Wednesday, March 21, 2018

#1984: Guy McPherson

Global warming is happening, largely caused by human activity, and a serious problem. This much is not in dispute among anyone caring for and competent to evaluate the evidence. Estimates concerning actual temperature rises and the consequences of temperature increase, are still a bit uncertain, but range from the very scary to the very, very scary. This much, too, is not in dispute among any serious scientist and should accordingly not be in dispute among any non-expert considering herself or himself minimally rational. As such, the prevalence of climate change denialism is a serious concern. But there are loons on the other side as well, whose understanding of and/or ability to assess evidence is (at least almost) equally dubious; and these people are part of the problem rather than the solution as well – in particular since they give climate change denialists silly and easy targets for their denialist propaganda. A sorry example is the lunatic fringe rants of Guy McPherson and his supporters. (A good takedown is here).

McPherson is Professor Emeritus of Natural Resources and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona, author and blogger. McPherson thinks that runaway climate change will engender an imminent human extinction event primarily because of “the consequences of taking down more than 200 species each day: at some point, the species we take into the abyss is Homo sapiens.” This is incorrect. McPherson previously gained some attention in the mid-2000s with endtime predictions (within a decade) based on peak oil, but moved to climate after his first prediction didn’t pan out. His peak oil endtime predictions included:

  • The USA’s trucking industry would collapse by 2012, quickly followed by the interstate highway system, due to peak oil. (2007)
  • The end of civilization by 2018 due to peak oil: “If you’re alive in a decade, it will be because you’ve figured out how to forage locally.” (2008)
As McPherson sees it, the data show (they don’t) that it is too late to cut down on carbon emission, and that the planet could warm by up to 6° C within a decade, and that a warming of 4° to 6° C will result in “a dead planet”, with – as of his 2016 prediction – humanity dying out by 2030 at the latest. (The exact timeline varies a bit.) Of course, actual experts easily show that McPherson distorts the science (good discussion here) in ways not entirely dissimilar to how Intelligent Design supporters distort biology – in particular with regard his claims about methane emissions from the Arctic, his claims about runaway climate “feedbacks”, and his prediction about chain nuclear meltdowns (in catastrophic pole shift-territory). McPherson’s endtime predictions based on climate change include:

  • Global warming will kill much of humanity by 2020 (2012): “In a decade, unemployment will be approaching 100 percent, inflation will be running at 1,000 percent and central heating will be a pipe dream.”
  • Humanity and most lifeforms will be extinct due to global warming by mid-2026 (2016): “For those of us living in the interior of a large continent, much less on a rock-pile in the desert, I’d give us until 2020 at the latest.”
  • Global temperatures would be 6 C above baseline in mid 2018 and Earth would have no atmosphere by the 2050s (2017): “As I’ve pointed out previously, I doubt there will be a human on Earth by mid-2026. Indeed, I doubt there will be complex life on this planet by then.”
Of course there is a conspiracy going on here. According to McPherson, the US government and the high-profile scientists and activists working on climate know that we are beyond the point of no return, but are purposefully misleading the public with conservative predictions. Indeed, McPherson even claims to have been under surveillance by the NSA himself when he was teaching, and at one point nearly assassinated to avoid spreading the truth. The parallel to leading climate change denialists should be striking.

McPherson’s relationship with his followers has been likened to that of a cult – and yes: the comparison has evidence to back it up. Not entirely unsurprisingly, therefore, is the fact that McPherson has become, shall we say, a “victim” of the #metoo-movement.

Diagnosis: Cult-leader and pseudoscientific rambler. In the efforts to fight climate change and its consequences, McPherson is as much of an obstacle as central denialists, in particular because he gives the latter plenty of grist for their mills. Sad.

Hat-tip: Rationalwiki

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