for polar bears as climate change melts away their hunting grounds, a U.S. government report says.

Populations elsewhere — in Alaska, Russia, Norway and around Hudson Bay, northern Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador — are likely to decrease or greatly decrease by the year 2050 as global temperatures rise, the report projects.

But under a moderate scenario for greenhouse gas emissions, with enough reductions worldwide to keep the average global temperature hike to no more than two degrees, the polar bear population in northern Nunavut is most likely to remain stable and even has a decent chance of increasing, researchers say.

The 124-page research report comes from the U.S. Geological Survey, an entity of the U.S. Department of the Interior, and was published this week.

It looks at polar bear populations in four “eco regions,” including an area known as the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, home to perhaps 5,000 or more of the animals — about a quarter of the global total.

The archipelago has the best “potential to serve as a long-term refugium” for polar bears, the authors say.

But even then, if countries continue with “business as usual” and nothing is done to curb the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, the long-term viability of polar bears would be in doubt.

Sea ice essential

Polar bear populations are thought to be sensitive to global warming mainly because the animals spend the winter and spring on sea ice hunting for fatty seals as well as mating and giving birth.

When the ice retreats in the summer, the bears are forced onto land. But land-based food can’t satisfy their dietary needs.

“The terrestrial resources are just not sufficient. It’s the difference between eating fat and eating a few berries,” said Andrew Derocher, a polar bear expert and professor at the University of Alberta, who wasn’t involved in the U.S. government report.

Polar bear with dead seal

A polar bear drags a seal along a floe in Baffin Bay, above the Arctic Circle in Canada’s North. The bears need sea ice to hunt seals, their main source of food. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

“The whole fate of polar bears depends on how fast the sea ice disappears.”

Scientists have warned for years that climate change threatens polar bear populations. The U.S. Geological Survey study compares that risk against others like oil and gas shipping through the North, pollution and hunting of the bears, which is legal in Canada, the U.S. and Greenland.

It concludes that sea ice loss is the greatest menace to their survival, by a significant margin.

And it says about a third of the world’s polar bears — those in Alaska, Russia and Norway — could be in imminent danger from greenhouse gas emissions in as soon as a decade. Those areas of the Arctic have suffered some of the most dramatic declines in sea ice.

The scientists saw no rebound in overall population numbers in the projections that stretched to the year 2100 under either of the two scenarios they looked at: one in which greenhouse gas emissions stabilized, and the other in which they continued unabated.

“Polar bears are in big trouble,” said Rebecca Noblin, Alaska director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “There are other steps we can take to slow the decline of polar bears, but in the long run, the only way to save polar bears in the Arctic is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Other marine animals at risk

Polar bears aren’t the only marine species at risk from climate change.

In separate research released this week, an international team of scientists looked at the effects on sea creatures, concluding that under the “business as usual” scenario of unchecked greenhouse gas emissions, “most marine organisms evaluated will have very high risk of impacts.”

The effects will be felt “across all latitudes,” the authors write, “making this a global concern beyond the north/south divide.”

As more greenhouse gases enter the atmosphere, oceans will warm and become more acidic, says the study, published in the journal Science.

Fish will have to find new habitats in cooler waters. Warm-water corals and sea grasses at mid-latitudes are already being affected.

Even if the world commits and sticks to the most stringent of the proposed emissions targets, creatures like mussels, oysters, clams and scallops “will be at high risk” by the year 2100, the scientists say.

“All the species and services we get from the ocean will be impacted and everyone, including Canadians, who benefit from these goods and services are vulnerable,” said William Cheung, a co-author of the paper and an associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s fisheries centre.

With files from The Associated Press