Some people believe in the strangest things…corporations are people; magic is real; religion…even though there is no supportive evidence – often the exact opposite.
On the other hand there are those who refuse to believe things that are manifestly self evident or based on strong science: raising the minimum wage is good for the economy; reducing inequality benefits society; taking steps to reduce the impact of climate change could save the human race…..
Personally, I have finally conceded that as a race we tend to believe more in magical, wishful thinking.
As evidence mounts overwhelmingly that by our own short sighted greed and disrespect for our shared environment we are literally creating hell on earth the collective response seems to be a shrug. And “democratically” elected governments – like that of the idiot who must not be named – perpetuate the lie that what is good for corporations necessarily overrides the common good – and common sense.
The truth is that the Paris Accord was a watered down, non-binding, “set your own targets and hope for the best” sham. Historic only in that virtually all countries agreed something should be done….while accepting targets guaranteeing a degree or so of global warming beyond the stated goal of 2 degrees celsius maximum increase.
Reality sets in now that the bloviating ignoramus has made his pronouncement. While individuals, cities, states and entire countries continue to affirm their intentions to continue the good fight it is obvious that without the support of the federal government of one of the worst carbon polluting nations on earth – in fact facing steadfast resistance – even the sham targets may not be achievable.
Meanwhile every new report of actual observed data somehow is worse than what was expected – everything from rate of glacier decline to extent of ice in both arctic and antarctic oceans. Warmth of the oceans; dying of coral; extinction of species…surprise! All worse than anticipated. At least by scientists with media credibility. Although there have been notable exceptions.
One such exception is professor emeritus Guy Mcpherson, a former tenured professor at the University of Arizona who realized that climate change was not only real but happening at a pace far faster than most scientists were willing to admit in public. I was frankly alarmed when I stumbled across some of his projections. When I first came upon some of his material a few years ago he was advising that we are facing extinction of the human race within a few decades.
He was embarked at that time on a tour to wherever anyone would pay for his travel and put him up for a day or two and feed him so he could spread his message. My wife and I went to see him in a small room in Perth, Ontario. His presentation was decidedly low key, considering the implications. His basic premise is that a growing number of feedback loops are not being given the weight they should by the IPCC and most climate modelling. Feedback loops are self reinforcing processes that cause acceleration of global warming. For example: arctic ice is melting, shrinking in extent. This leaves areas of dark open water to absorb heat from solar radiation that would previously have been reflected by the ice. This warmed water then increases the melting and shrinking.
Likewise, warmer arctic temperatures begin to thaw areas of permafrost. Methane, a greenhouse gas that can have even more rapid effect on warming than carbon dioxide, that is trapped in the permafrost, then is released, accelerating warming – which leads to more thawing of permafrost. Etc., etc.
Dr. Mcpherson has been keeping an updated list of such feedbacks and projecting their impact for several years. You can check out his blog “Nature Bats Last” to get his most recent info. His conclusion is that it is these multiple feedback loops which are causing the “surprises” we continue to hear about. And he further concludes that each of these adds to the exponential growth of global warming. His argument at that meeting in Perth was that – in the face of governmental inaction, corporate obfuscation and scientific conservatism – we as a species will find our planet uninhabitable within a few decades at most. Not the picture that had been painted for me by the media, our governments or even activists like David Suzuki, the sierra club, 350.org and others.
The obvious question then of course was “well what do we do?” His reply was that there is nothing to be done at this point. He himself had gone through the stages of grief upon making the connections in his research: denial, anger, bargaining and eventually acceptance. His advice was essentially to follow your dreams, do what you love, be with those you love and strive for excellence.
I’ve seen more recent videos of him on You tube. He still seems to be remarkably mellow, although I note that he spends less time now detailing the data and more time talking about his love of teaching. Some of this might be in response to the increasing criticism he has received – portraying him as a shoddy scientist and a cassandra. It may also have something to do with his current projection of our timeline as a species …He now insists that we may have even less time – as little as 10 years.
This has made him even more of a target, of course. He justifies this in particular by asserting that the arctic could be ice free as early as this September – and certainly within a couple of years. Besides being a huge tipping point (remember the feedback loops?) he believes the warmer water will lead to release of massive quantities of methane from the shallow seabeds off Russia which alone could dramatically alter the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere very significantly and abruptly.
As he stated when we saw him in person (it was a chilly night in April) we had just come in from a cold evening into a warm room with no ill effects. But his field of study specifically centred on botanical ecology – how plants respond to changes in climate. His contention is that the severe droughts, floods and extreme weather events – tornadoes, super storms, cyclones, hurricanes – will cause severe food shortages. These will lead to civil disruptions including mass migrations and ultimately breakdown of the society to which we have become accustomed.
Among the dire consequences of societal breakdown he mentions one particular problem…the northern hemisphere is currently home to over 400 nuclear reactors, which require constant and meticulous maintenance to prevent episodes like Chernobyl or Fukushima. Decommissioning a nuclear facility safely could take decades. Time that will not be available if society becomes truly unstable.
If there is catastrophic societal breakdown and industries stop spewing their particulate matter into the atmosphere things actually get much worse very quickly. Those particles create a phenomenon known as global dimming – which actually works to help keep the planet a little cooler. A major reduction in that dimming could see a dramatic increase in temperatures. Talk about damned if you do….
Ultimately Guy Mcpherson believes we will see temperature rise well beyond 3 degrees celsius within at most ten years (not the 80 or so years the Paris Accord – if successful – would lead to) a temperature that has not been reached on our planet while humans have existed on the earth. While that temperature alone would not likely kill everyone it would decimate agriculture. Without agriculture modern civilization would break down and industry would cease…leading to loss of global dimming, aaand…you get the picture.
So, okay, I find the evidence and the projections compelling. I also read all the objections (easy to find…just google that shit). There are some who argue that there are feedback loops that work to cool as well as to heat. There are those who argue that methane from the seabeds will not be released , or not in significant quantities or will be absorbed in the water. Several critics just don’t like him very much and attack him personally. They accuse him of “cherry picking ” data that support his theory. In the end though I tend to find him credible. I don’t think he is getting filthy rich by speaking to small crowds like the one in Perth, Ontario (although he did recently go to New Zealand on a speaking tour.) His message is definitely not one many people want to hear.
I can’t say that he changed my life. I still hold out some hope (“hopium” he calls it) and even before hearing him talk I was looking for options to escape what I can see will be a problematic future – as well as getting away from Canadian winters!
As I write this Lake Ontario is at a never before recorded level, flooding large areas along shores and possibly even affecting ship traffic in the St. Lawrence seaway. Meteorologists are saying waters are still rising and might not abate for months. Not to pin this on climate change specifically, but highly coincidental. Also the wettest May on record here…and still frickin’ cold into June!! This is having serious impact on farmers as well since there are many fields in this agricultural area that they still can’t get on to start planting – just too wet. Signs of the times my friends!
We started looking for other places to escape to several years ago and have focused on one place in particular last couple of years. Next time I’ll talk about that process and our (well, my!) two year plan.