Birds of a Feather

Further considering the Golden Horseshoe Climate BS (Bad Science) Award

(I am being quite honest that I’m not sure which way to go on it, and promise not to chicken out with a shared award) let’s have a closer look. I will argue that not only that it is a close call as to which of these gentlemen does more harm to the world, but that they are more similar than one might at first suspect.


Global Warming Without Fear

Lomborg argues (much as Curry has) that AR5 has suggested that climate change will be modest and that humans are not entirely at fault. He adopts a friendly and reassuring tone (except when fiercely critquing Joe Romm) and a position not far from Amory Lovins’:

When solar and other green technologies can take over cheaply, we will have addressed global warming – without the angst.


“Hopium for the masses, renewable energy edition”

Here, McPherson strikes some of his habitual doomster poses, expressing contempt for anyone and anything offering the slightest glimmer of hope. I don’t know about you, but I find reading this far more difficult than reading Lomborg. I find myself utterly pissed off.

In short, while I’m undecided as to who gets the award, I sure WANT to give it to McPherson.




Some differences spring readily to mind:

– McPherson is willfully disagreeable. Lomborg is exactly opposite: if anything he could be criticized for being ingratiating.

– This figures because McPherson wants you to feel miserable, so you can go through his mystical transformation of acceptance of doom. Lomborg wants you to be happy. This makes Lomborg more likeable, but it does not make him less toxic to human progress. But McPherson meanwhile makes people deeply unhappy, so (presuming he is negligent in his thinking,as I will show) he is something of a malicious bastard.

– McPherson believes civilization is an unalloyed evil. Lomborg seems to never have seen a cloud on the horizon of unfettered capitalism. This is almost perfectly symmetrical as I discuss below.

– McPherson understands that economic growth without limit is nonsense. Lomborg does not address the issue and seems to believe it’s not relevant. This argues for Lomborg getting the award.

– McPherson’s audience is, for the most part, uninfluential and disgruntled. Lomborg plays to the powerful. This argues for Lomborg getting the award. But McPherson’s audience is engaged in environmental issues, and McPherson’s call to surrender and withdrawal removes some potentially energetic and brave participants from the climate sanity movements.

– Lomborg’s thoughts are based in the intellectual traditions of economics and seem well thought out and coherent. McPherson is well outside any intellectual tradition other than that the apocalyptic. So McPherson loses a point here for being anti-academic, subversive of the academy and quick to throw babies out with (what he sees as) bathwater.


Both Lomborg and McPherson do not look for theories that fit the facts. They look for facts that support their theories. This is very common nowadays, but it is not something that should be emulated. It’s a huge part of our difficulty in moving forward.

Here’s an example from the cited McPherson piece:

As a carrier of energy — but definitely not a source — hydrogen is neither stable nor reliable. The notion of stability is dismissed with a single word: Hindenburg. The hype about hydrogen is extreme and extremely ridiculous.

It’s certainly true that hydrogen is not a supplier of energy. It could, however, be the efficient storage mechanism we need to scale up 100% renewables to provide baseload power. We could “Make H while the sun shines” and combust it (producing only water) at our leisure. To refute this, McPherson resorts to dirigibles. Is it possible that land-based technology in the twentyfirst century might be safer than a 1930s era floating balloon?

McPherson need not consider that. He has made his point. Arguments that support him are good enough, arguments that don’t are contemptible.

And here is Lomborg:

For sea-level rise, the IPCC now includes modeling of glacier responses of 3-20 centimeters (1-8 inches), leading to a higher total estimate of 40-63 cm (1.5 feet to 2 feet) by century’s end.

The IPCC’s moderate projections clearly contradict alarmist rhetoric,” such as the recurring claims from activists of temperature rise of more than 5°C (9°F), and sea level rise of 1-2m (3-6ft), not to mention Al Gore’s 6m (20 feet).

The odd thing about this is that it would not have been much less convincing had he not been completely wrong about IPCC; in the business-as-usual scenario IPCC’s “likely” best estimate
is in the range 52 cm – 98 cm.

As Stefan Rahmstorf points out on RealClimate:

of course there are folks like the professional climate change down-player Björn Lomborg, who in an international newspaper commentary wrote that IPCC gives “a total estimate of 40-62 cm by century’s end” – and also fails to mention that the lower part of this range requires the kind of strong emissions reductions that Lomborg is so viciously fighting

But it’s worse than it appears at first. This is the “likely” estimate. There is a significant chance that the outcome will be worse than that, by definition. In terms of betting, the range is good, but in terms of risk management, more attention has to be paid to the high end of that range and beyond. So contrary to Lomborg, 1 meter rises by 2100 are not really beyond policy consideration.

The offhand attack on Gore is merely contemptible. Gore said nothing about 2100. And one of the things people talking about sea level rise seem to ignore is that in business-as-usual scenarios, there isn’t just a big rise by 2100, but the rise will be accelerating at that time.

I will go into more detail on the two writers’ respective positions in upcoming articles. But notice the common thread. Look for something that sounds convincing and say it, whether there is a counterargument or not. These are the sorts of opinions that society should be discounting.


People are forever asking me, when I put on airs that I am a scientist who knows something about these things, what the future holds. Science, they have been told, makes “predictions”. So if I know so much (I’m not Dr Bloody Bronowski, though) why don’t I tell them what will happen.

Many people are confused when we talk about the “predictions” of science. They expect some sort of precognition! When a projection is imperfect they think science is “refuted”. But a projection is not a scientific prediction in this sense. A scientific prediction is more like “nothing that will happen will violate mass conservation”; science “predicts” that observations will fit in with certain patterns. The carbon will not disappear; the energy will balance.

Science cannot predict the future of the world, because the future of the world depends on what we humans decide to do.

This belief in precognition is debilitating. It basically concedes that we are not the masters of our destiny, that the future is written, that what is going to happen has already as good as happened. But we do not predict whether we will go to the ballpark. We decide whether we will go. The future we face is the result of our collective decision-making, not of some insurmountable or predictable process.

Philosophically, neither McPherson nor Lomborg lies strictly in delusional territory, in that a world in which we are doomed willy-nilly is conceivable, just as a world in which climate will do us no serious damage is conceivable. But, as I will show, they are both wrong, and negligently so.


Neither gentleman, in his cogitations, countenances any sort of risk management, any sort of possibility that they might be wrong. They believe themselves possessed of precognitive powers.

What’s more, these precognitive powers essentially are disempowering – they predict that the future is not ours to influence, that our behaviors are irrelevant to the outcome.

In the end, perfect optimism and perfect pessimism are equally debilitating. They deny the possibility of human agency in our future. They not only both do damage, there are ways in which the damage they do is very similar. Each provides a convenient set of excuses for inaction, with an extra added bonus of self-righteousness thrown in.

This, as Shrek said to the donkey, is the opposite of helping.

I am writing this series of articles because I see despair and overconfidence as alike, equally pernicious and equally lazy.

The world is ours to shape. It’s our opportunity and our responsibility. Let’s do what needs to be done to make the future a good one.


  1. McPherson wins simply because he points out the obvious. Infinite growth and our lack of basic math skills have doomed us. Unfortunately those who can and have always been able to see past growth will be doomed as well. It's a case of Mother Nature punishing the whole class just because of a few idiots. So McPherson is the victor because why should we start thinking now ... that would be irony.

  2. I was going to ask about why M. is a candidate, since he does little or no science, then realised this probably also applies to Lomborg, then realised it also applies to the Daily Mail/D. Rose.

    So, I'm a bit confused. If the award is for Climate Bad Science of the Year (2013), shouldn't it go to someone who is producing Bad Science? Or have I just misunderstood the criteria? Please explain the basis on which we should be considering these and other candidates for the big prize...

  3. The history of it was basically a big end-of-the-year debunking of deniers that Peter Gleick did. Peter asked around for somebody to take it over (more or less at the peak of his notoriety) and P3 stepped up.

    I think finding the worst paper that passed peer review in a given year would be an interesting exercise, but that's sort of a vast issue and not what we are after.

    So really, the idea is to find the denier most worth debunking for the given year, based on their damage to the public discourse. Stefan Rahmstorf made a strong case for Lomborg, and nobody else offered a credible candidate. But this sent me into writers' block because I was consumed by resentment of what McPherson and his troops were trying to do over on the valuable Facebook page Global Warming Fact of the Day. Basically their interest is in ridiculing any constructive idea or technique or movement, on the grounds that Doom, Doom, Doom.

    Now, here's my ethical problem. If I choose McPherson, I am choosing somebody who flies under the radar of anyone outside the Transition/Permaculture Movement and somebody who, on the global-warming-yes-or-no distinction, is on the side of truth. Of course, that distinction is one of the deniers' making, not one that sensible people are focused on.

    McPherson poses as someone who knows what he is talking about, so I sought out his "evidence", only to find that it was, well you Brits have the right word for it, rubbish. So I began working on a thorough debunking of McPherson in December. Alas, the timing was awkward. Because the award is intended to weaken the deniers. Until McPherson, there was no sign of prominent over-the-top alarmism except perhaps from Lovelock, who, while interesting, never sought or achieved a committed following.

    My intent was to start the new year with the Horseshoe award, and here I was totally focused on someone who would not be perceived as a reasonable candidate. Suddenly, P3 ground to a halt waiting for me to do a Lomborg story while I was consumed with the McPherson problem.

    It was only when I thought to compare and contrast the two that I found myself able to write about my current feelings about climate BS. Rather than being stuck like Buridan's ass between an article that I wanted to write but would violate reasonable expectations and an article that I didn't want to write but I really ought to write, I combined the two, and I think I'm managing to raise important issues with it. Of course, this doubles my debunking work, but it leaves me at least able to proceed.

    That's my story. To answer your question in brief, the award is for the person who does the most damage in a given year to the quality of public discourse about climate policy by advancing misleading and dishonest or negligent accounts of the state of climate science.

    This is not to say that there are really only two candidates for the award. Much as I don't especially want to take Curry on again, she's definitely in the running. So maybe somebody else should write the award article next year.

  4. Maybe the Terminator has already been sent.

    Michael is now tasked with "determinating" -- identifying and destroying (metaphorically speaking, of course) -- the real terminator: Lomborg OR McPherson.

    My vote goes for Lomborg . After all he's got "borg" in his name, right?

    McPherson is just a kind of Pre-determinator, a "Terminator Lite" if you will.

  5. Given what the award appears to be about, I don't see McPherson as even being in the running, but I do appreciate the concerns you raise. I think they follow from one of James Thurber's Fables for Our Time. I believe the fable you want is "The bear who let it alone" and the moral was "You might as well fall flat on your face as lean over too far backward." But that's not what the award is about. Perhaps you could write the McPherson article as a tribute to Thurber.

  6. "The idea is to find the denier most worth debunking for the given year, based on their damage to the public discourse."

    By that criteria, struggling to see how Lomborg isn't doing an order of magnitude more damage. Google trends view: though he's dropped in importance, his impact has clearly been large. Note also the difference in regions: McPherson is much less international in impact. Struggling to see how you get to "it is a close call as to which of these gentlemen does more harm to the world".

  7. McPherson gets a lot of leverage by being a pioneer in really selling an utterly apocalyptic vision of climate change. (He makes Lovelock's prognosis look like a picnic.) So far the damage is mostly limited to the Transition and Permaculture communities, but those places could reasonably be expected to provide inventive and committed activists, and McPherson is busy and successful in essentially convincing people not to bother. So McPherson's damage is hard to evaluate. By carrying around a veneer of intellectual respectability and actively promoting a toxic idea that has a potential market and is new, he leverages his prior genuine if limited fame as a back-to-the-land pioneer among the people most interested in that.

    What we need to do is convince people who really are perceiving the damage that we need to address our circumstances with a medical model. A person who has injured himself with some modern excess, say, emphesyma due to tobacco or carpal tunnel due to too much typing, does not refuse all artifacts in trying to limit and repair the damage. People retreating to the land and reduing their footprint do us all a service, but if they buy fatalism along with the package they become part of the problem. I think this is a big deal.

    Also, again, you did not see McPherson and his acolytes actively derailing conversations. It's not just that they are uninterested. It is that they see any discussion of climate change where denial is excluded as an opportunity to promote their excesses.

    Meanwhile, Lomborg is part of a larger team, though he is an important player in it. At this point, he is replaceable. If something were to happen to take Bjorn out of the picture, for instance, him revisiting the evidence and coming to his senses, some other person steeped in economic thinking would take his place.

  8. Thank you for the clarifications, it has really helped.

    It's hard to have a real opinion on McPherson because all I have to go on is peripheral, as with others here, McP hasn't really hit the radar till now.

    The description of what McP & cronies have been up to fills me with dread. Having otherwise important arteries of communication clogged up with nonsense of any flavor is bad news. I note that some have suggested that he's building a career out of Doomery, but I don't see the evidence to back this up. Taken at face value, there are going to be some people who, like McP, see no hope for the future and will simply choose to opt out of the rat race. Good for them. OTOH, there are going to be others who, as we all have said, will learn this new message of nihilism and simply give up trying to fight. This is not what we want or need.

    I thought you did a good job of the comparison. By strange chance I have written (totally independently of you, honest) my own observations on this and we seem to share similar values and concerns. But the question keeps arising, from others here, what damage has McP done, or could he do, and does it compare to the damage done by others? My feeling is that anyone who sings the Apocalypse song is going to find a chorus to join in, but the more extreme the view, the more likely the chorus is going to be small. Though I don't want to claim McP hasn't been a PITA, I trust you on this, I am inclined to imagine that it's a flash in the pan.

    Transition. This is an interesting and perplexing one. As with many quasi-anarchistic (in that it does not espouse 'leaders' and 'best practices') organisations, it has many flavours. However, one of the points of Transition was always Action - locally mobilised to suit local situations and needs, but presuming an inclination to reduce carbon footprint on a community scale, and reduce dependency on 'big' business. What McP is apparently doing doesn't sound like any proper form of Transition philosophy or model which I have heard of before.

    The natural replacement for Bjorn is Hairy Richard the Bellringer, who currently produces a lot of the Economics that the Cop team depends on already. Like Bjorn, his output is difficult to unravel and not always what it seems, but in general, the worst messages come from those who choose to misinterpret him to suit their own agenda.

    Does any of your other regulars have a suggestion as to who might have produced some Carp Science we can bitch about? I'm not convinced McP is worth the juice.

  9. Lomborg is more dangerous.

    There might be, however, a tactical case for throwing the horseshoe at McPherson. The climate hawk position on Lomborg is well documented. It could be useful sometime in the future (especially if McPherson starts gaining traction) to have a record to point at refuting his arguments and reaffirming support for civilization (in principle if not in particulars). The best tool for knocking down McPherson's comment army is having your rebuttal already written and ready to be linked to.

    MT, I think you really want to write the McPherson piece, so go do it I say. We don't need another bit on Lomborg, especially a half-hearted one.

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  11. Probably McPherson should win this prize. I mean, he invites people to actually respond to the data that has been collected. Real scientists don't synthesize data from many sources and tell society what it means, they just collect it and let society decide what they want to do with it. Think of all the money he made doing just that. Then he turns around and bites the hand that feeds him! Now is definitely not the time to confront issues.

  12. I don't think I'd read anything of Guy's until now, even though it turns out he's been a regular monthly blogger at transition voice. Having had a dip into a few articles, he looks a bit like a slightly more concise John Michael Greer. Greer seems to have had a lot more impact to me, I hear his name more from people involved in transition stuff, and his message is about the same.

    There's been a conversation on the UK transition towns list with the heading "understanding pessimism", following a question about how to respond to Clark and Berners Lee's burning question book. That's a recent reminder to me that, personally, I think people who are likely to be active are quite capable of having very nuanced and empowering conversations about hope vs despair / pessimism vs optimism / action vs inaction. From what I've seen, McPherson's stuff is not a dysfunctional or disruptive part of that conversation, even it's not always popular. (He's even cited as one of the reasons to donate to transition voice.)

    There's space for a much wider range of views in the "what the f**k do we do?" conversation than the "should we do anything at all" one. Lomborg is talking about the latter, saying (more or less) "no, don't worry about it, the market fairy will wave her wand (and anyway, conveniently, it's not as bad as we think)". That's way, way more dangerous and I fail to see why saying "there are loads of people spouting similar climate BS" is an argument. We should be targetting the most prominent, and he's one of them.

    Seems to me you have a very strong personal view on McPherson's take that would be better dealt with by jumping into the arguments, not calling bullshit on him with an award.

  13. Hmm, yet I thought I heard from someone that Greer dislikes McPherson and plans to debunk him.

    Anyway, the point that McPherson started from a constructive stance is not dispositive, and the fact that he is peddling his dangerous ideas to people who are still in a constructive stance is exactly how he does enough damage to be considered for the award.

    Anything can be taken too far. Because I adore Condorcet, must I refrain from criticizing Robespierre?

  14. Via Robert Rapier on Facebook:

    I don't know if you are leaning toward giving Guy that award, but if you do I would offer up one observation. He comes to his conclusions by only considering the worst outcomes from positive feedbacks, and running with those. He never considers negative feedbacks that could help prevent his worst case scenarios, so that's where he ends up.

    Negative feedbacks can even be actions people take, something he ridicules. So he actively works to prevent those sorts of negative feedbacks. Fortunately, he can't do much to stop the negative feedbacks occurring in nature.

  15. Dan, thanks for looking at this. Methinks the paradigmatic sticking point to examine is if McP does any harm to the conversation in the Transition Movement.

    personally, I think people who are likely to be active are quite capable of having very nuanced and empowering conversations about hope vs despair / pessimism vs optimism / action vs inaction.

    Indeed. Despair and empowerment workshops are known since the old days of anti-nuclear activism.

    To overcome passivity/nihilism is at the end a question of virtue ethics: Doing the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing. Like Martin Luther to plant an apple tree even if you know there's no tomorrow. I don't see how McP could talk anybody out of doing the right thing.

    Passivity/nihilism is mostly in the hedonist camps of comsumerism and economic fundamentalism. They need no McP to find excuses.

  16. "I’m letting go of the notion we’ll retain even a fraction of one percent of the species currently on Earth beyond 2050."

    Oh OK. As usual, I should read more before posting. Now I think he's just too much of a loon to worry about and that all publicity is good publicity, from his point of view.

    If this exercise leads to you producing an analysis of Lomborg vs McPherson on the scientific merits, looking forward to seeing the results.

  17. Sorry - "loon" = a bit of a strong word. It's obviously quite possible we're on a path to a world incompatible with the kind of civilisation we have now and one characterised by dreadful suffering and upheaval. But how on Golgafrincham could he possibly have concluded there'll be less than 20 million human beings left in 35 or 40 year's time? Where are we all going to go? Is it going to be a Roland Emmerich movie, are we going to slide into the sea on upturned continental plates?

  18. I remain confused by this entire horseshoe concept. So are you saying that global warming is not something to worry about and that if anyone does worry about it they are liars? [nope; I've been banging the drum that this is serious business since 1991 or so. -mt] To what gain? There is no connection at all between a drought in California, a flood a England, a warmer than usual Arctic, the "polar vortex" and any other weather related event because it fails to fit in with the narrative YOU provide? [nope, the atmosphere is a tightly coupled system; it's all connected of course. -mt] I suppose it is infinitely easier to sit in judgement of people instead of being bothered with details. I've visited McPherson's Nature Bats Last where he posts various essays from various people, many of which don't necessarily agree with him. I don't recall at anytime where an essay was set up so McPherson could called them liars nor do I recall at any time McPherson presumed to know So Much he was giving out "awards" for the most bloated idiot with oodles of time on his hands. Awards, after all, are for children and show business. Serious discussion remains in the realm of adults. [McPherson isn't wrong because I say so. He is wrong because his arguments make no sense. I plan to explain in detail, not merely to assert. But the short version is simple. He selects his evidence to fit his story, just as Lomborg does. Watch this space. -mt ]

  19. MT, link broken to the Greer article, here's a working one nabbed from the source - thanks for finding it.

    Martin, I hadn't heard about the "how to deal with despair" stuff, that's fascinating. Of all the dumb things that made me think about this, it was watching the "x-men first class" movie, set during the Cuban missile crisis. I was a child during the last years of the cold war: I never lived through those moments where people genuinely had to face the prospect of annihilation - not at some obscure point in the future but potentially there and then. Terrifying.

    "Passivity/nihilism is mostly in the hedonist camps of comsumerism and economic fundamentalism. They need no McP to find excuses."

    Hmm, finding it hard to argue with that. Reminds me that Hayek expressly stated that people should restrict themselves to their role as economic agents; he considered ideas of `social justice' dangerously corrosive to the nerves of his precious catallaxy.

  20. I bet the members of the Nobel Prize committees don't agonize as much about whom to give their awards to. Certainly not members of the Peace Prize committee, who seem to just throw a bunch of "big" names from the news in a hat and pick one out every year.

    Maybe you should try that, Michael. 🙂

  21. Okay, so you picked a really bad example with hydrogen. I'm thinking Challenger disaster, a good 50 years after your 1930's "balloon". Even without the danger though, hydrogen energy storage using fuel cells is even less efficient than battery storage. There are some new battery ideas I've seen that are a little better but still inefficient.

    Also I and others (although I don't post that often ) disagree with Mcpherson on the absolute definity of near term human extinction. Although I see it as a possibility. Not only do people who disagree post responses to articles but many articles are posted that absolutely disagree with mcphersons positions on his blog. All in all it's a pretty even handed discussion.

    As far as discouraging action, Mcpherson himself encourages resistance. If not to save humanity, then at least life itself in some form. I think Mcpherson puts forth a view that, weather you completly agree with it or not, is vital to the dialogue. Personally, I think Guy's blog is one of the most important forums on the subject out there. I am mostly a lurker on his site, but I felt that this had to be responded to.

    BTW, I am very active in the resistance. I work with Chesapeake Earth First! which meets at my housein DC. (Nothing the PTB don't already know). So your theory that his ideas discourage resistance are patently false. As old Ed Abby said "Revenge is not a reason, it is the only reason"


  22. And I could easily make the case, just using quotes from you that are far worse than anything McPherson has thrown up (and I use that phrase advisedly). Too bad you censor comments and too bad I'm in China and can't do it on my own blog. Search your soul and search both your posts and the comments you have left on climate blogs. You will see that it is true.

    Keep the horseshoe. You have earned it.

  23. "Far worse?"

    By all means, Tom, quote away. I am not sure what could be much worse than certain inevitable human extinction by 2030 except, perhaps, for certain extinction by 2029 or some earlier year. I am pretty sure I never said I expect anything like that.

  24. My nomination for the Golden Horseshoe award is Michael Tobis. I offer in support an hour worth of harvesting quotes from a couple of websites, Collide a Scape and Judith As I am in China, I cannot visit other sites where I think there might be more quotes, such as Only In It For The Gold or The Blackboard.

    Guy McPherson is a dribbling idiot who should not be allowed to cross the street unattended. His stupidity becomes a given and his rantings are ignored by most.

    Michael Tobis is a climate scientist who claims to speak for the consensus of scientists who, like me, think that climate change is real and should be addressed now. Therefore, when Tobis sounds like McPherson it is far more damaging.

    I wish I had more time to spend on this and better access to the Internet here. I remember some really nice quotes that would punch this up. Sadly this will have to do.

    "And see that cliff over there? We seem to be marching over it. What fun! Let’s place our bets as to when we will die in the crush and see who is smartest."

    "We are entering a period of increasing disequilibrium, and what we are seeing is unequivocally worse than we expected."

    ‘It is not because I am a pusillanimous chickenshit, Mosher. It is because the f***ing survival of the f***ing planet is at fucking stake."

    "It’s a travesty that the fate of the world is being reduced to word games."

    "Eventually, perhaps, the climate system will run completely out of control, billions will die, and the Osos of the world will have won the catastrophe they seem so eager to embrace."

    " A sustained growth economy on a finite planet is fundamentally unworkable, and we need to start to figure out what to do once growth is over."

    "The job is getting the problem understood well enough by enough people that a solution is implemented that minimizes permanent large scale damage to the earth. Until that happens we are not ethically free to just be value-free scientists as we were trained to be."

    "There have been a half dozen or so previous events of massive large scale damage to the earth’s biosphere, but none of them were initiated by conscious agents who had the capacity to know better."

    "When was the last time you saw or heard a frog? They seem to have suddenly become rare, don’t they?"

    "I believe that if all fossil fuels are burned without a balancing sequestration effort the probability of massive mortality, i.e., a severe stress-driven decline in global population as a direct result is very high. So that probably qualifies. I am willing to accept that this might be wrong, but frankly I find it hard to see how it could be."

    "I also have always thought and still think that it's likely that if climate disruption gets bad enough, the resulting catastrophe will be called "world war"."

    "We have already failed to do what we needed to do to keep the world roughly intact, we are probably entering a period of accelerating decay, and yet we still need to do our best."

  25. Give it to Lomborg. McPherson is correct in his ideas of near term extinction. Too many feedbacks are now observed. McPherson posits do not imply precognition but rather sees a trend that I see too. When the dial on the gage is in the red range long enough and still increasing, any engineer or scientist could tell you it's going to blow up. That's hardly precognition but more a statement of fact. Scientists have consistently under called the timing and scope of climate change impacts. Many refuse to acknowledge the implications of those observations. Just give it a year or two more and even you will be convinced that humans can not survive abrupt climate change.

  26. Start here then:

    The first concept is to be skeptical. This is then followed by you appointing yourself sole purveyor of Truth as you hold the scales of judgement on two people to be tar and feathered that you have already labeled as liars and frauds. Yet, after a lazy online search anyone can find the spot where you feel unfairly treated by yet another sole purveyor of Truth, Glenn Beck. In fact, that spot is on your blog.

    What is your hat thinking? Surely, being yet another guy who passes judgement on others through the internet is not the title you're seeking is it? Do admire the works of Beck and Limbaugh and wish to be like them? You are well on your way down that path, paved with golden horseshoes. It is difficult to know what motivates these attacks, but the feeling is that this was behavior learned in grad school. I don't remember who said it but it rings of truth here: "Attacks between academics is always vehement and vicious because the stakes are so low and the risk is next to zero."

  27. MT - I've been reading/listening to Guy McPherson and he certainly sounds convincing. I'd be interested in reading your critique of his work. Did I read that you had posted something like that or is it in progress? I couldn't find it on the website. I'm especially curious why you think McPherson is wrong. Will geo-engineering work? Will world powers decide to cooperate? It certainly seems like we're on track for the RCP8.5 (business as usual) scenario.

    If I may, I vote for Bill McKibben to get the award. Because his organization ( has done a vast amount of harm by directing considerable energy, effort, and publicity to the Keystone XL pipeline - an extension of an already existing and functioning pipeline. By diverting the attention of sincere activists towards a single minor policy issue, Mr. McKibben has done great harm. His influence could have been much better directed.

  28. None of those rises to total extinction in fifteen years. McPherson and I are both self-exiled academics with PhDs, but he was a professor, so he outranks me. We both have niche followings, but because I seek ambiguity and challenges, and he abhors them, his are far more adamant and self-righteous than mine. So if we allow the award to go to alarmists, even if we take my above-quoted positions as excessive, he seems to beat me hands down.

    The quote from my coarse f-bomb-laden rant against Mosher (and the rest of the "climategate" perpetrators), which needs to be taken in context as a whole, expressing huge anger and indignation about the persecution of climate scientists, should not be taken especially literally. I stand by all the other statements.

  29. Mr. Fuller,

    Forgive me first of all for not being completely familiar with your position (or exactly how your feud with MT began). So maybe you can help:

    In your opinion, if either sensitivity or total emissions were above the median IPCC estimates (but still within the range considered possible), what would the consequence of that be?

    Taking that further, what would happen if we got really unlucky? In other words, "what's the worst that could happen?"

    It seems to be very fashionable lately to discuss lower than expected sensitivity or emissions projections, but discussing the higher estimates is verboten, or at least somehow impolite.

    It matters because people are proposing policy (or allowing it through inaction) that assumes climate sensitivity is 2C or less and we all get so rich and happy that living with 2.5+ degrees of warming is okay. If we proceed down that path, but then sensitivity turns out to be 4C or more, I think it's fair to describe that outcome as "catastrophic."

    MT sometimes comes across as a bit over the top, but somebody needs to be pointing out that the worst plausible scenarios are terribly unpleasant. We don't know exactly what 10 billion people attempting to live happy western lifestyles in a 5C world looks like, but there's no reason to believe it's a happy place to visit. The horseshoe isn't awarded for having poor rhetoric, it's awarded for having a worldview or position that's fundamentally broken at multiple levels.

  30. I note several here have expressed agreement with McP that the Final Days are upon us. Hmm. Been looking at this for quite a few years and most recently have tended towards the less extreme. Can't (won't try) to justify this here, but for those with such a bent, I'd recommend checking out Lovelock's more recent views, which are equally depressing, but arguably a bit more convincing (doesn't mean I'm with him, either...).

    My argument is simple. Yes, the World As We Know It is changing, sometimes very fast. Yes, there's a heck of a lot of bad stuff going on. But the way in which the World is changing, and the direction it will take in the future, is in part ours to determine, or at least, to influence. Furthermore, if we believe that it is better to avoid suffering (human, animal or Ecological) than to permit it, we have a moral responsibility to try, with all our might, and whatever resources we have, to struggle on. We must believe that every small victory towards a better future matters, and every loss a tragedy.

    So, our human responsibility is to not give up. Keep fighting for what is right. Keep protesting pollution, GW and corruption. Keep arguing for truth and reason. The time may come when everything has gone beyond hope of repair or improvement, but that time has not yet come. But it will surely come sooner if we give up the struggle. For this reason, if it is true that McP is advocating 'opting out', I'm agin' him. Doesn't mean he should get the 'shoe. I still think the GWPF deserves it very much more...

  31. Hi AA,

    I go into great detail on those subjects at

    I believe that our emissions will exceed forecasts and that we will be consuming 3000 quads (quadrillion btus) a year by 2075. For any--any--positive value for sensitivity that bodes ill for that part of climate change caused by human emissions of CO2 and equivalents. Because we are not preparing for this increase in energy consumption, the odds are high that this energy will be provided by coal.

    I believe the current hiatus in temperature increases will last about as long as the last two--between 20 and 30 years. I think it will then continue to warm and that warming will continue as long and probably much longer as our emissions are of the wholesale rather than retail variety.

    I also believe that those who focus on Xtreme Weather and other irrelevancies are doing a disservice to those who wish to address the real problem. And the real problem is persuading or funding the developing world to use any other source than coal.

  32. Poor rhetoric. Over the top. hrmph.

    I'm really quite proud of apparently having said "And see that cliff over there? We seem to be marching over it. What fun! Let’s place our bets as to when we will die in the crush and see who is smartest." It captures what is happening in the academic sectors quite nicely.

    I don't remember it, but it sounds like I might have said it. I thank Tom for reminding me of it.

    And the over-the-top f-bomb thing with Mosher? It was absolutely necessary that somebody actually vent that we are not bloodless robots or calculating villains. The "climategate" thing was painful, extremely so for a few people, totally unwarranted, and the people who stirred the pot in this contemptible way have faced no consequences. The cursing did me some damage, but I'm not ashamed of it. I'm not in the habit of such outbursts; it was a one-off.

    There is a sort of cataclysmic out-of-context quote from me floating around that can easily be, and sometimes is, interpreted exactly 180 degrees opposite from what I meant. That's the sort of character assassination you get when you get into this business. But thankfully Tom does not bring it up, and I'd just as soon not see it again.

    But I think I've said some clever and useful things in my time. Over-the-top is really discouraging to me. It seems to me I'm being reasonable and everybody on all sides is acting crazy in different ways. So I am emphatic.

    We have real problems. They have real solutions which are not cheap. Further delay is increasingly dangerous. I fail to see what is over the top about any of that.

  33. I prefer you take Tom up on his positions elsewhere. You will find that while Tom has good intuitions and writes well, he doesn't have a deep understanding of the issues. So it gets rather exasperating when there's a point of disagreement. Voluminous argument by assertion is not what we want around here.

    Eventually, P3 shuffles Tom off to the borehole and then he gets all offended about censorship again. This is likely to happen again if you engage him here.

    The real oddity of the situation is that despite how thoroughly Tom appears to dislike me, and how angry I still am about his piling on the "climategate" nonsense, I think he's basically a well-intentioned person and I sort of like him. If everybody thought and voted like Tom, we'd have far fewer problems than we do. I hate to have to rub his nose in his overconfidence.

    But what can I do? He thinks I'm important enough to not just oppose but attack whenever I speak up at Kloor's, and I don't choose to let him veto my participation there.

  34. @MT

    Don't take my "rhetoric" comment the wrong way. I like the way you write (I keep coming back) and I think you've done us all a great service over the years. I know several major components of my understanding of our predicament and future came from P3 and your previous blog.

    I'm just trying to figure out why Fuller has such a problem with you. So far as I can decipher, it's a matter of language.

    Anyways, if he is off in China working to discourage the expansion of coal power, I earnestly wish him great success.


  35. I've been "away" from P3 for a while, sporadically lurking only. But a couple of thoughts:

    First, I'd never heard of McPherson until he was brought up for the Horseshoe, so there's that.

    Next, I looked at the video above and then listened to a suggested hour plus video of a presentation he made in February of 2012. Unless he's changed drastically since then, I'm not at all sure that his position is that nothing can or should be done. He seems to support the transition town movement. He suggests "agrarian anarchy," and durability. Arguably, the latter two imply the inevitability of societal collapse, and he seems to pick the outliers from the various projections regarding climate chaos. He doesn't discount so-called "near term human extinction" but he does lampoon the concept of Walmart-style sustainability.

    I think that, in order to justify presenting the Horseshoe to McPherson, you'd have to show that he's actively encouraging non-action and I don't see that in my very limited engagement with him (though perhaps his acolytes so encourage). Certainly, the repeated discounting of steps suggested by less doomster oriented futurists (e.g., Amory Lovins and RMI) with the "hopium" epithet makes me, as the saying goes, throw up a little in my mouth. But any contention that there's a simple path to actual sustainability with 10 billion humans striving for a western lifestyle with a strong likelihood of success is also demonstrably flawed (a very accessible lay presentation, looking only at energy, is David MacKay's book, "Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air," another source is Professor Tom Murphy's blog, "Do the Math"). These don't go into our penchant for self-poisoning, biosphere damage, etc.

    All this is ironic and even hypocritical, coming from me. I fully realize that. Nevertheless, the part of me that contemplates (as opposed to the part of me that earns a living for my family and engages in fun stuff because "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow, we die") finds McPherson to be both credible and oriented toward action rather than inaction, albeit with not a whole lot of reading and watching of his work.

    I think Lomborg is a better candidate though, like mt, I hope he's right. I also hope to win the lottery.

  36. McPherson's most damaging comments aren't really archived all that well. My point, though, is to take the time to go through his "science" and point out that it isn't what it's made out to be. This seems necessary to reduce the adulation he is recieving form those who say "he is telling us what scientists are hiding".

    It's nonsense. He is telling us stuff that isn't justified.

  37. Your notion that humans can decide to get themselves out of this mess is very much open to question. As Dave Cohen has said on his excellent blog, Homo sapiens is a species, what you see is what you get. There is no chance that humans, collectively, will decide to start living sustainably. There is no evidence that they will (the odd anecdotal evidence, doesn't really prove anything) collectively do anything to turn the ship around.

    Now that doesn't mean that, eventually, as we are falling over the cliff, some might not start to throw out crampons to slow the descent, but, generally, we can certainly expect the situation to deteriorate along the BAU line.

    However, you're absolutely right that McPherson doesn't accept any other possible future than the one he has laid out. In some ways, he's right to cherry pick because we really need to know what a worst-case scenario is likely to look like, even if the chances of that exact scenario are small. Every day that the science shows deterioration (in all aspects of our environment), coupled with every day that governments and populations almost unanimously vote for unsustainable lifestyles, the closer we get to McPherson's cherry picked scenarios (though I don't, personally, expect total extinction by mid century).

  38. Some people think everything is getting better and we need exert no effort. Some people think things are getting worse and we need exert no effort. The trouble with disbelieving these extremes is that it requires careful thinking, moderate sacrifice, and universal cooperation. This is a tall order, but not an impossible one. Cooperation on a global scale is rare but not unprecedented. The money system which we have now is the result of a series of treaties, not something created by God. The CFC-banning treaty which took the ozone hole out of the news is also a global agreement.

    It seems likely that eventually we will rise to the occasion, and the sooner, the better, by far.

    Anyway, I think McPherson needs a thorough fisking. His reasoning is dreadful. Hope I can get to it this week.

  39. All this hostility is bad for us all. No matter the promoter, it's bad, and that includes the "evisceration" specialists as well as their "victims". I've been hesitant to say anything more here, but while I understand more about why McPherson is wrong to fail to identify bad science and to promote it, I find myself in some sympathy with his views that we are going over the edge.

    I hew to the principle that free will is not something to be abandoned, but to be celebrated, and in the service of each other, which ultimately meets our needs for self as well.

    I dropped in this comment to Tom Friedman's article about poisoned water in Israel and Gaza that summarizes my view about all this. (Now I seem to remember mentioning quoting myself in another context ... but humor aside:)

    "We can all live together or we can all die together. Choosing to ignore the reality of the finite planet we share and indulge in hatred to the exclusion of common sense is not a recipe for life. Our planet is groaning with the burden of our selfishness. How about a bit more tolerance so we can work together. It's a long way past time."

    Whose Garbage Is This Anyway?

    I never realized how political garbage and dirty water could be, or how tracking it could reveal just why making peace here is so urgent.

    For starters, who knew that when you flush the toilet in your hotel in the eastern half of Jerusalem the wastewater likely ends up in the Dead Sea — untreated?

  40. Hostility is a problem, but "us" is also a problem.

    Any "us" short of everybody on earth is really at the core of our difficulties, but we also have to account for the fact that some of us are not fully adult and will act against the common interest. Perhaps even more commonly, (though there is still an appalling amount of nationalism in the world) some of us get things wrong with the best of intentions.

    There is no reason to expect all bad actors to be pulling in the same direction. The motivating forces may be stronger in one direction than the other, but there are a LOT of people in the world.

    To fail to address counterproductive arguments and actions just because somebody is "on our side", i.e., not pulling for the more common dysfunctions, in my opinion misconstrues what "our side" means.

    I am pro-earthling, as I've said many times when I try to define whose side I am on. Most people aren't explicity anti-earthling, but McPherson's smug confidence in doom and his explicit objections to doing anything about it actually comes as close as I've seen to it.

  41. I seem to like repeating myself. This is the essence of what I have to say:

    I hew to the principle that free will is not something to be abandoned, but to be celebrated, and in the service of each other, which ultimately meets our needs for self as well.

  42. "It seems likely"? I don't know where you got the "likely" from, Michael. If the CFC agreement is the only evidence you have, that is pretty weak. There were ready replacements for CFCs, so it wasn't hard to reach agreement. However, we won't even know if that worked until, I think, around 2070 (last I heard the previous 2050 mark has been pushed back), and there is the unfortunate counter-effect of the CFC replacements being even worse for global warming than CFCs.

    No, I think there is little hope for global agreements, but, more particularly, actions which will stop warming beyond dangerous levels. James Hansen has stated that a stable climate is now a thing of the past (and for quite some time) and that only another 0.11-0.15 degrees C will be enough to get us into dangerous climate change territory. As there is still and energy imbalance, there is no way surface temperature will not reach that level. And then there is ocean acidification, ocean warming and all of the other environmental problems we face.

    Both McPherson and Lomborg are dead wrong but that doesn't mean there is any chance of avoiding dangerous climate change and catastrophic climate change seems much more "likely" than a global agreement to avoid it.

  43. I agree that we can no longer escape without serious consequences. But there's serious and there's disastrous and there's cataclysmic long before there's human extinction.

    I disagree with McPherson how far up the ladder we already are committed to, but even more I disagree with his reasoning, or more fairly, his pretensions to have reasoned about it. And mostly, I disagree with the ethics of surrender and despair. What is going to happen is not nothing, but we can still make the best of it.

    There's no technical or scientific reason the human future can't be an uninterrupted march toward ever more glorious and wonderful. Lomborg's suggestion that this will happen automatically without human thought or intervention strikes me more as religious faith in the gods of the marketplace rather than reason. But McPherson's doomerism is equally a matter of faith, a darker and angrier faith, a recasting of armageddon in pseudoscientific vestments.

    I am used to Lomborg's type. That is why McPherson gets me angrier. But my anger doesn't settle who does more damage. Unlike these two with their pat answers, I propose to think about it.

  44. "sides" IS just wrong. Exactly what I'm trying to say when I say I'm pro-earthling. I don't understand what you think I don't understand about that.

    The point I'm making is that just because we're all on the same side is no reason to be naive about the possibility of people being counterproductive. After all, if nobody were ever counterproductive, we wouldn't be in this mess today.

  45. MT, Fuller accuses you of censoring comments. If you put everything you moderate off, into a borehole/sandbox/burrow instead, you'd take the wind out of his sails while keeping the legitimate comments uncluttered.

  46. It's easy to read Mcpherson and think that he is advocating surrender and despair_ but he's not. I won't be quoting him exactly (and he in turn is quoting Ed Abbey) "When you are faced with damned if you do and damned if you don't, then do. Do something. Abbey said "The antidote to despair is action."
    If you look at the changes Mcpherson has made in his own life you can see that he has followed his own advice. He gave up his tenured professorship with all its implied financial security, and built a homestead on shared property in the mountains of New Mexico. His "mud hut" utilizes the principals of conservation, recycling, energy efficiency, locally sourced meat, milk, fruits and veggies_ all the means of permaculture. His annual income puts in the poverty zone. He is not a hypocrite.
    As for "cherry picking" that is going to happen each and every time you sample scientific papers and resources. The quantity of research, the number of peer reviewed publications, the depth and complexity of the climate issue, all require that you filter (heavily) what you reference and what you publish. So yes he is guilty of cherry picking. We all are. Even if I were to try and read all the available climate sites and blogs I couldn't do it. Not enough time in the day or desire in my heart to do that.
    So what does Mcpherson actually say and recommend as a course of action? Going from memory:
    1. Do what you love. Engage your passion.
    2. Live a life of excellence.
    3. Commit to serving others in some capacity.
    I may have missed a few. Notice that "give up" and "fuck it just watch the Olympics on TV and get some beer" doesn't appear on the list.
    As for whether or not the "self reinforcing feedback loops" are indeed dire and accelerating we will find out soon enough. Only 2 years ago the number of self reinforcing fee backs were under 10. Now there are 30. Which one is going to be irrefutable soonest? If I had to place a bet I'd put it on the methane clathrate gun. But it doesn't matter which one pushes us past the edge. How you going to live between where we are and the bottom. It takes courage to live well.

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