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On Imminent Human Extinction

Covid has drawn a veil over another lurking terror: Abrupt Climate Change. We need to remain wary, and cognisant.

Dr Guy McPherson: Interviewed by Rajani Kanth on October 13, 2018, an exchange that’s even more resonant today


Guy R. McPherson is an American scientist, professor emeritus[2] of natural resources and ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona.[3][4] He is known for the idea of Near-Term Human Extinction (NTHE), a term he coined[ about the likelihood of human extinction by 2026.


Professor Rajani Kanth is an economist, philosopher, and social thinker. He has served at major universities around the world, and has also served as an Advisor to the United Nations, in New York. He is the author/editor of several academic works in political economy and culture-critique; is a novelist and poet, and the author of several screenplays. . At Harvard University, he has held appointments in the Depts. of English, Economics, History, and Anthropology.



Rajani Kanth: Please explain the environmental threat to human existence you perceive that has brought you much notoriety in recent times.

Guy R. McPherson: First, a little perspective.

As with all other species in planetary history, except the few remaining, our species will go extinct. We are in the midst of the Sixth Mass Extinction. As with the five prior such events, most species on Earth will be driven to extinction in a relatively short period of time.

The post-Permian mass extinction caused the extinction of more than 90% of the species on Earth about 252 million years ago. It was the worst of the prior mass extinction events. As with all five of the prior mass extinction events, Earth’s recovery required several million years to become vibrant, verdant, and characterized by an abundance of multicellular organisms.

The current event is underlain by atmospheric carbon emissions about 10 times faster than those during the post-Permian event. It is no surprise that the ongoing Sixth Mass Extinction is proceeding an order of magnitude faster the post-Permian mass extinction.

According to an August 2010 report from the United Nations, an estimated 150-200 species are driven to extinction every day. The actual figure exceeds 200 species daily during the last few years.

In my case, the notoriety comes from my prediction that Homo sapiens will go extinct by 2026. Thus will we join the six other species within the genus Homothat have already gone extinct.

Specifically, I predict that there will be no humans on Earth by 2026, based on projections of near-term planetary temperature rise and the demise of myriad species that support our own existence.

Rajani Kanth: How does that differ from more mainstream views of climate change extant today?

Guy R. McPherson:My view differs from the conventional, conservative view only with respect to timing.

Every conservation biologist knows our species will join others in extinction not long after we lose the habitat that supports our species. Yet, doubtless due to a combination of personal and professional reasons, few other scientists are willing to connect the dots leading to our imminent demise. Among the personal reasons are parenthood. Amongst the professional reasons are the loss of support for one’s privileged position.

Rajani Kanth: How, and when, and why, did you come to believe in this thesis?

Guy R. McPherson: My lifelong pursuit of evidence, combined with my knowledge of conservation biology, lead me to believe we face extinction in the near future.

Conservation biology rests on the pillars of speciation (when and with what predecessors a species comes into existence), extinction (when the last member of a species dies), and habitat (the many factors necessary to support the populations of a species, including clean air, potable water, healthy food, and the means to maintain body temperature within a narrow range).

As with other species, human animals depend upon habitat for our survival.

More than 15 years ago, I reached the conclusion that the last member of Homo sapiens would die by 2030. I was co-editing a book about climate change at the time, and the evidence overwhelmed me.

The conclusion was so disconcerting, I did not write or talk about the subject for a few years. Less than two years after reaching the conclusion about near-term human extinction, I discovered the “hail Mary” pass that I believed would ward off extinction for a few more generations: global peak oil, or net energy decline.

Alas, passing the global peak for conventional oil in 2005 or 2006 did not cause the collapse necessary to turn off the heat engine of civilization. And our contemporary knowledge of global dimming, reported in the journal literature only since December 2011, indicates that collapse will actually accelerate human extinction relative to maintaining the omnicidal heat engine of civilization.

More than a decade ago, I began speaking publicly about human extinction. For a few years, I adhered to the conventional notion that our species will go extinct in about 100 years. As evidence accumulated, I shifted the timeline back to 2050, 2035, 2030, and ultimately 2025 for human extinction.

Our species will lose global habitat before 2025, thus marking the point of functional extinction. A few members of our species will persist beyond this loss of habitat for a few years, and the final members of Homo sapienswill die lonely, hungry, thirsty, and confused.

Rajani Kanth: What scientific evidence, either from your own research or from others, have you drawn this conclusion from (in layman’s terms if possible)?

Guy R. McPherson: I routinely describe two paradoxes, and the fact that we are in the midst of the Sixth Mass Extinction.

First, the paradoxes.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded in their vaunted fifth assessment that nearly all scenarios between now and 2100 require large-scale sequestration and storage of atmospheric carbon dioxide. This “geoengineering” must be accomplished at a tremendous scale if we are to survive. There is no known technology by which such an effort can be conducted, as pointed out by the National Academy of Sciences of the United States and a European body of similar stature. In short, fantasy technology is required.

The second paradox combines our knowledge of greenhouse gases and the aerosol masking effect (aka global dimming). As indicated by the Laws of Thermodynamics, civilization is a heat engine, even if civilization is underlain by “renewable” technology.

Yet, turning off the heat engine of civilization heats the planet even faster as a result of the aerosol masking effect. Industrial activity pours particulates into the atmosphere, and these particulates – notably sulfates produced by burning coal – act as an “umbrella” to keep incoming sunlight from striking the surface of the planet. These particulates are constantly falling out of the atmosphere, and industrial activity is constantly adding them.

While the greenhouse gases produced by industrialization are acting as “blankets” to hold in the heat, the particulates produced by industrialization are acting as “umbrellas” to keep the heat from striking Earth.

Damned if we do, and damned if we don’t, civilization is simultaneously destroying most life on Earth while also serving as a shield to protect most life on Earth. The abrupt rise in temperature resulting from the near-term demise of industrial civilization will proceed too rapidly for most species to “keep up” with the rate of change.

The plants that feed us cannot move. We cannot move them fast enough, and they depend upon unique environmental conditions (e.g., temperature and precipitation regime, extant soil, co-dependent species).

As if two paradoxes are not enough, we are in the midst of the Sixth Mass Extinction on Earth. Destroying habitat for the species that keep us alive will cause our extinction, too. The ongoing loss of habitat for human animals will accelerate, thus leading to our near-term demise.

I have provided supporting details within a long essay at Nature Bats Last (https://guymcpherson.com/climate-chaos/climate-change-summary-and-update/). This long essay barely mentions the likelihood and consequences of an ice-free Arctic Ocean.

As Finland’s President Niinistö has been pointing out for more than a year, an ice-free Arctic will lead quickly to loss of habitat for humans on Earth (e.g.,http://finlandtoday.fi/president-niinisto-in-north-russia-if-we-lose-the-arctic-we-lose-the-world/). The near-term blue-ocean event was projected to occur in 2016 + 3 years by a paper in the 2012 edition of Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences(https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/suppl/10.1146/annurev-earth-042711-105345).

Rajani Kanth: If so, how is it that most of your fellow-scientists have missed what is so apparent to you?

Guy R. McPherson: Most scientists lack themultidisciplinary knowledge inherent in the enterprise known as conservation biology. Focused on the narrow domain for which they receive rewards, most scientists are missing the proverbial forest for the trees.

In addition, few climate scientists have a significant knowledge of biology or ecology. They seem to believe we can survive any environmental conditions due to our cleverness, and they fail to recognize the importance of habitat for our species.

Rajani Kanth: Does politics, or some other societal mechanisms, play any part in the apparent ‘denial’ by many of your colleagues of your ‘abrupt’ climate change thesis?

Guy R. McPherson: I suspect few scientists are willing to give up on three items: hope, privilege, and the myth of human supremacy. Hope, like fear, is projecting an outcome about the future. Like fear, hope fails to promote action.

These dual, four-letter words paralyze action by most people. And now that we are in the midst of abrupt, irreversible climate change, it is too late for actions to avoid or delay human extinction.

The privileges enjoyed by “first-world,” Caucasian males are legion.

I have plenty of experience in this privileged domain. It is the rare individual who will risk giving up support for his privileged position as a well-paid scientist within contemporary society.

Finally, most humans are plagued by the notion that humans are superior to other organisms. Our big brains have allowed us to terraform the planet, extend our lives, and enjoy enormous comfort. Ultimately, however, we depend upon a verdant planet teeming with life. In sawing off the limb on which we rest, we are driving our own species to extinction (to paraphrase conservation biology Paul Ehrlich).

Rajani Kanth: You have paid a personal (professional) price for your convictions: please elaborate.

Guy R. McPherson: As with a few other scientists, I was censored overtly during my tenure at the University of Arizona. As with nearly all scientists, I censored myself, too.

Ultimately, I chose to the leave active service at the university more than 9 years ago for a variety of reasons. This left me with little access to audience and money. The move away from campus made me freer in speaking my mind, and I remain the subject of abundant character defamation, libel, and slander.


Is it conceivable that a ‘change is heart’ is possible, amongst the mainstream, sometime soon: if so what might provoke it?

Such a change is certainly possible.

If it occurs, which I doubt, it will be motivated by an enormous loss of privilege. Once it becomes difficult to secure water or food, the masses will notice the consequences of abrupt, irreversible climate change.

Alas, noticing the consequences of abrupt, irreversible climate change renders abrupt, irreversible climate change neither gradual nor reversible.

Rajani Kanth: How do you cope with this ‘rejection’ given that you have built a ‘committed’ life around your ideas.

Guy R. McPherson: Inspired by Camus, I view life through the lens of absurdity. My ideas are motivated strongly by evidence, thus making me a rationalist.

I understand why others are not motivated by evidence, and this understanding does not push me away from rationalism.

Rajani Kanth: Are there any important scholars who support your ideas?

Guy R. McPherson: My ideas are rooted in the incredibly conservative refereed journal literature.

No rational scholar takes issue with the evidence I present. Indeed, the evidence is produced by the very scholars who defame, libel, and slander me. As a result, these scholars are left with the discomfort of (a) accepting the evidence they discover but (b) discrediting the scholar who collates, integrates, and synthesizes the evidence.

To more directly answer your question, Dr. Peter Wadhams and Paul Ehrlich are on record as supporters of my work and my conclusions. The collection of scientists using the pseudonym Sam Carana also seem supportive.

Rajani Kanth: Has it been a costly affair getting your message out in the face of the obduracy of the Establishment?

Guy R. McPherson: If you are aiming for the understatement of the millennium, consider the mission accomplished.

I have sacrificed my paid position as a tenured full professor at a major university, the attendant privilege, the associated easy money, and virtually every relationship in my life in the pursuit of rational scholarship.

Rajani Kanth: Your thesis was formulated some time ago: given new data that must arise daily, is there any reason for you to change your mind?

Guy R. McPherson: As indicated earlier, I have often changed my mind.

The changes have been in the direction expected with accumulating evidence: I have shortened my predictions regarding the demise of Homo sapiens.

Rajani Kanth: How do you see the Big Threat that you talk about playing out in reality (if it comes about)? What are its associated dangers for law and order, and societal peace? Can they be ‘contained’ in any way?

Guy R. McPherson: The so-called “power elite” knows what I know.

As a result, I strongly suspect we are heading for overt and massive military action. Maintaining global hegemony is the goal. Any and every means will be employed. These means will fail, and will be associated with or followed by societal collapse. There is no way to forever sustain an unsustainable set of living arrangements, and nature bats last.

Rajani Kanth: Your notion of environmental crisis is unusual in that it appears to designate an incurable, terminal condition. Are there any conceivable offsets?

Guy R. McPherson: Civilizations come and, so far, nearly all have gone.

The abrupt rise in temperature resulting from loss of the aerosol masking effect assures industrial civilization a special place in history.

Species come and go.

We are not nearly as wise as we believe we are. I suspect at least a few members of each of the now-extinct six species in the genusHomo thought they were very special, too.

Rajani Kanth: If you are right then what happens to the broader forces of Evolution? Does everything die, including the Planet?

Guy R. McPherson: If the Sixth Mass Extinction follows the pattern of the prior five, then Earth will become a vibrant, verdant planet characterized by abundant multicellular life within 10 million years or so. This is the optimistic view rooted in planetary history.

A more realistic assessment includes the rate of change of this extinction event relative to its predecessors, as well as the inconvenient collapse of the world’s nuclear power facilities.

Consistent with Fermi’s Paradox, I suspect the uncontrolled, catastrophic meltdown of more than 450 nuclear power plants will cause the loss of all life on Earth.

Rajani Kanth: Not right away, of course. And perhaps not at all.

Guy R. McPherson: But I fail to understand how bathing in ionizing radiation, hence multi-generational lethal mutations, will benefit life on Earth. And that same ionizing radiation may well strip away Earth’s atmosphere, causing our planetary home to join Mars as a lifeless rock floating through an indifferent universe.

Rajani Kanth: How did we get here, in your opinion? To what extent does the modern ‘way of life’ explain it?

Guy R. McPherson: We arrived at this undesirable historical point through a unique series of missteps.

Was it opposable thumbs that led to our demise? Was it climbing out of the trees? Was it harnessing fire? Was it the stable, cool temperature as Earth emerged from the last ice age that gave us the unique ability to grow, store, and distribute grains at scale (i.e., the rise of civilizations)? Was it the industrial revolution? Was it harnessing the atom? Was it all of the above?

I do not know.

I doubt we will ever know with great certainty. Yet here we are, at the most privileged time in human history that, coincidently (or perhaps not) also marks the end of human history. Extinction is soon to follow.

Rajani Kanth: You are aware of the North-South divide in global affairs: do you believe that ‘blame’ is to be equally shared?

Guy R. McPherson: There is no doubt that the global North burns more fossil fuels than the global South. Does this mean everybody in the global North is equally to blame?

There is no doubt the United States has led the way to our imminent demise. Does this mean everybody in the United States is equally to blame?

We are quick to blame.

I do not believe it accomplishes much. There will be no time for justice with respect to abrupt, irreversible climate change in the short time we have left.

Placing this idea within society, are the Corporates and the hoi polloi also equally at fault?

Again, there is no doubt that a few people are more “guilty” than others with respect to abrupt, irreversible climate change. They knew the likely outcome of our collective actions long before most of us.

We are quick to impose guilt.

I do not believe it accomplishes much. There will be no time for justice with respect to abrupt, irreversible climate change in the short time we have left.

Rajani Kanth: Was there any point, after your initial discovery of the issues, when we could have reversed this race to calamity?

Guy R. McPherson: I suspect abrupt, irreversible climate change leading to near-term human extinction was guaranteed by the exponential burning of fossil fuels characteristic of the last three decades.

Or perhaps it was guaranteed when humans harnessed the atom. Or perhaps when the industrial revolution began. Or perhaps when the first civilizations began.

These all seemed like good ideas at the time.

Rajani Kanth: Do you feel you have done your best to get the word out?

Guy R. McPherson: Absolutely.

I have worked diligently for decades, despite obstacles that would have stopped every other person I know. I have given up money, time, and relationships.

I suspect you would be hard pressed to find any individual who has done more than me in the battle for the full truth, rooted in evidence. The cost, for me: everything that matters, except my integrity.

If it all goes the way you see it, is there any scope left to believe in any concept of ‘intelligent design’ to Creation?

There is no evidence to support the notion of intelligent design.

If there is a creator, it must be very disappointed in its creation.

Rajani Kanth: What are your own personal views on god, religion, etc.?

Guy R. McPherson: I am a scientist.

I am a rationalist.

When I am working, I am agnostic. In my personal life, due to my path rooted in philosophy, I vary daily from an indifferent agnostic to a militant anti-theist.

There is a less than 5% chance of any idea being wrong, en generale: do you think you could be wrong?

I suspect the evidence I rely upon for my work is very conservative because of the way it is produced.

If it is incorrect, it likely is incorrect in a direction that doesn’t benefit our continued existence.

Rajani Kanth: What would it take to ‘prove’ you wrong, short of the world not ending?

Guy R. McPherson: Reversal of the two paradoxes and the Sixth Mass Extinction.

Rajani Kanth: How do the curious get access to your ideas? Is there a website? Any specific books, articles? Other sources?

Guy R. McPherson: My work is freely available atguymcpherson.com.

It comes from many sources, notably the refereed journal literature. As professor emeritus at a major university, I have access to an amazing library bursting with online publications. I can, and do, read primary literature to which relatively few individuals have ready access.

Rajani Kanth: You once said you were not going to have children owing to the certainty of what lies ahead? Was that a traumatic decision to make?

Guy R. McPherson: Not particularly.

I was a rational radical by my late teens. After coming across “The Limits to Growth” in my late teens, along with completion of a college biology course,

I could easily ascertain the likely consequences of continued exponential human population growth.

The suffering had already begun.

I could see no point in accelerating it.

Rajani Kanth: What do you recommend ordinary people do to ‘prepare’ for the End, if you are right?

Guy R. McPherson: I don’t know any ordinary people. I only know extraordinary people.

Accept the full truth about your imminent demise. Nobody gets out alive, an idea that applies to individuals as well as species.

Remain calm: Nothing is under control. The exceptions are the people in your life. Tell the full truth. Treat people, including yourself, with dignity and respect.

Pursue excellence. Although such pursuits will generate few external rewards, you will be able to look yourself in the mirror without embarrassment.

Pursue love. Why would you not?

Rajani Kanth: What would you recommend to Policy Makers on the same issue (to mitigate the harm to the public).

Guy R. McPherson: Tell the full truth.

Treat people with dignity and respect.

Expect the best from people.

Reward them when they deliver.

Rajani Kanth: Your final message to Humanity?

Guy R. McPherson: I am asked nearly every day for advice about living.

I recommend living fully. I recommend living with intention. I recommend living urgently, with death in mind. I recommend the pursuit of excellence. I recommend the pursuit of love. It’s small wonder I am often derided, mocked, rejected, and isolated by my contemporaries in the scientific community.

In light of the short time remaining in your life, and my own, I recommend all of the above, louder than before. More fully than you can imagine. To the limits of this restrictive culture, and beyond.

For you. For me. For us. For here. For now.

Live large. Be you, and bolder than you’ve ever been. Live as if you’re dying. Because you are.

No guilt.

We were all born into captivity. No blame. No shame.

[© R.Kanth 2020]   


Professor Rajani Kanth, Author of Coda,, A Day in the Life, and Expiations, is Trustee of the World Peace Congress

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