Off the Microphones of Guy McPherson, RE & Monsta

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on June 26, 2014


Discuss this Conversation at the Podcast Table inside the Diner



            GUY McPHERSON                              RE              RE-BM-Camp3

              EXTINCTION                            BOTTLENECK


We have been doing Podcasts for a full year now, and one of the first guests we invited on to talk Collapse with was Guy McPherson of Nature Bats Last.  The one year Anniversary of the Podcasts seemed like a good interval on which to catch up with Guy and further discuss the issues surrounding Collapse, in Guy’s case with emphasis on the Climate and Pollution issues we are currently facing down, which is where his focus lies.

Of all the Bloggers who are looking at Collapse issues, Guy has perhaps the most radical view, that the current spin down will not just lead to Collapse of Industrial Civilization, but in fact lead to a Near Term Human Extinction by Mid-Century.  This isn’t my view, I tend to think we will see a large population collapse and Bottleneck of Homo Sapiens by mid-Century, but not Extinction on this timeline.  Over the course of the last year on both of our Blogs, Nature Bats Last for Guy and the Doomstead Diner for me, we have come into conflict on several ocassions arguing the probabilities here.  In this Podcast, we hash out some of these differences of opinion, while managing not to get tooooo ticked off at each other.  LOL.

This is Part 1 of a 2 part conversation with Guy, in Part 2 Guy and my co-host on the Collapse Cafe Monsta further discuss the issues.  I had to sign off on participating in that part of the discussion because the Cafe where I use their Free WiFi closed unexpectedly early that day.  We will air Part II in the next week or so hopefully.

Whether you are in the Uber Doom camp of Guy and believe that we will see the Extinction of Homo Sapiens and just about all other life forms above the level of the Tardigrades or in the Full Doom Camp and think we are approaching a Population Bottleneck on the order of Toba, which knocked down Homo Sapiens to just 10,000 Human Souls or 1000 Breeding Pairs left standing, you certainly will get an earful of DOOM in this Podcast from both Guy and me.  If you are Doomer Lite and just think this is a blip in Generational Collapse of the Strauss & Howe 4th Turning variety, or if you are Cornucopian and think the Cold Fusion Cavalry is right around the corner here to Ride to the Rescue, you probably won’t agree with most of what is said, but still worth listening to IMHO.

Also, don’t miss the Anniversary Vidcast of the Collapse Cafe with Ugo Bardi of Resource Limits and Gail Tverberg of Our Finite World.  We discuss NTHE issues in the second half of the Vidcast.

…and that’s all the DOOM, this time until next time, HERE on the Doomstead Diner.




  • Sheila Chambers says:

    In the Toba event, there weren’t 7 billion humans on earth living in many different environments.

    Living underground sounds like a pipe dream, just where will you get the energy to grow food, keep the air oxygenated, remove CO2, clean up waste, & clean the water & what about all of the other life forms we depend upon for our existence?

    I can see a few humans surviving in remote places where they don’t currently depend upon imports to support themselves.
    In hot deserts, people dig their homes underground but their crops are above ground.

    If it gets too hostile to grow crops & for wildlife to survive, they we’re toast along with everything else above microbes.

    It’s easy to see the overwhelming evidence that shows there will be a massive culling of the excessive human population & the likely survivors will be those living in dirty, overpopulated areas where only the tough can survive now. Those weakened by modern medicine where even the genetically sick can live & even breed passing on their defects will be the most vulnerable to death.

    Think of all those people living in “modern” societies who wouldn’t exist without surgery, medicine, special diets etc & compare them to those living in 3rd world countries where only the “fittest” survive, those unfortunate to be born with severe defects die young & can’t pass on their defects. I think this will lead to much higher death rates in “advanced” countries than in poor, unsanitary countries.
    For most of us, the end of oil will mean the end of most of us & I hope that happens soon enough so some of the amazing life on this planet can live on without us.

    We are the most destructive animal to have ever evolved on this planet, this planet will be better off without so many of us, I would like to see at least a few of us to survive to carry on our species but without the power to be so destructive.

  • RE says:

    Contrary to popular belief, I am not in favor of Underground Living, though it might be necessary at some point in the future in some locations.

    I am in favor of trying to build resilient systems ABOVE ground, in as many locations as possible.

    There is no way the planet will support 7B or more Human Souls very long, there will be a Knockdown.

    The argument between me and Guy is whether anyone at all can survive in any location on the planet by any means, past mid-century. I contend that this is possible and likely. Guy contends it is if not impossible, highly UNLIKELY.

    Thhe argument is important because it affects the choices people make here. If you believe it is completely IMPOSSIBLE to survive, there is no point to doing anything at all. If you think it is possible a FEW can survive, then it makes sense to attempt building the types of resilient systems we discuss on the Diner.


  • tagio says:

    RE, Monsta,

    This was a very interesting and provoking interview, and although it got overly personal at times, I can understand why – it’s a very painful subject. It answered for me the question I always had about McP, namely, why he bothers to inform people about the already-baked-in results from climate science. I don’t buy his explanation that he is helping people live in the here and now and pursue lives of excellence. To me, he is just a douche and a deeply bitter person spreading his bitterness. This is just my personal impression, but I have to say it’s not joy, exuberance or joie de vivre I hear in his tone of voice, or see on his face. At best, deep sadness.

    I am not saying he might not be right, mind you. I sure as hell don’t know and he trots out the scientific papers easily enough, which I haven’t read. He seems to have a lot of personal and intellectual integrity, so I am not saying he’s not right about the fact that we will soon be extincting almost all life on earth, and I think whether this occurs by mid-century or by end-century is pretty much of a meaningless quibble.

    Nor do I embrace the speculative “out” that we don’t know what we don’t know and that there may be mechanisms at work or events that occur that will save our sorry asses from absolute extinction, because the speculative “out” works in both directions. I.e., what we don’t know may just as much be an acceleration and worsening of what we predict, so teh speculative “out” is no more grounds for hope than for despair.

    Regarding the here and now, on the whole, humans are pretty incapable of this, and live their lives based on expectations in a future world inside their heads. The best thing I have read on this is Morris Berman’s Wandering God, which explores the change in the nature of consciousness from the hunter gatherer (“Garden of Eden”) life to the agricultural /civilization life (you will work all your days and you will die, i.e., you will labor under the consciousness of death), which shifted us from a more here and now consciousness to a planning & deferral consciousness, with all of its concomitant anxieties, and which creates the need for Religion. Call it original sin, if you want, that we can’t ever escape, but adopting a more here and now consciousness is not as easy as throwing a switch or making a decision to do it.

    I don’t know what McP means by living a life of excellence, but I assume it means living free of the demands of a consumerist mentality, and just living based one’s heartfelt desires rather than pursuing the society’s current version of “the Good Life,” a/k/a the American Dream. If so, there may be something in what McP says that realizing the End is Nigh makes it easier to throw off the judgments of society, friends and family and just do one’s thing. Unfortunately, the reaction depends on the person, and that realization could also equally produce a rather depressed outlook, that nothing matters, might as well be a freaking hedonist, or just a paralyzing sadness. So in that regard, he should at least admit that there is a good chance that his message will produce harm, not good. It still might be worthwhile to put the message out there, but at least own the fact that it is not an unalloyed good. Then there is the matter that so many people really don’t have much in the way of options for shifting very much out of their current modes of existence -work, the place they live & work, the nature of that work, family, and their family obligations – so that unless “excellence” is defined pretty much in spiritual terms, rather than in physical manifestations, well, it’s really not an option, and the reality that thus dawns on you is that you are stuck having to tread the same treadmill under the burden of realizing with Full Consciousness how futile, pointless and destructive it all is.

    Finally, McP’s underlying moral judgment irks me – his implicit condemnation that we are destructive idiots and could have done better had we relied on Reason rather than greed or other human traits. What I would ask for is consistency. He relies on science, so he must believe in the inevitability of cause and effect and that there is no such thing as Free Will. We are here doing this because we never could do anything different. We arrived here inevitably. The ending was baked in when our ancestors, no doubt for very pressing reasons at the time, shifted from a hunter-gatherer small clan mode of existence to farming and civilization. So accusing RE of the “kind of thinking that got us here” is just pointless and ridiculous. “Nature” had surplus stores of energy and “it” evolved an animal that could take advantage of those stores of energy. Humans are evolved agents of thermodynamic principles, hastening the heat-death of our own little spot in the universe. IT COULD NEVER BE OTHERWISE. So in my opinion McP will be a little easier to take if he loses the moral dimension of his talks, like there was ever any choice in the matter. We are just nature doing its thing.

    IF any humans survive, they will presumably be of a different type, mentally different for sure,than the run of the mill civilized human that got us here. Natural selection at its best, I guess.

  • dcoyote says:

    There must some genetic predisposition to cultism; doomsayers are some of the most popular “guys” around. Worse, we have listen to the cultists moan and sway in unison, until “the day” passes by and the world is still here. Then its on to the next end of the world preacher. Think hard about that mantra, stop drinking the koolaid, you might discover real science has marched on past the warmunistas. “Oh, but they all agree that….” (their funding will dry up when this interglacial finally ends…. ) Do you really think it is good for the average Joe 6pak when “they” want to prohibit reasonably cheap means of warming ourselves when it actually gets colder instead of warmer- as it has been for the last 17 years. It is unbelievably sad to see intelligent people understand that a financial system based on debt, based on cheap fossil energy will collapse- and yet cannot look away from the smoke and mirror show of the warming agenda- which is NOT there to help YOU. Population overshoot from cheap energy (food) will correct itself- brutally. Lets not make it worse by denying ourselves what is left of that dense energy source for the survivors. Rest assured, they will burn all the coal and oil they can get their hands on to stay alive- and build nuclear plants when it is gone, too after the protesters are starved and frozen. Get off that bandwagon the pipers have lured you onto- they have too many singers already. Start looking at surviving instead.

  • RE says:

    Bitterness is pretty pervasive on NBL, and Guy himself does admit to being bitter about his choice to move to the Mud Hut and not continue pulling down a paycheck as a Tenured Professor at the University of Arizona. Bitterness comes across from many of the regulars in the commentariat as well.

    I’m also not sure what “Living a Life of Excellence” means. To me, it seems an Excellent thing to promote building resilient structures and developing alternative means of food production other than Industrial Agriculture. To Guy, this seems “Patriarchal”.

    Far as whether all this was Written in Stone from the beginning, on a Thermodynamic level of course it was. The main hubris here is that Homo Sapiens should have been SMART enough to understand the limitations of the planet, and done things to make sure it lasted longer.

    Problem there is the difference between Individual Intelligence and Network Intelligence. As the society grew bigger, it became too large for any individual to control how the whole juggernaut moved along. Ag overran H-G because Ag accessed more energy and bred more people. Industrialization overran Ag because it accessed more energy and bred still more people, not to mention way better Killing Machines.

    However, the energy to run this type of civilization is rapidly disappearing, so the population will shrink again. Whether it will shrink to ZERO or not and on what timeline remains an open question.

    Meanwhile, I think it is an EXCELLENT idea to start building Grow Domes.


  • Tony says:

    Guy doesn’t seem to realise that Frank Fenner, the Australian biologist died a few months after the remarks that Guy mentioned. So it’s kind of difficult to question him or to see if his thoughts have changed in the last 4 years. His comment on how wide you draw the climate scientist net seems to be scraping the barrel. To put Bob Geldof, an activist, in the climate scientist net seems bizarre and an attempt to trawl together some support for his position. Not one of the few people he mentioned is a climate scientist and there were only a few names mentioned anyway.

  • Tony says:

    Just commenting as I listen.

    Guy said that phytoplankton was 40% gone but provided no reference. There is certainly some recent research that indicates acidification is taking its toll on phytoplankton species but the 40% figure presumably comes from a paper in 2010 by Boyce, et al, which gave that decline (since the turn of the last century, I think). That paper was criticised by other scientists and Boyce, et al, did more research, releasing a paper earlier this year that gave s very different picture (unquantified declines in 60% of the ocean areas, some increases elsewhere). The even more recent research also indicates decline but that research was quite constrained in area (the US west coast) and is also vague about quantification (that I could see).

  • RE says:

    Phytoplankton is an interesting question, and it would be highly unlikely any Hom Sapiens could survive if they were all wiped out.

    However, if you accept the 40% decline figure, one would think you would begin to see some indication of atmospheric de-oxygenization. However, it remains fairly constant, because it is a very large well.

    Even assuming a complete wipeout of phytoplankton, because the quantity in the atmosphere is so large, it would take 1000’s if not millions of years to deplete it, particularly if you had a large wipeout of animal life. So Suffocating on a 30-50 year timeline because of lack of free Oxygen is not very likely here.

    It is also unlikely you get a COMPLETE wipeout of phytoplankton, though you may lose a variety of species. However, these are single cell organisms, they adapt quickly. In the acidity range we are talking about here, many single cell organisms can withstand much lower pH than this. There are life forms which survive around volcanic plumes at the floor of the ocean that deal with pH4 and lower. Crustaceans won’t last in this environment, but phytoplankton probably can.

    Extinction is inevitable, the argument here is Timeline. Guy’s timeline is unreasonable and unlikely. It is way too fast.


  • Tony says:

    Guy talks about the science but often quotes non-scientists for his primary arguments, such as the so-called clathrate gun. He takes a blog article by Sam Carana as evidence that the clathrate gun has been fired. I’d rather he pointed to peer reviewed science (not that peer review guarantees accuracy, but the lack of peer review greatly reduces the confidence in accuracy). I can’t find any information about someone called Sam Carana, other than the fact the he (or she?) produces occasional blog posts. Interestingly, Sam Carana has a plan to save the world so even that identity doesn’t think NTHE is certain.

    Guy has a point in living as though the day were here, but if humans could go extinct by 2030, then we should expect our situation to get very bad very rapidly very soon. In that case, it is like the Sword of Damocles hanging over each of us, so his hope that his message might lead to people living lives of excellence, until the death, is very naive. For those who have children, even more so.

    Regarding phytoplankton, my point is really that there is very little evidence now that his claim of phytoplankton being all gone son is accurate. It might be but it is pure speculation.

    Guy takes the worst case from any words he can find, whether from experts, well read folk and activists. He then assumes that all of those worst cases will happen and so concludes near term human (and all other species) extinction. He hasn’t actually shown why his view of the evidence is correct or that even his view of the evidence inevitably leads to near term human extinction.

    Still, if he thinks extinction will happen by the 30s, then we should have very clear evidence of that quite soon (unless he see non-linear changes as gentle warming until 2029 and then a huge rise in a year). If so, then that would certainly be pure speculation.

  • Tony says:

    I must say that, despite my criticisms of some of Guy’s arguments, he put forward a much more convincing case than RE or Monsta. If he could leave out the non-science and recheck his sources (including each of the supposed 37 self-reinforcing positive feedbacks), then he could be a great ambassador for action on climate change. But if extinction is going to become obvious in the next decade, then there isn’t a lot of reason to take action.

  • RE says:

    Tony, I’m not putting forth a “case” in the same fashion Guy is. I have no clue if NTHE will occur or not. I give it maybe a 10% probability within that timeline

    My point is whether it will or will not, you still operate in the same way, which is to try to make the best of a bad situation for so long as you can.


  • Tony says:

    Fair enough , RE. I think some of Guy’s points could have been better challenged but that is with hindsight, of course. E.g. as I mentioned above, his list of “other people” who foresee “near term” human extinction was actually quite short and not a broad selection (a deceased biologist, an anthropologist and her farther, a wildlife biologist and a musician turned activist) and no climate scientists (big names or not – and I don’t know why you regard “Paul Beckwith” as a prominent climate scientist). In fact, Louise Leakey didn’t “conclude” near term human extinction in her Huffington post piece, rather that it wouldn’t take much to tip into such extinction. And Neil Dawe also didn’t say that extinction was inevitable but that we need to reduce our numbers. Well, both you and guy think our numbers will be reduced.

  • RE says:

    Guy’s List was pretty thin, but even inside that list, the definition of how rapidly an extinction could occur is not apparent or agreed on by any of these folks. I don’t think there is ANYBODY other than Guy who will finger Extinction by 2050. That is just an outrageously short timeline.


  • St. Roy says:

    Hi RE

    I enjoyed your podcast with Guy. As a fellow natural scientist, I believe that he has done a very credible job researching the peer reviewed literature on the environmental changes that will lead to the NTE of humans and other critters. And, I agree with his conclusions and time frame. I also agree with Ernst Mayr that the 100,000 years for existsnce of any species on the planet is about up for Homo sapiens so se need to accept it as normal. Thus, I rejoice at being one of the last of our species and possibly witnessing our end. If the misery gets too painful there are many ways to check out. So I try to enjoy each day with good food, good friends, good love and good entertainment from the collapse and extinction community. Keep up the good rants and cafe podcasts.

  • Gary says:

    I was wondering why some of the podcasts do not appear to have mp3 download links. Is there a way to download this podcast? Thanks

  • RE says:

    I make the Rants available for Download, not generally the Interviews.

    We are working on a Subscription system for downloading the Cafe Interivews. Hopefully up soon.


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