In this episode of Wine, Women, and Revolution, Heather interviews professor and climate scientist, Guy McPherson. Guy is an emeritus professor at University of Arizona and teaches in the School of Natural Resources. He joins Heather to talk about catastrophic climate change, capitalism, and near-term extinction.
Professor McPherson specializes in ecology and environmental biology. He has been a professor for over 20 years and taught at Texas A&M and University of California as well as University of Arizona. Guy also worked for The Nature Conservancy in their home office in Virginia. His qualifications are exemplary, so when someone like this begins telling us we have only a few years left on the planet his words need to be heard.
10 years ago, Professor McPherson talked about how abrupt climate change could lead to human extinction by 2100, which is still a number some scientists focus on. Upon further reflection he moved his date up to 2050. Finally, he arrived at his current prediction that homo sapiens could go extinct as early as 2026. The exact date may be hard to determine precisely, but we are in the midst of a mass extinction. Although actual extinctions are still relatively rare, population decline is in full swing across billions of populations. Species are dying out because of habitat destruction, pollution, climate change, and the impacts of human population.
Self-Reinforcing Feedback Loops
There are certain environmental cycles which continue to trigger themselves over and over. These are known as positive feedback loop. Guy has been tracking these loops we have triggered on his blog at GuyMcPherson.com. Mr McPherson has come to the conclusions that civilization is a heat engine that is constantly pumping out more and more heat, but due to global dimming we aren’t actually seeing the full effects of the damage we are doing. If we turned off that dimming, we could heat the planet up to 1 C within a few short weeks. Civilization, and especially the disaster capitalism of the United States is not working well for anyone or thing.
Global Dimming or Aerosol Masking Effect
Carbon in the atmosphere has a very long half-life. If we stooped all carbon use today it would still be years before we saw the effects. In addition, there is a delay or lag between the emission of and the heating from carbon released. We would continue heating for years before we saw the long-term results. In addition to all that full results of our actions are hidden from us. As we release carbon, we also release aerosols. Some of these stop heat in the atmosphere before it can get to earth. Those aerosols will fall out of the atmosphere within weeks and led to a dramatic surge in temperature. Guy believes there is no way that the habit needed for humans to live can continue through that. Everything needed for human survival will quickly cease to exist.
Is there anything to do?
Guy believes it is too late to save ourselves, but what we can do with our time left is to ease human suffering. There is no specific place to move to ride out the coming devastation. Early on in his assessment, he had suggested moving as far south as possible and even convinced apple CEO Steve Wozniak to move to Tasmania. His opinion on that has changed due to his thoughts that there will be cascading nuclear meltdowns. *In writing this piece I reached out to a retired nuclear safety officer with questions about the possibility of these meltdowns. The answer I received was “Not exactly”. Chernobyl type meltdowns are extremely unlikely. Even if staff had to evacuate in a short time period, they could flood the reactors with boron and make it non-reactive. What could happen is the spent rods in the cooling pools could begin producing hydrogen and explode if they were not being maintained at cool temperatures. These explosions could be dangerous but no more dangerous than the literal apocalypse happening outside that resulted in the abandoning of the nuclear reactors. So, the answer doesn’t make you feel better really*
Be a decent human being
You have the option of opting out of the system that is driving us to extinction. Capitalism is causing suffering. Professor McPherson is an anarchist and believes that is the only way to really rid us of the harms of capitalism. Guy became an anarchist in college after reading the works of Edward Abbey. The title of this article is a quote from Edward Abbey. Guy is also a fan of modern writer Doug Peacock.
What causes the most suffering?
I asked Guy what the 3 most harmful aspects of capitalism are. His answers were:
1) The idea of ownership. When 4 people can own more wealth than the bottom 50% of people on the planet it shows something is drastically wrong.
2) The idea of capital being extended to every aspect of the planet and animals. Everything is an exploitable resource. Animals become meat of the hoof instead of a possible relationship.
3) The idea of a positive interest rate. It makes the future less valuable than today. This causes the exploitation of today. We cannot have unlimited growth. Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell, and we are acting like a cancer.
You can find all of Guy McPherson’s writings at GuyMcPherson.com on his blog Nature Bats Last.