By Anna Majavu · 6 Nov 2014
Could humans become extinct within 40 years as a result of climate change? A body of evidence to support this theory is gaining ground. American climate scientist and professor emeritus Guy McPherson is one of a few climate scientists who believe that the governments and corporations of the world have no real intention of combating climate change, and that it will be up to communities to radically alter their lifestyles if we want some species, perhaps not including ourselves, to survive past the next four decades.
The change to our lifestyles will have to be so immense that it will amount to giving up “civilisation” as we know it, McPherson says.
McPherson bases his idea on the belief that climate change is no longer happening in a linear fashion, where a steady but relatively slow increase for the future can be predicted based on the global change in temperatures of the recent past. Instead, climate change has become exponential. Every 30 years, the cumulative total of the carbon dioxide we have polluted the atmosphere with, doubles. The rate of growth in atmospheric methane was linear starting from the 1980s but went exponential from 2005, with NASA recently reporting methane plumes coming out of the Arctic Ocean measuring 150 kilometres across.
Quoting retired professor Malcolm Light, McPherson points to methane hydrate (clathrate) gun firing as a powerful example of how climate change has become exponential. Methane hydrate (clathrate) gun firing happens when the ocean warms up, triggering the sudden release of methane from the seabed. Since methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, this leads to a further temperature rise, which then warms the sea further, triggering the release of more and more methane from the seabed and starting a runaway and irreversible process.
In the Arctic, this methane hydrate (clathrate) gun firing started seven years ago. In Siberia, the release of methane from permafrost - the thick layer of soil that remains below freezing point throughout the year - is set to happen soon and will only worsen global warming.
McPherson says he “suspects that carbon dioxide is no longer running the show” and that the runaway warming processes being caused by methane gas puts Earth into the category of a planet undergoing abrupt climate change.
McPherson has been accused of being alarmist but points out that exponential climate change was pointed to as an imminent risk by the United Nations Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases 24 years ago. They warned then that any increase in the earth’s temperature beyond 1 degree Celsius could “elicit rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage”. And the US Navy has predicted an ice-free Arctic by June 2016, with the UK Parliament expecting the ice to melt by July next year.
With Earth now headed for rise in global temperature of more than 4 degrees Celsius, it would be foolish of us to believe that all the ecosystems we rely on for food and water are going to survive or adapt, especially given the damage that climate change has already caused.
While McPherson’s notion of human extinction within 40 years may sound like a conspiracy theory, it is clearly logical. The political target of diminishing emissions enough to reduce the Earth’s temperature by 1 degree is not being met. Neither governments nor corporations seem very interested in achieving this. In fact, entire industries would have to shut themselves down in order to cool the Earth down by 1 degree, which is not going to happen. And even if they did that, this political target has never been a scientific target – partly because of the methane problem. Scientifically, Earth needs to cool down by more than 1 degree in order for humans to keep living as we are today, and that really is not achievable.
It is already known that actions by individuals, such as planting more trees, putting up solar panels or buying hybrid cars, while laudable, will not be enough to stop climate change. So, expecting the worst could be the only plausible viewpoint.
The notion of human extinction is not unbelievable. Entire communities, made up mainly of poor people of colour, are already dying as a result of climate change. This has been pointed out for several years by organisations not given to wild speculation, such as former UN secretary general Kofi Annan's think-tank, the Global Humanitarian Forum. In 2009, this organisation released the results of a study showing that global warming was causing 300 000 deaths a year of people affected by heat waves, floods and forest fires. 500 million people were at risk of being affected by climate change related natural disasters and the resulting “hunger, disease, poverty and lost livelihoods”, the think tank said.
Yet middle class city dwellers persist in the belief that there is no imminent danger to humanity as a whole. Many people, who cannot see or feel the effects of climate change, believe that when it comes to the crunch, maybe the scientists will develop some way to save us all. But the idea of a yet to be developed technology coming to the rescue is extremely unlikely as only the “massive geoengineering of the atmosphere’s chemistry” would work, says McPherson. He calls this “fantasy technology”.
It is tempting to laugh off McPherson’s collection of warnings and evidence of the extreme effects of climate change, but we should remember that the have been five mass extinctions on Earth already and if the evidence points to a sixth mass extinction coming, why ignore it? We already know that the world’s oil, coal and gas companies give off the greatest emissions and that, at the same time, these energy sources could have been replaced some time ago by renewable energy. The world’s massive collection of chemical and plastic factories produce many consumer items that have no particular use at all, other than to make the owner of the sweatshop making them richer and richer by the day.
But interestingly, McPherson himself does not believe that humans will force these to close down so that we can return to natural living in order to have either a few of us, or a few other species, survive. Governments will not do it either. The world’s nuclear power plants – which number in the hundreds, with several more to be built soon in South Africa, would have to be decommissioned and melted down to achieve a collapse of the trappings of “civilisation”, and this is surely not going to happen. He is certain that humans will instead opt for extinction, partly by not acting until it is too late, and partly by believing, against all the evidence, that the human species will survive climate change.
While he has been accused of hampering efforts to stop climate change by encouraging a ‘do nothing’ mentality, McPherson says this is far from the truth. His is a clarion call to all humans to act with haste to collapse the current economic system that we already know to be disastrous for both the environment, and to the humans that it leaves in poverty, joblessness and despair.
I am afraid that our collective behaviour is pointing inexorably in the direction spoken of by Majavu. But by collective behaviour I do not mean that the individual is deliberately causing climate change. The individual is causing climate change by their actions but it is because they have severely restricted choices available to them. Why? Because our civilisation is run on fossil fuel energy and those who run the fossil fuel companies refuse point blank to put their efforts into renewable energies because their fossil fuel assets would become what in reality they already are and that is worthless. But unless we collectively get them off their addiction to the money linked to fossil fuels we are all going to perish and humanity will become just one of evolution's failed experiments.
It's Much Worse than Guy Thinks
In Earth's past, extinction events have been caused by not just methane, but hydrogen sulfide. The oceans and in some cases the ground itself are now emitting both gases. HazMat events with unknown 'toxic fumes' have already sickened thousands and sent them fleeing from their homes along the coast in Indonesia. Dozens were sickened similarly in Jamaica. 'Rotten egg' odor hit the Inner Harbor in Baltimore and killed all the fish. And so on. Animals are dropping dead all over, particularly oceanic species. Fires and explosions are burning up our infrastructure, homes and vehicles. Like animals, people are now also dropping dead, especially near low-lying areas.
We don't have anywhere remotely near 40 years left. We may not even have 5 years left.
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