McPherson’s Evidence That Doom Doom Doom

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Who is Guy McPherson?

A former professor of ecology, Guy McPherson has attained some fame and respect among back-to-the-land “permaculture” types. I have no idea what he may or may not know about ecology, but he doesn’t know much about climate. This hasn’t prevented him from using his professorial credentials in the “permie” subculture, and what he tells the permies is that we are absolutely, irrevocably doomed.

Specifically, he believes that there are unstoppable feedbacks built into the climate system that have now triggered the system into instability. He thinks the climate will go bonkers in the way Jimi Hendrix’s guitar would howl when he held it up to the amp speaker. And he thinks it will go so thoroughly out of kilter as to kill every human alive by 2030.

It’s hard to tell why, but some people love him for it. It seems to me he is doing a lot of damage with this schtick nonetheless.

Fortunately, he is both completely out of his depth and wrong. It’s about time he got challenged by people with the scientific ammunition to stand up to him.

A good start on taking down Guy McPherson appeared recently by Scott Johnson at Fractal Planet. And one could hardly do better in a paragraph than this:

In many ways, McPherson is a photo-negative of the self-proclaimed “climate skeptics” who reject the conclusions of climate science. He may be advocating the opposite conclusion, but he argues his case in the same way. The skeptics often quote snippets of science that, on full examination, don’t actually support their claims, and this is McPherson’s modus operandi. The skeptics dismiss science they don’t like by saying that climate researchers lie to keep the grant money coming; McPherson dismisses inconvenient science by claiming that scientists are downplaying risks because they’re too cowardly to speak the truth and flout our corporate overlords. Both malign the IPCC as “political” and therefore not objective. And both will cite nearly any claim that supports their views, regardless of source— putting evidence-free opinions on par with scientific research. (In one example I can’t help but highlight, McPherson cites a survivalist blog warning that Earth’s atmosphere is running out of oxygen.)

I agree completely. McPherson is not the opposite of a denialist. He is a denialist, albeit of a different stripe. To watch him at work and to watch Tony Watts is to watch birds of a feather. Not evidence-based policy but policy-based evidence. Not part of the solution. Part of the problem.

I was wondering whether my work in “fisking” McPherson was done, but it turns out that McPherson’s article is so long and meandering that Johnson gets plenty of mileage while skipping over the part that interests me most; McPherson’s so-called points in evidence that Doom.

McPherson’s Claims to be a Scientist Fail

In one respect, credentials, McPherson trumps Watts. Apparently he once was faculty, albeit in a non-physical science.

The Ph.D. impresses some people; those of us who have jumped that hurdle know that the population of Ph.D.’s is rich with brilliance, but also rich with charlatanry. Actually anyone who has a degree must have suspected. Remember some of your more bizarre professors?

A doctorate really only proves you’re eccentric and dogged; whether you are actually talented or not remains to be seen. The proportion of talent among Ph.D.s is high, but it’s nowhere near 100%.

So we must ask whether McPherson’s claim to be a scientist based on an actual grasp of what science is and how it is conducted, or (like certain other prominent professor-bloggers of our acquaintance) whether he has merely pro forma credentials?

I say the latter.

Readers may recall that, for me, the final nail in the coffin of any prospect of taking Judith Curry seriously was her jaw-droppingly incoherent “Italian Flag” essay, her attempt to stake out some territory in the domain of climate uncertainty. It wasn’t that it was wrong. (One can disagree about matters of substance – does the wavering northern jet stream cause Arctic warming or does Arctic warming cause the wavering jet stream? One can have fruitful disagreements about matters of substance.)

The point is that making a claim that is incoherent on its face disqualifies you from active participation in science about related matters.

Now I see McPherson making a similarly baldly incompetent claim.

These feedbacks are not additive, they are multiplicative.

This makes no sense.

Now, not a lot of people interested in climate have really been exposed to the mathematics of feedback and control systems. I think I am on solid ground as an electrical engineer when I say that this claim is not just wrong, but it is meaningless, just as meaningless as Curry’s baffled confusion of measurement uncertainty with hypothesis certainty. It isn’t true. It’s not even false. It means nothing.

To the extent that feedback is a useful model, feedbacks are additive, not multiplicative. They can’t be multiplicative.

And he is doing it in such a casual off-hand way; he is clearly not trying to investigate formal concepts; he is clearly indiffferent toward them. He’s just trying to impress you. Like the denialists, he makes no effort to convince actual experts. Rather he treats expertise with such contempt that he feels free to pose as an expert on a matter on which he has no expertise.

It is fine for a scientist to know nothing about reasoning under uncertainty, but they would be well-advised not to testify to congress on statistics. It is fine for a scientist to know nothing about feedback and control, but they presumably shouldn’t be telling people to quit their day jobs as a consequence of his reasoning about it.

An Attempt to Explain

Suppose, for instance, that we consider water vapor feedback, which is a positive feedback. Now let’s instead consider northern hemisphere water vapor feedback and southern hemisphere feedback as separate terms. They really have to give the same result, no? Systems can be parsed into components in lots of ways that are consistent; the same system can’t act two different ways depending on how you analyze it. If that is the case, your analysis is wrong.

You can always call two feedbacks one feedback with a more complicated formula. But if they are multiplicative you get a nasty problem when the input goes negative. In that case, the output will be negative if the number of feedbacks you are using is odd and positive if the number of feedbacks is even. Just the tiniest multiplicative feedback would totally flip the response of the whole system on its head. Essentially this is a mathematical monster with no basis in any real physical system.

Okay, so this is a minor technical point, perhaps. McPherson just threw that sentence off in passing. If he decides to take me seriously, it’s easy to imagine him erasing it (though it’s still in the copy of the article I stored in webcite). “Not worth the controversy,” he may think.

But I’m not here to argue the point. I’m here to point out the type of mentality required to make an error like this. An entire article intended to establish bona fides as an expert on feedback making a claim that someone who knows something about feedback can instantly dismiss as worse than wrong, as confused and dreamlike, as Italian-flag-like.

So How Do We Think About Feedback?

Much of the rich mathematics of feedback applies only to linear systems and offers relatively limited insight for nonlinear systems, so only the rudiments of the idea can be imported into climate science. It suffices for our purposes to consider a scalar system, i.e., one where the quantities of interest can be expressed by a single number. We envision a very crude model wherein global radiative forcing drives temperature, which in turn drives a vast array of phenomena, some of which (the feedbacks) in turn modify radiative forcing.

It is important to understand that the way we draw boundaries in the system are arbitrary; whether they form a useful model of the system or not depends on our skill in identifying components and thinking consistently about them.

The most prominent is the “water vapor feedback”, which in some circles is considered controversial. Suppose there is some forcing, be it solar or greenhouse-gas forcing. All else equal, the temperature of the surface is calculated from a simple energy balance and the Stefan-Boltzmann law. But all else is NOT equal, as the perturbed surface, if cooled, will evaporate less water; conversely, if heated, will evaporate more. And water vapor is a greenhouse gas. This creates an additional forcing.

To make matters more interesting still, that additional forcing creates a further temperature perturbation, which causes still greater shift in water vapor. This loop is sometimes unstable and sometimes stable – we’ll consider it further below.

Note, though, that “water vapor” is a “feedback” if and only if we consider surface evaporation somehow outside the rest of the climate system. We can easily do that in a computer simulation. We can “turn off” water vapor feedback by having evaporation respond to the unperturbed climate, and watch the difference. If we consider the climate system to include surface evaporation, that is, in the intuitive way, water vapor is just a part of the system and there isn’t a “feedback”. Feedback in natural systems is a conceptual tool, not a real process distinction.

Nevertheless, it is possible for real systems to become unstable, and it is often useful to draw on the concept of the feedback loop to understand how. Consider, for example, that Venus is far hotter than one would expect the Earth to be if moved to Venus’ orbit. This is almost certainly because of a “runaway greenhouse effect” that boiled off Venus’ ocean.

(Chris Colose explains in detail how this works; it actually depends on the nonlinearity of the evaporation with temperature).

How does this tie into the feedback concept?

A Negative Feedback

Despite the vernacular usage, “negative feedback” is usually a good thing. Systems with negative feedback are typically very stable. If the system gets too “hot” (we can be referring to any quantity, not just temperature, for example, voltage), a negative feedback cools it down, and if it gets too “cool”, negative feedback warms it up. This allows the system to maintain a set point. A simple everyday example of such a system is a thermostatically controlled temperature.

Positive Feedback

The situation with positive feedback is more complicated.

The classic example of positive feedback of course involves a live amplified microphone or guitar. The amplified sound from the speaker re-excites the microphone membrane or guitar string, which then plays louder than it would have had the speaker been located in a separate room. At a certain level of amplification (if the instrument is close enough to the speaker) the system starts to go unstable, and tries to blast your eardrums. Essentially if the loop isn’t broken the system will put out as much sound as the components are capable of. They may be limited by the amplifier or by the speaker, but one of these will be pushed to its limits. As will everybody in the room. (And it’s the clever flirting with those limits that made Jimi Hendrix the genius of feedback as well as of the guitar that he was).

It’s just such a runaway feedback loop that McPherson wants us to fear: the greenhouse gases causing warming causing more greenhouse gases causing more warming until everything spins out of control. It sounds plausible. But is it?

Well, first of all we can take note of the fact that greenhouse gases have gone up far above the anticipated levels in the past, not so far in the past that the sun’s output was appreciably different or the land configuration was dramatically changed. And there’s no sign of runaway feedback – after all we are still here and have not yet suffered the fate of Venus.

It’s true that what we are doing now is enormously ecologically stressful, primarily because the rate of change is so rapid. And it’s possible that there will be some carbon feedback from that. But enough to go unstable?

Notice please that you have been in rooms with microphones and speakers many times. There are complicated acoustic tricks to reduce the positive feedback; highly directional microphones help the most. But they only reduce the positive feedback. They do not eliminate it. For a system to be unstable, positive feedback is not enough. The feedback has to be SUFFICIENT to cause instability.

The upshot comes down to a very simple rule. If the feedback is enough to double the input, the system is unstable. If it is even slightly less, there will be a huge net amplification but it will eventually stabilize. If it is much less than double, the system amplifies only modestly. A feedback factor of 0.5, that is, increasing the signal 1.5 times (the original plus half) results in a final amplification of double.

The rule is simple: for a feedback of F between 0 and 1, the amplification is 1/(1-F).

That’s 1 + F +  F*F + F*F*F + …, a convergent infinite geometric series as you may recall from first year calculus. This comes from going round and round the feedback loop. For F equal to or greater than 1, the sum does not converge.

Criteria for a McPherson Catastrophe

We will define a McPherson Catastrophe as a feedback sufficient to go unstable by 2030.

So let’s consider what would be needed for that to happen. For one thing, as explained above, the feedback factor has to be greater than 1; that is, a single application of all the feedbacks needs to double the original greenhouse forcing.

Secondly, it has to operate quickly enough to go several times around the loop in the 16 years remaining; otherwise it doesn’t have time to kill us by 2030.

You may object to this on the grounds that it has already had a century or so of anthropogenic input; but anything that slow is already doing us almost as much damage as it is going to do by 2030. So we really need feedbacks with time scales on the order of not more than 4 or 5 years; really phenomena that operate within weeks would be “better” for McPherson’s claim, i.e., worse.

Thirdly, it has to not have a cap. For example, ice albedo feedback does give the system a swift kick into a new climate, but it doesn’t actually cause a runaway instability. That is because there is only so much sea ice to melt. Once it is gone, that feedback stops. It’s just a one-time effect.

Finally, the feedback or feedbacks that meet these criteria have to be unmatched by negative, ameliorating feedbacks of any kind. Now of course, McPherson has no more interest in ameliorating feedbacks than Watts does in exacerbating feedbacks, but claiming that none exist makes little sense. For an obvious example, the system sensitivity to CO2 declines slowly with increasing CO2 due to radiative physics. This doesn’t matter much in the real world, but in a McPherson scenario could be considered as an ameliorating, negative feedback.

So we can dismiss many of his claims as “not fast enough”; of the remainder we need to consider whether they are in aggregate deep enough to account for, say, a quadrupling of the present day forcing (about 8 watts per square meter forcing, which would be nasty and possibly collapse-inducing, but which we will generously call enough for a human extinction event) and intense enough (an open loop feedback doubling the input).

OK, now let’s look at his list.

McPherson’s List

1. Methane hydrates are bubbling out the Arctic Ocean (Science, March 2010). According to NASA’s CARVE project, these plumes were up to 150 kilometers across as of mid-July 2013. Global-average temperature is expected to rise as much as 4.5 C by 2030 and 10 C by 2039 based solely on methane release from the Arctic Ocean, according to Sam Carana’s research (see especially Image 24). WhereasMalcolm Light’s 9 February 2012 forecast of extinction of all life on Earth by the middle of this century appears premature because his conclusion of exponential methane release during summer 2011 was based on data subsequently revised and smoothed by U.S. government agencies, subsequent information — most notably from NASA’s CARVE project — indicates the grave potential for catastrophic release of methane. (I doubt industrial civilization manages to kill all life on Earth, although that clearly is the goal.) Catastrophically rapid release of methane in the Arctic is further supported by Nafeez Ahmed’s thorough analysis in the 5 August 2013 issue of the Guardian as well as Natalia Shakhova’s 29 July 2013 interview with Nick Breeze (note the look of abject despair at the eight-minute mark). In early November 2013, methane levels well in excess of 2,600 ppb were recorded at multiple altitudes in the Arctic. Later that same month, Shakhova and colleagues published a paper inNature Geoscience suggesting “significant quantities of methane are escaping the East Siberian Shelf” and indicating that a 50-billion-tonne “burst” of methane could warm Earth by 1.3 C. Such a burst of methane is “highly possible at any time.” By 15 December 2013, methane bubbling up from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean had sufficient force to prevent sea ice from forming in the area.

Well, this is the big one. It links McPherson to the highly dubious alarmist Arctic Methane Emergency Group. But it’s nonsense. Chris Colose put this to bed, and efforts to revive this after he did so have been empty handwaving. See also Stoat.

As readers here will recall, I, along with Chris Colose and Gavin Schmidt, managed to talk Nafeez down from this position, so that hardly counts.


2. Warm Atlantic water is defrosting the Arctic as it shoots through the Fram Strait (Science, January 2011).

We have to include this as sea ice reduction. This will have many consequences, but as a feedback mechanism it’s highly limited. The fraction of solar input impinging on the Arctic is very small compared to the whole earth. The area of Arctic ice is, depending on the season, as much as 8,000,000 square kilometers, and the area of the earth is 510,000,000, so even if the Arctic got its fair share and it went from white to black year round that would cap its contribution at less than 1.5%; however, it only gets sunshine for half the year, and most of that time the sea ice is extensive. There is a worry that September sea ice will go away but no such worry about March sea ice. So we are really talking about July and August, so that’s about a sixth of the year. And then the low sun angle will multiply that by about sin(15 degrees) so together a factor of about 24; throw in another factor of 2 because oblique incidence on water is reflective, and we are talking a radiative fraction of .015/50 = .0003, or about a tenth of a watt per square meter.

Verdict: TOO SMALL

3. Siberian methane vents have increased in size from less than a meter across in the summer of 2010 to about a kilometer across in 2011 (Tellus, February 2011)

This is simply a crock. The largest observed vent in 2011 is a km across; it had not been observed before. There is no claim that it is new and no evidence to that effect. This is waved around by the Arctic methane people as if it were a vast maelstrom of methane, choking the air. In fact it is a barely detectable region containing a few methane bubbles. That is why it had not been detected prior to 2011.


4. Drought in the Amazon triggered the release of more carbon than the United States in 2010 (Science, February 2011). In addition, ongoing deforestation in the region is driving declines in precipitation at a rate much faster than long thought, asreported in the 19 July 2013 issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

In this specific case, though, focusing on the drought of 2010 is a cherry pick. The Amazon has recovered since then. That said, this was the second 100-year drought in five years, which does lean toward indicating some climate change. But is the entire Amazon going to die by 2030? Hardly.

Suppose it did? What is the carbon inventory of the Amazon? Well, the carbon inventory of all the world’s forests is about half a GT. So suppose ALL THE TREES SUDDENLY DIED EVERYWHERE. The carbon in the atmosphere would about double. Once.

Would this kill us? Maybe. I would hate to see such a world. But will we see it by 2030? That’s kind of crazy, especially since some forests are expanding.

Anyway, let’s ballpark the Amazon at a tenth of the world’s biomass and pessimistically call the damage from drought as about a tenth of that by 2030. That adds 1% to the carbon inventory of the atmosphere/ocean system, or about 0.5% to the atmosphere. So this looks like maybe a 200th of a doubling, or about 0.02 watts. Oh Hell. Let’s make it ten times worse. 0.2 Watts. Enough to make a difference, but not cataclysmic.

Anyway, let’s all remember that the biosphere as a whole is still a carbon sink, not a source.

Verdict: Scary and nasty but not huge by 2030. TOO SLOW

5. Peat in the world’s boreal forests is decomposing at an astonishing rate (Nature Communications, November 2011)

“Astonishing?” Not a very good number to work with and a pretty shabby reference. I am having trouble finding much about this. There are some hundreds of GT of peat in the world, mostly in Canada and Russia, enough to make a very substantial difference if it ALL goes up.

Again, global land carbon inventory is going up, so loss of peat is not really showing up yet. So, it’s hard to see this mattering by 2030.

I am guessing the relevant article is this one. I haven’t looked at the article, but the abstract says “interactions between peatland drainage and fire are likely to cause long-term carbon emissions to far exceed rates of carbon uptake, diminishing the northern peatland carbon sink”. This is indeed a climate feedback and potentially a large one, but it does mention the “long term”.

Verdict: Again, scary and nasty but not huge by 2030. TOO SLOW

6. Invasion of tall shrubs warms the soil, hence destabilizes the permafrost (Environmental Research Letters, March 2012)

Now this one is fascinating. After all the talk of dying trees, here he is complaining about expanding trees.

Let’s think about this – more trees are darker, causing warming, and fewer trees release carbon, causing warming. But more trees absorb carbon, causing cooling, and fewer trees increase albedo, causing cooling. Could it be that the biotic balance is about neutral? That the sign is unknown? My understanding is that this is the case.

Now of course we need to look at how fast this is happening. Again, a real scientist would have provided a real reference. I think he means this one.

Here’s the concluding paragraphs:

This study, and that of Lawrence et al (2011b), prescribed
substantially different distributions of hypothetical shrub area
increase. Despite the differences, both studies indicate that
the warming response to a large-scale expansion of shrubs
in the NHL could overwhelm the soil cooling effect due
to shading (Blok et al 2010, Yi et al 2007), leading to
increased rather than decreased vulnerability of permafrost.
Although not analyzed here, these physical feedbacks would
likely impact ecosystem biogeochemical processes (e.g., soil
decomposition, plant growth) controlling the exchanges of
carbon between soil and atmosphere

To summarize, our study highlights the need to account
for the expansion, stature, and phenology of invading
vegetation to improve climate prediction in the NHL regions.
This study also highlights the need of augmenting the number
of CCSM arctic and sub-arctic shrub types, improving their
representation of fractional cover and height, and treating the
shrub expansion more realistically with a dynamic vegetation
component in the model.

Ho hum, right? Huge regional effects, but globally it may be carbon neutral (increased shrubs compensating for decaying permafrost) and temperature neutral (no direct radiative forcing, rearranging energy).

Verdict: Preliminary result, interesting, sign of effect uncertain, impact on large scale unclear. TOO SLOW AND TOO SMALL.

7. Greenland ice is darkening (The Cryosphere, June 2012)

Verdict: Referencing the Guardian again!? Anyway, sure, this is a problem for sea level rise, but tiny in the global scheme of things, much smaller than the Arctic sea ice decline. TOO SMALL.

8. Methane is being released from the Antarctic, too (Nature, August 2012). According to a paper in the 24 July 2013 issue of Scientific Reports, melt rate in the Antarctic has caught up to the Arctic and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is losing over 150 cubic kilometres of ice each year according to CryoSat observations published 11 December 2013, and Antarctica’s crumbling Larsen B Ice Shelf is poised to finish its collapse, according to Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical UnionFurther confirmation of large methane releases is revealed by noctilucent clouds over the southern hemisphere from 21 November 2013 to 6 December 2013.

Groan. What an incoherent mess. This is two points hopelessly garbled together. We will ignore the stuff related only to sea level rise, as they will not contribute to a near-term extinction.  That leaves “Further confirmation of large methane releases is revealed by noctilucent clouds over the southern hemisphere from 21 November 2013 to 6 December 2013.”

And what’s our reference for that? Sam Carana’s blog! OK, if you are going to lose sleep over that, let me reassure you. Occasional surface methane readings a few per cent above normal don’t matter.


9. Russian forest and bog fires are growing (NASA, August 2012), a phenomenon consequently apparent throughout the northern hemisphere (Nature Communications, July 2013). The New York Times reports hotter, drier conditions leading to huge fires in western North America as the “new normal” in their 1 July 2013 issue. A paper in the 22 July 2013 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates boreal forests are burning at a rate exceeding that of the last 10,000 years.

OK, serious business, but like the Amazon, not about to kill us right away.


10. Cracking of glaciers accelerates in the presence of increased carbon dioxide(Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics, October 2012)


Verdict: A sea-level rise issue. Important but not extinction-related. IRRELEVANT.

11. The Beaufort Gyre apparently has reversed course (U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, October 2012)

So? No relevance proposed.


12. Exposure to sunlight increases bacterial conversion of exposed soil carbon, thus accelerating thawing of the permafrost (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 2013)

A certain amount of hype at the link. I smell a press officer. Here’s the actual abstract.

Maybe this is serious but it is TOO SLOW. See this image.

13. The microbes have joined the party, too, according to a paper in the 23 February 2013 issue of New Scientist

Well of course it’s bacteria, you doorknob. Where did you think the methane comes from?

From the cited (popular press) article:

As for the methane that could be released into the atmosphere, Schuur estimates that emissions will be equivalent to between 160 and 290 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.

That sounds like a lot, but is little compared to the vast amount humans are likely to emit, says Lenton. “The signal’s going to be swamped by fossil fuel [emissions].”


14. Summer ice melt in Antarctica is at its highest level in a thousand years: Summer ice in the Antarctic is melting 10 times quicker than it was 600 years ago, with the most rapid melt occurring in the last 50 years (Nature Geoscience, April 2013). Although scientists have long expressed concern about the instability of the West Atlantic Ice Sheet (WAIS), a research paper published in the 28 August 2013 ofNature indicates the East Atlantic Ice Sheet (EAIS) has undergone rapid changes in the past five decades. The latter is the world’s largest ice sheet and was previously thought to be at little risk from climate change. But it has undergone rapid changes in the past five decades, signaling a potential threat to global sea levels. The EAIS holds enough water to raise sea levels more than 50 meters.

Sea level again. A very big deal, but not a species breaker. VERDICT: IRRELEVANT.

15. Increased temperature and aridity in the southwestern interior of North America facilitates movement of dust from low-elevation deserts to high-elevation snowpack, thus accelerating snowmelt, as reported in the 17 May 2013 issue of Hydrology and Earth System Sciences.

Southwestern drought increases albedo, so globally is a negative feedback. Again, nasty business. Not a destabilizing feedback at all, though. VERDICT: NEGATIVE FEEDBACK

16. Floods in Canada are sending pulses of silty water out through the Mackenzie Delta and into the Beaufort Sea, thus painting brown a wide section of the Arctic Ocean near the Mackenzie Delta brown (NASA, June 2013)


17. Surface meltwater draining through cracks in an ice sheet can warm the sheet from the inside, softening the ice and letting it flow faster, according to a study accepted for publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface (July 2013).

It appears a Heinrich Event has been triggered in Greenland. Consider the description of such an event as provided by Robert Scribbler on 8 August 2013:

In a Heinrich Event, the melt forces eventually reach a tipping point. The warmer water has greatly softened the ice sheet. Floods of water flow out beneath the ice. Ice ponds grow into great lakes that may spill out both over top of the ice and underneath it. Large ice damns (sic) may or may not start to form. All through this time ice motion and melt is accelerating. Finally, a major tipping point is reached and in a single large event or ongoing series of such events, a massive surge of water and ice flush outward as the ice sheet enters an entirely chaotic state. Tsunamis of melt water rush out bearing their vast floatillas (sic) of ice burgs (sic), greatly contributing to sea level rise. And that’s when the weather really starts to get nasty. In the case of Greenland, the firing line for such events is the entire North Atlantic and, ultimately the Northern Hemisphere.

Two distinct items. Garbled again. The first is about sea level rise, and so IRRELEVANT to near-term extinction. The second is wild speculation on a blog. Note that events of this class appear to be associated with multi-century cold intervals in a warming period. Heinrich events certainly would count as a NEGATIVE FEEDBACK if one were to take that claim seriously for some peculiar reason.

18. Breakdown of the thermohaline conveyor belt is happening in the Antarctic as well as the Arctic, thus leading to melting of Antarctic permafrost (Scientific Reports, July 2013)

Maybe, but the amount of Antarctic permafrost exposed to the air by 2030 is trivial on a global scale. Verdict: TOO SMALL.

19. Loss of Arctic sea ice is reducing the temperature gradient between the poles and the equator, thus causing the jet stream to slow and meander. One result is the creation of weather blocks such as the recent very high temperatures in Alaska. As a resultboreal peat dries and catches fire like a coal seam. The resulting soot enters the atmosphere to fall again, coating the ice surface elsewhere, thus reducing albedo and hastening the melting of ice. Each of these individual phenomena has been reported, albeit rarely, but to my knowledge the dots have not been connected beyond this space. The inability or unwillingness of the media to connect two dots is not surprising, and has been routinely reported (recently including here with respect to climate change and wildfires) (July 2013)

This isn’t a feedback, it’s a kvetch. Can you leave the whole systems modeling to people with whole systems models please?


20. Arctic ice is growing darker, hence less reflective (Nature Climate Change, August 2013)

We dealt with this in #2 above. Verdict: TOO SMALL

21. Extreme weather events drive climate change, as reported in the 15 August 2013 issue of Nature (Nature, August 2013)

The cited article explicitly says that this will be a concern by the end of the century. Verdict: TOO SLOW

22. Ocean acidification leads to release of less dimethyl sulphide (DMS) by plankton. DMS shields Earth from radiation. (Nature Climate Change, online 25 August 2013). Plankton form the base of the marine food web, and are on the verge of disappearing completelyaccording to a paper in the 17 October 2013 issue of Global Change Biology.

You won’t find me saying happy things about the state of the ocean. This is intrinsically tragic. Also fisheries will decline sharply, but fish just aren’t that important to the human diet.

Massive extinctions in the sea, but nothing justifies a near term human extinction claim. VERDICT: IRRELEVANT

23. Sea-level rise causes slope collapse, tsunamis, and release of methane, asreported in the September 2013 issue of GeologyIn eastern Siberia, the speed of coastal erosion has nearly doubled during the last four decades as the permafrost melts.

Yeah, but there’s still no sign of Siberian methane in the observations. Give it a rest. VERDICT: REPEATS #1

24. Rising ocean temperatures will upset natural cycles of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and phosphorus, hence reducing plankton (Nature Climate Change, September 2013)

same answer as #22:

You won’t find me saying happy things about the state of the ocean. This is intrinsically tragic. Also fisheries will decline sharply, but fish just aren’t that important to the human diet.

Massive extinctions in the sea, but nothing justifies a near term human extinction claim. VERDICT: IRRELEVANT

25. Earthquakes trigger methane release, and consequent warming of the planet triggers earthquakes, as reported by Sam Carana at the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (October 2013)

Sam Carana has not submitted his theories to peer review; the speculative time scale of climate-seismic coupling, if real, is very long. VERDICT: MUCH TOO SLOW

26. Small ponds in the Canadian Arctic are releasing far more methane than expected based on their aerial cover (PLoS ONE, November 2013)

We’ve pretty much covered the tundra methane already. A very big deal in the long run, but TOO SMALL AND TOO SLOW for a big impact by 2030.

27. Mixing of the jet stream is a catalyst, too. High methane releases follow fracturing of the jet stream, accounting for past global-average temperature rises up to 16 C in a decade or two (Paul Beckwith via video on 19 December 2013).

Beckwith. Sigh. Did he publish that? VERDICT: EXTREMELY DUBIOUS

28. Arctic drilling was fast-tracked by the Obama administration during the summer of 2012

OK, an economic feedback of sorts. I guess. I wish we were finding ways to decease demand. But does this increase demand? If not, it is NOT A FEEDBACK

29. Supertankers are taking advantage of the slushy Arctic, demonstrating that every catastrophe represents a business opportunity, as pointed out by Professor of journalism Michael I. Niman and picked up by Truthout (ArtVoice, September 2013)

You’re really putting me on. You call yourself a scientist? Yeah this is disturbing, but how does it make matters worse even on the teeny tiny scale that it happens on? As far as I can tell the whole point would be to save on fuel. VERDICT: LUDICROUS

Other Big McPherson Mistakes

As I mentioned above, McPherson totally ignores any ameliorating feedbacks.

It’s also an implicit belief of the McPhersonite community that every single nuclear site will “go Chernobyl” immediately after civilization collapses. Not one will be shut down in anything like a safe fashion. And although the mortality from Chernobyl was on the order of 20,000, mostly cancer cases spread over decades, 400 of these would apparently kill us all instantaneously. I leave the arithmetic to the reader.

As Scott Johnson pointed out, there’s plenty of this to go around. I need to stop now.

Enough of this nonsense. Ph.D. or not, this is manipulative BS, not science.

Why McPherson wants to scare the daylights out of people escapes me. It is not clear to me what his motivation is. I doubt he is in the employ of the Koch brothers, but he certainly demoralizes people who might otherwise have been active, so he’s not doing us any favors. He may have more cultural affinity with environmentalists than with oil oligarchs, but he’s doing them a lot more good than he’s doing us.


My comments from the Facebook thread on the Global Warming Fact of the Day group.


  • Ed Norris I’ve made it to the section on the Siberian ice sheet. I remember reading of this in the summer or fall, and that the total methane buried and frozen there could cause 1/2 a degree C of rise all by itself if released. Is there any reliable data on how much there is under there, and what kind of temperature rises it would take to release all of it? Is it now thought to be a very slow protracted process, or do we simply not know?
  • Michael Tobis There is no mechanism to warm it all up all at once, it fails just as with the Shakhova mechanism because there is no way it can happen all at once.

    Some of these things are genuinely scary, but none of them are 15-years scary, certainly not 15-year-timescale-destabilizing in the sense of an unstable feedback.

    Patrick Walden … I have been told by Andrew Weaver, a climate scientist from UVIC who specializes in climate models, that Arctic methane has not exactly been incorporated into climate change models (I hope I got that right).

    Michael Tobis Emissions, natural or otherwise, are an *input* into what are usually called “climate models”, so no, they are not included as a feedback. 

    This will not be the case in the new Earth System Models coming online. I have my doubts about the validity of those ESMs, which couple geochemistry and climate, but that’s for another time and place.

    There are many other sorts of models used in science and surely there is a sense in which Arctic methane is modeled somewhere, but you wouldn’t call it a “climate model”.

    The linked article makes a complete hash of the methane business.

    “Supersaturated” means that the water column is a methane source; it doesn’t say by how much. No evidence has been presented that the Arctic methane source has appreciably increased over preindustrial background levels, handwaving and frowning notwithstanding.

    The methane inventory in the Arctic and at the sea margin is indeed enormous. But it is in places that do not warm up abruptly. If we warm the planet up enough to destabilize them, the current expectation is that they will leak out over millennia, which would not be anywhere near as bad as the abrupt release that some people insist on fantasizing about.


    McPherson himself, quoted by Colm McGinn: 
    Guy McPherson shared a link via Pauline Panagiotou Schneider.
    16 hours ago
    Realizing it’s hopeless doesn’t make everybody roll over and die. Some people, including Tim DeChristopher, act!

    TIM: Yeah. I met Terry Root, one of the lead authors of the IPCC report, at the Stegner Symposium at the University of Utah. She presented all the IPCC data, and I went up to her afterwards and said, “That graph that you showed, with the possible emission scenarios in the twenty-first century? It looked like the best case was that carbon peaked around 2030 and started coming back down.” She said, “Yeah, that’s right.” And I said, “But didn’t the report that you guys just put out say that if we didn’t peak by 2015 and then start coming back down that we were pretty much all screwed, and we wouldn’t even recognize the planet?” And she said, “Yeah, that’s right.” And I said: “So, what am I missing? It seems like you guys are saying there’s no way we can make it.” And she said, “You’re not missing anything. There are things we could have done in the ’80s, there are some things we could have done in the ’90s—but it’s probably too late to avoid any of the worst-case scenarios that we’re talking about.” And she literally put her hand on my shoulder and said, “I’m sorry my generation failed yours.” That was shattering to me.

    TERRY: When was this?

    TIM: This was in March of 2008. And I said, “You just gave a speech to four hundred people and you didn’t say anything like that. Why aren’t you telling people this?” And she said, “Oh, I don’t want to scare people into paralysis. I feel like if I told people the truth, people would just give up.” And I talked to her a couple years later, and she’s still not telling people the truth. But with me, it did the exact opposite. Once I realized that there was no hope in any sort of normal future, there’s no hope for me to have anything my parents or grandparents would have considered a normal future—of a career and a retirement and all that stuff—I realized that I have absolutely nothing to lose by fighting back. Because it was all going to be lost anyway.

    Interview: Tim DeChristopher | Terry Tempest Williams | Orion Magazine

    Michael Tobis DeChristopher quotes Terry Root: “, “You’re not missing anything. There are things we could have done in the ’80s, there are some things we could have done in the ’90s—but it’s probably too late to avoid any of the worst-case scenarios that we’re talking about.” 

    I am just about 100% sure this is misremembered. Any scientist would say “it’s probably too late to avoid some of the consequences we are talking about”. 

    We said in Copenhagen “last chance to avoid 2 C”, and it was. At least 2 C is now coming unless we got some of the science wrong or unless we do something drastic. But the window to avoid 2.5 C is still open, and if that one shuts we get to avoid 3 C. These get progressively much worse.

    Where social collapse cuts in is a good question, and it’s contingent on many things, not just climate. Your guess is as good as mine or McPherson’s on that. But the risk of collapse goes up rapidly with temperature – pretty much everybody agrees on that.

    Extinction is another matter. I cannot imagine literal human extinction due to climate change at less than 10 C and that would take continued idiocy for another century or more to achieve. 

    The sooner we come to our senses the better. These problems are very serious and we are making very bad decisions out of habit. But “probably too late to avoid any of the worst case scenarios”? No, and I’m pretty sure Dr Root did not say that.

    Michael Tobis Orion magazine link is

    Very moving interview, and I believe the apology was real. For what it’s worth, I am a little younger than Terry Root, but I apologize too. We failed to get the message across. We did not expect malicious organized opposition, and probably would not have known how to deal with it even if we had expected it.

    But “too late to avoid any of the worst-case scenarios” is just not how any scientist worth her salt talks. 

    Google search shows that this is widely requoted, so it matters.


    Colm McGinn Reading your blog (and yeah, really good), it strikes me that Guy McPherson means something different from your usage of words such as ‘multiplicative’ and ‘additive’, not to mention ‘feedback’. Have to think more on it.

    Michael Tobis any use of “multiplicative” that doesn’t literally involve multiplying is misleading and pretentious, in my opinion

    • Peter Pitchford
       Its all very well and good to look at the various reports and opine that they add up or don’t add up to an “exponential curve upwards”. But are there any studies that actually add up the “number of amplifying feedbacks” that are known to effect the curve? I’m not asking for definitive proof or anything of the sort, just any kind of ballpark figures scribled on the back of a napkin would be nice, even if its totally wrong. I may be missing something obvious, but I just haven’t seen anything like that anywhere. Extra points if you can show (with numbers) how Earth could possibly become Venus by 2096.
    • Ed Norris I asked for the same thing. But I do know Hansen and a good number of others have shown that a runaway greenhouse effect is not possible on Earth, or at least not remotely likely. Not much consolation if it turns out to “only” be 10C of rise by 2150 or something like that.
    • Michael Tobis It’s really difficult to answer the question of “how bad can it get by when if we continue to be stupid about it”. There are two reasons this is difficult. One is that carbon (and to a lesser extent methane) feedbacks are poorly understood. 

      I think there are reasons other than those in my 29 responses to be confident that the climate system isn’t close to instability. Basically if we were 16 years shy of doom we’d be seeing more signs of it than we do. But on longer time scales the phenomenology is very hard to characterize.

      But I think climatology is somewhat secondary. 

      By how bad can it get, I think we really mean, at what point does modern civilization collapse. By collapse we mean a mortality driven population decline – we start dying faster than we can replace ourselves because some critical resource becomes unavailable. (Note that this is well shy of extinction.)

      And in this regard, climate is not the only issue. There are other ways we can wipe ourselves out. War and revolution, financial instability, diseases arising from overpopulation, badly designed artificial intelligence, these are all plausible risks in the future that didn’t exist in the past. The dominant ideology of our time seems particularly ill-suited to coping with these things.

      At some point. if we remain stupid, we will go into a steep enough economic decline that mortality will drive the population down, and it’s likely the decline will accelerate. It is very hard to say when. It’s sort of pointless to place bets because there is little likelihood of collecting. I am turning 60 this year and do not expect to live to see it. If I were under 30, I would be worried.

      On the other hand, I WAS worried when I WAS under 30, and so far we have avoided the crash that I expected.

      Climate will probably play a significant part in whatever goes wrong if something does. But if climate goes wrong, it will mean we have still failed to come to terms with our actual predicament. 

      We are billions of monkeys on a rock hurtling through space. There is, as the T shirt goes, No Planet B. If we continue to act like a bunch of “countries” with “borders” to the extent that we ignore what is really happening, the prognosis isn’t good.

      OK, OK, if I have to bet on the scenario of stupid monkeys staying stupid until a mortality-driven population decline starts, chastened by the refuted pessimism of the 1960s, I would still give even money on decline starting before, hmm, 2080. 

      I have no expectation that humans will go literally extinct on anything short of a cosmic timescale. But a lot of unnecessary suffering could be ahead.


    • Patrick Walden Rex Tillerson, head of Exxon, now admits global warming is happening. However he does not recommend cutting off burning fossil fuels, he recommends that we adapt to global warming. That way we can have our cake and eat it too. Perhaps we can suggest he pay for the adaptation.
      22 hours ago · Like · 7
    • Michael Tobis If you find yourself in a hole the first thing to do is stop digging.


    Jack Wolf I’m not at the doctorate level like Guy McPherson, but I’ve been a field scientist for 30 years now. All the changes I see in our environment tell me that Guy is correct in his observations. And, the statement that he is zero for 29 is ridiculous. Michael Tobis must have blinders on because the Arctic is indeed a positive feedback, as is permafrost thaw, glaciers melt, forest death, increasing soil temperature and even the tectonic plates. You know something up when Ohio starts having the shakes in the morning let alone the 200% increase in geophysical activity. And, even closer to home, I just have to look out my window and see my dying junipers and cedars to know he is correct. Or drive the PA Turnpike to see the growth in forest die back. And, Paul Beckwithis correct in that the change is quite abrupt. So, I suggest you hold on to your hat, Michael, because events are proving you wrong.

    Michael Tobis The Arctic is certainly a positive feedback; as I’ve tried to explain it is not a sufficient positive feedback to cause extinction by 2030.


    Jean Mcmahon A lot of insufficient feedbacks would add up to a really big feed back..that is not addressed in the writing of Michael Tobias or the IPCC consensus papers

    Michael Tobis You really have to find feedbacks that operate on a feedback time of less than five years or so and total to doubling the input, as I explained.

    Nothing McPherson has listed comes close. Some of them are so woefully off base that he does not seem to to be thinking about this quantitatively. It is pretty clear he is handwaving.

    To the claim that he might be right by accident I respond that there is no sign of feedbacks that are fast enough and severe enough in the observations – if anything matters are progressing a bit slower than anticipated on the global scale.

    This is not to say that regional impacts are all proceeding slowly; I would agree with those who say these are happening faster than expected. But those don’t form a basis for a spectacular destabilization of global climate. As this winter shows, in a shifting climate some places get colder and some warmer, some wetter and some drier. It’s also hard to know what is glitchy and what is part of a trend. This can be very stressful on the ground. But it doesn’t make for a global climate tipping point of the sort McPherson is so confident in.


  1. I don't have an axe to grind here, but I think the focus on the statement about feedbacks being additive vs. multiplicative is misplaced (and the entire discussion is uninformative). I interpret the statement to be one of degree, based on the measurement of some output from multiple intersecting feedback processes. If we're talking about temperature changes, going from 0.3 + 0.3 = 0.6 degrees vs. 0.3 x 0.3 x 0.3 = 0.9 degrees. I think it's okay to casually (i.e., on an essay on the Internet) talk about feedbacks being additive or multiplicative or exponential and it's easy to understand what the person writing it means. I think such a focus does disservice to the rest of your arguments.

    I also don't think focussing on whether someone has a PhD or whether Nature comments are peer reviewed (I've had a comment in Nature published in another field, genomics, that was indeed sent out for peer review) is very relevant either. What matters is the evidence (for me personally the the minimum standard is generally a peer reviewed paper, though not all papers are equal) and the argument at hand.


  2. Since you first wrote about McPherson, I have been trying to figure out why? Why burn up energy on someone with such a small following? At first I thought it was jealousy or anger at losing followers to him. That's not it. No I think it's frustration. You have spent your entire adult life studying climate change and trying to warn the powers that be and the general population and no one really listened. In fact things have only gotten worse. The world just keeps burning everything it can to make stuff we don't need. De-forestation, soil loss, peak everything, etc, etc, you know it all. Nothings changed and no one listened, nor will they ever. Maybe McPherson and his gang of "dangerous" doomers are a fight you can win. Hell there must be at least 20,000 people listening to him. If you can just stop his message, somehow that will stop the insanity of the other 7 billion mass consumers. Good luck with your new dragon.

  3. Most people have not seen any formal analysis of feedback systems, and my sense is that despite his pretensions, McPherson is among the unenlightened. Precision is important when discussing mathematics.

    As for credentialism, I agree. I dislike it. But that's my point. I'm not the one going around claiming to be some sort of saint for having given up my day job at the academy.

  4. Very nicely done, Michael. I think that this debunking is necessary, for three reasons.

    Firstly, McPherson's arguments are wrong and need to be corrected. It is not immediately obvious to people who are not already deep in this discussion why his arguments are so wrong.

    Secondly, this doomsday talk is depressing and demotivating. People who are activists may be tempted to pack it all in (see Paul Kingsnorth ) and fence-sitters may decide never to get involved, because it is all so hopeless. Irrational pessimism is probably even worse than irrational optimism. Irrational optimists at least have more fun and friends before they get proved wrong.

    Lastly, exaggerated arguments are vulnerable to easy debunking and it is all too easy for the dismissives to single out this kind of nonsense and then falsely characterize it as typical of the thinking of all of us who are concerned about climate change.

    Having said that, maybe your debunking itself was a little overstated. Many of the items on the list are a worry, maybe, as you say, small impacts, improbable happenings or events that are so slow or so delayed we need not worry about them now. They may not multiply, but they could eventually add up.

  5. Getting off WordPress would be very handy.

    I've seen worse software. But I've definitely seen better. Its main advantage is the quick spin-up, but you pay for that forever after.

    Anyway I fixed your link and a typo while I was in there.

  6. Pingback: How Guy McPherson gets it wrong | Fractal Planet

  7. Good Fisking.

    To me what happens in the seas is an open question. I think land organisms may not do too well when a major ocean basin goes anoxic. The good news would be that it would become a major carbon sink and over a few million years we could start all over.

  8. Two comments oncomments. First, on feedback, we need to keep clear the difference between positive feedback as a category of system, and the subset of runaway feed back which sometimes have to perform as perpetual motion machines. Which don't exist.

    Also, I just thought of a negative feedback interacting to dampen a positive feed back, maybe. Warming increases methane release, etc etc, but SLR ensues burying some as yet unreleased methane under deeper water, preserving it.

    Anyway, many of the non absurd issues touched on are real and serious, but making the discussion about extinction level vs merely some lesser level of catastrophe is the problem. That's why it is important to occasionally and resoundingly debunk denialism at this end, then probably mostly ignore it.

  9. I have only just discovered Guy McPherson, who is obviously sincere.
    I have been upgrading my science and researching global warming over recent years during the writing of a dystopian novel, intended to help counter the propaganda of the vested interests in 'same old.'
    Guy McPherson’s assessment of civilisation is very much in line with my own conclusions, formed in the 70's, and his prediction of catastrophe has confirmed what I have suspected for more than a decade, only slightly sooner and more devastating than I thought possible at the time.

    At the outset of my investigations, I first came across methane cathrates and contacted a member of The Royal Society who lectures on the environment, here, in Oxford, UK. I asked what he thought the outcome would be. He kindly replied, dated October 2011, which ended:
    "So the best and worst case scenarios are: - We can live and adapt to climate change, or it will be utterly calamitous and disastrous for humanity. The latter is plausible, but whether it is "reasonable", is very hard to estimate."
    That was two and a half years ago.

    I, personally, have little doubt that we are among the last humans on Earth and, even if this turns out not to be the case, we should act as if it is a certainty and, rather than go on a binge of consumption, we should be removing as much potential harm as possible for the future of any survivors, regardless of species.

  10. I think the sarcasm in your work doesn't strengthen your argument. I could have done without it. I also do not think McPherson thinks of himself as a "saint" by any stretch.

    I think it's rather sad your comment about aquatic life in relation to the acidification of the oceans. I think it's a rather speciesist to only view the dying of the ocean in terms of humans not requiring fish to survive. We don't need animal products or animal use at all to survive because we can meet all our nutrition requirements easily from plants (and non-animal sources) but we continue on using them. We all need to go vegan and stop using 99.99% of the planet's population as resources.

    Fish and other aquatic life have an interest in life and we -- humans -- are less than one percent of the planet's population and yet we are possibly sooner or later going to take most of the planet's life with us. Whether it's in 20 years or 80 years, it's not looking good at all and coupled with the ever increasing planet population, no matter what we do toward ameliorating global warming, population increase will make that pointless in the end.

    Have you shared this work with Guy McPherson so he can respond?

  11. Greg Laden:

    making the discussion about extinction level vs merely some lesser level of catastrophe is the problem.

    McPherson's claims may represent what some pseudoskeptics call CAGW, but the class of pseudoskeptics known as lukewarmers apply that term to any consequences that don't inconvenience them personally. It needs to be emphasized that catastrophe is in the eyes of the sufferer, and occurs at all scales. What is merely inconvenient for a skier in Santa Fe may be catastrophic for a pecan grower in the Mesilla Valley. Those who say anything short of a McPherson scenario isn't worth doing anything about, remind us of the Deacon's Grace:

    Lord bless me and my wife
    Son John and his wife
    We four and no more.

  12. It matters because if it's 2080 there is time to do something about it. It matters because damage is not the same as doom. Doom is either true or false, but we can try our best to minimize the damage.

    Non-imminent non-doom leaves us with a responsibility to understand, plan, make tradeoffs and compromises where they work, make enemies where we must, and take action. A belief in imminent doom just lets us sit around and write doom poetry.

    It's never ethically appropriate to be intellectually, emotionally or practically lazy about these things. We have work to do. Demoralizing people is not helpful.

  13. Again, I am not minimizing the ecological disaster in the oceans. I've been emphasizing it all along.

    What I am debating is whether humans are doomed.

    I have seen claims that if the ocean dies we die along with it, but I've never seen a mechanistic explanation of how that works, or how thoroughly the oceans must be damaged before it happens.

    That I ask this does not mean I want the oceans to die. I ask it because I think mourning our losses is for after the battle is over and we have saved what we can.

  14. Pingback: Another Week of Global Warming News, March 16, 2014 – A Few Things Ill Considered

  15. Pingback: Linkliste “Kollaps” | substruktion

  16. Here is a downer for you.Is this the draft?

    There are widespread concerns that current trends in population and resource-use are
    unsustainable, but the possibilities of an overshoot and collapse remain unclear and contro-
    versial. Collapses have occurred frequently in the past five thousand years, and are often
    followed by centuries of economic, intellectual, and population decline. Many different nat-
    ural and social phenomena have been invoked to explain specific collapses, but a general
    explanation remains elusive. Two important features seem to appear across societies that
    have collapsed: (1) Ecological Strain and (2) Economic Stratification.
    In this paper, the structure of a new model and several simulated scenarios that offer
    significant implications are explained. The model has just four equations that describe the
    evolution of the populations of Elites and Commoners, Nature, and accumulated Wealth.
    Mechanisms leading to collapse are discussed and the measure "Carrying Capacity" is devel-
    oped and defined. The model suggests that the estimation of Carrying Capacity is a practical
    means for early detection of a collapse. Collapse can be avoided, and population can reach a
    steady state at the maximum carrying capacity, if the rate of depletion of nature is reduced
    to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed equitably.

    Motesharrei,Rivasand Kalnay 2012 A Minimal Model for Human and Nature Interaction

  17. Trish: "I think it’s a rather speciesist to only view the dying of the ocean in terms of humans not requiring fish to survive."

    If we are not going to be speciesist, then should we not consider that increasing carbon in the biosphere will ultimately allow biomass to increase?
    Maybe nature has a purpose for humans: releasing this sequestered carbon that has become trapped over hundreds of millions of years has to happen for life to flourish. Humans are doing a very good job of meeting their purpose, even if it results in their ultimate demise.

  18. Pingback: The global Transition tipping point has arrived - vive la révolution |Latest News: Green Tech, Energy, Environment, Climate Change & Earth

  19. Pingback: The global Transition tipping point has arrived – vive la révolution

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  22. The Independent and various other news outlets are also writing full articles entirely off the back of the Guardian article. Extremely odd, given you can't even view an abstract for the original research. Well, I say "extremely odd" - perhaps more, completely normal indication of just how much meaningless churn there is.

  23. I've seen the same problem - in essence, PR not accompanied by critical thinking - in university courses, where a university has sought extensive private funding. And it's also a problem on some websites.

    Would it make sense to run a debunker, that focused on misaligned climate outreach and worked to engage the proponents ? Is MIT's Climate CoLab a good funder for an effort like that?

  24. 'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

    'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.'

    I reckon Mr. Nuccitelli can make "lukewarmer" mean what he says it means, Mr. Fuller. Are you going to insist on being master?

  25. Thanks for this. I, too, was a bit disappointed that FractalPlanet didn't include consideration of the feedbacks. I went through them myself, some time ago (when there were a few less) and found that about a third seemed reasonable to include but most of the rest misrepresented the linked to science, as far as I could tell (not being a climate scientist). An example was feedback 4. It's a misrepresentation since the carbon estimated to be triggered by that drought will be released over a long period of time but McPherson compares it to the carbon released by the US in one year (2010). A reader could get the impression that the drought actually released all of that carbon in one go, plus the word "triggered" implies that the amount is measured not estimated.

    I think the multiplicative notion is as you mentioned. Feedbacks can amplify the warming. Hansen described this. I guess that McPherson thinks that if feedback 1 multiplies the warming by, say, 1.1, then feedback 2 multiplies it by 1.1 then the amplification of the two feedbacks is 1.21. I'm not sure if it's right to think about them that way, though. This says nothing about the speed though.

  26. Climate is only one of six reasons for the Sixth Mass Extinction event. We are running out of clean energy at a time when demand goes up and supply get dirtier. Lester Brown can explain why world hunger is when, not if. McPherson doesn't have to be right about when or if humans go extinct, the confluence of crises will overwhelm a civilization based on incremental growth.

    China is plans to build up to 500 nuclear plants by 2050. China is building a new coal power plant every 10 days for the next 10 years. The amount of rare earth and conflict minerals required to provide 7-9 billion people with high tech green energy is unsustainable. Just supplying the whole world with batteries alone will put us over the ecolgical edge.

    The Sixth Mass Extinction By The Numbers

    ► Lion populations down 90% in 20 years.
    ► We kill 90 elephants each and every day.
    ► We kill 2-3 rhinos each and every day.
    ► 50% of Great Barrier Reef gone since 1985
    ► 50% of all Vertebrate Species may disappear before 2040.
    ► Big Ocean Fish populations down 90% since 1950.
    ► Fresh Water Fish populations down 50% since 1987,
    ► Land Animal populations down 28% since 1970.
    ► Marine Bird populations down 30% since 1995.
    ► All Marine Animal populations down 28% since 1970.
    ► Plankton populations down up to 40% since 1950.
    ► Species extinction is 1000 times faster than normal.
    ► Human sperm counts down 50% since 1950.
    ► Human population up to 9 billion by 2050.
    ► Ocean acidification to double by 2050, triple by 2100

    This is why ecological cascading extinction collapse will become unstoppable and irreversible in 30-40 years.
    Even the official predictions intensify.

    United Nations Environment Programme (2009)
    +3.5°C by 2100
    Global Carbon Project, Copenhagen Diagnosis (2009)
    +6°C by 2100
    Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research (2009)
    +4°C by 2060
    United Nations Environment Programme (2010) up to
    +5°C by 2050


    McPherson plays fast and loose with the runaway events, but all runaway events start very slowly before becoming uncontrollably faster. The convergence of all initially slow runaway events will overwhelm the climatic and ecological systems when they all accelerate and converge simultaneously becoming a feedback loop of snowballing feedback loops.

    The last IPCC report doesn't model for runaway feedbacks because it is "too difficult" to do. This makes all predictive models suspect. Your criticism of the very early stages of separate runaway events that will inevitably converge and reinforce each other misses the point. Passing judgement of the very early stages of runaway feedback loops by looking at them in isolation, in the rear-view mirror seems misguided at best. Putting all feedback loops together compounding their effects with ecological, energy, social and economic degradation should obviously lead you to a different conclusion.

    Still, I do thank you for keeping it interesting.

  27. Pingback: The global Transition tipping point has arrived | VantageWire

  28. Thank you, sincerely, for reminding us of these already tragic aspects of our situation.

    I am not happy about the ecological situation. I think the ethics of it is profoundly troubling. I think the spiritual and emotional implications of it are disturbing in the extreme. But I am not sure whether it will drive our own species off the planet.

    Tying it to climate physics is not possible. Tying it to the human prognosis is difficult. I would be interested in someone taking the time to explain how this affects our future in ways other than spiritual and ethical ways.

    Again, this is not to say that I am one of those denying the ethics of ecology. Indeed, I wonder how it vanished from the conversation. I hate to be contributing to it vanishing from the conversation. This is very much on topic for Planet3.0, which is a futurist site, not just a climate site.

    But I am also trying to be accurate and dispassionate about the problems we face, and there is little here that is relevant to climate feedback or to McPherson's arguments.

    "The last IPCC report doesn’t model for runaway feedbacks because it is “too difficult” to do. This makes all predictive models suspect."

    I don't know what this means and cannot respond. Can you elaborate? Which feedbacks are going to run away and how would you expect the IPCC to deal with them? Is there anything here that is a legitimate topic for climate physics? Do you expect them to be part of the CMIP suite?

    Also, how do you expect the decline in fauna to impact human demographics? That's the issue at hand. Do you see any prospect that it will lead to a collapse of human population in 16 years?

  29. Feedbacks cannot multiply unless they are tightly physically coupled in very unusual ways. Feedbacks add - this multiplies the response already. Try to build a realistic model of a physical process with physically meaningful multiplying feedbacks. You will find your head spinning as mine did. It's very hard to come up with one. I came to the conclusion that it would require, say, the amount of deforestation in the Amazon change the physics of light impinging on Greenland. Not to change the amount of light falling on Greenland - that's already accounted for in additive feedback - to change how much damage an additional increment of light does to Greenland. For ALL the feedbacks to multiply would require everything getting worse to make everything worse. And then, as I pointed out, you get into a contradiction if even one thing gets better.

    No, this is not a sensible model of feedback.

    But they have to add to doubling the input (an open loop gain of 2) for the system to be unstable. And then they have to do so fast enough to "go round the loop" a few times on the time scale of interest. And then they have to have enough ammunition that the linear feedback model makes sense. My point is that McPherson has identified nothing that should worry us about any runaway feedback instability.

  30. Even if using cheap liquid metal batteries each would be the size of a large truck trailer for every 2Mw.
    The world uses some 150 Terra Watt hours each year which would require more tractor trailers than I can imagine.

    Every pair of large wind generators requires the mining of enough rare earth to produce 75 tons of acidic waste water and 1 ton of radioactive earth as waste. Over 5 million people were killed in the Congo for our access to the conflict minerals our electronic computer devices require. Two million of those dead were children. This all started in 1998. It would be nice to separate politics, ecology and climate, but we simply just can't.

    Nobody knows which feedbacks may runaway, or when, just as nobody knows when we will pass the ultimate tipping point of cascading extinction collapse until it is too late. But when we do pass this point, mass extinction becomes unstoppable and irreversible. It's kind of the whole point.

  31. The Methane Emergency Group and their ilk want to solve the climate problem by geo-engineering. This is the corporate solution, much like they tout the so-called benefits of coal carbon sequestration, which is economically unfeasible. A lot of old men mix up their own demise with the end of the world, just as McPherson hopes to capitalize on his version of scary camp fire stories for monetary gain.

    I don't need undue doom and gloom, there is ample real doom to be sustainable.
    We are adding a million new people every 4 1/2 days while food production has peaked.
    We are using dirtier fuel at a time cleaner fuel has peaked.
    We cannot safely reduce carbon on the down side of the peak oil curve.
    The oceans are acidifying faster than during the Permian mass extinction event.
    The dinosaurs didn't die out until 33,000 years after the asteroid impact.
    We are on track to wipe out 75% of earth's species in less than 300 years.
    This is 100 times faster than the asteroid.

  32. re: "nobody knows"

    People really need to distinguish between "I don't know, and in fact I don't know if anybody knows" vs the much stronger claim that "nobody knows". I have proven to my own satisfaction that McPherson is wrong.

    As for "mass extinction becomes unstoppable and irreversible", yes and no - the planet survived mass extinctions in the past. The question I am raising is whether mass extinction includes humanity, its crops, and its domesticated species. Some people simply assume this is true. Maybe it is, but I'd like to see an explanation of the mechanism.

    My suspicion is that it destabilizes and makes our existence far more precarious, but doesn't kill us directly.

    Again, I am very much against mass extinction. I am not trying to belittle or avoid the enormity of it.

    But ask an economist and they are likely to shrug. What shall we tell them?

  33. You are just kvetching and off topic.

    If you want to discuss CCS or geoengineering, try the open thread, but please try to have some substance, not just emotional affect. (It happens that I am pro-CCS and favorably disposed to some forms of geoengineering. So that's my ilk you are referring to as well, just so you know, though I think the AMEG people are off their rockers.)

  34. Thanks for your advice, I get careless and over-excited sometimes.
    One of the largest causes of mass extinction is species invasion.
    Our monoculture field crops are bio-diverse deserts where even bees cannot survive.
    Some species, like bees and phytoplankton, are Keystone or Lynch Pin species.
    So much of the biosphere depends on them, that they do need to totally extinct to result in ecological state shifts leading to collapse. Thanks for the conversation, I really needed it. Having read McPherson's latest book, I can't help but agree he's a hyperbolic ego-maniac seeker of fame and fortune. Whether mass extinction happens in 50 years or 150 years is moot. Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre For Climate Change is the better choice. So long.!

  35. I agree but I'm not sure about the "contradiction" if even one thing gets better. If a feedback is negative, it multiplies the warming by less than 1, say, 0.9, not -0.9, though if it did multiply the warming by a negative number then, I agree, it's negative all the way (until another negative feedback is a negative factor). There will be negative factor feedbacks eventually but I'm not expecting any until warming is already well advanced.

    By the way, concerning climate instability, I don't think it's right to say that the climate is not yet unstable, even if the instability is slight. I think Hansen has already said that we've foregone a stable climate now. I would agree with that. It isn't going to remain roughly as it is now, unless climate scientists have it all wrong. If they haven't, the climate is already unstable.

  36. The word "stable" has different meanings in different contexts; in the context of feedback it means a runaway system. The climate is not unstable in that sense.

    No, feedbacks add or subtract; they multiply the perturbation by a factor, positive or negative; then that multiplied factor is added in. McPherson's suggestion is that they multiply each other. That does not work; one way to see this is dimensionally: you would have to assign some meaning to a square watt. (Dimensional consistency is a concept that economists don't understand either.)

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  38. Does this mean McPherson (finally) gets the Golden Horseshoe?

    "Negative Feedback"
    -- by Horatio Algeranon

    Guy McFearsome says we're dead
    May as well just stick our head
    Between our knees and kiss goodbye
    Our ass, it's grass, that ain't no lie

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  40. James Hansen covered amplifying feedbacks when discussing the Venus Sydrome in this commentary (PDF). This is a small part of the discussion:

    Let's consider a positive climate forcing (say a solar irradiance increase or CO2 increase) that causes a unit of warming. Let's ask how this unit warming will be amplified by a very strong feedback, one that increases the initial warming by 50%. The added warming of 0.5 induces more feedback, by 0.5×0.5 = 0.25, and so on, the final response being 1 + 0.5 + 0.25 + 0.125 + ... = 2. So this very strong feedback causes the final warming to be twice as large as it would have been without the feedback. But it is not a runaway effect.

    He doesn't discuss the amplifying effect of individual feedback processes though I note that, in his hypothetical example, above, he considers a feedback which amplifies the warming by 50% to be "very strong". I'm guessing that he doesn't foresee any feedback amplifying warming by more than 100%, which would be runaway.

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  42. I can tell you for certain, not only is McPherson wacko, so are all so-called 'Climate Scientists' who claim the earth is getting warmer. Most Scientists know for certain that the eart, far from getting warmer, is actually getting cooler. As such, I stand on the side of reason, we need to pump MORE carbon into the atmosphere if we're to keep the planet from descending into another ice age. I stand squarly on the side of industry and of reason and we will be heard!

    Frank Szetz

  43. "Outliars"
    --by Horatio Algeranon

    Mcfearsome says "we're Dino-screwed"
    While Lomborg says to "Cool it, dude"
    The two extremes should be thrown out
    They're outliars, without a doubt

  44. Pingback: Energy budget estimates explicitly using feedbacks | And Then There's Physics

  45. I finally found the time and inclination to point out some incorrect assertions about AMEG in a few blogs, namely Scott Johnson's blog linked below, referred to here on this blog and elsewhere.

    Here are my comments posted on this blog:

    Hello Scott,

    Thank you for your blog.

    However you are incorrect in many of your statements regarding AMEG. The most egregious error is your statement that the blog Arctic News is a blog from AMEG. Never has been. Never will be. It is a blog from Sam Carana. Sam used to be a member of AMEG but he left over 1.5 years ago or longer. He has many different people, including myself and some other AMEG members who contribute to the blog, but it is not an AMEG blog. Thus, in your article above you are completely misrepresenting AMEG. In fact in almost the whole article. Another basic factual error is your statement that Peter Wadhams is the only scientist in AMEG. There are others who are much less public, by others I mean at least 5. And we regularly converse with many other scientists.

    Thus, in summary your article is saying that GM acquires lots of his information from AMEG, when it is in fact from Sam Carana and his blog Arctic News in the vast majority of your examples above. Such as in quotes of 20 degree rises from polynomial extrapolations which I agree have no basis in science or statistics or math or anything else.

    It is funny. I have been in AMEG for almost 2.5 years and as far as I know almost nobody has made any claims about human extinction; there has certainly been no consensus within the group on this. I have never said this myself. AMEG is really a group of professionals with various backgrounds, including climate scientists, medical doctors, economists, geo-engineers, filmmakers, engineers, etc. who follow and contribute to an email group. The goal is simple, to educate people regarding the risks of amplified warming in the Arctic and the resulting increase in methane emissions and the disruption to jet streams causing an enormous increase in extreme weather events. And get some public and political response on the problem.

    Paul Beckwith

  46. What is AMEG (Arctic Methane Emergency Group)? Why did we form and when? Who are we, and what do we want? I joined 2.5 years ago (1 month after group started) and this is my rebuttal of all the misconceptions floating around in social media).

  47. Here is what the usually reserved Peter Washams, AMEGs top scientist on sea ice had to say in response to a Johnson blog criticism:

    """I am Peter Wadhams, whom you dismiss at various points in your blog as a person with extremist views. Firstly, I would be delighted to send you my list of 300 or so publications in leading journals, which extend over 40 years of continuous involvement in Arctic sea ice research, including six voyages in nuclear submarines to measure ice thickness and leading to my prsent position as Professor of Ocean Physics in Cambridge University. I say this not to be boastful but to advance the mild suggestion that it might be incumbent on you to examine the basis of my views since I have earned to right to hold them, unlike some of the loonies you rightly dismiss. And, if I were to be rude, unlike you. My prediction that summer (September) sea ice will disappear by 2015 or 2016 is not some alarmist loonie claim, but is based on OBSERVED trends in thickness and area which lead inevitably to that conclusion. You can argue with models but you can’t argue with satellite data and submarine data. And it is also not true that I have no support. The most serious Arctic climate modelling effort by the US Navy, conducted by Prof W Maslowski of the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, agrees with these conclusions.""

  48. Michael,

    I can agree with you on one issue. That 2030 is questionable. Sadly, though the rest of this article (as well as the last one on this issue) leaves a lot to be desired. As I started reading I was thinking that this was simply an ad hominum attack and that you hadn't offered any evidence to refute McPherson's work. Then I got to "McPherson List".

    Ironically and for the most part you concede his claims but call them irrelevant. You do raise some legitimate questions but when you claimed that the albedo effect would stop when the ice was all gone I realized that you really haven't a clue. When the ice is gone global temperatures will rise exponentially and even if it's beyond 2030 the outcome for humanity will still be extinction. Also, some of your "debunking" was patently false. On the CH4 issue in particular. Methane concentrations aren't just slightly anomalous in places, they have risen four fold from baseline and represent a clear and present danger. When one reviews the cause of the late Permian extinction event it's hard to overlook the danger of methane. Also the implication of an anoxic ocean and the introduction of H2S is also very troubling. If it gets to that ( and it will if we don't act aggressively to address climate change it will) we will al be dead already.

    I don't know what you motivation is in writing this weak attempt at a debunking but if people listen to you it could delay necessary action and in the end you'll wind up with a mouth full of crow...or penguin or bear hair...or....

    Regards and best wishes,
    Edward Kerr

  49. "When the ice is gone global temperatures will rise exponentially"


    "even if it's beyond 2030 the outcome for humanity will still be extinction"


    "On the CH4 issue in particular. Methane concentrations aren't just slightly anomalous in places, they have risen four fold from baseline and represent a clear and present danger."

    citation please

    "When one reviews the cause of the late Permian extinction event it's hard to overlook the danger of methane. Also the implication of an anoxic ocean and the introduction of H2S is also very troubling."

    Hell yes, but what is the time frame?

    Do you support McPherson's claim that the earth is irrevocably dying? I don't contest that there are significant risks. I contest that McPherson is thinking seriously about them.

  50. McPherson aside, I just came across a guy named Erik T. Karlstrom who has a site, Naturalclimate, and a long video by Penn and Teller, both denouncing human caused climate change as a bullshit scam.
    What is an unscientific public to do?

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  53. Thank you for this, it's always good to see another opinion when someone who seems at least semi-credible gets some net time. The thing that got me searching for some rebuttal, and finding your post here, was his assertion that the human race would go extinct by 2030. And that he was using "observations, not models". Correct me if I'm mistaken here, but once observations are projected forward, doesn't that, by definition, become a model? If you go with some of the things our quantum physicists appear to be saying (I sound tentative because I don't even pretend to understand those guys!), then our observations themselves are some kind of model.

    Also, it may be an issue with the English language itself. It's a trade language, so it deals in absolutes--measures, objects, etc. Excellent for putting together a cargo manifest, but it can lead to a certain rigidity of thought. It may not be useful to see climate change, or extinction, or life itself, as objects, static nouns. They are processes, ongoing verbs. It isn't evolution...we are evolving. I mean, we didn't stop when Cro-Magnon out-killed or out-bred the Neanderthals, did we? And I suspect that there are lots of surprises in store, and the biggest negative feedback loop will be life itself, responding to evolutionary pressure being brought to bear in endlessly surprising ways.

    Perhaps Guy McPherson and others who espouse a similar opinion are right, and homo sapiens is in the process of going extinct...but that doesn't mean we will go away, or come to an end. The dinosaurs are still with us, flying around as birds, in a new form better suited to current conditions. What will we be, what will the rest of life be, on the other side of this evolutionary bottleneck? We will have to see. Maybe we will evolve into the hopeful promise of our species name and truly become, "the wise ape." Though we may well have dissociated ourselves from nature, nature hasn't done so with us. We are part of it, and serving the purposes of life and evolving and expanding intelligence.

    What seems clear to me, and to go from the tenor and tone of the comments section of his Nature Bats Last blog, is that this is someone experiencing profound despair (because who wouldn't be, if you decide to live your life based on the premise that everyone, absolutely, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is gonna die by April 15, 2030, about 11:23 GMT), and I feel a great deal of compassion for the pain he wears so openly. Still, I feel he is being irresponsible.

    Here's a quote from one of the posters on his site: "Yes, I repeatedly mention the Voluntary Extinction Movement and the Church of Euthanasia. I’m NOT telling anyone to kill themselves – I’m just calling attention to two organizations that I think people should know about – for people that happen upon this site, that’s why I repeat it every time I post."

    !!!!! Start passing out the Kool-Aid, guys...

    To be fair, it was a poster, not the man himself, but this is the kind of thing talk like his evokes and engenders. It isn't productive. Regardless of whether it's "true" or not, it's not productive. He has his First Amendment right to speak, but isn't this kind of like crying "Fire!" when there isn't one, psychologically speaking?

    Just remember, people, given recorded history...when a guy goes out into the desert, and comes back waving his tablet saying he has the Real Truth from On High--you'd better run. People seem to go a bit wacky in the desert. Maybe it's the stark contrasts, the harsh conditions, the relentless sun, that turn people into Old Testament-style Jeremiahs. Run, because they will commence bashing you with their Truth and telling you the End of the World is Nigh, and we will all burn in hell, because the world is full of polluting, sinful, evil human beings who were banished from the Garden of Eden. Seems to me, I've heard this story before.

    Let us use our best discernment whenever encountering the stimulation of another's opinon. Honestly, critical thinking classes should be required and repeated yearly, starting in kindergarten.


  54. Susannah, I always enjoy good writing and not only do you write well but you make a lot of sense. I'm working with a new phrase encountered at an arts and climate conference in Melbourne, which also applies:

    Hopelessness is just impatience in disguise.

    Oddly, in my memory I had translated this into:

    Despair is a form of laziness.
    (this is very long (too long for most, I'd guess); because I'm an artist and climate niggler I enjoyed the whole thing, but the punch for me came at the end with one of the questioners, mentioned in June Open Thread here.)

  55. I think both quotes are very apt, actually. I also like this one, from the late great Robert Anton Wilson:
    "Entropy requires no maintenance." (When I put that sign in my cube once, I had to explain to puzzled co-workers, "Everything's falling apart already--no need to help it along.") Which pretty much applies to Guy McPherson and his schtick.

    I spent 3 months in your beautiful country some years ago, from Sydney to Port Douglas, and I didn't want to come home. I loved it.

    What, exactly, does a climate niggler do?

  56. Michael,

    I came by your piece on this "doomsday" stuff by Scott Johnson's blog, and I've been following and contributing to the comment section on his entry for the past few months. As an art student who could never get the hang of any of the sciences, any kind of climate news is very confusing and very scary to me; between yours and Scott's posts (and the commentary, and all the links provided), I've learned a lot in the last few months about the difference between real concerns over climate and doomer bullsh*t, and a lot about climate science in general, so I owe you both a lot.

    I decided to jump over hear to ask a feedback question, since your post covered that. You explain very well how McPherson's claims on tropical forest die-off by 2030 are way off. However, the latest IPCC report, in assessing the likelihood of potential abrupt climate changes, claimed "low confidence in projections" of the collapse of both tropical and boreal forests. I struggle with the terminology in these reports sometimes, and this is one of them. In this instance, was the IPCC saying that it was unlikely that there would be mass forest die-off, or that projections of the future of these forests are too imprecise to have any solid confidence in their claims? And if the latter, what is the most realistic number that could currently be given for a percentage of forests to collapse by, say, 2100?

  57. You dispute point #3 as follows:

    3. Siberian methane vents have increased in size from less than a meter across in the summer of 2010 to about a kilometer across in 2011 (Tellus, February 2011)

    This is simply a crock. The largest observed vent in 2011 is a km across; it had not been observed before. There is no claim that it is new and no evidence to that effect. This is waved around by the Arctic methane people as if it were a vast maelstrom of methane, choking the air. In fact it is a barely detectable region containing a few methane bubbles. That is why it had not been detected prior to 2011.


    Really? The reports from scientist do not claim this is a crock at all.

    Vast Methane Plumes Seen In Arctic

    "Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we've found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It's amazing," Dr Semiletov said.

    "I was most impressed by the sheer scale and the high density of the plumes. Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them," he said.

    Dr Semiletov's team published a study in 2010 estimating that the methane emissions from this region were in the region of 8 million tons a year but the latest expedition suggests this is a significant underestimate of the true scale of the phenomenon.

    In late summer, the Russian research vessel Academician Lavrentiev conducted an extensive survey of about 10,000 square miles of sea off the East Siberian coast, in cooperating with the University of Georgia Athens. Scientists deployed four highly sensitive instruments, both seismic and acoustic, to monitor the "fountains" or plumes of methane bubbles rising to the sea surface from beneath the seabed.

    "In a very small area, less than 10,000 square miles, we have counted more than 100 fountains, or torch-like structures, bubbling through the water column and injected directly into the atmosphere from the seabed," Dr Semiletov said.

    "We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale - I think on a scale not seen before. Some of the plumes were a kilometre or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere - the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal," he said.

  58. We've been over this ground here and elsewhere. It's nonsense.

    The vastness of the plume doesn't actually mean much. 8 megatons does mean something, but compared to the 50 gigaton nightmare scenario it is four orders of magnitude off.

    More to the point, exactly nothing in the Russian team's work indicates that any of this is of recent origin or connected to anthropogenic global warming. A recent discovery of a plume does not mean the plume has not always existed. Also, the implication that these plumes can be detected without instruments is belied by the lack of photographs.

    Nope, these are a few bubbles that dissolve before they get to the surface, (probably not contributing to methane concentrations directly) not a maelstrom of natural gas rushing to the surface waiting for somebody to toss a match into it.

    Don't believe me? Ask Semelitov or Shakhova for a picture, then.

  59. I've staggered in to this blog in some shock having just met a victim of Macpherson's millenarian death cult thinking. That description is not hyeperbole. I can think of no other way to describe what I read at his blog.

    The back story to this is that I met a man in high distress who referred me to Macpherson's site while we were both participating in the longest running citizens blockade of the construction of a coal mine in NSW, Australia.
    You can read about the Leard Forest Blockade We're doing reasonably well as a broad coalition of farmers, Aboriginal people, citizens, retirees, professionals young forest protectors and so on against another useless coal mine which is destroying habitat for protected and endangered species and also threatens water tables for very food productive farm land. The campaign adheres very well to the principles of non-violent direct action, which is our great strength.

    It is not so much Macpherson's his misuse of science that alarms me as his folksy psycho-babble. The front of site note on suicide is chilling. He knows he is dealing with vulnerable people and is a psychological seducer. Until I met this poor devil at the base camp I had no idea of such developments. It seems to me that as the ecological crisis deepens there will be many more such vulnerable people quite literally freaking out after learning about the big lie they have been living.

    I'd appreciate anyone who can point me in the direction of any discussion of this.

    Cheers from Australia.

  60. Indeed an important question. I don't really know where to begin, though.

    I have no doubt that McPherson is doing real emotional damage to his followers. Whether that is a big deal in the grand scheme of things is another question, and hard to judge.

    A friend of mine and I have independently come to suspect that the Koch brothers and/or their ilk are so malicious that they will encourage any movement or research program that will delay effective action to shut down the carbon emissions. McPherson would surely qualify for such stealth support. As people jump from indifference to despair, they never pass through a period of potential effectiveness.

    There is a significant silver lining though. As extremists emerge on the alarmist wing, it allows those of us with a grasp of reality to position ourselves in the center, losing the labell of radicalism so easily attached to us.

    I realize this is a poor answer to your question. It seems to warrant some investigation. But since I'm on record as offended and unimpressed I'm probably not the guy to do it.

  61. Thanks for your reply. This site and 'fractalplanet' do an excellent job debunking McPherson's denialist mode of non-science. I'll have a go at debunking his attempts at life philosophy mostly by citing his own words. In his essay 'Only Love Remains' he makes some astonishing admissions:

    "Even after five decades of study, much of it characterized by the serious introspection allowed those who pursue the life of the mind in the halls of academia, I barely know myself. And I know too little about love. But I’m pretty certain it’s all we have."

    So, five decades of introspection and he doesn't understand himself? One is entitled to ask did he seek assistance in the project of self examination. Missing from his dialogue are any references to two thousand years of Western philosophy, no mention of existentialism, no mention of two and a half thousand years of Buddhist thought especially on the subject of love. Missing as well is any suggestion that he sought clinical advice, therapy and so on.

    He says "I’ve tried turning my back on my own emotions, and those of others" in which case we are entitled to wonder why anyone would take advice from a man like this, especially on love. He is apparently unaware of an entire school of philosophical and political thought known as the Frankfurt School, founded by Adorno, Horkheimer and Marcuse who attempted to integrate understanding of individual subjectivity with the traditions of political economy. No reference is made of many other spokespeople on the matter of love including the luminaries of the twentieth century Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

    He says "After all, as I’ve known for a long time, birth is lethal. Nobody gets out alive, a notion that applies to cultures and species as well as individuals". Congratulations on that fabulous insight, Guy.

    The next sentence, though, ought to be seen as a straightforward matter of self disclosure when he states "My perceived lack of empathy led some to conclude I was a sociopath. Or a psychopath. My two-sizes-too-small brain can’t customarily distinguish the two."

    There it is, front and center, an admission of psychopathology from a source who ought to know.

    My guess, at this early stage of investigation, is that Guy is projecting his own deep inner crisis onto the whole world, planet and population included, instead of doing the necessary work on his own mind state. Yes, the ecological crisis is scary but so was the European experience of World War II. Nobody then advocated suicide as a solution to seemingly insurmountable difficulties.

    A suggestion to Guy and his ilk is that a dignified silence in the face of their own confusion would be preferable to this sort of public exposure of their own human insecurity.

  62. I'm no fan of McPherson, but how would you compare the recent developments of the Siberian methane craters ( to his predictions or lack thereof? No doubt he will use them to reinforce his bubble.

  63. Hi Michael. Thanks for your efforts in this terribly important field. As far as I can tell (and I'm a non-scientist), the pivotal elements of your critique of the methane crisis view are these: (1) that the most alarming crisis claims are based not on empirical evidence, but on models and assumptions, and (2) if there were empirical evidence (say, for the kilometer-wide methane plume), it would include appropriate photographs.

    Please consider these responses and advise me where I am mistaken. I would not be surprised if I were mistaken; this is not my field. But we all share a deeply vested interest in attaining (and maintaining) the clearest possible view of our predicament.

    (1) A rebuttal to the "Improved Discussions" article is posted here:
    I am surely not alone in my interest in your response to this piece. Its author, Paul Beckwith, insists that the methane claims are indeed based on empirical evidence: "Examination of the methane concentrations in the atmosphere in the Arctic region from AIRS satellite data over a decade or so shows an obvious large increase in the amount of methane, and has been corroborated with flask measurements at locations across the Arctic, namely Barrow, Alaska and Svalbard." He also argues that optimistically conservative expectations of the arctic methane situation are based on "slab model" methods which neglect various real-world vulnerabilities of permafrost, like seismic activity: "Episodic events like landslides negate these claims, as does [sic] fractures and other weakspots in the slabs which allow pathways for huge heatflow."

    (2) While I don't know whether AMEG has provided the sort of photographs you called for, I do see plenty of videos on YouTube, some posted by academics in geological sciences, showing exploding plumes of methane. These are not on the kilometer scale, but others are, as a supporter of your position has agreed above: "The largest observed vent in 2011 is a km across." For example:

    This third video shows (briefly) a satellite photo which apparently indicates the formation of a new methane emitting lake:

    I'm sure you're well aware of the apparently new phenomenon of large methane craters, one of which is 30 meters wide:

    Lastly, it seems to me rather precipitous (and even a bit uncivil) to assume, as you have above, that Guy McPherson is not quite a scholar, and that his PhD and academic career are examples of the dross of the system, those untalented and unaccomplished people one sometimes meets who have nevertheless completed a doctorate somewhere. Indeed, part of what makes McPherson's claims so unsettling is the robust nature of his scholarship and experience. He is the author of over FIFTY scientific journal articles, as listed here:

    The more scholarly (rather than popular or autobiographical) of his books include:

    McPherson, G.R. 1997. Ecology and Management of North American Savannas. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.

    McPherson, G.R. and S. DeStefano. 2003. Applied Ecology and Natural Resource Management. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England.

    Weltzin, J.F. and G.R. McPherson (editors). 2003. Changing Precipitation Regimes and Terrestrial Ecosystems. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.

    Jensen, S.E. and G.R. McPherson. 2008. Living with Fire: Fire Ecology and Policy for the Twenty-first Century. University of California Press, Berkeley. View video of book-signing event here.

    Esparza, A.X. and G.R. McPherson (editors). 2009. The Planner's Guide to Natural Resource Conservation: The Science of Land Development Beyond the Metropolitan Fringe. Springer, New York.

    By way of full disclosure, I have met Guy and consider him a friend, and I've also published guest posts on his blog, such as this one:

    Surely the issues you both professionally discuss are matters about which reasonable people like yourselves can disagree without recourse to arguments ad hominem. We all slip into such arguments from time to time, myself included, but it seems to me that you are both sufficiently serious characters that a more relationally felicitous discussion might be mutually beneficial.

    Thank you for your time. I look forward to your eventual response, and wish you health and success.
    Jamey Hecht, PhD (Brandeis University 1995, English and American Literature)

  64. I just wanted to say thank you for this piece. I came here via the recent Radio Ecoshock programme on McPherson's nonsense and I pleased to have done so--you've really done a very good exposing his charlatanry.

  65. I am very interested in ecology but don't pretend to be an ecological expert on the basis of a single undergrad course taken in the 1970s. I do not have any basis to judge his work in that field.

    McPherson is no geophysicist and no mathematician. He doesn't seem to have any understanding of how to think about feedback stability, and his pretensions otherwise are insupportable. He doesn't seem to have any understanding of global geochemical cycles, and his pretensions otherwise are offensive. Given that he is extremely wrong on both of these points and uses his wrongness in them to promote an ideology of despair, he is more than your average charlatan. He is doing considerable harm to those who take his positions seriously.

    I do not consider him a serious or intellectually honest person at all and have no more interest in "discussing" things with him than with Fred Singer or Marc Morano. Please enjoy his company in private to whatever extent you can. Any time he is not promoting his toxic brew publicly is all for the best.

  66. Pingback: McPherson Takedown Resonates | Planet3.0

  67. Thanks for your reply. It seems the last part of my comment, in which I respond to the antipathy you bear towards Guy, occluded the more important and earlier part. Please respond to the two tentative rejoinders I offered regarding methane, or direct me to some page(s) where my questions have already been addressed. Note that I certainly hope that you, and not my good friend, are correct about the methane threat.

    Jamey Hecht

  68. You invite me to wade through Beckwith's incoherent sniping trying to pull it together into something that makes enough sense to refute. There are too many opportunities to do that sort of thing for any climate scientist to take on every opportunity to do so with any enthusiasm.

    If you can't see how Paul Beckwith's scattershot responses are not responsive to Chris's careful and rigorous article, I don't see how I can help much. You've cornered me and I have to be frank - this disqualifies you from arguing the evidence in any detail. If you don't have the scientific sophistication to see who is just blowing smoke, it comes down to just a matter of whom you trust. Since McPherson is a personal friend, and since from his point of view I (ironically to me) am a defender of the stays quo, I will lose that battle.

    I think mainstream science is far more trustworthy than some non-peer-reviewed alarmist blogs. You may disagree. So does Tony Watts who says there's not any climate problem at all!

    Sometimes I like to point out why he is wrong, but the occasions where it is worth arguing in detail are minimal -really only where he gains traction. Please understand that there is far more noise than signal out there and one has to choose wisely what to respond to.

    I limit myself to repeating this: near-surface spikes in methane in the Arctic are not demonstrated to be unusual. David Archer is the world expert on this and believes the time to release the clathrates is on the order of a millennium. The signal cannot have reached any significant clathrate deposit, so the marine releases we see are surely just a continuation of the preindustrial background release rate.

    No sign of a clathrate bomb appears in the global methane inventory. Given all the fracking that is going on, it is if anything surprising how little the methane inventory is climbing. That's plenty for me to discount all the short-term methane panic even if I believed there were any evidence to support it. Please call me back if this changes.

    Perhaps this will win you over a bit, though. If the trigger is already pulled on the clathrate gun it doesn't really matter what we do. So it's sensible to presume that the mainstream science is sound from a tactical point of view anyway.

  69. I think RealClimate does a good job with methane questions, though they are naturally conservative, as most scientists have to be. It seems it's a question of proportion. Paul Beckwith, if you follow him over time, convicts himself over and over. It's not a bad thing to be alarmed, but it doesn't help to grossly exaggerate. For example, he predicted at Neven's last year that the Arctic would fully melt, which is demonstrably not true. He's not a reliable source. I don't agree with the Shakhova/Semiletov bashing, but facts are facts. Time will tell, but Beckwith is not reliable.

    Another good source is Neven's Sea Ice blog. I'm not providing links, but you can easily find both Neven and RealClimate through an ordinary search, and the former is cutting edge with a variety of viewpoints, particularly if you sign in to the fora.

  70. I just wanted to know what you thought about the sinkholes found in Siberia and if that is going to release a ton of methane in to the atmosphere, I am not a scientist and just want to understand what caused these to happen.

  71. Hi Michael, I have another question. I have been reading about how the oceans are storing all this extra co2, that they will start to release all the heat and all the co2 that cones with that. Is this going to make temperatures start to rise extremely fast. I read the new ipcc temperature projections and they were scary, all the way up to 10 degrees farenhight, so is the temp just going to keep rising every year? Could we survive at that temp? I am just very sad and confused.

  72. Um, that's even more questions than you think, Sasha. I'll touch on your points briefly.

    What IPCC says is not certainly true, and some of it will turn out to be wrong, but it is the best bet we have with the evidence we have now. That is what it is for. Things could be better than IPCC says. Or they could be worse.

    But CO2 is not heat. How the oceans store and release CO2 and how they store and release heat are not closely related. For the foreseeable future, the oceans will be storing both and not releasing them in the net. Until we get a grip on emissions, the oceans will help us (and acidify in the process). After we stop emitting they will make matters worse for a while (but deacidify).

    Confusion is hard to avoid. The climate system is complicated. Smarter and more experienced scientists than myself are confused every day. In a way, an ability to tolerate and learn from confusion is the main characteristic of a successful scientist.

    Will we survive? Probably the species will persist for a very long time. Will it all turn out well? Maybe not. There may be a lot of suffering to come. But it still is largely up to what we humans decide to do.

    Finally, I don't know who you are or what your capacities are. But I'd suggest that if you want to be less confused, ask smaller questions to start with.

  73. I object to your lumping all "permies" in the NTHE basketcase....... McPherson and his ilk may (or may not...) practice permaculture, but as a follower and practitioner of the principles of Permaculture myself, I happen to believe that it is THE only hope we have left to tackle climate change.

    McPherson is obviously wrong (as I wrote myself on my own blog (

    I personally believe that we are in for a major economic correction, and that fuel shortages will be with us within five years, certainly within ten. I unfortunately do not have a crystal ball.... but de-industrialisation has to happen some time soon.

    Our species is in overshoot. Too many people to feed without fossil fuels.... so, many will not make it beyond this correction, and I 'm thinking the very old, the very obese, the very sick propped up by hitech medicine. Survival of the fittest etc.... so with food, water, and fuel shortages, people will have no choice but to 'go back to the land' and practice Permaculture. Extinction? I don't think so. Humans are far too resillient for that, and besides we inhabit every climatic zone of this planet, so somewhere someone will survive the collapse, as we have done before on albeit much more local scales. I'd expect that by 2100 1 billion humans will be left, maybe less even, and it's unfortunate that I won't be around to see exactly how it all pans out, because frankly nothing else fascinates me as much!

  74. "I object to your lumping all "permies" in the NTHE basketcase."

    If somebody did that I would object, too. I think that permies underestimate the importance of politics, but otherwise it's an admirable subculture. I have some friends who are committed permies.

    That just increases how much I hate to see McPherson mess with their heads the way he does.

  75. Your statement, "fish just aren’t that important to the human diet," leads me to distrust everything you've said here.

    Seafood is about 17% of the animal protein intake of the human population. And has doubled in the past few decades. If Americans weren't fat on subsidized corn manufactured into food shaped objects, we'd be starving too. A collapse of this unsustainable house of cards is inevitable. The rate of species extinction and our connectedness to every living thing means we're next.

    As long as Western White Men are comfy, we are to be rational and dispassionate and dance around what is so obvious in the so-called "developing" world with our scientific quibbles.

  76. I happen to believe that permaculture is the only hope we have left too...

    and am constantly frustrated by the massive amounts of pseudoscience believed by many permies. I think that this severely diminishes the general impact of permaculture and the ability to get permies to work together in more constructive ways. McPherson certainly isn't helping.

  77. Michael, while I don't think McPherson has any basis in reality, I'm also concerned about Archer's dismissal of rapid methane release (on the order tens of gigatons).

    I've studied complex nonlinear systems and focused on qualitative aspects of criticality. One of the chief ways that complex systems can break down rapidly is when they are metastable and have pockets of instability that aren't detectable by general observation. For instance, this paper presents a mathematical model for a permafrost compost bomb in which partitions enter warming but the system is quiescent, until enough melting pockets connect and create pressure great enough for large scale, instantaneous release. These sorts of systems are very sensitive to rate changes and are a unique property of non-linearity that any steady state transfer model would be unable to capture.

    Another example is that Greenland ice loss is proceeding much faster than any transfer model predicted and it is due to sub-surface glacial movement lubricated by surface melting. The models suggest that these sub-surface "rivers" may combine and start causing rapid movement across the entire glacier face, instead of being constrained by stable pockets.

    When I investigated clathrate chemistry, I became skeptical that a transfer model could ever capture the risk factor. Not only are they sensitive to temperature changes, but also physical agitation. In addition, the clathrates are buoyant but anchored to the ocean bottom, meaning that a warm burst of water at the base could release a far greater amount than direct melting. Combined with water agitation due to the gas disassociating, and I can easily imagine a significant amount of shallower hydrates at risk. It's not that I'm claiming this will happen, it's that all the logic I've seen used to argue why we don't have to worry about it is built on linear thinking and transfer physics.

  78. Archer doesn't dismiss it. It was Archer who raised the issue in the first place (and I was in the room when he did it). What Archer dismisses is Shakhova's timescale.

    McPherson is beneath the notice of practicing scientists and that's quite appropriate.

  79. "All the logic I've seen used to argue why we don't have to worry about it is built on linear thinking and transfer physics."

    Sometimes linear is good enough. If there are nonlinearities you are worries about you have to specify them. There isn;t enough clathrate at depths where the warming signal can propagate to them fast enough to trigger Shakhova/Wadhams catastrophe. Nobody who has thought about this in detail thinks otherwise. (There is no sign that Shakhova or Wadhams have put any serious effort into this.)

    Yes, nonlinear transitions are scary. Look at the actual fluids in the system if you are looking for places they could happen on time scales of mundane interest.

  80. McPherson, like Lovelock, trades on the hard-won cachet of global warming science (now, when fixing things is 100x harder than it would have been if we'd just kept the Rio momentum going). But both are going their own way, with their own agendas. My 10-second summary.

  81. I knew it was too good to be true. But, then again, we seem to only examine climate-related phenomena. I like to think there's no single smoking gun, but rather compounding factors that will together result in effectively bringing homo sapiens to extinction.

  82. "fish just aren’t that important to the human diet."


    I have no problem with your thesis and this in no way has anything to do with human extinction by 2030. But...Huh? A billion people depend on fish at least part of the year. A large number of those people are poor or very poor, so "depend" is a meaningful term. Two and a half billion have fish as at least 20% of their diet and for many it's the main source of animal protein, even the main source of any protein.

    A significant collapse in fisheries over much of the planet could easily lead to dramatic if not catastrophic increases in starvation, refugees, pressure on other already severely pressured food sources and conflict.

    I'm sure the rest of your figures and statements are more in your area in thus more reliable but you must know it does your case no good to toss off completely wrong declarative statements like this.

  83. Yes, there is plenty of food; I've said that often, too.

    So it's not a question of it being replaced; with climate catastrophe increasingly degrading the carrying capacity of Earth, it probably can't be. But a billion people depend on fish to survive at least part of the year because as you know, they can't afford that other food or the land it's grown on. Meat, luxury crops like palm oil etc, deforestation, desertification, development, mining and other pollution take up or degrade land that could feed poor people but doesn't, because the rich hog it. The fish are going, also because of the rich--the pollution, global warming and acidification, overfishing by relentless industrial fishing fleets that they cause. Unless we radically change the political-economic and agricultural systems that's not going to change, and a billion people will continue to depend on fish until the fish are gone and those people either successfully revolt with our help, or die. At the same time, the fish eaten by that small part of the other 6 billion who can afford to replace the protein lost when the fish die, will be replaced--in the diet, pet food, fertilizer... and that will further degrade the biosphere.

    It seems to me fish are incredibly important to the human diet--and to global political stability.

  84. I like your opinion piece, and though I'm not in complete agreement with McPherson, you should have used some facts when writing this. You do talk about individual items, but you really need to look at all these systems as a whole,

  85. I don't believe McPherson's claims, but I also think your analysis misrepresents what he's saying. Additive vs multiplicative: his point here is that the problem is not just a bit of extra heat from one feedback mechanism, plus a bit of extra heat from another feedback mechanism: each extra bit of heat is exacerbating all the positive feedbacks. The noise you get back from the speaker does not go up in linear proportion to where you set the volume knob, to use your guitar-feedback analogy. McPherson's not attempting to be rigorously mathematical with this phrase, so your strict mathematical critique is a red herring.
    You define the criteria for a McPherson catastrophe as feedback going unstable by 2030. I don't think that's what he's talking about at all. He is certainly not suggesting there will be runaway global warming, just that there will be a rapid increase in temperature and a major extinction event. But he maintains that life on the planet will continue. My understanding is that we could get up to perhaps 8 to 12 degrees C warming over several centuries if we keep burning fossil fuels, melt all polar ice and release all the arctic methane. That doesn't require venus-like "runaway warming", but it would almost certainly spell the end of human life.
    I agree that McPherson's time-frames are ridiculous, and his evidence is cherry-picked and often poor or misapplied. I appreciated your point-by-point analysis of his "list".

  86. One further thought: there are many positive feedback mechanisms, each of which would go unstable at different points. Just because we don't reach the point of evaporating all surface water on the planet doesn't mean that certain feedbacks haven't gone unstable. Timeframes and maximum possible contributions differ for each kind of feedback, and given the slow timeframes of some of them it's hard for us to know whether we've gone unstable or not (e.g. Antarctic ice sheets).
    The way you've worded your post here seems to imply that the whole system is either unstable and heading the same way as venus, or it's stable. This doesn't seem realistic.

  87. Whilst the timescales suggested by Guy McPherson seem improbable, it is undoubtedly helpful to have someone broadcasting the message of how very serious the climate situation is. Many species are already affected including our own by anthropogenic induced climate change, and we know it will escalate. As McPherson points out history repeatedly points to us taking no meaningful action despite decades of knowledge about the negative effects of adding carbon to the atmosphere. That we have accelerating ice melts in the Arctic and Antarctic is beyond doubt from the empirical data.

    The critical point is that it is too simplistic to try and treat the biosphere as a simple system. There are complex interactions and feedbacks that have resulted in a relatively stable climate system allowing life as we know it to flourish. Our very recent industrialization has modified the atmosphere and land biomass, reducing the stability of the Earth's climate system and the resulting global temperature rise. If we want to talk about an electronic analogy; by continuing to alter components that once formed part of a stable circuit's control feedback, it is not inconceivable that those feedbacks will suddenly become positive resulting in the system become abruptly unstable. Depending on how stability is achieved in the first place (and we do not understand them all with resect to the Earth) it may be one or a number of small changes that cause the eventual runaway scenario - we know that abrupt climate events have occurred in our geological past, ice core records show that a rise of 15 degrees has occurred within a decade (Alley, et al. 1993). I would therefore suggest that dismissal of many forms of potential positive feedback as being 'too small' to be slightly misleading.

    It is important that all views are intelligently scrutinized, including those of Guy McPherson’s presentation of the scientific data. However, I would propose that there are many worthier targets whose agenda is to continually undermine the overwhelming body of evidence that action to mitigate the effects of climate change and reduce atmospheric carbon is so desperately needed.

  88. There are two questions here. The first is the extent to which someone trying to establish bona fides as an interpreter of the evidence should be impartial to errors independent of the direction of the error. The details of when to pay attention to fake science are not easy to summarize, but there does seem to me to be a threshhold of visibility beyond which egregious pseudoscience should be rebutted. It's hard to keep up, of course. The counterargument is then which disinformation does the most damage, which is what you are raising.

    But I think in McPherson's case, even if you accept that counterargument the case is hardly closed.

    The second issue is whether McPherson's agenda is itself one to "continually undermine the overwhelming body of evidence that action to mitigate the effects of climate change and reduce atmospheric carbon is so desperately needed". He explicitly and consistently mocks anyone attempting to advocate for mitigation. His success at gaining attention is convenient for the forces of delay, and may indeed be (unwittingly from his point of view) partially funded by the most sinister among them.

  89. The best estimate I have is that we've got about 280 years (64% chance of extinction), nothing over a thousand. This is taken from an anonymous poll of 28 people at the very highest level who were qualified to give an opinion.

    But, GOOD NEWS! Here's the plan if I'm mistaken and it rocks up sooner. Look at the world around you, pick a country that seems the most stable, with warm temperatures and cheap land. Find a nice little village of about 150 and live well. Why 150? It's the ideal size for human social grouping - Dunbar's Number.'s_number

  90. Before I join this discussion, I want to list some points. If any of them are untrue, please tell me.

    1. CO2 in the atmosphere is rising exponentially. Not so long ago a group was fighting to keep it below 350 ppm. It is now over 400.
    2. Human population continues to increase, in spite of attempts by Chinese Governments and others. This increases emissions of CO2, CH4, consumption of food, use of land which currently produces food, etc.
    3. Climate refugees have already begun. Low-lying Pacific islands, places like Syria and African countries. You may see this as solely the result of war. I believe it is partly because of climate change.
    4. There is a lag of several (10?) years between concentration of CO2 in atmosphere and increase in global temperature. So CO2 released into the atmosphere today will continue it's greenhouse effect for 10 (or so) years.
    5. CH4 has a more powerful greenhouse effect than CO2.
    6. When cooling water is cut off from a nuclear reactor (such as by loss of electricity to pumps), there will be unpleasant consequences such as hydrogen explosions we saw at Fukushima resulting in release of radiation.
    7. Predictions made by climate scientists have consistently been too optimistic. (They have been surprised by rate at which CO2 and global temp are rising in the last few years.)
    8. About 200 species of animals and plants are going extinct every day.

    If any of these points are challenged, I will either search the literature for evidence or not use it in my argument.

  91. The one thing Guy McPherson did was get the interest of at least 20,000 people (who may also tell 20 other people). People who may have been telling themselves that we've got plenty of time to fix all of this - so, no hurry. His alarmist approach may not have all the empirical backing that anal-retentive scientists demand, but he isn't far from a gut-level truth that humans are rapidly killing the planet. Maybe what some people need is to have a fire lit under their ass to take any action!

    Until I saw McPhersons' nihilistic video on youtube yesterday. I never heared of him. OR YOU. Or anyone in this conversation. You might thank him for the inadvertent press as a result of searches to verify the validity of his assertion.

    Your attack only serves to make me wonder why you are so vehemently opposed to his idea that we're looking down the double-barrel of an existential gun held by a trigger-happy devil.

    By themselves, I can agree with some of your arguments that that this-or-that issue will not collapse life on Earth, but you list two dozen or more individually disasterous issues that McPherson cites as contributors and you claim "no-harm", "little-harm", "irrelevant", or "too slow", to support the notion that we've only got 10 years or less before every living creature on Earth dies. The one thing you missed was the 2011 Fukushima nuclear facility meltdown and the current China syndrome circumstance (as of February 2017).

    All together, along with Fukishima, my best estimate for McPherson's prediction is that he's giving us hope for MORE time than we actually have.

    Mass die-offs are underway, globally. We can't safely consume anything fished from the Pacific ocean. We ARE in trouble, and based on how vigorously this world is demonstrating engaging in mitigating, correcting, and healing the damage we've done, we're never going to beat that clock. Not enough people in positions of such power are on board to halt the human behavior that contributes to the toxic pollution humans produce. We don't change our behavior because (key) humans are GREEDY, AVARICIOUS, AND SELFISH in the extreme.

    Even if we have 100 years to reverse the damage, we haven't even started to do so. Too many people have a stake in the status quo, and refuse to look at this ugly truth. Money makes the world go around, and it is the root of all evil. The people with the money and power call the shots and they're not interested in anything but filling their already overflowing pockets.

    Finally, you ask why those rich bastards don't worry about harming the planet so badly that their own children and grandchildren can't live on it. What do you think the push to find another earth-like planet is about? Don't underestimate the capacity for certain, very powerful people have to propagate to the stars. Humans are designed for extreme survival capacity. We will survive. Not you. Not me. But some humans will find a way to escape this badly damaged world and they are NOT going to waste any resources on saving this world when all their efforts are to get off of it asap.

    McPherson's message is plain: It's too bad and too late to do anything to reverse the trend. We've jumped off the cliff and are in freefall. There is only one thing of value left to do. Make peace with your Creator and gather your loved ones close. Treasure these last moments and build a spiritual life so that you can live out your remaining time in peace.

  92. Michael, it might be beneficial to reverse the current order of your comments section to show the most recent postings first. I am convinced that my comment will never see the light of day because most people don't have the fortitude of focused thinking to get through an article as long as yours is, AND then read comments that are three years old, as well!

    I had to scroll down yards and yards of comments to get to the point where I could make a contribution and then make this suggestion. In all, because I care deeply about my fellow humans and our beautiful, tiny, blue, shared marble, I've spent an entire two hours reading and responding.

    I am an exception. You won't reach most people this way. Brevity and meat. In every written word. The pen IS mightier!

    Have a good life!

  93. Michael Tobis's article addresses one thesis of McPherson, which is that there are 'multiplicative' effects that will greatly accelerate abrupt climate change. I believe he is correct that McPherson's language is sometimes sloppy, and that what he probably meant was amplification and not multiplication.

    However, if we note the many seemingly small effects that Tobis does acknowledge as likely, I think the case could be made that there may be enough additive amplification effects to accelerate abrupt change. Some examples:

    1) the methane will not be released in some burst but at a constant rate. Well, that's not good.
    2) Melting of arctic ice-- ok, perhaps loss of 1.5% albedo is not great, but we also have lost the heat sink that ice provides (the analogy of ice cubes melting in a glass- water stays cold until the ice melts than rises rapidly to room temperature)
    3) Loss of forest and bog fires-- again, perhaps not enough by itself, but added to the others.

    Also, Tobis does not seem to be taking into account the impact of loss of habitat. I can already see that my fruit trees flowers are not getting pollinated because there are no bees.

    So, perhaps Tobis should examine McPherson's causes as additive elements, which coupled with our lack of reducing fossil fuel production, might get us there in a few decades. Also, even if we don't go extinct, who wants to live with drought, famine, climate refugees, wars, fires, floods, catastrophic weather, lack of clean water and air, collapse, of the economy and too many people.

  94. Michael - Regarding geoengineering, you cannot possibly believe it isn't already happening? Our skies are loaded with toxins spewed likely from drones as filtering technology remove the plane. I don't recall growing up to skies that have tons of lines that morph into a silvery/white sky by 2pm everyday. Not only that, my own test results on myself reveal high levels of aluminum. Where is it coming from? I am sick from the crap they spray and so is my wife. She coughs something awful now, especially on heavy spray days. To top it off, the soil testing is revealing heavy aluminum, barium, strontium. This is in areas once considered pristine. Where is it coming from?
    I urge you to watch the forum done in Redding. You can access it at
    As far as Guy, why not have him come on here and explain himself. He left a super high paying job, gave up his friends and moved to Belize. If that doesn't show conviction in your beliefs, then nothing will. He definitely believes we are done and fast. To be honest, Obama on his way out said climate change was the #1 security issue.
    I think we are going to see some crazy weather events that will shock you in the coming years. I have researched this myself and while I don't think we go extinct in 2026, I do think 2050 is possible.

  95. Repost: The article focuses on GM's use of the term multiplicative. And, evidence was provided to evaluate and to counter or diminish many of the concerns listed. However, in many cases there was an acknowledgement that the claims were accurate but overstated. I think that taking a look at the additive effects of contributors to warming might be profitable, even if it does not point to rapid and/or catastrophic change.

  96. Dear Michael,
    Does not the argument come down to how long a time there is before this climate disruption impacts human civilization. Is any one person or group of people able to accurately predict how long this might take. I thank Guy for bring a hypothesis to my attention I had not formerly considered. Do I think everything he says is right?No, I make my own determination based on the best evidence. What if he is only partially right? Do you want to be the person throwing more doubt on the serious nature of human impact on the planet? And what is all this talk about suicide, Guy overwhelmingly stresses living life pursuing your passion. Even if Guy can be dismissive about the chances for humans he would not stop anyone from trying to fix the problem if that is their passion. I see some new form of carbon capture as our only long term hope. Sure it does not yet exist but neither did nuclear energy at the start of WWII.
    With 2017 well underway and increasing reports of weather anomalies, methane releases, arctic melt, it is becoming increasingly difficult for even the professional deniers to ply their lies. And a increasing number of climate scientist seem to be more vocal in warning the public of coming consequences.
    I came by your name and this post as you are listed as the source of rebuttal for Guy McPherson on the Wiki page. I think you make some valid points yet I feel it would be beneficial if you could work with Guy instead of against and vice versa as the case may be.
    I am glad to see the conversation is still ongoing. Let's all remember that true scientist are constantly questioning their positions and are not afraid to find new conclusions when the hypothesis is proved by evidence.

  97. From my observation, the problem is that it is difficult for people to actually comprehend what exponential growth is - including people who are bright in so many ways. This is my own observation after attempting to explain it's importance to numerous people since the early 1990s after learning about the environmental course we set for ourselves at a SUNY Environmental School lecture.

    Now, taking a step back, by way of example, I once was watching four men attempt to load a large, tallish object into a van. I tried to explain how to do it based on the perplexed looks on their faces, but was shushed as a stupid woman - what do I know? After the four men concluded it was impossible and stopped talking - and finally listened to me - it was loaded in a minute or two. Why? Because I happen to excel at Solid Geometry.

    So, going back to learning about exponential growth in the early 1990s - I was immediately alarmed and in my own projections of the data, estimated about 2030 was it for humans if we didn't change. I only found this Guy P. online last year and felt like 'finally' a smart person.

    Yes, many scientists out there are far too optimistic. Why does everyone focus on where we will be at the END of the century?

    What about RIGHT NOW? Why don't the people around me in this community change at all? Ever? Why am I ridiculed still in 2017 BECAUSE I DON'T DRIVE FOR ETHICAL PURPOSES?

    Well, at least now my father is with me - a born again christian. He is open minded and now sees what I tried to tell him so long ago. But he still drives and eats meat! Again - as do all around me.

    Now I am even in financial distress as I thought my long term plan would work well while in fact where I live has become even more entrenched in their (literally) murderous lifestyles and even more car-focused if that is possible! And only care about themselves it would seem. (I am not currently residing in an ‘informed’ sort of place, like a Portland or Boulder, as I realize other places might be and I know exist.)

    After a decade of banging my head against a wall, being ridiculed privately and publicly by family, friends, acquaintances when mentioning why we need to change - give up the nonstop meat eating, airplane flying, and car-driving - and finally even writing a book on how we might actually change with some ease, including economically - just because there were no seemingly sane or rational people around me - I just frankly STFU, found a place where I could live by my principles and at least hope to be some sort of hopeful example that life could still be good without these things that are associated with externalities that are detrimental to the globe at large.

    If the US doesn't split in half from an earthquake along the New Madrid fault line soon (as in the next few years) - which looks even more likely now with hurricanes spewing gobstoppers of water on the land, thus increasing said probability - then we can look forward to a global lynch mob coming for the selfish country that consumed without apology a disgusting amount of global resources for really no apparent good reason but for the selfish profit motive. A country full of people who refused to think for themselves and as a result has probably caused far, far more catastrophic damage than a hitler ever could.

    In 2017, I am still made fun of for not owning a car or eating meat.

    I've given up on the humans. I started using plastic again in 2016 since the oceans are already screwed and we are too. Doesn't matter.

    Yeah, hopefully we get those few extra years still till 2030.

    Gee, I am SO PROUD to be ‘AMERICAN’

  98. I echo Schermacher, better to work with McPherson, if he's amenable. Get the tweeking done on the case for NTHE. I and some colleagues are bringing McPherson to Ontario for a speaking tour in three cities. I'll post here after this concludes with observations about credibility and congruence. I'm a 'skeptical optimist' about NTHE and side with those who say brightsiding has been the modus operandi for 20+years. Long overdue action now needs catalysis. More people scared into action is better than a few people scared into depression. Bloomberg himself complains we are not using expected value risk analysis on the climate problematique, like any financial analyst would on capital budgeting decisions.

    Check out Dr Ajit Varki on origin of denial in the evolution of our species.

    Psychology of climate change denial

    - David Spratt Climate CodeRed "The Paris voluntary national commitments would result in emissions in 2030 being higher than in 2015 and are consistent with a 3°C warming path, and significantly higher if the warming impacts of carbon-cycle feedbacks are considered. Unless dramatically improved upon, the present commitments exclude the attainment of either the 1.5°C or 2°C targets this century without wholly unrealistic assumptions about negative emissions." (

    - Dr Suzanne Moser: I found a useful approach by Susanne Moser in her keynote lecture (Conference on Communication and Environment), "Hope: A Bridge without Railing": Hope (the word) can be used to describe a continuum from passive optimism (pollyannism)thru active heroic, passive skeptical to active skepticism or grounded hope. If we live in a stuck place between the impossible and the unthinkable, hope of the grounded variety gets us out of bed to do our utmost in spite of great odds.

    - Dr Ajit Varki. is his homepage.
    He co-wrote a seminal book in 2013 titled Denial: Self-deception, False Beliefs and the Origins of the Human Mind.
    Listen and read transcript at
    There is a public talk about the theory in March 2017, archived

  99. Thank you Mr Tobis for your well thought out, rational article.

    Climate change and its associated controversies are deeply interesting to me on a personal, not professional level.

    I find Guy McPherson's self-promotion and assertion of an 'inevitable extinction of humanity by 2030' to be disturbing in its doom-mongering and encouragement of passivity and inaction even as he asserts that he is promoting 'love' and the pursuit of 'excellence' in our daily lives to compensate for the fact that we will be 'finished' as human beings by 2030.

    Obviously we know the issues are very real and threaten us, but his videos and assertions are gaining traction through youtube. Psychologically, the effect is one of 'We can't do anything' and how anybody can give him credibility for coming up with dates as if they are set in stone is beyond belief.

    I wonder if he has some association with certain elements of power and privilege who can afford to buy up water resources in South America, for example, or have the money to pursue if not actually be able to achieve objectives such as going to other planets through super technology. The psychological message echoing through his pronouncements is surrender to the inevitable.

    The answer to such pied pipers of inaction and surrender is to actively promote the the actions anybody who cares about this planet can take at any level. The challenges are huge but the do nothing but accept extinction mentality of Guy McPherson is redolent of somebody with mental issues or a clever psychological operative.

  100. Pingback: Walking Away from Guy McPherson – Discarding Doom

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  1. I find it amusing that all these so-called 'scientists' are fighting amongst themselves about 'Climate Change.' There is absolutely NOTHING to suggest that the climate is changing in any way whatsoever. If anything, we need MORE carbon in our atmosphere. Plants thrive on carbon, the more the merrier. For the sake of the earth,we need to deregulate the fossil fuel industry now! While the climate scientists attack each other, people the world over will battle the crazies. MORE carbon!!!
    Let them fight. : )

  2. I suppose it's not surprising that many don't seem to realize that this thread is just an echo-chamber of the converted.

    I am the person Tobias quoted as a "survivalist" - but he got that part dead wrong. I have publically stated many times on my blog (closed but viewable to all) that I am not a survivalist and refute the survivalist mentality. But I understand the assumption, even if it is false.

    But the real error is the assessment of the facts. Oxygen levels dropping isn't my claim - it's a claim from the Scripps Institute.

    Some of the commentors on this thread even mention the implication of an anoxic ocean - yet this was laughed at the article.

    This article isn't science - it's a hit piece designed to reduce the credibility of others.

    "In fact it is a barely detectable region containing a few methane bubbles." This claim is truly bizarre and does not at all reflect the known science and measurements.

    I am not a member of NBL either (or a fan) - or any other group or organization of any kind. I do not find scientists to be the "all knowing" seers that is sometimes associated with them. Their disciplines and restrictions seem to prevent them from assessing all the known facts and information and sometimes, even giving them any consideration. Yet time and time again, they are forced to reassess their positions precisely because of these blinders they wear.

    This is why this article is disengenous. The assumptions being made here are quite strange. Example, the loss of the Arctic sea ice and what this means isn't considered a runaway feedback. Apparently, along with all the missing ice, the albedo effect magically disappears too (and the jet stream returns to normal). And methane is no longer escaping... or something like that.

    Just 1% to the Earth’s albedo has a radiative effect of 3.4 Wm-2, comparable to the forcing from a doubling of carbon dioxide. With the ice decreasing in nearly all regions of the planet, this tiny "1%" becomes quite significant (to everything else).

    This claim contradicts itself: "But I’m not here to argue the point. I’m here to point out the type of mentality required to make an error like this."

    Strange how he is unable to see his own isolated assumptions an the associated errors being made. It's pretty obvious the climate is immensely complex, but what we do know is that these effects are definitely not isolated. The loss or change of one will impact others. The total cumulative effects are not precisely known, but they ARE known to be cumulative and thus it is quite evident that huge and growing problems exist.

    Human civilization cannot survive 4C (increase) temperatures. Very little study seems to have been done on this point. But we are not without some guidance:

    Peak heat stress, quantified by the wet-bulb temperature TW, is surprisingly similar across diverse climates today. TW never exceeds 31°C. Any exceedence of 35°C (95 degrees Fahrenheit) for extended periods should induce hyperthermia in humans and other mammals, as dissipation of metabolic heat becomes impossible. While this never happens now, it would begin to occur with global-mean warming of about 7°C, calling the habitability of some regions into question. With 11 – 12°C warming, such regions would spread to encompass the majority of the human population as currently distributed. Eventual warmings of 12°C are possible from fossil fuel burning. One implication is that recent estimates of the costs of unmitigated climate change are too low unless the range of possible warming can somehow be narrowed. Heat stress also may help explain trends in the mammalian fossil record.

    Despite the uncertainty in future climate-change impacts, it is often assumed that humans would be able to adapt to any possible warming. Here we argue that heat stress imposes a robust upper limit to such adaptation. Peak heat stress, quantified by the wet-bulb temperature TW, is surprisingly similar across diverse climates today.TW never exceeds 31°C. Any exceedence of 35 °C for extended periods should induce hyperthermia in humans and other mammals, as dissipation of metabolic heat becomes impossible. While this never happens now, it would begin to occur with global-mean warming of about 7 °C, calling the habitability of some regions into question. With 11 – 12 °C warming, such regions would spread to encompass the majority of the human population as currently distributed. Eventual warmings of 12 °C are possible from fossil fuel burning. One implication is that recent estimates of the costs of unmitigated climate change are too low unless the range of possible warming can somehow be narrowed.

    Those that "think" we can survive 10C or even anything close to that are completely out of their minds. Some parts of the world are already exceeding these wet-bulb limits.

    The human body is designed to maintain a core temperature of 37C. Health specialists say that the physical impact of heat is often neglected, and should be considered in discussions about climate change.

    A multi-centre international study programme called Hothaps (high occupational temperature: health and productivity suppression) is examining the issue, particularly in relation to increasingly high temperatures being recorded in some regions due to climate change.

    “If the ambient air temperature is higher than 37C, heat transfer goes into the body and only evaporation of sweat can reduce body heat,” Hothaps says. “However, such evaporation is less and less effective as the humidity level goes up and, at 100% relative humidity, sweating continues but creates no body heat loss.”

    Studies have shown that when the core body temperature rises above 38C, physical and mental capabilities diminish rapidly and there is an increased risk of accidents.

    When the body temperature is above 39C, heat stroke occurs, while above 40.6C there’s the strong possibility of life-threatening “severe hyperpyrexia”, or high fever – leading to death.

    The really bad news is relative humidity is rising, significantly is some parts of the world. The ability of the human body to sweat and cool itself is diminishing and leading to more deaths. Future projections of wet-bulb temperatures due to climate change indicates that mortality rates will increase quite a lot. If projections prove to be true (and there is no valid reason to consider them untrue now), most mammals including humans will be driven to extinction, unable to maintain proper body temperatures.

    Rising temperatures and humidity will also of course affect respiration rates for plants, which will also have high mortality rates (leading to starvation of most species – even if they can be kept cool enough by some means).

    Virtually ANYTHING that now contributes to a warming planet will introduce manifold problems for the biosphere. We all live VERY close to the threshold of survivability now, more heat (and the associated humidity) will mean what you think - death on a huge scale. To argue that civilization as we know it today can survive this is to simply deny facts we already know.

    McPherson chose the wrong message to champion in my book, the advocacy is to "accept death" versus "try even harder" (my message). I find this sort of defeatism utterly useless.

    The 29 "points" are now increased by the way, as additional effects of a warming world are being documented. Are they all 100% accurate as McPherson claims? No. Do they need to be? No.

    Yet even "No" does not discount the message because the cumulative effects DO point in the same direction (which is probably the most important point of the "message") - an unlivable bisophere for plants, animals, humans and fish.

    As far as I know - we do not have any information that anything is "improving" the habitability of the planet (just the opposite is true) - another extremely critical point completely overlooked in the article.

    Will it happen by such and such date? Or better to ask, what evidence is there that it won't happen - given what we DO know about emissions, effects, warming, missing ice and so forth?

    This is where science seems to fall down, again and again, refusing to consider the true ramifications of their own published results and conclusions reached.

    There are countless charts, graphs, projections and articles (from qualified scientists) that depict "what this will mean" (based on currently known data, which is always being refined). This is precisely why the message Tobias refutes is factually incorrect. The message of forthcoming extinction IS correct as things stand right now, whether you agree with a particular point or not. The overall message that "we're screwed" - as things stand today (no mitigation, no adaption, no emmissions restriction of any significance and no plans to really "do" anything) isn't false - it's science fact, based on the science and the projections made by the scientists themselves.

    Does it mean that it's a foregone conclusion then? That depends on a number of factors and things we do not know or fully understand. The necessary mitigation and adaption strategies have all been rejected (so far), leading one to despair (if that's your boat) or defeatism. But I do not agree with defeatism or "acceptance of our extinction" - despite the message being technically and scientifically correct as it stand today. The future isn't written in stone and will be greatly affected by what we do today - and each day henceforth.

    So far - we have demonstrated an unwillingness to accept our mortality and this is just as bad as claiming our fate is sealed. Civilizations have risen and fallen many times (but never on the scale we face today). We should try to help ourselves and the surviving biosphere as much as we can versus giving up and quitting or denying that the risk is very, very real.

  3. Response to:
    pfirman says:
    April 21, 2014 at Mon, 21 Apr 2014 18:04:41 +0000

    "...I just came across a guy named Erik T. Karlstrom who has a site, Naturalclimate"

    I just want to add that Dr. Karlstrom isn't just "a guy" in the context of this discussion; he's a retired physical geography professor and neighbor of IPCC founder Maurice Strong in Crestone, CO, close to his BACA Ranch and David Rockefeller's Aspen Institute. He's unusual in his possession of the scientific knowledge required to understand the science, unlike an ecologist, and familiar with Maurice Strong's history of scams, which includes a partership with former EPA director William Ruckleshouse to drain the aquifer that supplies the San Luis Valley and sell the water, the history of the UN environmental program from its inception by Rockefeller's Club of Rome in 1972, Edmond de Rothschild's Global Environment Fund to finance green projects, Rockefeller's Environmental Grant-Maker's Fund, the goal of using environmental policy to establish a global Anglo-American empire according to Cecil Rhodes last will, and the occult death cult spiritually that's an intrinsic part of it. . His website is
    Water vapor feedback is negative,

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