How Guy McPherson gets it wrong

21 02 2014

When I first discovered Guy McPherson, I called him a soul mate on this blog….. that was a bit rash I think, especially now having read this scientist’s analysis of McPherson’s modus operandi. Scott Johnson (the owner of Fractal Planet) is not the first scientist to warn me about McPherson’s unscientific predictions….. two contributors to this blog, Dave Kimble and Mark Cochrane totally disagree with Guy. Dave wrote this entry on the matter https://damnthematrix.wordpress.com/2013/10/02/at-last-relatively-good-news-on-cc/, and Mark, who is a proper climate scientist wrote “Getting 6 C by 2050 seems farfetched unless we intentionally trigger the so-called clathrate gun. Even then, I am not sure that it is likely to happen that quickly simply due to the thermal inertia of the oceans and glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica. Roughly 90-95% of the incipient energy imbalance goes into warming or melting water. We’ve warmed by around 0.7C in the last 30 years or so. Getting an extra >5C in the next 40 years would require truly massive changes in greenhouse gases and Earth’s albedo. This certainly wouldn’t mean that all is well if we don’t manage this incredible feat of climate suicide in 40 odd years. We may get there yet around 2100.”

But having said that, Scott Johnson’s analysis is excellent…….

Fractal Planet

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…

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16 responses

21 02 2014
Eclipse Now

Glad to see this article, Mike, as it shows you’re a bit more objective than I thought.

21 02 2014
John Parenteau

This post is a welcome step back from DtM’s recent hyperbolic religio-apocalyptic Near-Term-Extinction rhetoric. Thanks!

23 02 2014
mikestasse

Just because I cannot accept “Near Term Human Extinction” does NOT mean I don’t think we are in serious trouble. I’m still of the opinion that “it’s too late”……. And by that I mean too late to save the system as we know it. I just don’t believe we’ll see 4+ degree rise by 2050, let alone ‘extinction’, for at least 100 to 500 years. Who is to know of course. McPherson doesn’t understand the physics of how much energy it takes to raise a whole planet’s temperature that much.

ALL the signs I see everywhere are that we are doing, still, absolutely nothing to confront the crises on the horizon.

It also concerns me that people like Guy McPherson are actually not helping. I now think Dave Holmgren has the right idea. We need to convince at least 10% of the Middle Classes to opt out to crash the system. I don’t think Guy McPherson’s able to do that. He just numbs people into doing nothing at all….

23 02 2014
gonetroppo

Thank you for posting this. I have been confused by the irrationality of Guy McPherson’s comments for some time but haven’t seen anyone refuting them. As Scott Johnson says, Guy is the mirror image of a climate denier and uses/abuses science in a similar way. Just because I happen to believe that yes, we’re in big trouble, doesn’t mean I support distortion and hyperbole. Not helpful.

23 02 2014
mikestasse

Precisely. Welcome aboard.

24 02 2014
Frank Furcsa

“5C in the next 40 years would require truly massive changes in greenhouse gases”………………..Except there is a 40 years lag time between cause and effect . The warming we see today is the cause by the co2 before the mid 70`s the warming we will see will be caused in the next 40 years will be the the co2 we have already emitted since than and that is a multiples of already what we have emitted before …Hej no worries just keep on self medicating and shoulder patting yourselves and each other and self congratulating will also help to propagate this self delusion

24 02 2014
mikestasse

I think you’ll find Climate Scientists already know this. I already knew this myself. And I don’t think anyone here is “patting ourselves and each other and self congratulating will also help to propagate this self delusion”. I for one know we are in deep shit. Just not so deep we’ll extinguish ourselves before 2050!

The other thing you need to realise is that ppms of CO2 do not correlate linearly with temperature rise. So CO2 rising from 280 ppm before industrialisation to 400 ppm now has caused 1 degree C rise (with one more degree already in the pipeline), but the next 120 ppm increase will not cause another degree increase, I don’t know how much but it will be less.

The real debate now is how much fossil fuel is left to burn….. or how much we are willing to burn out of what is left…… could be another post in the making.

24 02 2014
mikestasse

This is a comment Mark Cochrane left over at Peak Prosperity dot com in response to someone somewhat influenced by McPherson’s alarmism…..

Guy McPherson doesn’t represent climate science in any reasonable way. I do not think that it is even physically possible for the Earth to get to a Venus-like state by 2100, or if it even can in the next billion years. Thermal inertia of the ice sheets and the oceans would last millennia, even if you could find enough greenhouse gases to force the climate with. If you go back to the Jurassic period (15-200 million years ago) CO2 levels were 4-5 times what we have today. Back 500 million years ago they were 20 times more prevalent than today. In neither case were we like Venus.

However, the world was a VERY different place in both those times. The sun was somewhat dimmer and there was no glacial ice anywhere. In the Jurassic, tropical species lived in the Arctic. Anyone who understands the implications of the current rates of climate change is very concerned. Scientists aren’t seeing catastrophe as people like McPherson (and you?) seem to see it. What we see is large irreversible changes being put in motion with no apparent attempt to even slow down. People just don’t get it, we cannot stop this on anything but generational time scales. If we were to stop all emissions today it would take 200-300 years to reach some sort of new equilibrium for the CO2 levels and the climate effects will continue for thousands of years. Left to natural processes it will take hundreds of thousands of years for full geological elimination of the CO2 we have released. Just because all of the discussion about climate model scenarios focus on the average global temperatures by 2100 it doesn’t mean that they will stop rising then. That isn’t an end point, it is just an arbitrary date used for discussion.

Climatically speaking the Earth has two major states, you can think of them as ice or no ice. The last time the atmosphere had the greenhouse gas loading we are now creating there was no ice in Antarctica. Now there is no guarantee that we can maintain the levels this high for long enough to melt all of that ice (likely millennia) but that is the state the climate is currently primed to head toward.

Things occurring over hundreds of years or millennia don’t generally get termed catastrophes in human terms but these are not discrete events. You do not have no effects between now and then. Any given climate state is not better than the other if it is stable. The problems come for all species in negotiating the transitions between climate changes. The real issue is not the magnitude of the changes, it is the rate at which they are unfolding. We literally have no analog for changes in greenhouse forcing happening this quickly. In geologic time scales it has been the blink of an eye. Creating unprecedented conditions is a recipe for unpleasant surprises.

Believe it or not, scientists are professional skeptics and the body of science is conservative because of the onus of proof that is placed on any new ideas. Publication of a few peer-reviewed papers does not overturn paradigms, they just raise a challenge for others to test which conceptual models perform better in explaining all observations. At this point, with over 100 years of studies, there are literally thousands of scientific works showing how greenhouse forcing works and how climate changes are unfolding. There is no other plausible explanation left. They have all been examined and found wanting.

So scientists are more and more certain that the climate changes are occurring and at rates that may be globally unprecedented (regionally abrupt changes have occurred). Nowhere in the literature is there a Chicken Little, the sky is falling, we are all going to die in the next X years thread. This catastrophe or bust meme being floated by people is a red herring that obscures the real issues. We do not live in a world of two conditions, hunky-dory and catastrophe. There is a whole lot of space between them.

Mark

24 02 2014
Frank Furcsa

Except systems progress in fairly stable states to tipping points and than there are abrupt faze changes …. fast very fast . It is even evident in social evolution like that in the Ukraine now . Things go on until they don`t . You can thank yourselves the opportunity to speak gibberish and dwell in wishful thinking to this law use it while this opportunity lasts . To bad when all this is breaking down it will be so fast that nobody will have the opportunity to smear it into your faces

24 02 2014
mikestasse

I think you’ll find it’s called PHASE change. And you cannot be serious comparing the Ukraine with Climate Change!!

Phase change is when ice turns to water, or water turns to steam. You have to understand the physics here…. to raise the temperature of 1kg of ice one degree C requires an exact known amount of energy which I can’t be bothered looking up right now. But to raise the temperature of ice one degree to melt it into water requires EIGHTY TIMES as much energy….. It is almost certainly the reason for the so called ‘hiatus’.

Sure, the melting of the Arctic is a game changer, because it’s altering the albedo of that part of the planet, BUT, melting Antarctic ice is an altogether different thing. Arctic ice has gone from ~3m thick to ~1m thick, and may well soon disappear….. BUT, Antarctic ice is THOUSANDS of metres thick. 5000 m thick in lots of places! The volume of ice there is 62.5 × 10^6 km3……. or twelve times as much ice as Greenland’s 5.1 × 10^6 km3. We’re talking MILLIONS of CUBIC KILOMETRES here…. don’t know about you, but I find imagining just one cube 1km x 1km x 1km hard to do, let alone millions of them.

By contrast, the Arctic started off with maybe 30 or 35 THOUSAND cubic kilometres. In other words, Antarctica has 2000 times as much ice to melt as the Arctic. You don’t have to be Einstein to see the difference.

BTW, I would appreciate it if you used more civilised language in the future. I don’t speak gibberish. If you want to argue with me, show me the numbers…….

24 02 2014
Frank Furcsa

Absolutely no need for numbers . The antarctic is not a player here . The majority of the landmasses are in the north . For the climates stability the arctic is essential . This is not like: “oh the fridge in the kitchen broke down lets rescue everything into the old garage refrigerator ” that maybe works for your house . Read my lips ! The north buddy ! All is happening in the north ! Nothing ever happened or started in the south the south is irrelevant And it is very much so : Cosmic planetary geological biological social evolution follows the same rule . When the arctic melts that`s a a phase change water to ice -and all the other stuff this change is effecting . Hopefully this won`t faze you . But when this arctic releases all the methane … Of course there will be a sh..t load of methane in the south which won`t be released i guess you won`t be choking on that . Good for you But i hate to spoil it for you there is enough on the north to bust your precious ass as well

24 02 2014
mikestasse

You’re wrong. There’s enough ice in the South to go a long way towards stabilising climate. If it weren’t for Antactica, your precious N hemisphere would be already doomed…… Just look at the ocean currents….. especially the thermohaline http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/4c/Thermohaline_Circulation_2.png/350px-Thermohaline_Circulation_2.png

EVERYTHING is linked….. yes I’m glad I live in the S hemisphere, but when you go down, we go down too…..

5 03 2014
5 03 2014
mikestasse

Yes… forgot I posted that. I’m not so sure about that anymore. There’s 2000 times as much ice in Antarctica as there is in the Arctic…… so it would take 2000 times as much energy to melt it as it would to melt the Arctic……. I can’t see that happening in 42 years.

6 03 2014
Frank Furcsa

Of Course ! ” Warming Takes Out 56% of Antarctic Sea Ice by 2050″ that will leave us still with more or less a 1000x more ice as it is on the arctic maybe a 100.000X by than since there will be no ice left there to show by than . It is all a “no problem” … Now go back to sleep

6 03 2014
mikestasse

I’m hardly asleep….. what I’m saying is, it’s IMPOSSIBLE to take out 1120 times as much ice out of Antarctica over the next 36 years as we have taken out of the Arctic in the past 20 years.

THAT is precisely why I think Guy has it wrong… for that to occur, warming would have to increase by more than three orders of magnitude. Now I know things are bad…… and they will get VERY bad, but they are simply not THAT bad, not even close.

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