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354: Rapid, Unpredictable & Non-linear Responses



Professor Guy McPherson

Professor Guy McPherson

Guy McPherson joins KMO in the C-Realm to discuss the prospect of runaway climate feedback loops which Guy thinks will lead to human extinction in the not-so-distant future. KMO prefaces the conversation with an excerpt from episode 285: The Rhetoric of Doom. The first half of the conversation consists of an encapsulated version of Guy's presentation to the Bluegrass Bioneers, which you can hear in full on Radio Ecoshock. In the second half of the conversation, KMO asks Guy if, knowing what he knows now, he would still walk away from his tenured position and all the perks of living at the apex of empire. KMO wraps up the podcast with an excerpt from Bruce Sterling's closing remarks to the 2013 South by Southwest Festival about the fatuousness of "technological solutionism."

Music by Formidable Vegetable.

Join KMO, Olga, John Michael Greer, Albert Bates, Carolyn Baker, Dmitry Orlov, Gail Tverberg and Guy McPherson for the 2013 Age of Limits gathering Thursday May 23rd thru Monday May 27th, 2013.

20 comments to 354: Rapid, Unpredictable & Non-linear Responses

  • coyoteyogi

    Wow. I can’t say I really enjoyed this episode but it was a “good listen”. I had to smile (ruefully) in that I was already familiar with eight of the ten positive climate feedback loops. If I make the mistake of trying to talk about them with my wife she covers her ears, interrupts me and says she just can’t hear it. I envy her at times. She recently received an inheritance and is eagerly looking at parcels of lake front land where our children and perhaps someday, their children will come and visit us. Who am I to spoil that very human dream? How can the human imagination include and enclose the end of humanity?
    We are in miracle territory. I don’t expect a miracle. I don’t live as close to the earth as GM and anyone with a sharp stick would have no problem poking holes in my attempts to live a thoughtful and non-violent life. But if the story is true, if we do, collectively, as a species, destroy the phytoplankton and desiccate the Amazon we may well simply suffocate. That is not an ending I would wish on anyone.
    It’s none of my business, but I just finished reading McPherson’s book and it mentioned askance that he was working and living on his homestead while his wife continued living in Tucson. Did his decision to “drop out” lead to a divorce?
    In the end, our decisions are not global but personal. The consequences are not long term but immediate. The choices are difficult. Thank you for this podcast.

  • Guy McPherson

    Thanks for the comment, coyoteyogi. My wife joined me here at the mud hut about four months ago.

  • Conspiracy2Riot

    So I get the feeling, if we’re looking at a time frame, Guy is uncertain we as a species have much beyond 5 years or was that more specifically about the region in which he currently resides?

    • Guy McPherson

      My 5-year time frame is specific to this region. I live in the southwestern interior of North America. I suspect there’ll be humans in the southern portion of the southern hemisphere through the 2020s.

      • AJR

        Hey Guy,

        Can you share what you believe the next 5,10,20 years will be like for the average American?

        Also, although you present some compelling evidence, naturally I don’t want to believe your assessment is accurate. can you point to some other scientist/experts you share your view that human extinction is near certain by 2050?


        • Guy McPherson

          Thanks for the question, AJR. Please take into account that my response is pure conjecture. Within five years, I suspect most Americans who live in the interior of the continent will starve or choke to death on the dust generated from the Real Dust Bowl. Others will die because the water will stop coming out the municipal taps. Within ten years, the northern hemisphere will largely lack human life because there will be almost no land plants, hence no food. It’s game over within twenty years in the northern hemisphere.

          David Wasdell:
          Malcolm Light:
          An overview replete with citations:

          • AJR

            As a preface, let me say my intention is not to badger you, and my guess is you’ve heard every variation on the questions I am asking MANY times… – I think many people would submit that the analysis/opinions at the outer boundaries are the ones least likely to be accurate. Although your presentation is very compelling (I have been wrestling with it for weeks), there is much about the science, the analysis, and yourself, that I have neither the training nor the knowledge to be able to debunk/verify. If the trajectory is indeed so grim, why are those “in the know” ( be they the larger science community or the world leaders ( i have heard you state that Obama and others of this caliber must be aware of this info)) not standing on the tallest mountain tops and clanging the emergency bell at full volume for immediate action, as we all will perish horribly, in short order? Or to restate: Obama, the pentagon, the Chinese gov’t, Monsanto – whoever conjecture would assume pulls the levers – is aware of the gravity of the situation and will surely be obliterated like the rest of us, in the short term – why do they do nothing to save their own skins? If those with the most to lose and the greatest access to the most unadulterated and accurate knowledge/advice do nothing in the face of certain short term extinction, how is that explained in regard to the validity of your predictions? P.S. I am quite frightened that you will have a very rational and compelling answer to this question! Thanks again.

          • Guy McPherson

            I don’t know, of course, what goes on in the heads of these people. But I suspect a combination of factors contributes to paralysis:

            1. Born into captivity, these people believe civilization is the only way to live. As should be clear by now, it’s the only way to die (as a species).

            2. By the time they realized something could be done, it was too late. We were already beyond the point of no return.

            3.The world’s nuclear power plants need to be shut down, safely, before we can allow the world’s industrial economies to shut down. Otherwise, ionizing radiation blankets the globe as collapse transpires catastrophically.

            4. There are no politically viable approaches to climate change (or peak oil or cancer clusters, among other phenomena). I know very few people who would vote for economic decline, much less economic collapse (further evidence that this culture and most of its members are insane).

  • Why bother? People should know. Like Guy, I want to be there when it hits. Perverse curiosity, I guess.

  • Matt

    Has KMO covered geoengineering strategies on past episodes? I’m a relatively new listener. Given the implications of this episode, it sounds like geoengineering might be our last best hope.

  • Stephen

    A tough one to listen to – I heard Maude Barlow’s talk at Big Ideas this week: and wonder if I am a bit of a masochist at this point. I felt like I heard the strains of depression in Dr. McPherson’s voice (something I can relate to but am no longer “medicated” for – there seems to be no anodyne for intellectual vertigo . . . ) – I’ve listened to lots of C-Realm and hope to hock some furniture and subscribe to the Vault soon. I’m an Arkansan and resonate with many of KMO’s references to the state. My wife and I moved as far out as we could and have five acres and a garden in the ground – we’re happy to be here whenever and however the end comes – keep up the good work!


    • KMO

      Hi, Stephen. Thank you for listening and for posting your comment. What part of Arkansas are you in? Anywhere near I-40?

      • smcder68

        You’re welcome! We have a Greenbrier address but we’re about 12 miles outside of the city, past McGintytown, 4 minutes from Wooly Hollow Park if that rings a bell – Quitman and Rose Bud are close. It’s very quiet here even with the natural gas activity.

  • BlessedBest

    Perhaps if life does make it. They will refer to our era as BFUS and AFUS (before the fucked up shit and after the fucked up shit. ) Did ya’ll read “Blueprint to the Afterlife” by Ryan Boudinot yet? The author has an interesting take on such matters.

  • […] I was interviewed by KMO for the C-REALM broadcast. Catch the conversation here. […]

  • Craig

    If the methane vents in Siberia increased from one meter to one kilometer across and if the methane released per unit area remained constant as the size of the vents increased then at a kilometer one million times more methane is released than when the vents were one meter across. So, though the diameter of the vents have increased by an order of magnitude of three, wouldn’t the area, and thus the amount of methane released, have increased by an order of magnitude of six?

  • CHilke

    Dawn of the Dead, George A Romero’s classic 1978 satire on consumer society, opens in a chaotic television studio. An unnamed expert and a TV presenter are sat across from each other, with panic unfolding all around them, and the expert is trying to convince the presenter that the dead are coming alive. The expert shouts accusingly to the presenter, “Do you believe the dead are returning to life and attacking the living?” To which the presenter replies, ‘I’m not sure what to believe doctor. All we get is what you people tell us.’ As the camera pans away to a TV studio being rapidly abandoned by the traumatised staff, we hear the exasperated expert cry out: ‘What will it take to make you people see?'”

    This scenario, with the frantic expert desperately trying to convince an incredulous audience of the desperateness of the situation, has many echoes with the increasingly alarmed tone present in much of the climate change discourse. Clive Hamilton noted a mood of “barely suppressed panic” amongst scientists in his 2010 book Requiem for a Species and the environmental journalist Ben Cubby recently commented on Twitter that, “Talking to well-informed climate scientists is starting to become a very depressing experience. We really are in trouble here.” It seems fair to say there is, at the very least, a new sense of urgency, especially following the record Arctic ice melt in 2012. In this article I want to talk about this sense of panic, and how expert opinion shapes our understanding of climate change risk. I will attempt to show why powerful actors have promoted the claim of a two-degree dangerous limit, and the negative implications of the two-degree limit idea for democracy and social progress.

    What zombie films tell us about climate change: there’s no one happy ending (The Guardian)

  • Sam

    An interesting show, especially the second half. I think Guy’s predictions on climate change are wildly pessimistic, there are negative feedback loops in play, too, and humans are pretty resilient, including to climate change. (Human civilization, as it currently stands, may be another matter.)

    But even if my predictions were in line with his, I’d still probably be hitching my cart to city living. That’s the sort of life I enjoy. If that becomes impossible, I’ll have to adapt. But I’m not going to strike off for wilderness self-sufficiency anytime soon.

    At least I’m in Boston instead of Vegas.

  • Just saying!

    Do you ever intend to come to Australia to give talks??
    There are many here who need to hear what you say, especially our political leaders

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