Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Extinction Survey

Tim White
There is a survey currently running on the Doomstead Diner, which asks people to make specific, numerical estimates about the timing of human extinction. It is inspired by the work of Guy McPherson, who has amassed much scientific evidence that points to very major climate disruption occurring over the next 2-3 decades, caused by multiple runaway positive feedback effects, such as Arctic methane release. Guy's conclusion is that these changes will mean that the Earth will no longer provide a habitat for humans, leading to near-term human extinction. His reasoning, as far as I have been able to piece it together, rests on a supposition of time-invariance: the planet will be warmer than it has ever been in human experience; therefore, no humans will survive. This is far short of a proof.

I see two ways to provide a proof.

The first is based on proving the existence of an extinction mechanism. For example, humans don't function well when atmospheric CO2 concentrations exceed 5000ppm, which cause dizziness, fainting spells and asphyxiation. Right now they are around 400ppm, going up by 2ppm every year. If that stays on track, this gives us 2300 years. However, there is not enough fossil fuels to keep burning at the same rate for another 2300 years. I am not aware of any straightforward bit of math that would conclusively demonstrate the impossibility of our continued existence.

The second is to make an inventory of all possible human habitats, and lifestyles to go with them, and then demonstrate that none of these habitats will be available in just a few decades. This is tricky, because it's so easy to pass over some small niche that may remain survivable far into the future, and all it takes is one of these to narrowly avoid extinction. An examination of mitochondrial DNA showed that at one point the human population dwindled to just a handful, yet we are still around—numbering in the billions! Extermination is hard—ask any exterminator—and extinction is even harder.

Still, my personal feeling is that most of us will go extinct by this century's end. Some will have no choice: when the Himalaya stops producing the requisite amount of snow melt to irrigate much of southeast Asia, and when the monsoon fails, that will be the end for a few billions of us. In other cases, it will be a matter of not being given a choice: many people would be able to leave death-trap cities behind and filter out into the countryside, where they could fend for themselves, but the countryside is marked "Private Property" and "No Trespassing," and so they will stay in the cities and die. (However, there are effective, proven methods of disabusing people of the notion that "this land is their land," and city people can be quite resourceful.) But there are many of those for whom extinction will be a matter of cultural preference. Like the Greenland Vikings, who could very well survive by emulating the Inuit rather than trying to exterminate them, many people will refuse to survive because the sort of survival that is possible will be below their high cultural standards. In the best traditions of the British navy, they will prefer to "drown like gentlemen" rather than grab a piece of flotsam, wash up on some wild shore, and quietly go native.

Back to the survey on the Doomstead Diner: Guy found it disagreeable. Here is his take on it:
I’ve not responded to the survey, nor will I, for two primary reasons:

1. Ask a stupid question, and you’re likely to receive a stupid answer. In this case, stupid responses prevail. A relevant question would focus on habitat for humans. Such a question might produce rational responses, even from academics.

2. Science does not depend upon, and is not heavily influenced by, democratic principles. Our votes have no bearing on the outcome.
To this I would add the following. Finding out people's guesstimates on exact numbers they have no way of calculating amounts to two things:

1. a better way to "market" human extinction (creepy as hell, if you think about it); and

2. feeding the confirmation bias of a bunch of self-selected "doomers," who can then all agree with each other about things they don't know anything about.

But I am very interested in the topic of voluntary extinction: the idea that large groups of people, who could theoretically have a choice in the matter, will go to their doom voluntarily, because they are unwilling to relinquish various standards and expectations which are becoming maladaptive.

And so, as a first thing, I thought I'd do a survey myself, to see where my readers' comfort level is in discussing the subject. A low comfort level would be indicative of an unwillingness to entertain thoughts of breaking cultural taboos and embracing choices that "civilized" people find distasteful. If the average score turns out to be low, then there is no reason to proceed. But if it is reasonably high, then the next step is to ask which cultural adaptations elicit the most discomfort, and which the least.

I am not interested in marketing extinction to a bunch of "doomers." The "doomers" are doomed by definition. I am interested in proposing cultural adaptations and small-scale technologies that might prevent extinction.

And so, without further ado, here is my survey (which is now closed, so here it is in text form).

1. How comfortable are you with the idea that Homo Sapiens, just like every other species, is doomed to eventual extinction?

2. How comfortable are you with the idea that the human species may go extinct in the not-too-distant future?

3. How comfortable are you with the thought that many coastal cities, in which much of the global population lives, will be underwater by the end of the century?

4. How comfortable are you with the thought that reduced snow-pack and glacial melt will wipe out entire farming regions, on which billions of people depend?

5. How comfortable are you with the reality of national boundaries dissolving under the influx of political, economic and environmental migrants?

6. How comfortable are you with the idea of overwhelmed health care systems leading to much higher disease loads, widespread mortality from currently preventable causes, much higher infant mortality and much lower life expectancy?

7. How comfortable are you with the thought that, due to shortages of nonrenewable resources of all kinds, dense population centers will not be maintainable, turning cities into death traps?

8. How comfortable are you with the prospect that unstable and extreme weather will make farming and kitchen-gardening unreliable, forcing the few survivors to revert to a nomadic lifestyle, gleaning what they can when and where they can, then moving on?

9. How comfortable are you with the prospect of civilized, urban humanity going extinct, being survived by widely dispersed, feral populations of hominids that eventually evolve into different hominid species?

For each question, the answers were:

Extremely uncomfortable
Somewhat uncomfortable
Somewhat comfortable
Perfectly comfortable


Update: between 3am and 8:44am I've collected more than enough data—a few hundred sets of responses. But unfortunately I used a service called SurveyMonkey, which allowed me to put up a survey for free, but then, unannounced, decided to hold the results hostage unless I pay them $300, which I won't do. After some email back-and-forth, they admitted that I own the data, and then refused to give it to me. So, don't use SurveyMonkey unless you want your data stolen. I managed to scrape the first 100 results off their web site (they won't let me download any results unless I pay up) but they are interesting and significant in any case. In short, I got the data I was looking for. Here is how they break down.

1. How comfortable are you with the idea that Homo Sapiens, just like every other species, is doomed to eventual extinction?

6 12 21 13 47

This was a calibration question, to get the dirt out of the data. People who are uncomfortable with the age and size of the universe, and our utter insignificance on the scale of things, aren't ready to discuss near-term human extinction. The 6 "Extremely uncomfortable" and the 12 "Somewhat uncomfortable" responses on the left are skewing the data. To adjust for this skew, I subtract 6 from the "Extremely uncomfortable" column, 12 from the "Somewhat uncomfortable," and add 18 to "Indifferent" (because indifference cuts both ways, you know).

0 0 39 13 47

The data that follow have been adjusted accordingly. Ah, much better! We will all go extinct eventually, and if you are uncomfortable with this, please seek help elsewhere. Yes, this does mean that 18% of the audience won't benefit from this exercise, but I think we should proceed for the sake of the remaining 82%.

2. How comfortable are you with the idea that the human species may go extinct in the not-too-distant future?

17 16 33 11 22

Now, this is very interesting indeed, because the data is split very evently: 1/3 uncomfortable, 1/3 indifferent, and 1/3 comfortable. Now, it doesn't seem all that normal to be perfectly comfortable with everyone you know and their children going extinct in the next few decades. Some amount of emotional discomfort seems normal, given the subject matter. And look at the spike over on the right! I believe that at least some of the 22 "Extremely comfortable" respondents answered the wrong question: not whether they are comfortable with it, but whether they believe in it. This is another sort of skew, but let's hope that it is confined to this question.

3. How comfortable are you with the thought that many coastal cities, in which much of the global population lives, will be underwater by the end of the century?

2 7 37 19 33

This, I would guess, is the result of the story of rising ocean levels being endlessly repeated: people have become comfortable with the idea, in the sense of their senses having been dulled. But this isn't something to be comfortable or complacent about.

4. How comfortable are you with the thought that reduced snow-pack and glacial melt will wipe out entire farming regions, on which billions of people depend?

11 19 30 12 27

But this one hasn't been talked about quite so much. Yes, the California drought is a big story, and Lake Mead which feeds Las Vegas is drying up, but the full scale of the disaster globally hasn't quite sunk in yet. So this is a gap in coverage that is worth addressing.

5. How comfortable are you with the reality of national boundaries dissolving under the influx of political, economic and environmental migrants?

7 6 28 16 42

This is interesting, because there is a supermajority of people who are comfortable with the traditional nation-state going away. It would appear that most national politicians who try to make use of immigration as a "hot button" issue are in fact quite far behind the curve on this one. Since my work is very much international, not in terms of nation-states but in terms of ethnic nations, this result makes me happy.

6. How comfortable are you with the idea of overwhelmed health care systems leading to much higher disease loads, widespread mortality from currently preventable causes, much higher infant mortality and much lower life expectancy?

9 18 27 12 32

Here we have a clear multimodal distribution, its two peaks representing resignation (in the middle) and indifference (on the right). I don't think that this is a particularly helpful result. It is very hard for a society that has had the resources to be compassionate to embrace austerity and to ration treatment, limiting it to those who are either productive or promising to become so. Coming to terms with this transition is quite a task, and this is another area that needs much more attention. If it did, people might be a bit less comfortable with it.

7. How comfortable are you with the thought that, due to shortages of nonrenewable resources of all kinds, dense population centers will not be maintainable, turning cities into death traps?

7 10 27 16 39

Same multimodal distribution, but overall leaning even more heavily toward "comfortable." It would seem that, in light of all we see, many people have lost hope that there will still be prosperous urban islands, with the help of advanced technology perhaps. (If you study the data, bauxite, used to smelt aluminum, will be the only nonrenewable industrial input that will still be abundant by mid-century; but the energy to smelt it won't be.) The demise of megacities is another subject worth tackling, and it is clear that there is an audience for it.

8. How comfortable are you with the prospect that unstable and extreme weather will make farming and kitchen-gardening unreliable, forcing the few survivors to revert to a nomadic lifestyle, gleaning what they can when and where they can, then moving on?

12 9 33 20 26

The surprise here, if any, is the lack of strong sentiment on the issue: the majority is either indifferent or only somewhat comfortable with the idea.

9. How comfortable are you with the prospect of civilized, urban humanity going extinct, being survived by widely dispersed, feral populations of hominids that eventually evolve into different hominid species?

10 -5 35 18 42

Bottom line: extremely comfortable. The -5 is the result of a few people who were far out in left field in question 1. lurching even further to the left. The subject of feral humanity should also be on the menu.

Thank you for your responses. This has been most enlightening!


Maxine Rogers said...

I have done my bit for human extinction by being surgically sterilized as a young woman. This is a choice I have never regreted. I am 50 now. Extinction, or at least population reducyreduction to something less obscene, can be achieved by having fewer or no children.

ArtS said...

Extinction of humanity is an absurd non-starter.

It is not necessary to have extinction as a threat to have a thoroughly undesireable potential outcome.

How about "planetary scale holocaust for humanity?"

We are talking about a potentiality far worst than ordinary genocide, so let's not be distracted by arguing the idea that it
wouldn't be SO bad, as long as extinction of the human (but not most other) species can be avoided.

Karl Boyken said...

Maybe the problem lies in the comfort levels. Extinction should be an uncomfortable subject that we should be able to talk about. I'm a former hospice volunteer, and part of the training for being with the dying is to learn to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. If we are going to talk only about subjects that give us a warm, fuzzy feeling, then all is lost.

Dmitry Orlov said...

ArtS -

If you think that the topic is without merit, then you shouldn't waste your time commenting on it.

Maxine -

This is about preventing extinction, not causing it. But thanks for trying.

k-dog said...

Ask a stupid question and get a stupid answer but sometimes a stupid answer or stupid question is better than no question or answer at all. The Doomstead survey is a chance to go against the pervasive and socially approved attitudes of 'Don't Worry be happy' or'Enjoy the show there is nothing you can do about it anyway'.

We live in a time where people have become as passive as bowls of jello. We live in a time where nothing matters and everything goes. How can it be wrong to ask people what they think on a survey. The results on the Doomstead survey are for entertainment only. No harm is being done with the results unlike other surveys which ring phones all the time for commercial marketing research. Something is very wrong with thinking there is something wrong with taking the Doomstead survey. You would prefer taking one on your consumer habits? Alas most people probably would.

If more people can understand that they can think about the mortality, demise, and flaws of our civilization and culture without their heads exploding by taking the Doomstead or your survey that is a good thing.

But perhaps Guy McPherson enjoys giving his talk to empty rooms. I don't think he does so perhaps he should embrace the idea that no doomer is an island and relax his sphincter a little.

JeanDavid said...

I have no objection to discussing the topic of human (and human-caused) extinction as a species. My main regret is that those in power seem so bent on accelerating the process. In other words, if we died out in 250,000 years or something like that, it would not bother me so much because it might give time for a better species to evolve. But it seems to me that we are hastening the process to where, even if there is no nuclear war, we could eliminate 99% of the people in a few decades. And I attribute this to our failure to practice a Reverence For Life (a phrase I first noticed in a work of Albert Schweitzer). And that disrespect I find to be a terrible moral failure.

I do not think the human race will become totally extinct. Perhaps a few thousand might survive. But then, I would not really want to be one of them. I feel so sorry for some young people in my life that might not die a natural death because of the greed and stupidity of the rest of us.

My main contribution is that I have never had any children. But that was due to social ineptitude, not a moral conviction. I do try to make the lives of those already here to be better.

peakfuture said...

Am I thrilled that there's a good chance we'll all go extinct? No. But it is difficult to argue with the data.

Oddly enough, Guy McPherson's admonition to 'live a life of excellence' is something I've taken to heart more and more. It means a life of less nonsense/BS, and doing things that matter.

Dmitry's premise (and one which has been mentioned by others) is probably our future; a few will survive through the bottleneck, and things will continue onwards. Don't know if we'll become feral, though. Language and writing can still be maintained in pretty primitive conditions.

Given some of the writings on this site, who might live through the bottleneck? One bet would be on a tightly knit religious or ethnic group with a strong sense of community, who are mobile, and who live low to the ground; maybe Romani or Irish Travellers? Perhaps they'll be using a fleet of modified Quidnons, somewhere in the warmed Arctic...

Professor Diabolical said...

These are only ideas. Because these are ideas and therefore items that would be weighed, considered, and debated, they are all fully and equally comfortable. How could one be made uncomfortable by just an idea? That's illogical and impractical because you could not properly respond to a demand placed on you if you cannot even place the idea-model in your mind without discomfort.

If you're asking if I would be comfortable with the ACTUAL annihilation of the species, down to the deaths of several billion in it, then obviously the answer would be no, it would not be comfortable to experience that. ...In which case all the test questions would be answered the same: "Do not want."

So what is this test supposed to measure? The level of resistance of people to considering abstract thoughts?

Dmitry Orlov said...

peakfuture -

We won't know who will survive, by definition, unless we ourselves survive. I don't think that living a life of excellence and being one of the survivors are incompatible.

JeanDavid -

I have trouble imagining that anyone is actually in control of the situation. It's hard enough to deal with people one on one; groups up to 150 are viable, but a million people is a mere statistic and a billion people is pure fiction.


The good thing about Guy is that he actually understands and reports on scientific research. The so-so thing about him is that he jumps to a conclusion without sufficient justification, IMHO. But that's a minor failing. But then there is the selling of NTHE as entertainment, or as whatever, and that is at best a waste of time, and at worst crass and distasteful. I don't think your "anything goes" attitude is all that productive.

Dmitry Orlov said...

Professor Diabolical -

No, these are not just ideas. They are observations of trends which, when extrapolated, give rise to the scenarios described in the questions. How comfortable you are with the actual reality of them is likely to correlate tightly with how likely you are to survive them. Being so uncomfortable with the reality of them that you consider them "just ideas" equates with voluntary extinction.

Robert Goad said...

What a grand time to be a nomadic sailor. Much like during the 18th and 19th centuries if you approach a new shore and find it wiped out due to war, famine, volcanic eruption, etc then so be it. If it's a way cool enclave of similar thinkers who have survived in fine style than even more so be it. Life is too short and sweet to go about whining about the punch bowl running dry or the litter box finally becoming untenable. There's never been any guarantees. A rogue meteor to the forehead guarantees personal extinction. Oh well..... when in danger, or in doubt, hoist the sails, and blow on out. Malevolent meteors be damned.

peakfuture said...

It is hard as hell sometimes to wrap your head around this stuff, though. Intellectually, sure. Being raised in the typical American culture (being brought up on the idea of a Tomorrowland future), the path to this worldview has been ongoing.

The real trick in most of this is holding fast to reality while the world around you spouts the "they'll find a way out of this/but we've got technology, dude!" mantra (and so damn loudly!). It sometimes ain't easy when you are surrounded by a bunch of people in the high-tech world. Hence the importance of this blog and others like it.

Keep it up, Dmitry.

Professor Diabolical said...

I would be more likely to take accurate action and less likely to go extinct if I got an electric shock every time I considered what to do?

I have to disagree with the measuring premise. In martial arts, definitively the best fighters are calm and can consider both taking a punch and giving one without being made uncomfortable by either idea--or in taking real blows for that matter. In martial arts -- the definitive art of possible injury and accurate response in time -- being afraid of ideas is for amateurs. Being calm is for masters. Don't panic.

k-dog said...

I guess I was not being clear. My "anything goes" attitude is a common cultural bias we have in America and it is not any attitude I share. Not all ideas are created equal. In America, in general, we suffer under the notion that they are.

Ideas with a sound mathematical foundation have far more value than idle speculations which may have no value at all. This man explains:

On Telling Shit from Shinola; by Terence McKenna

An "anything goes" attitude is not all that productive, I agree. It is antithetical to being meaningful and productive.

pyrrhus said...

My opinion is that present day humanity, like all species, will eventually become extinct...meh! In the shorter run, however, I see no prospects of extinction, short of a planet killer sized meteor or a supernova in our galactic neighborhood. I do see a certain major die-off of humans back to historical levels, probably less than 1/10 current population and probably 1/50 or less in Africa and parts of Asia, as cheap fossil fuels are exhausted, farm land is degraded or destroyed, fresh water aquifers disappear, etc........I will say that this process is largely completed by 2300.

Rolnard Covzure said...

Still seeing the irksome conflation of 'extinction' (which applies to a species) and what should properly be termed simply 'death' (which applies to an individual). My relatives can't go extinct; they can only die. And they will, and so will I, 100% guaranteed. I am very comfortable with it.

Whether homo sapiens will go extinct is a different question. It does seem fairly inevitable though, simply because Mutations Happen(TM), and the environmental pressures are always changing. And in fact, the minute you reproduce -- EVEN IF YOU JUST SURVIVED SOME PRECIPITOUS DIE-OFF EVENT -- you are potentially creating mutations that lead genetically away from what we now define as homo sapiens.

I have to say, I find the human obsession with human extinction typically narcissistic. Do you suppose eohippi sat around debating whether to evolve into modern horses vs. whether eohippus was already the pinnacle of evolution and needed to be preserved at all costs? A laughably untenable value-judgment would've been necessary as a precondition to even weighing in on such a question. But it didn't even matter -- as soon as some mutation proved more advantageous, the decision was made for them.

pyrrhus said...

By the way, as Francis Galton discovered with respect to contests judging livestock weights, and all other matters not subject to specific technical expertise, that the "wisdom of crowds" was superior to the opinions of "experts." DOD has a project going on this, seems to be true.

JeanDavid said...

Perhaps no one (in the sense of individuals to be blamed) is in control, but the illusion is that the ruling class is in control. Bit the "ruling class" is probably a linguistic evasion. I mean, it is possible to list the 100 richest people in the world, but to what degree to they actually rule. We could blame it all on a single entity: the republican party, the democrat party, GOD (whatever that is). The way I seem to think, there is always a "they" that is responsible, because it is uncomfortable to me to believe it is all a mad random meaningless process. But I recognize that that is just one of my personal limitations. But would it be any different if I said "we" instead of "they" in my desire to have someone to blame? And even if I blame the "right" entity, what difference would it make.

Much as I hate the status quo, I am already saddened to see it being destroyed, or already saddened that we are destroying it.

Inspector Lohmann said...

@JeanDavid: "Perhaps no one (in the sense of individuals to be blamed) is in control, but the illusion is that the ruling class is in control. Bit the "ruling class" is probably a linguistic evasion. I mean, it is possible to list the 100 richest people in the world, but to what degree to they actually rule...."

I like ANT (actor-network-theory). Here's a great quote from one of its thinkers:

"No one, no thing, no class, no gender, can 'have power' unless a set of relations is constituted and held in place: a set of relations that distinguishes between this and that (distribution), and then goes on to regulate the relations between this and that." —John Law

Jan Schmidt said...

Most people cannot really comprehend the issue here or believe mainstream press... that is why we still are on target to doom humanity. but there are factors, that give rise to hope: knowledge is distributed over the internet and many people work on technologies and societes that can change humanity first on small scale then larger.
even now many areas on earth face more and more dire conditions: california runs out of water, the arctic is almost icefree, in the antartic more big ice shelfs will be destroyed by global warming. methane is not just permafrost related, also fracking in usa and abroad accelerates the greenhouse effect.
most people do not want to know their fate, ignorance is bliss. but my money is on the few people who are looking even now for sustainable short and long term solutions.

John D. Wheeler said...

One problem I had with taking the survey was what you were referring to with "comfortable", discussing the ideas or the events themselves. In the end I basically incorporated both into my answers; the couple that I marked "extremely uncomfortable", I don't even like to think about; the ones I marked "extremely comfortable" I am actually somewhat in favor of. Most notably, for the questions about coastal cities and cities in general, I think many of our current problems arise out of living in cities and the global trade generated by coastal cities, so while the transition may be painful, I think we will be better off in the end without them.

Cindy Shirar said...

I only recently came to shaky grips with collapse and now, after reading and viewing the meat of Dr. McPherson's work (the inevitable near-team extinction stuff), I am nearly catatonic with grief and fear.

Unlike some of the wiser people here, I brought four children into this world--and they're all young (17, six, four and 18 months). I look at them and am paralyzed knowing that, somehow, over the time we have left, they'll become aware. My oldest, already, smart kid that he is, has got a pretty good idea--and I don't know what to tell him.

God, I've been so busy--like everyone else--trying to make sure basics are met that I don't even know what "pursuing a life of excellence" is.

I do know how to love, though. I love so much it could kill me.

I mean, I just don't get it. It doesn't change our fate, but how is anything humans do "unnatural" if we're part of nature? This includes our headlong rush towards annihilation. Is this how I explain it to those I love? "Welp, this is just how the universe goes...?"

Sorry for the naive musings. Just need to find my moorings... Scared.


Nathan said...

"An examination of mitochondrial DNA showed that at one point the human population dwindled to just a handful"

Eight people in fact. Noah his wife, their sons Ham, Shem and Japheth and the wives of their sons. Atmospheric pressure at sea level back then in the ante-deluvian days was at least double what it is today (necessary for a Brontosaurus to breathe through those tiny nostrils that are no bigger than a horse's), creating a supercharging hyperbaric chamber effect. The earth was probably shrouded in a thick cloud of water vapour that blocked a lot of the harmful UV rays, both of which promoted incredible longevity for mankind and animal species. Hey, maybe we'll get a return to these conditions and those of us who survive the energy descent will luck out into 900 year long lifespans and the vitality to produce offspring at 500 years of age and build massive structures by hand.

Marc L Bernstein said...

As far as I know, only the CIA and the United Nations keep detailed global demographic statistics. Presumably, many individual nations keep their own local demographic statistics, and the United Nations stays in touch with various local organizations in order to construct their global statistical reports.

A question pertaining to the topic of demographics concerns the length of time proceeding into the future that such statistics will be generally available. My guess is that, in spite of what various fans of globalization might promote, that it won't be long, a few decades perhaps, when statistics (local or global) on births, deaths, visits to hospitals, infant mortality, life expectancy, etc., will cease to be available.

When I want to know general demographic statistics I consult the following:


Presumably these websites rely on United Nations statistical info.

There will come a time when "we" (a representative individual human, say within Western civilization) will lose touch with our own future, meaning that we will never know how things turn out for us as a species, among other things of similar interest.

As long as nation states persist, and as long as the United Nations persists, such statistics will probably be available, although some will become old and outdated. Taking a page out of John Michael Greer's general perspective, it is reasonable to hypothesize that nation states will collapse over time, maybe a bit like popcorn in a microwave oven --- a few at 1st, then many within a short period of time and finally a few at the end of the process of nation state dissolution.

Just like we will probably never know whether or not there are other intelligent species elsewhere in the universe, we will also likely be doomed to never knowing our own fate as a species, as a civilization, etc.

So, the questions you (Dmitry Orlov) pose are interesting but I'm afraid that we will never know how things turn out. Personally, although I find the topic fascinating, I'm not emotionally comfortable with any part of your survey except the eventual extinction of humanity (a virtual inevitability), because as individuals we are partially (though infinitesimally) responsible for many of the features that characterize our future. It is our fault that we have overrun the world, displaced many species, sent others to extinction, defoliated massive regions, desertified others and are significantly changing the climate.

Your image of widely dispersed feral humans slowly evolving (through isolation and speciation) into distinct types of hominids is in a macabre sense rather comforting. Perhaps as George Mobus has suggested, Homo Sapiens Sapiens is ultimately dysfunctional, and a "better" species may develop in its place.

michael_in_adelaide said...

Remember that climate change is most extreme at the poles and mildest at the equator. I imagine that even with catastrophic climate change and/or nuclear war there would be people who would survive in Papua New Guinea and they can later repopulate the world.

Jürgen Botz said...

I think that most people who read this blog agree that a massive and relatively rapid decomplexification of society and consequent reduction of human population to much lower levels than today is at this point inevitable. Independent thinking humans have been faced with this apparent inevitability for a while now, hence the relatively high "comfort levels." Outright total extinction of homo sapiens on the other hand, while a possibility, seems a little outlandish, depending on either something like a runaway greenhouse effect, for which scientific support at this point exists but is weak, or total nuclear war, which we seem to have put out of our collective minds after it didn't happen last time we were faced with it.

But what leaves me distinctly uncomfortable is that it seems to me highly likely that the coming decomplexification and population reduction will not unfold "naturally" as a result of slowly disappearing resources, but rather will be helped along and accelerated by any and all who have to means and wish to ensure that they or their descendents are amongst that reduced population of the future. Limited nuclear war might be seen has having a double benefit of getting to that reduced population quickly (and thus halting further warming by eliminating excess use of fossile fuels) while at the same time providing some immediate cooling via nuclear winter. Others, who do not have access to this option might settle for mere population reduction via biological warfare means, which seem to be close to being accessible to anyone with a modern garage biolab. In any case, there can be little doubt that many are talking (secretly) about these options or are already planning their implementation.

THAT is what makes me unconfortable.

David Webb said...

Mr Orlov, I find your observations on the economic landscape of America and Russia illuminating. Your reasoning is rational and clear. Yet you continue to be a climate change obsessive. I'm aware that you do not like discussion or dissent from your views on this subject and will no doubt delete my comments. I have to make the comments anyway. All the alleged evidence given by the climate change establishment has been disproved- (I suggest Lord Monkton's work is an excellent start), temperatures have not risen, arctic ice has not disappeared nor have glaciers, in fact both are are recent historical highs. The so called consensus amongst scientists is a sham, governments around the world are using the whole thing as an excuse to increase regulation, taxation and central control. Only a few thousand years ago temperatures and co2 levels were much higher without ending life on Earth. Not a single prediction by the "changer" computer models has actually happened. The only new "evidence" for man made climate change is, in fact, recycled assertions made by biased commentators.
I cannot understand your attraction to a dubious, unproven and irrational theory and unfortunately that makes me question your reasoning on economic and social issues as well especially as you seem to regard sceptics as being akin to godless savages that should be purged (a religious zeal that does not fit with your assumed scientific outlook).

Dave Zoom said...

Science has prooved that plants do best with a CO2 level of 700 PPM ,plus there are several reports that the planet is greening because of the increased CO2 .
Humans live in the most inhospitable parts of the planet they survive nicely thank you !
Most of the climate change comunity live in cities that 10,000years ago were under a mile of ice .
Humans are adaptable , if they were not we would not be here .

rsuusa said...

I hope you are wrong about the eighth questions ("How comfortable are you with... extreme weather will make farming and kitchen-gardening unreliable...") because I consider myself a moderately good forager/small game hunter but even so where I live in the far Northeaster tip of the the U.S. I can provide for myself only a few months of the year, the warmer months, and the rest of the year is simply too much for a single person or small group to manage on their own. I'll admit that I've never even tried but I'm pretty sure that surviving the long winters here would be pretty difficult and life pretty precarious even if everything went well. I know that the Native Americans did fine in this environment but there weren't that many of them, compared to the current local population, and they worked collectively to do so with a lot of expertise that cannot easily be recreated. I guess you'd have to move South in the winter but you'd have to move a great distance to find any real safety from the winter weather. Just hope this prediction isn't true.

My donkey said...

The only difference between questions 1 and 2 is the time interval (shorter in question 2). I suspect that if question 3 had been, "How comfortable are you with the idea that the human species may go extinct tomorrow?" many respondents would have answered "Extremely uncomfortable"

In other words, the amount of mental comfort someone has with an extinction event probably increases with the interval between now and the event. This is normal; people tend to care more about the present and the imminent future than they do about the far future.

Likewise, people tend to care more about (or be "less comfortable" with) personal unpleasantries than those happening to more distantly related or unrelated people, and the same can be said about people who live nearby versus far away.

So, I don't see that the results of your survey tell us more than we already know, but thanks for the mental exercise.

lidiaseventeen said...

I observe that engineers don't seem to have as dire an outlook as do biologists. I also observe that people have a very hard time contemplating situations in which they do not have agency. I see this as a defect in reasoning, but most likely it has been useful, evolutionarily speaking. To imply people do not have agency can be perceived as personally insulting to them and it certainly makes people feel bad, so the rejection of that message along with the messenger is unsurprising.

I'm agnostic about the polls. All polls leave something to be desired in the questioning. I'm sorry your poll was aborted, but I think it, too, is problematic for the reason mentioned by Professor Diabolical. I'm stymied as to how I might answer the questions, because I don't know what you mean by the word "comfortable". Do you mean "are you capable of contemplating this notion without hysteria, knee-jerk denial, or other psychological resistance?" or do you mean "are you made comfortable by the notion or do you have a positive view of it"? To me, "comfortable *with*" could have either connotation. I envision some salesperson at a conference table negotiation: "Are you comfortable with that delivery schedule?" "yeah, I'm comfortable with that.."

@Jürgen Botz,
Whether there is a chance of nuclear war or not, when the modern electrical grid can no longer be maintained (this will happen with 100% certainty) we will have to contend with 400+ power plants in addition to other nuclear facilities the world over going almost completely unattended. We won't even have the capacity for the brilliant TEPCO solution of storing radioactive material in casks now and then dumping it into the ocean later. In the nearer term, many will be (some already are) affected by anomalies in cooling-water temperature, with storage and weapons facilities already rusting away well beyond their projected life-spans. Sea-level rise is probably the last to worry about among these three major contributing factors (I was going to say "risks" but they are certainties) to the spectacular failure of those facilities.

Marcel said...

The owner of earth is coming back to clean up the mess
his filthy tennants and His global warming isunique as it
is not created by man but by His hand.
And the second angel sounded, and something like a great
mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea; and a
third of the sea became blood...
"Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth,because
of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels
who are about to sound! Revelation 8

James said...

Extinction is not in the cards. A sub-variety of human called Big Foot, thought to have gone extinct many years ago, has been spotted on several occasions recently. Taking into consideration its ability to sneak about unseen leaving only over-sized footprints, indicates an unprecedented intelligence and staying power that bodes well for its future. Surely it only awaits the extinction of its smaller and less intelligent cousin, Homo sapiens, before exploding onto the scene in vastly greater numbers. I encourage my friends to walk the woods on full moons in hopes of spotting and mating with such resilient specimens so as to preserve our obviously deficient genetic endowments. Good luck everyone.

seraphim said...

Now, would be extinction of the human species the equivalent of the end of the world (as we know it)? Is the extinction of the human species "the end of the world"? How would you know?
There have been many species that became extinct and the world continued.
OK, you might think that the human species occupies a special place in the ordinance of the Universe. That's what we have been taught, what deeply inside us believe and act accordingly, instinctively, I would say. We personally know that the world exists because we exist (Descartes corrected by Heidegger). Everybody dies, therefore we will die. Would our children survive us? What certainty could we possibly have?
But, since our experience shows us that everything we know around us withers and dies, it is likely that the whole world we know now would wither and die (what comes after that is everybody's guess). But that is, as Dmitri pointed out, an incomplete induction. We could never ever predict how infinitesimal differences could become the seeds of new lives, developments, worlds, etc. That's why all "end time" prophecies are humbugs. People spend an inordinate amount of time predicting the unpredictable, worrying about what they can't possibly know and neglecting the simple things at hand that can make their life at least bearable if not completely satisfactory and even enjoyable.
And how could a mere human being know what the Son of God Himself doesn't know?

"32But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. 33Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. 34For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. 35Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: 36Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. 37And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch. (Mark,13, 32-37)

"But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but MY Father only. 37But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 38For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, 39And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 40Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 41Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. (Matthew 24, 36-41).

"35Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; 36And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. 37Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. 38And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. (Luke, 12, 35-38). I won't go into Saint John Chrysostom's Paschal Sermon!

Megan Racine said...

Re's survey was "brainstorm"... an idea that he tossed out in "RE fashion" to see what came from it.

The comments on the various sites indicate that it hit it's mark... the initial survey has resulted in many people devoting some time in "refining" their thoughts on this issue.. This is a good thing..!!!

Many years ago..I started off by reading the Oil Drum (which I miss) and ZH(which I have become bored with... and just scan now). I enjoy the Doomstead Dinner, NBL, The Archdruid, Ugo's site, your site, Automatic Earth and many others, because they "make me think".. (and occasionally laugh.. referring to the rants...) These sites frame/view the issues from a different prospective, from each other and more importantly from our current society norms.

Ya'll need to lighten up on each other...

lev said...

A question you should have included was; how comfortable are you with Russia detonating a Nuke inside Yellowstone causing complete destruction to the US and a worldwide ice age due to the amount of ash blocking out the sun? (check thesaker.is blog for info on this). My answer - pretty comfortable; there is no forgiveness without shedding of blood.

koen said...

Blogger Dave Zoom said: "Humans are adaptable , if they were not we would not be here."

Two dinosaurs are going for a walk. Says one dinosaur to the other: "All this talk about extinction is getting on my nerves. We dinosaurs always adapt to survive, else we wouldn't be here."

Nigwil said...

I do not pretend to be comfortable with any of the questions, however, I would actually score myself as saying 'Perfectly comfortable' to all of them, in recognition of my acceptance of the likelihood of all of them coming to pass in due course. I may as well be 'perfectly comfortable' with impending events I am not able to change in any useful way - that way I can get on with planning how to make the best of coming circumstances, rather than wallowing in premature grief, fear and paralysis

I am not comfortable with that humanity is doing to itself today anyway, either. Even tho the bulk of these certain extinction eventualities are still gathering their forces together just over the horizon.

From the end of the 'cold war' period we have been in a continual state of war and misery in many places around the world. But many of those conflicts were played to gentleman's rules, or at least it seemed that the worst we did to each other was somehow controlled by a certain innate sense of propriety and agreed conventions of war, as if we were regretfully and some time even politely killing wounded animals, rather than being sunk in a mire of despicable darkness as the boys go off to war with the cold steel on their backs.

But in recent times we have been re-reminded of the total absence of a core of goodness in the soul of the human being. For how else can we 'explain' the behaviour of the human beings participating in ISIS, NSA, Boko Harem, Saudi executions, False Flag operations, and merchant bankers, drug wars, black sites and drone assassinations, to name but a few on-going atrocities? We are now back to the equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition (AKA secret rendition) and a charming mix of Vlad the Impaler and the Paris mob, with some excellent fiscal and social management skills mixed in to secure a sustainable ever-widening reign of terror and despair 'going forward'.

So while I may be 'uncomfortable' about your extinction-related eventualities, that does not mean that I see much merit in saving the 'human race' per se, or wasting time wishing for its continuance. Rather I would like to think that what ever fragments of humanity make it through the dark times ahead are able to retain just a little awareness of the mess we have created to date, and that the next genetic 'improvement' on the naked ape is able to build on the miserable foundation we have left them towards a more enlightened social and spiritual arrangement.

In the mean time I will continue to make 'other arrangements' for me and mine, as far and fast as I am able.

Christopher Carlisle said...

Cindy Shirar, do not let fear of the future paralyze you. Much of what is put out here on the Internet regarding collapse (which I have come to view as ongoing, and slowly accelerating) is done by the knowledgeable, but not necessarily the wise. There are other views. I am not suggesting the "hope" route, but instead offer that the simple realities are that no one knows what the future will bring, and that there is only so much one can do to prepare; in between those two realities lies acceptance, and peace.

Unknown said...

I don't know if there's a Russian variant of the American saying, "Opinions are like assholes; everybody has one".

Though almost certainly every so often some poor unfortunate is born with two.

Meanwhile, the fact is that when we make our various guesstimates about if and when such and such will happen, and what does it mean if and when it does...what we are guesstimating about is the biggest possible chaos system our planet offers us. Bigger than the weather, bigger than macro-economics, bigger than anything else where there are so many variables with such a wide variety of potential interactions that making any sort of PRECISE predictions is really just an exercise in human hubris.

And yet human hubris is what we do best...or at least what we do most.

So while I do think it is both reasonable and possible to extrapolate potential future events such as NTHE or NTE from historical and current data and trends, it becomes much more difficult zeroing in much more than that.

Just talk to anybody who tries to make a living timing the stock market. That's Guy McPherson's foolishness, in a nutshell.

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

'Lord' Christopher Monckton as a credible source on climate shift? Admit it, Dmitry! You left David Webb's mooncalf denialist comment in to give us all a giggle, didn't you? Well thanks! It worked. Monckton even has the staring swivel eyes naturally, to make his utterly-self-assured-publicschoolby, idiot-English-aristo cretinry even funnier - quite apart from his complete scientific incompetence. LOL

James H. said...

Speaking of McPherson's foolishness, I don't respect those who cash in on people's fears and lack of basic scientific knowledge.

Dr. Chris Martenson of PeakProsperity.com:

"I have a very big complaint against McPherson, and that is that he's misusing science and abusing his self-proclaimed authority. I suspect that he does this because he has not processed his own grief and lacks the tools to do so, so he shares it instead.

But that's just some Psych 101 and it could be wrong.

On the matter of science, I could not be more clear. We know some very important things about complex systems, but the most important of them all is that they cannot be predicted.

Neither the timing nor the magnitude of state changes can be predicted. That's a feature of complex systems, and as I wrote in my book, even the slump behavior of a simple, growing sand pile eludes our best supercomputers.

How then shall we assess that Mr. McPherson seems to know both the timing and the severity of a climate system that is many, many orders of magnitude more complex than a single sand pile?

He claims that human extinction by 2030 is already a done deal.

This is such utter horsecrap that I don't even know where to begin. It is irresponsible science at best, but I am open to the idea that it is actually worse than that. (Alas, there's my own emotional system sneaking in...I hold very strong beliefs around the ideas that neither the scientific method nor authority should be abused.)

I will close by noting that several current and former members of this site have spoken of being deeply impacted, and quite negatively, by McPherson's views and he certainly knows of these impacts and presumably approves of them on some level because he keeps touring the world sharing his views."

Comment from Resilience.org:

"McPherson is yet again practicing his version of the gift economy by asking for cash. According to him, after completing a grueling few days' study for certification, he and his housewife friend are now qualified to lead fragile NTHE mourners 'through the valley of the shadow of death.' He is now soliciting business on his FB page. If I could overcome my contempt, I'd laugh.

'Only Love Remains' (for a monetary price, of course):


McPherson's Intensive Training:


Unknown said...

"McPherson is yet again practicing his version of the gift economy by asking for cash. According to him, after completing a grueling few days' study for certification, he and his housewife friend are now qualified to lead fragile NTHE mourners 'through the valley of the shadow of death.'...


Yeah, she's his videographer and erstwhile travelling companion.


'Only Love Remains'


I guess that's what they're calling it these days.

I kinda like "Doomers in your bloomers", myself.

Kara Stiff said...

Mr. Orlov, there's a major flaw in your reasoning. If human survival depends upon reversion to nomadic foraging, we will definitely go extinct, because the bodies of knowledge that made that adaptation successful are already extinct. For example, the Ihalmuit of central Canada failed to train a single generation in the crafting and use of the weaponry to kill caribou, so that when the fur trade collapsed and the bullet supply dried up, their nutrition suffered and they went extinct from tuberculosis. Granted, that was a tough environment, but not one disrupted by climate change, and they knew it better than any of us know our ecosystems today. Single parenting is possible with the support of fossil fuels, but infants and small children are a giant pain in the ass (I know, I've got two), and I'd be surprised if a human group smaller than a dozen could successfully reproduce post-oil. It takes a lot of know how to keep that many people alive and together by foraging, and that information just doesn't exist anymore for most of our habitats. The few it does exist for (isolated deserts and rain forests) are necessarily the most marginal, and coincidentally at the greatest risk from climate change. We had better hope nomadic foraging isn't our only option.

Howard Skillington said...

You criticize McPherson because he “jumps to a conclusion without sufficient justification,” and then confidently contend that “how comfortable you are with the actual reality of [various troubling scenarios] is likely to correlate tightly with how likely you are to survive them.”
I buy the contention that “being so uncomfortable with the reality of them that you consider them "just ideas" equates with voluntary extinction,” but don’t see that you have made a case that being comfortable with the ideas is likely to equate with actually surviving those realities.
Your survey asked how comfortable the respondent was with each idea. I think many of us are “comfortable with the idea,” in that we recognize both its validity and its inevitability, but are not filled with a ferocious determination to live out our lives under those conditions. If so, then your survey has proved little.

Unknown said...

Comment from Resilience.org:

"McPherson is yet again practicing his version of the gift economy by asking for cash. According to him, after completing a grueling few days' study for certification, he and his housewife friend are now qualified to lead fragile NTHE mourners 'through the valley of the shadow of death.' He is now soliciting business on his FB page. If I could overcome my contempt, I'd laugh.

'Only Love Remains' (for a monetary price, of course):


From the site: We practice and promote a gift economy. As such, we facilitate this workshop for a very low financial cost: Nearly all the time and money we've put into development of the workshop is offered as a gift to participants.Initial consultation, via Skype, with Guy and Pauline: $100. This call clarifies expectations for all parties and is therefore imperative. It must be completed before additional commitments are made.Your venue: $1,500 and reasonable travel expenses (including food and lodging)Online: $1,200 (workshop will be facilitated electronically for participants gathered in a single room)


Can someone please explain how this is any different than any other entrepreneurial hustle by a coach-consultant-seminar leader? How is this the practice of a gift economy?

One of Guy's great skills is advertising/marketing. His ability to distract people with words, and call things something other than they are, is worthy of MAD MEN. If his doomer coaching/speaking business doesn't work out, and the status quo persists, he could have a good career in public relations.

James H. said...

McPherson's begging for money to finance his unnecessary travels has heated up considerably, especially since his wife will be unemployed starting in June (he "walked away from empire" [wink, wink], but she conveniently never did). And his "mud hut" albatross is still very much for sale (the comments are hilarious, and, no, the place was never off grid), so I'm confident we'll be witnessing new and exciting "gift economy" money schemes as time progresses and we're still stubbornly here...battered but here.


Dee Garmon said...

This is as good as it can get. Jolly good show!

Cindy Shirar said...

Christopher Carlisle,

Thank you. It's the best we can do...come to a point of acceptance and peace via the realization that things have yet to unfold. I think you're right. HUG...


Kevo Downunder said...

I suspect Guy McPherson is spot on and excepting the odd sod in a bunker I expect most of us to be gone by mid century, the bulk of us much sooner.
The poles are melting at an alarming rate with the permafrost melting and releasing untold amounts of methane and the hydrates from below the oceans are firing like a gattling gun. The droughts in the Americas and the loss of 40% of the phyto plankton in 2 decades sees our primary oxygen producers both on deaths door, last time I looked oxygen was pretty necessary for most life on this planet. The Siberian and Alaskan wild fires are releasing vast quantities of carbon, heat, radionuclides from Chernobyl and soot which is being deposited on the ice caps in a never ending death spiral of positive feedback loops. When the collapse of industrial civilisation transpires we get 440 odd nuclear melt downs and 1200 spent fuel pool fires which will be infinitely worse. The forcing from this, the planetary thermostat being broken and some of the methane burning in the wild fires and nuclear melt downs will put the whole sheebang on steroids. I'll me surprised if there are 1 million people on the planet in 10 years.
On that note have a lovely day.

steeleweed said...

I question the significance of people being comfortable or uncomfortable with particular scenarios. It's like asking, "How comfortable are you with the sky being blue?".
Whatever the reality turns out to be, it won't depend on our comfort level.

Graham Wells said...

Kevo Downunder, it's easy to tell from your comment that you've absorbed uncritically McPherson's pseudoscience; in particular "the hydrates from below the oceans are firing like a gattling gun". McPherson has no evidence for that, only misrepresentation of the work of actual researchers like Natalia Shakhova. I confirmed that in a long exchange with McPherson himself where I tried to get him to quote a single climate scientist confirming his "clathrate gun" notion. He ducked and dived, blustered, accused me of denial, threw out insults, but evidence - nothing. He's full of it.

James H. said...

Here's yet another article by a scientifically illiterate individual (can't punctuate worth a damn or spell Derrick Jensen's name correctly either) that desperately tries to give McPherson some gravitas by tying him in with Dr. Tim Garrett, an employed, respected professional who has never acknowledged McPherson's "contributions":


Kevo Downunder said...

Graham Wells, here is the evidence of the Hydrates off of the coast NZ

Kevo Downunder said...

Here is evidence of the Hydrates venting
Numerous vent sites that release methane gas into the ocean have been discovered along the Hikurangi margin on the east coast of New Zealand (Lewis & Marshall 1996; Faure et al. 2006; Faure et al. submitted). Sampling in the vicinity of these vents indicate that methane is actively being expelled into the water column (Fig. 1), but no evidence was found that CH4 was reaching the sea surface (Faure et al., submitted).

Graham Wells said...

Kevo Downunder, interesting, but not what McPherson is claiming.