How Guy McPherson gets it wrong

Recently, a few Ars Technica commenters have been posting references to the work of Guy McPherson on climate articles. McPherson is a retired professor of ecology at the University of Arizona, and he runs a blog called Nature Bats Last. In recent years, he has turned his energies to dire warnings of impending climate catastrophe. Those warnings go far beyond what you’ll find anywhere else: McPherson believes humans will go extinct in as little as two decades.

Now, lots of people run blogs that make wild claims, so why am I spending time on this one? McPherson claims to simply be passing along scientific data to the public— data that most scientists are unwilling to talk about and governments are trying to keep secret. As a result, his followers (I mean to use that term more in the Twitter sense than a religious one) seem confident that they have the weight of science behind them. It takes careful examination of McPherson’s references, and a familiarity with the present state of climate science, to uncover that his claims aren’t scientific at all. I also get the feeling that his internet following might not be insignificant (as noted by climate scientist Michael Tobis) and could be growing, yet I couldn’t find any direct challenges with a web search. This makes one.

Bizarro denial

First, I want to go over general problems with McPherson’s claims and talk about what climate science is really telling us. For those wanting specifics, I’ll post a list of point-by-point corrections of McPherson’s main “Climate Change Summary and Update” post in the third section.

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, doesn’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.)

McPherson bills himself as a scientist simply passing along the science (even as he dismisses climate scientists and their work), but he cites nearly as many blog posts and newspaper columns as published studies. When he does cite a study, it’s often clear that he hasn’t taken the time to actually read it, depending instead on a news story about it. He frequently gets the information from the study completely wrong, which is a difficult thing for most readers to check given that most papers are behind paywalls (not to mention that scientific papers aren’t easy to understand).

McPherson leans heavily on claims from people associated with the “Arctic News” blog about a catastrophic, runaway release of methane that supposedly is already underway in the Arctic. Unfortunately (or, rather, fortunately), the data don’t match their assertions. The latest IPCC and NAS assessment reports, in fact, deemed such a release “very unlikely” this century. One reason for that is that the Arctic has been this warm or warmer a couple times in the last 200,000 years, yet that methane stayed in the ground. Another reason is that scientists actually bother to study and model the processes involved. One thing McPherson and others like to point to is the recent work by Natalia Shakhova’s group observing bubbling plumes of methane coming up from the seafloor on the Siberian Shelf. Since we’ve only been sampling these plumes for a few years, we have no idea whether that release of methane is increasing or if these are long-term features. Similar plumes off Svalbard, for example, appear to be thousands of years old. (More to put this methane in context here.)

That’s exactly the kind of detail and  nuance that’s absent from McPherson’s claims. Instead, he’s content to link to YouTube videos or blog posts (some ludicrously unscientific— see below) and run with the idea that catastrophic warming is guaranteed as a result. He just latches onto anything that sounds scary. McPherson is especially fast and loose with timeframes. He likes to point to the magnitude of past climate changes (which took thousands of years or more) as proof that we are about to undergo similar changes in the next couple decades. That’s quite clearly a fallacious argument, but McPherson never concerns himself with the details. All the casual reader learns it that there was a huge change in the past analogous to the present that shows just how screwed we really are.

And that’s McPherson’s thing— despair. We’re absolutely doomed, he tells us, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Everything is lost. He derides any sort of optimism or action as “hopium”. He notes in one recent post that “With an eye to improving my ‘bedside manner’ when I deliver presentations, I’ve recently become a certified grief-recovery counselor.” With such an extraordinary view, you would expect him to make the scientific case for extinction very clearly. But he does not. His argument fundamentally reduces to “positive feedbacks exist, ergo extinction”. That is, he lists examples of positive feedbacks (things that amplify change, like the added sunlight absorption of ocean water that has lost its sea ice cover) for a while, intending to overwhelm you with the number of processes that could add to global warming. And that’s it. There are no numbers explaining how big an effect each could have, no analysis of likely warming impacts, nothing. The fact is that climate scientists know about all these processes. But instead of throwing their hands up and saying “Oh, shit”, they actually do science.

Again, specific examples of these things are given in the last section of this post. If you take a look at some of his mistakes and demonstrably false claims, you’ll have a hard time thinking of him as a credible source of information.

[Update 3-13-14: Michael Tobis has covered some of the points I skipped over—namely, McPherson’s discussion of feedbacks— in a new post.]

Just the facts

So let’s briefly lay out the central claims of McPherson’s position, and review what the science really says. I think those are 1) positive feedbacks imply runaway global warming, 2) we will experience at least 3 to 4 degrees C warming in the next couple decades, and 3) on a 4C warmer planet, humans are dead.

Numero uno. While the concept of a positive feedback (a little change triggers an addition that makes the change bigger, triggering another addition that…) sounds like snowballing without end, that’s not actually the case here. These positive climate feedbacks (and there are negative feedbacks, by the way) amplify warming, but only to a certain extent. After all, these same processes were in play when the Earth warmed out of the last glaciation (over the last ~18,000 years), which obviously didn’t scorch the planet. Without any of these feedbacks, the glacial/interglacial differences would be much smaller, but they do not cause runaway warming.

There is such a thing as a runaway greenhouse effect– just ask the planet Venus. However, a recent study looking at what it would take to trigger such an event on Earth ballparked the requirements at around 75 times the amount of CO2 currently in the atmosphere, 5.5 times the methane, and some other greenhouse gases. The “business-as-usual” scenario in the latest IPCC report, where we do nothing to curtail greenhouse gas emissions, ends the century at about 2.3 times today’s CO2 and 2 times the methane. We have a lot of things to worry about, but a runaway greenhouse isn’t one of them. (McPherson, by the way, cites this same paper as if it shows that we’re about to trigger a runaway greenhouse.)

So what are we facing if Arctic methane releases increase? Climate scientist David Archer shows some back-of-the-envelope math here. If the release increased by a factor of 100 and lasted for a century, it would be the equivalent of increasing today’s CO2 by 25-90%. Bad? Yes. Extinction? No.

Nummer zwei. The latest IPCC report projects roughly 0.3 to 0.7C of warming by 2035. (The exact numbers are a little complicated, but I explained it here.) Farther into the future, the different emissions scenarios diverge. The “business-as-usual” scenario results in about 2.6 to 4.8C warming by 2100. Rosier scenarios involving moderate efforts to stabilize greenhouse gases yield warming of about 1.1 to 3.1C by 2100. There are precisely zero scientific studies projecting several degrees of warming by 2035, as McPherson predicts. (In fact, he cites one blogger’s childish prediction of a whopping 20C increase by 2050.)

Numéro trois. So what are the impacts of 4C warming? Here’s a handy summary of the many impacts described in the 2007 IPCC report (this section of the newest report isn’t out yet). They include increased droughts, more extreme rainfall, rising sea levels, serious problems for many ocean organisms, real problems for many terrestrial species, lowered agricultural yields… It’s not pretty, and we very much want to avoid it, but it’s not human extinction.

If you think the IPCC reports are lying about the state of the science, feel free to do a Google Scholar search for “climate change projections” in published studies.

[Note 4-7-14: A comment from Paul Beckwith has revealed that I incorrectly attributed some statements and materials to the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, either due to Guy McPherson’s attribution or misunderstandings of my own. I considered preserving these statements for transparency, but don’t want to make the post too hard to read, so I will simply make the appropriate edits. I am grateful to Paul for bringing it to my attention.]

Errata

Okay. These corrections and notes apply to this post on McPherson’s blog, which I took to be the most complete explication of his views available for fact-checking. The point of this tedious list is to back up the points I raised above and illustrate the untrustworthy and unscientific nature of McPherson’s claims.

As his post appears to be updated over time, I’ll note that I accessed it on 2-13-2014. I’ll just go top to bottom.

–Guy McPherson (I’ll abbreviate as “GM”) cites the Brysse et al “side of least drama” paper to support his claim that climate scientists are simply unwilling to speak out about the imminent and existential threat of climate change. The paper absolutely does state that “scientists are biased not toward alarmism but rather the reverse: toward cautious estimates”. However, it’s more than a stretch to extend this to the idea that civilization is collapsing and we’re going extinct but climate scientists are saying everything is fine.

–GM writes, “Ever late to the party, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) admits global warming is irreversible without geoengineering in a report released 27 September 2013.” This can only be seen as a new “admission” if you know nothing about the carbon cycle. Warming is irreversible because CO2 remains in the atmosphere for centuries to millennia— this has always been known. Irreversible does not mean unstoppable, however, as GM seems to be implying. Reducing emissions stabilizes greenhouse gas concentrations, limiting warming. In order to lower temperatures, CO2 will have to be removed from the atmosphere— geoengineering. Old news.

–Now we get to “On a planet 4 C hotter than baseline, all we can prepare for is human extinction.” The reference for this pretty important statement? An opinion piece in the Guardian.

–GM references the paper I mentioned above about a runaway greenhouse effect on Earth being easier to trigger than previously thought. Of course, we saw that it requires far, far more warming than any realistic scenario of anthropogenic climate change— a point that is explicitly made in that paper.

–GM notes the discovery of a recent greenhouse gas (perfluorotributylamine) that is 7,100 more potent than CO2, molecule-for-molecule. This seems to be included only for the scary number. How much of it is in the atmosphere? At about 0.18 parts per trillion (in Toronto), it’s completely irrelevant to questions about the climate change we’re currently undergoing.

–GM cites a Geological Society of London release about climate sensitivity— the amount of warming we get from a given increase in CO2. GM describes it by saying that “Earth’s climate could be twice as sensitive  to atmospheric carbon as previously believed.” But that’s not what the release says. The climate sensitivity values that are usually discussed (around 3C for a doubling of CO2) are specific measures over specific timeframes, developed to create a standardized comparison between models. The release describes an analysis of longer-term change, as the climate system comes into equilibrium over millennia. It’s that long-term change that the release says could be double the shorter-term sensitivity . If we’re discussing what we’re facing over the next few decades, that is completely irrelevant.

–Here’s where the Arctic methane stuff gets hot and heavy, as one person is quoted as saying, “The world is probably at the start of a runaway Greenhouse Event which will end most human life on Earth before 2040.” There’s simply no evidence for this. You won’t find any published studies to support it. GM goes a step further, citing an “analysis” on the “Arctic News” blog, predicting a 20C warming by 2050. What is this prediction based on? Curves drawn on a chart. If you fit the right polynomial (a dangerous activity) to the Arctic temperature data that shows roughly 2C warming from 1980 to 2010, you can get it to skyrocket to 20C by 2050. (Well, actually you can’t quite, so a steeper line is simply drawn on.) No climate model. No physics. Just a line. This isn’t science. This is the kind of thing that lazy climate “skeptics” do (the smarter ones won’t).

–GM includes a graph from the same “Arctic News” blog showing methane data. First, it claims that methane is 1,000 times more potent than CO2 (it isn’t) and thus responsible for the vast majority of global warming (it isn’t). Beyond that, it plots a single measurement of atmospheric methane from a single spot in the Arctic (>2,600 parts per billion) on a chart of global average atmospheric methane (currently about 1,800 ppb).  This sudden “increase” is assumed to represent a catastrophic release. Unfortunately, this is simply ignorant. Methane concentration varies quite a bit around the world— highest in the Arctic, lowest in the Antarctic. Absolutely no effort was made to create an apples-to-apples comparison like, at the very least, calculating an average concentration for the Arctic for that week.

–GM reports that the US Navy “predicts an ice-free Arctic by summer 2016”. What does the linked post actually say? The lower bound of the predicted decline in a sea ice model run by Navy researchers was 2016. The researcher calls this “an aggressive interpretation”. What was the central date in the projection? Or the upper bound? We aren’t told. How does this sea ice model compare to others? GM isn’t interested in helping us find out. I would guess this means he hasn’t looked.

–GM quotes climate scientist Jason Box from a newspaper story, saying, “In 2012 Greenland crossed a threshold where for the first time we saw complete surface melting at the highest elevations in what we used to call the dry snow zone.” He uses this to support his contention that the climate system reached a tipping point— a threshold to runaway change—  in 2007. But what Box was actually talking about was a freak event several days long in which melting conditions existed across the entire ice sheet. This was viewed as a weather event, not a significant climate event.

–In a note dismissing biofuels, GM describes them as “the nonsensical notion that industrial civilization can be used to overcome a predicament created by industrial civilization”. This is obviously an axiomatic assertion that makes you worry about GM’s objectivity.

–GM provides a timeline of climate “predictions”, ostensibly showing that they have become more and more alarming over the past few years. (We’ll leave aside, for the moment, that he doesn’t seem to understand the difference between projections— predictions contingent on scenarios of future emissions— and actual predictions.) An updated version of this list can be found here. [Update: I’ve been told that version is actually not the most recent.] The list is flat-out wrong. I dug up the actual numbers on several of them for an Ars commenter. GM claims the IPCC predict 1C of warming by 2100 in their 2007 report. It actually projected roughly 1.8 to 4C, depending on the emissions scenario. These numbers were equivalent to the projections from the previous report in 2001. Next, GM claims the Hadley Centre predicted 2C by 2100 in 2008. The document he links to provides no projections of global temperature of any kind. At the other end of the list, GM claims that the International Energy Agency predicted 3.5C warming by 2035 in 2013. The link goes to a poorly re-written press story from 2010. What did the IEA really say? Their 2010 report described a scenario in which the trajectory of growing emissions by 2035 was such that we would eventually hit 3.5C warming before greenhouse gases were stabilized. [Update: GM had already removed the IEA “prediction” from his post.] So does this list show climate projections becoming rapidly more dire? That’s a big, fat no.

–GM writes, “These assessments fail to account for significant self-reinforcing feedback loops (i.e., positive feedbacks, the term that implies the opposite of its meaning). The IPCC’s vaunted Fifth Assessment will continue the trend as it, too, ignores important feedbacks.” It’s not true that these assessments ignore positive feedbacks. It is true that not all processes are included in climate models, which continue to be developed. The link GM provides is to a story relates to the fact that the generation of models used for the latest IPCC report do not simulate thawing permafrost. For reference, one model that does simulate this process now projects that it would add an additional 0.1 to 0.7C warming by 2100 due to a release of CO2 that would raise the global concentration by 40 to 100 ppm. My guess is that those numbers aren’t scary enough for GM to want to mention them. (To be fair, that’s probably a conservative estimate, but it’s nowhere near the kind of thing GM is talking about.)

–GM cites a paper showing that Earth may have lost its moderate climate to a runaway greenhouse if it were more than 1% closer to the Sun (though it also notes that their analysis doesn’t account for clouds, which might broaden the range). He believes this supports a claim that “A minor change in Earth’s atmosphere removes human habitat. Unfortunately, we’ve invoked major changes.” How does one square this with warmer climates in Earth’s history, none of which triggered that runaway greenhouse? The Cretaceous period, notably, was far warmer than the present day. It wasn’t until an asteroid impact wreaked havoc on the climate system that a mass extinction took place. GM’s definitions of “minor change” and “major change” are fuzzy.

–GM brings up a temperature record from Concord, Massachusetts, in a very interesting parallel to climate “skeptics”. Individual records that show cooling over some period are often cited as proof that all this global warming stuff is hooey. Or the accuracy of a particular record is called into question in some way, as if climate science is a house of cards that can be brought down by the exposure of a single flaw. In this case, GM claims that while the instrumental temperature record indicates about 1C warming there since 1840, an analysis of the flowering dates from Henry David Thoreau’s journals indicates a warming of 2.4C. First off, it’s interesting to note GM implying that instrumental records are woefully inaccurate, when it’s this very information that helped climate science work out the anthropogenic nature of climate change. Second, if GM had bothered to read the paper, he would have discovered that the 2.4C number comes from the local instrumental record, not the flowering dates. The instrumental record was used to study how the flowering dates changed with temperature. I have no idea where he got the 1C number from.

–GM claims that the Next Generation Science Standards (for public schools) “buries the relationship between combustion of fossil fuels and planetary warming”. “The misadventures of the corporate government continue”, he complains. In a post about evolution and climate change in those science standards by the National Center for Science Education, they quote from the standards: “Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming).” Why did GM make this up?

–GM cites a briefing from the UN talks in Copenhagen saying that the past shows sea level should be 23 meters higher at today’s CO2 concentration. What does this briefing, from a Jamaican reef biochemist, note about this? “IPCC projections are based on modes for a time period of 20, 50, or 100 years, when the response of the climate system to increased CO2 takes thousands of years, so models miss more than 90% of the long term response…” Again, we’re up against timeframe details. GM equates long-term equilibrium changes with short term, decadal ones. Here’s a study looking at the same thing: they estimate the long term sea level rise at today’s CO2 at 9-31 meters, noting that would take 500 to 2,500 years. The reason for this is that these studies are based on estimating past sea levels and CO2 concentrations (which is complicated). These records are necessarily at long term equilibrium, because that’s what the geologic record preserves for us that far back in time.

–I don’t think I need to comment on this claim: “In other words, near-term extinction of humans was already guaranteed, to the knowledge of Obama and his administration  (i.e., the Central Intelligence Agency, which runs the United States and controls presidential power). Even before the dire feedbacks were reported by the scientific community, the administration abandoned climate change as a significant issue because it knew we were done as early as 2009. Rather than shoulder the unenviable task of truth-teller, Obama did as his imperial higher-ups demanded: He lied about collapse, and he lied about climate change. And he still does.”

–“Arctic News” returns, along with a YouTube video, to claim that “Arctic methane release and rapid global temperature rise are interlinked — including a temperature rise up to about 1 C per year over a decade,according to data from ice cores“. The “analysis” is someone looking at data from a Greenland ice core, deciding that methane looks more important than CO2 (physics need not apply), and noting the abrupt warming at the end of the Younger Dryas, an interesting period about 12,000 years ago and is thought to have been brought about by a disruption of ocean circulation. (Questions remain.) First, temperatures calculated from Greenland ice cores are local temperatures, not the global average, and the change during the remarkable event was less elsewhere. Second, the methane increase in the ice cores they point to as the cause of the warming is from about 450 to 750 ppb— a difference of 300 ppb. Remember that the global average today is about 1,800 ppb. Methane has increased about 150 ppb since 1985. Has that had a similar effect to what they’re proposing? The first link in GM’s statement contains this ludicrous extrapolation: “The atmospheric temperature increase in Australia this year (0.22C) indicates that in 10 years it will exceed 2.2C and in 30 to 40 years, 6.6C to 8.8C.” I’m not sure you can get more unscientific than that. Australia, by the way, has warmed about 1C since 1950.

–For the sake of my sanity, I’m going to skip over the list of positive feedbacks. Suffice to say, some of them are just more “Arctic News” claims and several others are mis-reported. Others are fine. [Michael Tobis took a look at this list in this post.]

–GM finally comes right out and says “the scientists writing official reports on climate change are lying”.

–GM writes “And never mind that warming in the interior of large continents in the northern hemisphere has outstripped model predictions in racing to 6-7 C already, according to a paper that tallies temperature rise in China’s interior in the 15 May 2013 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.” What does that study really say? “Here, we show central China is a region that experienced a much larger temperature change since the Last Glacial Maximum than typically simulated by climate models… We find a summertime temperature change of 6–7 °C that is reproduced by climate model simulations presented here.” The Last Glacial Maximum, remember, is the peak of the last “ice age” around 20,000 years ago. Why is GM pretending that parts of China have experienced 6-7C of anthropogenic warming, and that this shows projections of future warming to be too conservative?

–GM writes “Through late March 2013, global oceans have risen approximately ten millimeters per year during the last two years. This rate of rise is over three times the rate of sea level rise during the time of satellite-based observations from 1993 to the present.” Sounds like it’s accelerating rapidly, doesn’t it? Even his link is to a post showing why this is not a sign of acceleration. The tremendous La Nina of 2011 dumped tons of rain on Australia and the Amazon, adding so much water to continental storage that sea level fell over 5 mm. As that water drained back to the oceans, sea level rise increased. You can see the most up-to-date data here. This is cherry picking. This is what climate “skeptics” do.

–GM writes “On a particularly dire note for humanity, climate change causes early death of five million people peach year.” This links to a story about an NGO report. The summary from the actual report states, “This report estimates that climate change causes 400,000 deaths on average each year today, mainly due to hunger and communicable diseases that affect above all children in developing countries. Our present carbon-intensive energy system and related activities cause an estimated 4.5 million deaths each year linked to air pollution, hazardous occupations and cancer.”

–GM writes, “The Guardian‘s headline from 13 November 2013 announces, ‘Global warming since 1997 more than twice as fast as previously estimated, new study shows.'” Sounds like global warming is accelerating beyond scientist’s projections! The story refers to a study (which I covered here) showing that one particular global temperature dataset (there are several) was underestimating recent temperatures, primarily due to a lack of measurements in the Arctic. That bias (by which I mean measurement bias, not bias in the political sense) made the recent slowdown in atmospheric warming (related to some action in the Pacific) seem a little larger than it really was. Other datasets had less of this bias. Accounting for this still leaves the last decade of atmospheric warming slower than the previous one. (Again, this is natural variability— warming of the ocean hasn’t slowed.)

–GM writes, “Global loss of sea ice matches the trend in the Arctic. It’s down, down, and down some more, with the five lowest values on record all happening in the last seven years (through 2012).” This may seem like a nit-pick, but this is a pointless statement. The global sea ice trend depends on two places- Antarctica and the Arctic. In Antarctica, there’s been a slight increase recently, while the Arctic has seen a large decrease. Therefore, the reason that global sea ice is down is that Arctic sea ice is down.

–GM writes, “[T]he 13 September 2013 issue of Science contains another surprise for mainstream scientists : The Pine Island Glacier is melting from below as a result of warming seawater.” It’s well known (and bloody obvious) that warming seawater melts marine-terminating glaciers. Calling this “another surprise for mainstream scientists” is just a mindless pot-shot.

–GM writes, “The climate situation is much worse than I’ve led you to believe, and is accelerating far more rapidly than accounted for by models.” The link goes to a YouTube video from David Wasdell of the “Apollo-Gaia Project” telling a parable. He’s not a scientist, but his videos are used as evidence several other times, as well.

–GM cites a Peter Wadhams prediction of ice-free Arctic summers by 2015 or 2016 (more than once, I think). Apart from Wieslaw Maslowski, you won’t find other sea ice researchers making such a dire prediction. As you can see, it would take a truly incredible change in the next couple years for this prediction to come true.

–Back to the pointless pejoratives, we get “In a turn surprising only to mainstream climate scientists, Greenland ice is melting rapidly.” First, this link just refers to the freak surface melting weather from July 2012 I mentioned above. Second, the rate that Greenland ice is melting is no surprise to climate scientists, who have been the ones documenting it year in and year out. GM uses the phrase “mainstream climate scientists” like Sarah Palin says “lamestream media”.

–Here’s a hum-dinger I mentioned way up above. “As one little-discussed example, atmospheric oxygen levels are dropping to levels considered dangerous for humans, particularly in cities.” Yes, that link goes to a survivalist blog. No, we’re not going to suffocate because burning fossil fuels is using up all the oxygen in the atmosphere. It’s true that fossil fuel combustion has sightly lowered the concentration— this is one way we know humans are responsible for rising CO2— but it’s not even remotely close to a significant decrease. Between 1990 and 2005, the proportion of oxygen in the atmosphere decreased about 0.02%.

–GM writes, “An increasing number of scientists agree that warming of 4 to 6 C causes a dead planet. And, they go on to say, we’ll be there by 2060.” The link goes to a blog post by writer David Spratt, who was used as a reference before. Spratt gets the 4-6C comment from a reference to warming in 2100. He invents the “as early as 2060” himself. The “dead planet” part of the statement refers to this World Bank release about the dangerous impacts of 4C warming. Spratt describes this as ending “the world as we know it”, which GM flips into “a dead planet”. You won’t find any such description from World Bank.

–GM cites a video of a PhD student talking about the possibility of 6C warming in a decade and uses this graph to support it, presumably because the spike at the end looks scary. Apart from the fact that the graph doesn’t actually come from the paper he cites, but rather data from two papers (one of which he cites) combined with a business-as-usual projection for the next century (which he does not explain), the scary spike at the end is just the same ~3C warming by 2100 IPCC projection he was discounting earlier. To tidy up the math here, 3C/90yrs =/= 6C/10yrs.

–The end of the post claims that the Pentagon is surveilling us online in case finding out that we’re going extinct turns us into ecoterrorists. Just sayin’…

–Lastly a quote from another post of GM’s, which he explains why he thinks the collapse of human civilization can’t get here quickly enough. “Yet, seemingly contrary to these simple, easy-to-reach conclusions, I work toward collapse. Largely unafflicted by the arrogance of humanism, I work on behalf of non-human species. Industrial civilization is destroying every aspect of the living planet, and I know virtually nobody who wants to stop the runaway train. Yes, collapse will kill us. But our deaths are guaranteed regardless, unless I missed a memo.”

Update: I’ve discovered some interesting comments on GM’s post. A poster named Eric took issue with some of GM’s claims, and pointed out a few of the same errors I’ve outlined above (like reports not saying what GM claims they say). To make sure his criticism came across correctly, Eric noted, “I’m not saying climate change is a non issue- In fact I happen to think that it is humanities BIGGEST issue. However hyperbole and exaggerated threats serve no purpose but too slow down the response and make people lose hope. I appreciate your time and I hope I have contributed to the discussion in a meaningful way.”

After another poster asked if GM was going to respond, he wrote, “I will not take time to deal with Eric the denier. No amount of evidence will convince deniers of anything, so I’ll not waste my time. If you’re interested in evidence, there’s plenty in this post to support all I’ve written and said.” This appears to be a representative exchange.

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2,354 thoughts on “How Guy McPherson gets it wrong

  1. Nice work, Scott! I’m an astronomy professor in California and was invited to be on a public panel discussion with Guy McPherson a couple years ago. I’ve also got a PowerPoint debunking GM’s claims, which is worth a look by others as well. http://www.cabrillo.edu/~rnolthenius/Apowers/McPhersonPanel-1a.pptx One good point which I don’t see mentioned in your debunking (perhaps I missed it because the search term was wrong), was his claim that Earth is on the bare inside edge of the “Habitable Zone”, citing a very colorful and often circulated plot whose original purpose was to narrow the look at exoplanets who might have life. The author of the study explicitly says that the HZ he illustrates is for a simple cloud-free model planet, and that the existence of clouds extends the HZ on both the hot inner edge AND the cold outer edge. So, we’re NOT on the edge of the HZ and 1% ready to tip over to oblivion. I highlight this in my PP, and Archer’s Arctic methane hydrate calculation showing the “methane apocalypse” has been postponed indefinitely, and more.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Indy22, thanks for this post. I’ve wondered about that for years now, and it’s good to have your viewpoint. Would you care to tell us where we are exactly in the Habitable Zone based on your studies and those of the author of that study? I’m curious to know. Thanks! Also, thanks for link to your PPT. Interesting.

      Like

      • On slide 29 he talks about a cosmology paper co-authored with Sandra Faber. They envision a sustainable future with a human population of around 50 million. Isn’t that wonderful?
        Whether I believe him or Guy McPherson, I’m dead. The only purpose of these thought experiments (that I can see) is to help me choose how I want to live my life.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, INDY222. I was almost certain I had seen that idea of Earth being on the edge of the habitable zone discredited a year or two ago. McPherson is probably aware of it, but since he knows his audience is unlikely to be thus aware, he continues to use it.

      He is now just a traveling performer, but his extinction “message” continues to have an appeal, no matter how often it is debunked.

      Like

    • July 2017 Time has marched forward making this article obsolete and wrong .I am sad to say that Dr. Guy McPherson seems to be more right than wrong.

      Like

      • I keep seeing these vague claims like “McPherson seems to be more right than wrong”. Right about what, exactly? That climate change is really bad and getting worse, as most climate scientists have been telling us? Or that human beings will be extinct by 2025, which is McPherson’s only real “selling point” and something he cannot be “kinda, sorta right” about? Please be precise.

        Liked by 2 people

    • California is on fire, the entire state. You can pick Guy apart all you want, but everything he predicted is coming true even faster. I’m planting a garden, installing solar, and securing my water supply. Will I be much worse off if Guy is wrong? In addition to the out of control fires proving that Climate Change is indeed real, the 2 strongest hurricanes in our history appearing suddenly might also signal this as well. Maybe start planting a garden yourself.

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      • I disagree. Plant a garden, yes, but the end of the world within 7 years because of CH4 release – not gonna happen. GM is infamously notorious for hyping not just CH4, but any cherry that will supports his agenda of ‘full collapse’. Sad. It disables and immobilizes people instead of galvanizing them into action because, if you’re doomed, what’s the point. Even Micaheal E. Mann, the most famous of all climate scientists says as much, and more about GM. Even Bill McKibben, leading climate change activist has harsh words for pariah GM. It’s a shame the left has to deal with such eco-ideologues that sully the waters for honest scientists doing incredible research.

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        • Balan,

          Two points: (1) As with all natural science, this discussion is not about any absolutes, but about PROBABILITES. All competent scientific research takes probability into account. In some fields, such as atomic physics, probability plays a critical, fundamental role. This remains a critical scientific issue that I see rarely taken into account and discussed anywhere regarding these ecological breakdown issues, perhaps least of all on this blog. Thus you make your absolutist statement “…but the end of the world within 7 years because of CH4 release—not gonna happen.” If by “end of the world” one means a huge percentage of humans dead (no one will ever know whether they or their group is the last of the human species to die) it seems to me a very high probability, indeed, of the “end of the world” within seven years. By the way, how do you come by that knowledge so confidently and absolutely stated? That strikes you as a valid, scientific statement? When, where, and how did you develop the ability so confidently (and reliably?) to predict the future behavior of our infinitely complex, chaotic, living Earth systems?

          (2) You also wrote, with absolutist certainty, that “It disables and immobilizes people instead of galvanizing them into action because, if you’re doomed, what’s the point.” Really? This statement blatantly contradicts the evidence we all see around us. How so? Based on this reasoning, since we have all known with near certainty since we were eight or so years old that we will die, we must all be “immobilized” because “if you’re doomed, what’s the point”? Yet I have not met anyone I know of who feels “immobilized” because they see no point in life because they ARE doomed to die just as all living things do and just as all physical systems change continuously. I don’t see most people committing suicide because, obviously, there is no point in living because we know that we will die. (But then, perhaps you take the ever-so-popular religious view that, as humans, you are very special in the universe and neither you, your wife, nor your children will REALLY die because your “souls”, your allegedly “nonphysical consciousness” will presumably live forever in heaven at the right hand of God. Now there’s a strongly science-based concept!) So, how do you account for people knowing they will die yet continuing to live long, joyful, productive lives? And how do you account for the fact that many of us who DO believe that in all probability MUCH more likely than not we WILL be extinct as a species very soon, with irreversible, complex systems, global-scale processes, yet we live happy, joyful, extremely productive lives, yes, with many of us continuing to fight to save what we can of nonhuman life and Earth? Perhaps most of us will be gone in five or six years. Perhaps ten. Perhaps 20. But PROBABLY quite soon. In my natural science-based judgment and opinion, the evidence trends strongly suggest a vastly higher probability of Near Term Human Extinction than they do that we will, with magical, human supremacist, technological and/or permaculture glory, repair the damage we have done to Earth such that many humans can, and will, live happily ever after.

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          • Well, Bud, there is ample evidence that very few people care about the future (i.e. decades or more ahead) rather than the present. If Guy is right, then there is no reason for anyone to change that behaviour. I’ve often said that all responses to the imminent extinction of the species are reasonable, so there is no reason to try to do anything about the environmental destruction we’re causing, if you don’t want to. The imminent extinction of the species is very different from knowing each of us will die some day. Perhaps not if you are the only person you care about, but there are probably very few such people. Even if you were such a person, there are likely some things you’d like to achieve before you peg it. So your arguments there are very weak.

            I don’t think there is any way to defend Guy’s views or Guy’s behaviour in defending those views or his continuing to espouse those views, perhaps influencing some people (though hopefully no more than are already as convinced as he is in his beliefs).

            Guy, how’s that clathrate gun going? If it fired in 2007, why haven’t we seen drastic effects by now (as opposed to increasingly worse effects from climate change, as was happening before 2007)? Although it’s impossible to be certain of this stuff, there is almost no chance that extinction (and, Bud, there is no degree of extinction, a species is either extinct or it is not) of humans and all other life will happen in the next decade (his more extreme suggestion) or by 204x (can’t remember the exact date predicted by that debunked self published paper by Malcolm Light which Guy based his earlier prediction on and still pretends that it might have been a valid calculation). Does that mean we’re not in trouble? No.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Mike Roberts, I will respond to your comments in brackets [[[ ]]] within a copy of them:

            Well, Bud, there is ample evidence that very few people care about the future (i.e. decades or more ahead) rather than the present. [[[Really? Most people I know have great concerns about the future decades ahead. Many people, even in the United States, do have concerns about their children’s and grandchildren’s lives. How do you come by this knowledge stated with such certainty? I would like very much to see the sociological research that demonstrates this claim—which I doubt exists.]]] If Guy is right, then there is no reason for anyone to change that behaviour. [[[As I emphasized in my comments to Balan, this is obviously not true. Most people manage to live reasonably happy and productive lives (if physically given the chance) despite knowing with near certainty that they will soon die, and it can happen at any moment.]]] I’ve often said that all responses to the imminent extinction of the species are reasonable, so there is no reason to try to do anything about the environmental destruction we’re causing, if you don’t want to. [[[I strongly disagree. This has logical, moral, and behavioral equivalency with claiming that “All responses to our imminent deaths are reasonable. Hey, I’m gonna die, and that may happen an hour from now, and you will die too, so anything at all you or I want to do or not do is reasonable.” You certainly have a right to your values and opinions, as long as you don’t impose them on me or others, but I strongly disagree and I think most other humans do too. Even in the most horrific conditions, say the Nazi holocaust, most victims fought to live for as long as possible. Only a small percentage of people opt for suicide, even in the most horrific conditions. With rare exceptions, all life simply fights tenaciously to live. The fact that we WILL die, and it may happen at any moment, does NOT make it “reasonable” for us to respond to this predicament in any way we may wish. Sorry. We won’t let you murder, rape, pillage, and plunder no matter how “reasonable” you may consider it to do those things.]]] The imminent extinction of the species is very different from knowing each of us will die some day. [[[Not true at all. Research on beliefs and attitudes concerning death demonstrate that most people use two main ways to cope with their terror of death: (1) believing that they, literally, will never die (for example their “soul” or “non-physical consciousness” will live forever in heaven, as most people do) or (2) they will live on symbolically after they have died by leaving a legacy in the form of works done, children, and so on (as many people also do). The very high probability of NTHE negates this second, symbolic way to “beat death”. This makes NTHE for a huge percentage of people the equivalent of one’s personal death.]]] Perhaps not if you are the only person you care about, but there are probably very few such people. Even if you were such a person, there are likely some things you’d like to achieve before you peg it. So your arguments there are very weak.

            I don’t think there is any way to defend Guy’s views or Guy’s behaviour in defending those views or his continuing to espouse those views, perhaps influencing some people (though hopefully no more than are already as convinced as he is in his beliefs). [[[In my most recent comments here, the first in a couple of years, I did not write anything about Guy McPherson. Even so, I do agree with him that a VERY HIGH PROBABILITY exists, not an absolute certainty, that most humans will soon die. PROBABLY all of us, but, as I mentioned to Balan, no one can or will ever know whether they are the last humans on Earth, so it seems to me a silly, irrelevant, and distracting waste of time to argue about that. It seems to me that the extremely high probability that most of us will soon die is all that really, for all practical purposes, matters in this conversation, not whether we will become extinct—which no one can or will ever know.]]]

            Guy, how’s that clathrate gun going? If it fired in 2007, why haven’t we seen drastic effects by now (as opposed to increasingly worse effects from climate change, as was happening before 2007)? Although it’s impossible to be certain of this stuff, there is almost no chance that extinction (and, Bud, there is no degree of extinction, a species is either extinct or it is not) of humans and all other life will happen in the next decade (his more extreme suggestion) or by 204x (can’t remember the exact date predicted by that debunked self published paper by Malcolm Light which Guy based his earlier prediction on and still pretends that it might have been a valid calculation). Does that mean we’re not in trouble? No. [[[Given the evidence trends related to global ecological collapse, nuclear pollution, mass species extinction, and human caused global warming with abrupt climate change, among many other related issues, I do not understand how you can conclude that “there is almost no chance that extinction of humans will happen in the next decade”. In writing this, you make it clear that you have no understanding of how complex, chaotic systems behave. They remain in a stable configuration for some time and then change suddenly, rapidly, radically, and in completely unpredictable and irreversible ways. Massive and compelling evidence suggests that such changes are happening in Earth’s biosphere approaching this global-scale, massive change tipping point, which certainly can result rapidly in human extinction. Probably not the extinction of all life on Earth within ten years, or even 100 years, but Earth certainly could, and may, become another Venus within a very short period of time on the geological time scale. Yet you, like Balan, make these certain statements about how Earth’s complex, chaotic biosphere presumably will or will not behave. Please help me to understand how you or any other human comes by this certain knowledge, especially given the consistent global data trends? Of COURSE there is no “degree of extinction”. Neither I nor anyone I presently know of has suggested any such thing. But as we die, by the billions, because of the lack of transportation and communication, which we have come automatically to take for granted but can come to a grinding halt literally within seconds under the impact of, say, of a large electromagnetic pulse (EMP), none of the last survivors will know whether all other humans have died and that they are, indeed, the last on Earth. But, by all means, do continue to carry on your extinction vs. no extinction arguments if doing that helps distract you from and manage your terror of death.]]]

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          • Bud,

            To me, there is no equivalence between “knowing” all humans will be dead within a decade and knowing each of us will die some day. In the former case, one “knows” that there is no future for any human living today (including your family members) and no reason at all to have children. None of this is true in the latter case, so no equivalence. With imminent extinction, there is no reason to plan for your children’s, granchildren’s and great grandchildren’s future (or the future of any current or future family members). Those who don’t want to exit early may still want to try to ensure the most comfortable existence possible for the few years left but the “knowledge” that no-one else has any more years left is completely different to contemplating the next few years when you “know” there will be many further generations ahead of you. If you think the two cases are identical, then that is up to you but I couldn’t disagree more.

            As far as the possibility of extinction within this century (never mind decade) is concerned, there is no scientific research that I’ve seen which points to the even remote likelihood of that. Of course, it’s always possible that some new information could arise, or some human caused or natural catastrophe could change the picture but that is an unknown (not even the chances of that are known) and so don’t really come into the calculations of almost all humans alive today.

            The evidence that most humans don’t consider the future, for me, is the continuation of people electing governments that don’t promise to put the future first (that is, don’t promise to put the environment first, before economic considerations). The evidence is that, even though we’ve known about human caused climate change and agreed to do something about it for over 25 years, the situation has just gotten worse, because we place the present (and short term future) ahead of the long term future. It’ll always be the problem for some future generation to solve. One thing I do agree with GM is that for every year I’ve been alive, the environment has gotten worse. With Guy McPherson’s prediction, though, it is quite reasonable to consider only the present and near term future, because there isn’t anything else. I sincerely disagree with him.

            Some native American tribes consider the effects on 7 generations ahead. With NTHE, there is not even one (or maybe only one) generation ahead. So you can see the difference between NTHE and the knowledge that we will all die someday.

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        • I think this blog appeals to some people, perhaps most, mainly because it helps them to deny, avoid, and otherwise manage their terror of death. It uses science as a rationale for that avoidance, denial, and management, and as a distraction from their terror. Might I recommend a book written by three psychologists? The Worm At The Core, On The Role of Death in Life by Solomon, Greenberg, and Pyszczynski, 2015.

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  2. To correct; I was not co-author with Sandy Faber on her Presentation on our long term future, but instead on some purely astronomy papers back in the ’90’s. Faber’s “50 million” isn’t a prediction so much as it’s a calculation of where we would aim if we want to have a representative and unobtrusive presence on our planet amid the other species. Right now, we take more than 1/3 of all the sunlight energy arriving at Earth, just for one species. No, not for solar panels, but for growing forests and crops and pasture which support us and our livestock. Oh, and the fish we cleaned out of the oceans.

    On the habitable zone width, I don’t have a reference for a more realistic one. It depends so intimately on the exact atmospheric composition. I wouldn’t worry about it. We’re not close to the edge and won’t be for hundreds of millions of years of steadily increasing solar luminosity.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You write:
    “Nummer zwei. The latest IPCC report projects roughly 0.3 to 0.7C of warming by 2035”.
    Are we not up to 0.85 now end of 2016?

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    • The link in the next sentence is meant to clarify: “The report says that global temperature averaged over the time period from 2016 to 2035 is likely to be 0.3-0.7°C (that’s about 0.5-1.0 °F) warmer than the average from 1986 to 2005.”

      Basically, just trying to compare the projected near-term warming to McPherson’s claims of much, much faster warming. Sorry if that wasn’t clear!

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    • Please kindly note you are nor comparing like with like … Those warming figures are relative to different bases: “the average from 1986 to 2005”, and average temperatures before industrialization !!

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    • Becoming vegetarian, vegan, or weekday vegetarian can dramatically solve that problem, starting with you as soon as you finish this sentence. Steps in China are already being taken to reduce meat consumption and improve the choices available. You might also try googling “restorative agriculture”. Cheers!

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  4. Pingback: Could abrupt climate change lead to human extinction within 10 years? | Exposing the Big Game

  5. .”..I’m a geoscience educator, hydrogeologist, and freelance science writer contributing at Ars Technica. I am also Science Editor for Climate Feedback. This is my personal blog… ” Excuse me Scott K. Johnson, but where did you study/publish in GeoScience(?) and HydroGeology(?). Sounds like you have just enough qualifications to authoritatively pretend to refute a legitimate biology/climate expert like Guy McPherson. Great looking website though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Neither my MS in hydrogeology nor Guy’s PhD in ecology tells you anything about his climate science claims.

      I think I showed a number of examples where Guy’s statements about a study didn’t match the contents of that study, or where his source is actually an evidence-free blogger. I recognize that checking every study he references would be a tall (or even impossible, given paywalls) task for a reader, and that still wouldn’t give you the whole picture. All I can do is try to show you the problems with his claims, and hope that helps your assessment.

      But really, I don’t think even that’s necessary to realize that Guy’s claims are radically different from those of climate scientists—Guy says so himself. That’s why he accuses climate scientists of being cowards and liars.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Quite right, SJ. Michael doesn’t need to know your qualifications to assess your critique here. It sounds more like a way out of doing that assessment. Indeed, Guy is also not a climate scientist and maybe that’s why his interpretation of the climate science is so awry (and clearly so, in some cases you and others have shown).

        Michael, check some of Guy’s interpretations yourself. If you do enough, you’ll see that he is wrong or simply speculating in enough cases to throw his whole hypothesis of near term human extinction into question. Guy never seriously engages with his critics, which is another pointer to how much importance you should place on his interpretations of the science.

        Liked by 1 person

    • MichaelZeno:

      Before you continue digging into Scott’s quals, let me ask you humbly, how much of the blog have you actually read? As someone who has read 90% of it, i think it’s of import as I value my time and would prefer doing other things than fact-check those unwilling to do the work.

      As a follow up, if you really think you need greater authority, which is understandable, your efforts to seek out Bill McKibben and Michael E. Mann will reveal very similar outcomes to Scott’s critical review.

      Just trying to save you time.

      Balan

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, certainly near term human extinction doesn’t appear to be borne out by the science, contrary to McPherson’s claims. But don’t get complacent, there are a lot of scenarios between where we are now and extinction, many of which don’t look rosy at all!

      Liked by 2 people

  6. All of this is very interesting, and at the same time not a bit surprising (though saying that is in no way an attempt to demean it at all). What I find FAR MORE fascinating is the apparent desire, even a yearning, an aching, that so many people have, that they WANT to believe such things. They seem to really be full of a special kind of self-hatred, extended to other humans. The obvious counterpoint is that no one is forcing any of them to be one. And I wonder just how many have indeed chosen the suicide option because of such beliefs. I just wonder what’s behind this kind of psychology, and how many have slipped into it.

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  7. Maybe some people want to believe such things, maybe some people are in denial. I tend to think no one really can say with any accuracy what projections will manifest with what time lines. What I hate to see is scientist arguing with each other rather than with the facts alone. Why attack GM? What if he is only half right? We are still in trouble and most models seem to be behind the actual data. An important prediction to watch will be the melting of arctic sea ice by 2016 plus or minus 3 years.

    With the gas & oil industry funding the deniers I think it is helpful to have some extreme voices on the other side to balance the false info saying everything is normal. Does anyone really believe we can have continual growth in a finite system and not suffer any consequences?

    People working to dissuade the public of the current difficulties already faced by populations in low lying and coastal areas and the impending tragedy should be likened to environmental Nazi. They will be responsible for the deaths of 100’s of millions and probably the decline or end of civilization as we know it.

    Time will tell, and a note to those who think GM’s info leads to suicide…When diagnosed with a terminal disease most choose not to end their life but to finally start living in a way that seems self-directed instead of living for cultural expectations. Since coming to the conclusion that “the times they are a changing”, I have found myself acting with more kindness and compassion to my fellow humans.

    “Come gather round people, where every you roam,
    and admit that the waters around you have grown.
    And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone,
    and if your life to you is worth saving?
    Then you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone…”

    Sincerely, Ron

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    • What if he is only half right?

      Then he would be half wrong, and highlighting of inappropriate sources and misinterpretation of studies should be helpful in improving that fraction.

      With the gas & oil industry funding the deniers I think it is helpful to have some extreme voices on the other side to balance the false info saying everything is normal.

      False information is not balance, it’s added confusion. I think you counter misinformation with accurate information, not with polar-opposite-misinformation.

      Does anyone really believe we can have continual growth in a finite system and not suffer any consequences?

      No, and I don’t think I or any commenters here have said that.

      Liked by 3 people

    • “Why attack GM? What if he is only half right?”

      You mean, what if we are only “half extinct” by 2026? It’s amazing that so many are willing to give GM a pass on his pseudoscience and his indefensible predictions just because the effects of climate change are becoming more visible, as any rational person expected they would.

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    • Good comments Ron. Some will have to wait until their noses are underwater before admitting climate change is having a real, present impact on our civilization. More and more scientists are coming to believe Guy is more than half right. Mother Nature seems to be showing just how right he is after all.

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      • Bob (or Ron), could you define “half right”? Also, can you name any scientist who has come to believe that Guy is more than half right?

        If “half right” means “humans are adversely affecting the environment” but not “all life on earth will become extinct within the next 30-odd years”, then, yes, Guy is half right. Otherwise, these seem to be empty words, unless defined more clearly along with evidence that any scientist has shifted his or her view towards Guy’s.

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        • ‘Half-right’ with regard to NTHE would be a 50% reduction in the human population. GM’s scenario involves failure of the world grain crop, followed by starvation. Is it controversial to claim that civilization is dependent on our ability to grow and store grains?

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          • “‘Half-right’ with regard to NTHE would be a 50% reduction in the human population.”

            That is not correct. Extinction has a precise meaning. A 50% reduction in a species’ numbers does not mean that the species is “half extinct”, a term that has no meaning. Many scientists think it likely that there will be a substantial fall in the human population within this century.

            “Is it controversial to claim that civilization is dependent on our ability to grow and store grains?

            No, it is not controversial, and “failure of the world grain crop”, or just repeated failures of regional grain crops, would lead to starvation and general upheaval. Again, those are scenarios that are visualized by serious scientists. They are not concepts originating with GM and do not involve human extinction in a matter of years.

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      • Who here questions that “climate change is having a real, present impact on our civilization”, and what does that have to do with GM’s specific “message” of extinction within (now) nine years?

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  8. Hi Folks, thanks for replying, good questions.

    What I really mean by “half right” is that I think climate science is, as our president would say, “complicated”.
    With all the variables in the mathematical models I feel all should approach the results with caution. We could be overestimating the effect as conversely we may be under estimating the effect. Why do any of us believe we are so much more qualified to draw conclusions than any other scientist. Again, why attack the messenger, it makes it sound like a personal vendetta instead of arguing for different conclusion based on data.

    That is why watching predictions, such as arctic ice melt, will be important. The question about how current impacts relate to the message of NTHE, is answered by the technique of observation of data following predictions leading to conclusions. I also do not see where GM is using pseudo science, I just see him drawing different conclusions from the sets of data.

    Plus I think we are dealing with 2 issues here. 1 is what will the climate impacts be? 2 How will this affect civilization? 1. I am receptive to the hypothesis GM makes concerning climate impacts, 2. not so sure how it will play out, however GM does provide some scenarios which are worth considering. As a life long rescue professional I find it better to “prepare for the worst and hope nothing happens”. It is sadly comical that there are now debates on how catastrophic the impacts of global warming will be. Is it not already bad enough for the low lying islands of the world, including Tangier in Virginia, where by the way around 80% of the residents do not “believe” global warming is caused by humans.

    I never said I interpreted GM’s conclusions as false, so I stand by my statement that it is helpful to have voices on the other extreme from the paid climate deniers. Plus these voices are growing, Professor V. Ramanathan, Dr. Dahr Jamail, Aaron Thierry, Paul Beckworth, are just some who are adding an increasing urgency to the tone of possible impacts from global warming. Even the more conservative voices (Al Gore, John Kerry) start with dire predictions only to come to a rosy scenario based on things we don’t have and will not have in time to forestall the impacts.

    Thank you for the serious debate.

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  9. Thank you for offering serious critique of GM’s analysis. Critique is key to the scientific method, and there has been little so far. GM has attempted what no one else has: analyzing all the major feedback loops and assessing the probable impact on ecosystems and as he says on species we love and our favorite species, Homo sapiens. I’m not given to grieving, although perhaps I should. Perhaps I can’t really grasp the exponential curve and our point on it given planetary and technological limits. No one wants to believe GM is correct in his assessment, and we all including GM want him to be wrong. Every critic I’ve encountered who’s countered some portion of GM’s analysis goes on to elaborate on the seriousness of the predicament, showing me GM’s analysis is essentially on track with what’s already happening: mass extinction.

    Liked by 1 person

    • showing me GM’s analysis is essentially on track with what’s already happening: mass extinction

      But his analysis is not on track. Yes, a mass extinction is probably underway, though it will likely take centuries or millennia to fully play out – GM thinks it will happen within a two or three decades, at most, and be total. So, please, it’s not accurate to say GM is half right or his analysis is on track; he mischaracterises the science and gives out an incorrect message. Don’t mistake the fact of environmental degradation everywhere with GM’s being right with his take on the situation. He isn’t. Because of human behaviour, environmental degradation was always inevitable but total extinction of every life form on this planet within a few decades is not at all likely.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Indeed, how many thousands of people do you suppose are speaking out about environmental issues? Why bother with one who is telling you things that are mostly incorrect just because he also says some thing that are generally acknowledged?

        I have to disagree with this: “GM has attempted what no one else has: analyzing all the major feedback loops and assessing the probable impact on ecosystems“. While it’s certainly true that there are difficulties in combining factors, Guy hasn’t done this analysis. He has simply provided a very poorly supported opinion about it.

        Liked by 3 people

  10. “After all, these same processes were in play when the Earth warmed out of the last glaciation (over the last ~18,000 years), which obviously didn’t scorch the planet. Without any of these feedbacks, the glacial/interglacial differences would be much smaller, but they do not cause runaway warming.”

    Scorch the planet? I don’t think Guy has made that claim (yet). He says the habitat humans survive in will disappear. Scorch not included. Further, runaway global warming Venus style is not possible on Earth. The atmosphere is not dense enough. I haven’t read further. I prefer taking bullshit in small doses.

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  11. Last night I listened to a GM talk on some alt media site, and took it more as a call to ‘live as though you are about to die”, which can be a very good thing. There are numerous possibilities for “THE END” of civilisation…there never was one that did NOT collapse…but, I prefer to get my facts straight rather than preach doom. Just as no human knows when exactly he or she will end, nor do we know exactly when we as a “Civilisation” might end, however unsustainable our current paradigm may be. Know the risk factors, and mitigate those risks as much as possible…but, certainly, live with intent. This is what I take from GM’s talks. If only our civilisation at large could mitigate it’s addiction to exponential growth, rampant consumerism, and the carbon basis of all commerce…well, then we might get through the changes that are afoot…no matter that any one-or all of us could cease at any moment.

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  12. Pingback: Stop scaring people about climate change. It doesn’t work. | Grist

  13. The problem is that reading takes so much time. 28 July (yesterday) I spend about 8 hours reading through Guy McPherson’s blog. Today I read the article The uninhabitable earth which was published this month July in the New York magazine and garnered a great response and discussion. I started reading through the annotated version of that article. That led me to buying the book ‘Climate Change’ by Joseph Romm which gives a proper overview of the current conclusions of the IPCC. That allowed me to see how far-fetched Guy McPherson’s idea is that we have less than 10 years before we go extinct. At page 50 out of the 242 I started Googling and found rebuttals to Guy McPherson’s claims. I was pleased to see that of the two rebuttals I saw both had comments running till the present day (roughly). Anyway: In my case it took 2 days. Maybe 10 years ago I had read a report in the form of a book by the IPCC on climate change. At the time I was reading many things about climate change. I gave up on the subject. It was too tiring especially as it seemed there were credible sources who said that global warming was a hoax meant to get our tax money. Guy McPherson managed to get my attention again for which I am thankful. Climate change will disrupt society in many ways. I will keep a close eye on melting ice in the Arctic and Antarctic which is a huge factor which due to the several meters of rising sea level will disrupt society. My concerns are also climate mass migration due to heat and drought. What we are experiencing in Europe with all the refugees coming in, must just be the beginning. An article of 2009 in the Scientific American states: “We don’t understand the modern oxygen control system that well.” An article on earthsky.org says “: Tiny ocean plants called phytoplankton contribute 50 to 85 percent of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere”. Environment Canada says: “On average, one tree produces nearly 260 pounds of oxygen each year. Two mature trees can provide enough oxygen for a family of four.” Ocean acidification leads ultimately to a loss of 50 to 85% of Oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere. Foliage on land seems to be the other 15 to 50%. The scary part is that I wasn’t able to read a refutation to Guy McPhersons claim that we might run out of oxygen. The reassuring part is that he hasn’t convinced me that it will happen fast. My question is actually: What will disrupt society the soonest? 1. climate migration due to unbearable heat and drought? 2 drastic rise of sea-level? 3. world war III? 4. massive earthquake in Los Angelos and the associated risk of local nuclear accidents? 5. Superintelligence (AI which endangers the human society)? 6. collapse of the financial system and current world economy? Enough to think about I would say.

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  14. The writer of this blog critiques McPherson’s work, but fails in a number of respects. First, his use of ‘numero uno’, ‘Nummer zwei’ and so forth, which seem adolescent, a bit grandiose, silly, and makes me wince that I should be expected to believe someone who cares so little about annoying his readers, or impressing upon his readers that he can count in languages other than English. Second, the author fails to cite chapter and verse, the exact references for his critiques of McPherson, such that on numerous occasions he says “McPherson cites…” or says, but fails to show us that in fact, McPherson does in fact cite or say (i.e., http://www.xxx.com date) what the author says McPherson says or cites. So I can’t even track his critiques to ensure that McPherson is being quoted directly (and correctly), or whether the author has made an inference about McPherson’s words, or whether what he says about McPherson’s claims, and evidence, is mere gossip, bullshit, or the absolute truth.

    My feeling is, if the author is trying to emulate a scientific argument, he should do so in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, where standards for writing and exposition of argument are clearly laid out (rather than post a personal blog) wherein critiques of ambiguity, imprecision, and bloated arguments can be fairly assessed. As a blog post, he has committed himself to precisely the same kind of imprecision he ascribes to his victim, McPherson. I didn’t finish reading his critique because, simply, it was ‘unfollow-able’ – a bit like trying to follow casual gossip between undergraduates or 1st year graduate students at a lunch table.

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    • You’re kidding, right? I’m glad you’re not a follower of McPherson, but, if you were, you’d realise that whatever poor language is used here, McPherson is much much worse, when responding to critics (not that he addresses his critic’s arguments, preferring to insult them).

      As for Scott using a peer reviewed paper to critique McPherson’s use of scientific research, well, you’re kidding aren’t you? McPherson doesn’t really base his arguements on peer reviewed papers, often misreprepresenting them, but prefers blog posts from anonymous posters.

      You claim things about Scott’s blog post that you didn’t even finish reading. I think that says it all.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I need Scott to use pointers, and links to lead me to the places where McPherson makes these claims so I may cross reference in a plodding, methodical fashion. Otherwise, I’m forced to ‘trust’ the writer doesn’t have an axe to grind. Surely I can’t be expected to read all of McPherson’s work and ‘know’ Scott has represented McPherson accurately. I don’t see a review committee for this blog, and I don’t see a review committee for McPherson’s blog. What I see is a blog, with a lot of writing, and I do detect, though I’m not a paid scientist, considerable hubris, considering the paucity of data and the immensity of the risk. If this were a peer reviewed source, I could ‘trust’ in the authoritative guidance of the reviewers to give me confidence that the paper is indeed worth finishing, but since that isn’t present, I’m forced to rely on the ‘writer’ to make his case to me, the reader.

        Assuming I’m an average internet reader, am I asking too much for Scott to revise his blog such that it compels me to accept his critique and read it to the end? Don’t journals require ‘readability’ from their writers?

        I’ve never read to completion the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, because I didn’t find the case made to be compelling enough to inspire me to read it to the end. The same statement can be made for this blog post.

        I don’t take McPherson’s claims to be true, and I don’t take Scott’s claims to be true, because neither has made the case that I should accept their claims as true. So if you’re asking me to suffer through Scott’s points 4, 5, 6 or 7, where he may invoke 4 more languages in his numbering scheme, you are asking too much of my time, and I require compensation for my suffering.

        I suppose this might be a case where one person’s ‘lazy reader’ is another person’s ‘judicious time manager’.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. I am neither fan nor follower of McPherson, as I find his words like many bloggers glib and superficial, but I would like to add that on CBC news in Canada (August 2, 2017 http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/climate-change-deadly-heat-waves-south-asia-1.4231281), it is said “In 2015, the region experienced a deadly heat wave that killed roughly 3,500 people in Pakistan and India over a few months.” If true, wouldn’t this suggest that for these folk in Pakistan, the ‘end’ was, indeed, ‘nigh’? If true, it suggests, for this reader, that McPherson’s work, though perhaps not scientifically rigorous, was at least metaphorically true, and literally true, for these 3500 Pakistanis. I submit if McPherson is not to be read ‘as science’, then viewing it ‘as poetry’ or even ‘hyperbole’ might be a useful catalyst for more thoughtful focus on the problem of climate change.

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  16. Here’s my lazy reader solution. Rather than complete Scott’s post, I elect to visit this website, http://thebulletin.org/sites/default/files/Final%202017%20Clock%20Statement.pdf because here, I find a full name, address, for a publisher, full financials over time, donors. It suggests a multidisciplinary team to write the suggestions. The writing has forced me to imagine a 12 hour clock and it appears from what I can gather from this particular blog, assuming 1 o’clock means ‘safe’ and 2.5 minutes to 12 midnight means ‘danger’, I’m inspired to read further. I find that this aggregate of people have reviewed the ecology of the planet and concluded that potential destruction of the planet ecosystem is serious enough to ‘alarm’ readers.

    The simple clock metaphor isn’t literally true, but it’s scientifically reasonable, in the opinion of these people, to present the metaphor. Further, when you read through the site and click on their links, the group presents readers with immense resources to learn and focus on climate change issues and data that they believe are relevant to the problems of or questions surrounding human survival.

    It appears from their website that there are a lot of hands responsible for the writing of that website and for the enterprise over (what they say) is a 70 year history. I don’t know if Scott’s 401K has stock in BP or Kinder Morgan, for example, or if his university is one in Texas that relies heavily on donations from the oil industry, for example, but I can take from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that they’re kind of not joking around with climate change – rather than count out rebuttals for McPherson in languages other than English, they present a simple metaphor with serious tone, rigor, and multidisciplinary breadth.

    So Mike where do you think I should spend my time reading? Should I stay on Scott’s website and finish Scott’s blog? Should Scott perhaps rewrite his paper and lead me more by the nose to the conclusions he wants me to reach? Or should I spend more time on the Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences website?

    I leave it to you to suggest our next steps together for you, me and Scott. How shall we three spend our time, assuming we have 2 1/2 minutes to spare?

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    • Well, maybe Scott could have pointed to McPherson’s lengthy climate change update post up front, but at least he added it in the Errata section. Most of the points addressed are in there. If McPherson hasn’t provided HTTP anchors for each of his points, it would be impossible for Scott to point to them. Try reading McPherson’s post, if you have a spare hour or two, then come back here for a refutation of some of the points, with Michael Tobis providing more rebuttals (also pointed to by Scott).

      If you don’t want to believe either Scott or Guy (or, indeed Tobis), then don’t. Just check out the latest climate change science and make your own mind up.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I think Scott should start by re-titling the paper to reflect the gist of his paper thus “Chill people, because we’ve got this climate change thing handled”

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    • I have no idea why you would think such a title would better reflect the content. You won’t be able to point to anything Scott has written that would suggest he thinks “we’ve got this climate change thing handled”. Not accepting Guy’s misrepresentation of the science in no way means that only good things can happen.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Mike fair enough.

        Let’s start with the easy stuff, case observation. Visual inspection of everyday experience, for many of us in the world, is that relying on institutions to resolve this climate matter is a fool’s bet. In Canada, for example, 40 years ago, it used to be that very few locations would permit the growth of concord or California grapes. The Niagara Region has, for years, been able to grow these varieties. Fast forward to 2017, folks can grow these varieties in say Ottawa with some success. Now if you check the latitude and longitude of these points, I’m sure you’ll see that such a shift in vegetation can have quite a significant impact on say farming. Farming, economic systems, supply chains,…all interconnected.

        James Gleick’s book Chaos is quite informative – I’m sure you’re aware of it and how it speaks to notions of immense complexity – when you consider not only the measurements we’ve taken over the years, against the error of these measurements, and those who ‘would not’ or ‘have not’ released these measurements, maybe you can view the Drs claim in a new light.

        I submit the problem of climate change is intractable, due to institutional, economic and societal resistance. But I don’t think it is the only thing to fear. Numerous authors publishing in quite respectable journals, have urged action to prevent human disaster – here’s a link to one from the 1960’s for your edification, from the journal ‘Science’, from a mathematician, not a climate scientist, but nonetheless worth considering. He could be off by 20 years or a thousand, but nonetheless, it deserves a read.

        http://www.asc-cybernetics.org/2011/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/HvF_Doomsday.pdf

        Consider say the millions and billions of dollars that have gone into central electricity power units like nuclear reactors. The units require output lines that carry significant load. From these main lines, other lines connect to ‘grid’ via various lines and stations positioned throughout the state or whatever. That grid system has to be balanced, so connecting up new wind or solar contributions makes balancing the load on that grid slightly more complex, and complexity, I have discovered, sometimes is costly in terms of risk. Consider too that of the say 4 or 500 nukes around the world, the safety risks are added to the complexity equation. It is a fact that rates say in my locale are slated to rise 25% in four years, a significant cost for folks who live on the boundary between surviving (economically at the very least) and not, and a significant cost for employers which means either layoffs and/or price increases. And consider too that it is a well known joke that the engineers and managers of these nuke plants purchase houses ‘upstream’ from the outflow waters. I’ve been inside a calandria during construction and looked down to see the incredible scale of these objects. Have you, or Scott? Do you guys have a good feel for the scale of these objects? Or the quantity and potential of the waste material to cause harm? Why do you think nuclear security guards are equipped with significant armaments? Terrorism, a new concept which came onto our awareness only post 9/11 looms large on our horizon.

        Tritium has escaped from these ‘very safe’ systems. Reassurances about tritium were that tritium does not pass through the skin. However, it can be consumed. Does it pass into the blood? What are the risks of consumption when combined with say mercury, pesticides, fertilizers, hormones? Strontium 89, and of course 90, for example, as well as numerous other by products of the reaction, have been found in alarming quantities in the teeth of children in New Jersey, USA – one state of 50, 1 nuclear location of perhaps 100 in the US. I wonder how that stuff got into their teeth? I wonder about cancer, health insurers, and people. I suspect Dr. McPherson wonders too about the other 400 or so reactors around the world. And of course you are aware that it is suspected by the Atomic Bulletin, see post link above, that 20 or 30 others do possess nuclear weapons.

        Consider too that perhaps Dr. McPherson’s message can be read from a variety of interpretive points of view. I read Scott’s portrayal of Dr. McPherson’s work as one of doom and gloom. But I read Dr. McPherson’s work with hope. I now suspect a worst case scenario, and I do indeed hope for the best. Rather than gloom, the good doctor is suggesting love. I think that’s a perfectly valid proposition. Love is I suspect a universal worth noting.

        Ecology involves far more than climate. Climate is just one factor, among a practically infinite variety of other possibly relevant factors. Our earth has been treated as a live experiment, I assure you, conducted by experimenters who care little for the consent of their subjects.

        A good book Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist and Nobel prize winner for economics, writes about both kinds of thinking. It is a worthwhile read. Do politicians like Trump or Kim Jung Un value fast, or slow thinking? Which kind of thinking ‘appears’ decisive. I leave that question in your hands.

        Are you or Scott considering that in an emergency, or even not, if you try to call your wife to say “I love you”, or you want to call 911, that a General just might want to, and be able to, blow away your telephone call and the calls of everyone on the system, or the country, with ostensibly the push of a button? So everyone’s phones go dead, except the General. The general has priority, not you. Another complexity issue that most people don’t consider. Issues like this bear directly upon your security and safety, as well as mine. So I think we ‘should’ share the same concern.

        Let’s now add a new variable: North Korean waters. And no coal for North Korea thanks to UN sanctions, for example. The military ecology is changing rapidly. Check out which US battle groups are locating themselves. How much movement has there been in say the last 6 months? I doubt you’ll find data for subs. And why is Tillerson visiting Duterte I wonder?

        I cut McPherson some slack because academics often are bound by confidentiality agreements when they work on consulting or research projects, and I suspect he knows well how information can be suppressed by institutions.

        http://www.dianuke.org/fukushima-new-study-shows-full-radiation-risks-not-recorded/

        The links ‘suggest’ at the very least, that suppression of information is indeed possible.

        Here’s my second language summary of our ‘orderly’ new world: ceteris parabus is an ecological illusion.

        Thanks for reading and best wishes.

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        • The old Science article you linked to clearly got a lot wrong, as infinite population is nowhere on the horizon. I’m not sure why you referenced it. And, yes, it does matter whether the date is 10 years away or several thousand. For this global society to survive long enough for infinite population to be an issue is impossible.

          I don’t cut McPherson any slack when it comes to misrepresenting the science and it is not a matter of confidentiality as the papers he links to are publicly available, as are the blog posts. McPherson may suggest love as a response to imminent human extinction but that is irrelevant as any response is a valid response to such a prospect. Sadly, McPherson doesn’t even practice love when replying to his critics (it’s more often hate).

          Of course, anyone can have an opinion, including McPherson, but this article, here, is about his interpretation of the science. If you can find anything wrong with the critique, then please point these out.

          Liked by 1 person

  18. Ok I suggest regarding the critique in particular, that the author show strikethrough characters in the title, and retitle the paper How Guy McPherson gets it right, and wrong. Second, I’d just say First, second, third, and so forth. That’s how I’d critique the title and the initial paragraphs. In all likelihood I wouldn’t even use Dr. McPherson’s name – rather, if I wanted to make the case that there was alarmism I’d say so in the title. I might follow up the paper with a 2nd paper on the same blog page, entitled “How Trump gets it right, and wrong, about ‘clean coal'”….just to balance the argument for the public. I can imagine the societal costs for switching from coal to clean energy in Wisconsin might be problematic and it’s a tough spot to be in as voters.

    Here’s a recent paper on science literacy and is suggestive I think of how voter behavior might be say altered by people’s perceptions of risk.

    file:///home/ubuntu/Downloads/Kusumi_et_al-2017-Risk_Analysis%20(1).pdf

    It pertains to nuclear risk but is nonetheless probably relevant for climate change risk too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t get a feel for the specifics of what GM is being accused of, nor was there any link to the supposed public domain evidence for his misbehaviour. So I can’t really pass comment on that. However, I found it strange that GM was described as “a recognized authority in the field of climate science”. I wouldn’t regard that as accurate at all, given his frequent misrepresentation of the science.

      Some interesting signatories, though.

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        • How many users of the Internet still take Scott Johnson seriously. He is in that “never never land” where William Happer (Bill Happless) and Judith Curry (Judy Currywurst) also reside. They do it for the money – I don’t know why Johnson persists or what his motivation is. These people have totally lost their connection to reality. It even seems that the horse’s ass Trump is approaching total unreality. Have they no shame, not that it really matters. In a couple of decades at least, all our geese will be cooked. The highest level of complexity of extant life on Earth will be nematodes. Even they will eventually die out. Why are you people deluding yourselves?

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          • I really respect Scott Johnson. He’s been challenging GM on his shoddy collating of science since long before the recent revelations of GM’s bilking supporters for money and lack of professional ethics. GM’s years of harassing young female acolytes didn’t start coming to light until the sexting scandal that emerged last week. Scott Johnson has been right all along about the science. However, it’s taken the revelations of GM’s lack of character for GM to start losing his credibility – except among a rabid group of defenders.

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          • Thanks, FoggySunset.

            That about sums it up for me…and…

            SJ is a tireless defender of climate science, the IPCC, and has spent the past nearly four years debunking the many many errors and intentional fabrication of GM. It took me nearly 1.5 years of intense research on this blog before reaching the conclusion that GM is not a climate scientist, but instead an ecological ideologue hell-bent on bringing down “civilization” for all its ills by any means necessary, including using psyops on his listener-students! GM is to climate science as Exxon is to climate science, except at opposite extremes of the ends of the spectrum. He gives climate scientists a very bad name, save for the fact – thank God – he isn’t one!

            Liked by 1 person

          • That’s quite a long comment for one that has zero content applicable to the post. I’d almost think Richard Smith was a pseudonym for Guy McPherson, as it’s the type of reply he gives, except that it’s much less insulting than the stuff Guy comes up with when he deigns to respond to criticism.

            If you have a critique of Scott Johnson’s post, then please explain where it is wrong, instead of throwing around insults with no basis.

            Liked by 1 person

  19. Hi, ALL. Just like to point out that with 2,600+ posts on this thread the arguments and analysis has already happened, and guess what? GM lost. As someone who has read all of them, GM’s proven to be a an eco-ideologue that does pys-ops on his students – in the likes of Exxon’s denying science, GM goes to the opposite extreme. For details, go to Discussions on this blog, most recently Discussion #5. Cheers, Balan

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