Off the keyboard of RE
Published on the Doomstead Diner on June 16, 2013
Discuss this article at the Podcasts Table inside the Diner
Perhaps the most recent in the paradigms being pitched over the internet in terms of DOOM is the concept of Near Term Human Extinction (NTHE). In this article, I'm going to look at some of the rationalizations for why this could occur, and what might be done about it if it is in the offing.
What does NTHE mean? Well, in timeline terms, the folks who believe this is imminent talk in terms of a Century or less, and one of the main proponents of the idea, Guy McPherson of Nature Bats Last who we periodically Cross Post here on the Diner predicts such an Extinction Level Event (ELE) for Homo Sapiens could arrive by Mid-Century. Since it is already 2013, that leaves only about 37 years to wipe out Homo Sapiens. Guy, Monsta & myself had opportunity to hash over some of the possibilities on Friday, across 9 hours of Time Zones which was quite an edifying chat overall. You can listen to the Podcast here and see how it affects your own conclusions about the likelihood of NTHE.
What is the Main Vector for this ELE as proposed on the Climate Level? The primary argument is that it will arise from an overall warming of Global ambient temperatures by around 4 degrees Celsius, or around 7 Farenheit if you are more familiar with that scale.
The predicted consequences of such a rapid rise in temperatures are Devastating on about every level you can imagine. Inundation of most of our highly populated Coastal Cities, extreme Weather Events with worsening Drought in Drought areas and worsening Flooding in Flood prone areas.
None of this could be handled very well in the current political climate most certainly, and then when combined with the synergistic effects of depleting Fossil Fuels to run the industrial economy and industrial agriculture, well, altogether you cannot help but see the reasonable Likelihood of an extreme Die Off event coming down the pipe through this period. Does this make it an ELE though? Will all this climatic change make 100% of the face of the Earth 100% Uninhabitable for Homo Sapiens? Because 100% is a NECESSARY condition for Extinction. Even a 1% survival rate does not qualify as an ELE.
I'm going to make an analogy here with the game PLAGUE, which I recently downloaded onto my Samsung Galaxy Android OP System Tablet, and spent quite a few hours last weekend playing. The goal of said Game is to Wipe Out Homo Sapiens through Disease Vectors, and you can manipulate the parameters of the Diseases to make them spread faster, be more drug resistant, more Lethal etc. Overall it is a pretty well constructed game, and addicting enough to make its designer pretty well to do by now I expect. My old friends on The Burning Platform will be delighted to know I am easily capable of Wiping Out 7M Virtual People with Plague on a Daily Basis now. Actually a good deal better than that, I can WIPE OUT all 7B! LOL.
Thing is, Plague makes a LOT of assumptions about how the various parameters will play out, most particularly how Goobermints will react to Plagues when they get under way and how much real "money' anybody will have to research cures for such things.
In fact, my guess would be it won't be any Wild & Crazy Super Lethal Virus that takes down Homo Sapiens in large numbers, but rather the re-emergence of good Old Fashioned Diseases like Cholera, Typhus etc that will flourish once we start having issues with keeping the sewage treatment plants operational. Once the essential energy to run the large Shities becomes scarce enough, these places will experience MASSIVE population crashes, in fair short order would be my best WAG.
As it has evolved here over time MOST of the current Overshoot of the population of Homo Sapiens now resides in the Big Shities. So what happens here if you get a rapid Die Off of this population, the Demographic MOST susceptible to disease transmission due to its very close proximity and population density?
What occurs is that everything Industrial comes to a COMPLETE HALT nearly IMMEDIATELY. All the Finance, all the Subsidy necessary to run Industrial Infrastructure collapses as soon as the Big Shities do. This means such things as Clear Cutting and Slash & Burning of Amazonia Rain Forest also comes to a halt at this time. With the Global Economy in collapse, there is no benefit to Brazil for selling Soy Beans to China, the Chinese are going to be busy Dieing by the Truckload.
What this then leaves are various scattered groups of Subsistence living people, and such people would be extremely hard to wipe out. Even assuming vast Climate Change on the order of a 4 degree Celsius rise in average Global Temps; reduced available land mass for growing things and varying Drought and Flooding depending where you happen to be located on the planet, you STILL will be left with Neighborhoods which are on the Border of one experience Drought Conditions, while the Other experiences Flooding conditions. It is in such Border territory a few hardy Homo Sapiens can survive the cataclysm. Remember here, it does not take MANY to survive an ELE, in the case of Toba it is estimated only 10,000 Human Souls or 1000 Breeding Pairs made it through that one. They then managed to Breed Up to the current Population Maxima Event of around 7B, though we may make it to 8 or 9B if we don't get a real fast collapse in the near term.
Rapidity is important here, because it is this which gives no time for Adjustment even for a few people. What would it take to Knock Down the current 7B people living on the Planet to ZERO by Mid-Century as Guy McPherson hypothesizes as likely here, if not inevitable?
Well, if you call current Population at 7B and give it 35 years or so for the complete EXTERMINATION to occur, this means EVERY YEAR from now to 2050, on average 200M people will have to DIE EVERY YEAR more than the number of people born during the period. Such a massive population collapse is not yet evident, though of course it can come at any time here in the next 35 years. Each year goes by it doesn't begin in earnest means Bigger Numbers required to make it happen in a shorter period of time though.
Back to Plague here, what happens in that game if you get massive Die Off rapidly, but it is not LETHAL everywhere? Basically, you LOSE THE GAME, because even though you may have knocked down 6.5B people, the .5B remaining after the Plague get to Reboot. Knocking off EVERYBODY is pretty hard in general, and you have to know the parameters of the game to make it happen regularly, but we do not know nor do we have control over the parameters operating here in the REAL GAME of Human Extinction.
I personally do not see how even a 10 degree rise in Global Average Temps would make the Planet Uninhabitable for Homo Sapiens. That does not raise the temp past where Homo Sapiens can live. Average Temps are now in the 60s farenheit, maybe this gets you to the 80sF, uncomfortable but not too hot to live. Plus, that is AVERAGE, it still would be cooler than that near the Poles. Just on Temps alone, I think you need 100F+ EVERYWHERE for Extinction. This is above Operating Temp for Homo Sapiens of around 98.6 degrees, so you got no Heat Sink left at that point to cool with.
The only other means I see as possible that such a rapid NTHE could occur as a result of the Climatic Changes is with collapse of the Phytoplankton due to Ocean Acidification, a corollary of Climate Change whether you believe this results from Anthropogenic Causes as Guy does, or Geotectonic Causes as I do. Thing is, Phytoplankton are single cell species, which adapt rapidly to changing conditions. Not like say Coral Reefs, which most certainly completely collapse once the pH drops low enough that calcification cannot take place. This is around 30 years down the line if the current trend line in Ocean pH decrease is followed consistently.
With such collapse, Breeding Grounds for many species of fish would be destroyed, so you lose this portion of the Ocean based fisherie also, but not the Fresh Water Fish that live in lakes and streams through the lifespan of said fish. The fact that thus far we have ALREADY seen a 50% collapse in Phytoplankton is not a good sign of course, but this is not complete collapse either. Can those little buggers evolve fast enough to tolerate higher acidity/lower pH? Nobody knows that, and you can't model it in the lab either, because you do not have an Ocean full of the stuff and 50 years time to do the modelling. The experiment only runs at the vast planetary scale, and all we can do really is watch it play out there over time.
Hard to say what would occur with Shell Based crustaceans also, losing shells would make them more vulnerable to predators, but most if not all of their predators themselves would be gone in this environment. They also reproduce rapidly (though not as fast as single cell organisms of course), so they might evolve in some way to survive and handle the New Reality without their Shells.
On Land, while the increasing average Temp would have many negative outcomes, fact is because it would SO rapidly kill off MOST of Homo Sapiens, much of the Habitat destruction currently Ongoing would come to about a complete HALT, as rapidly as the Die Off proceeds, probably more rapidly because of dependence on the Finance model and the tools of Industrial Ag which would no longer be available in a Rapid Collapse scenario. Good example here is Deforestation of the Amazon, which is really only occurring because of Huge Demand for Food Product from places like China, but once you start getting massive Die Off in China and collapse of World Trade, there is no further reason to pursue this.
So, what you run into here is a situation where because such a huge portion of Humanity goes to the Great Beyond so fast, most of the Negative consequences of Overshoot come to a halt along with that. There will be fewer Habitats some Homo Sapiens could survive in, but not NONE. For it to Go to Zero, EVERY last place still above water has to be Uninhabitable, and for that to occur in a 37 year time span to Mid-Century is not supported by any model I am aware of, though Guy can of course debate that point. (and he DOES! Listen to the Podcast!)
The only real rapid NTHE Models I think are Plausible are tangential to Climate Change, Energy depletion and Environmental Degradation. As Sewage Treatment plants fail in Major Big Shities and Die Off begins in earnest, returning to the Plague Game it is possible that a Disease or Diseases with a high enough Infection Rate and Mortality rate will develop that will Infect every Homo Sapiens on the Planet, and that certainly could cause a rapid Extinction. However, for such diseases to make it to places like Nunavut for instance and flourish in that environment would be difficult, and likely slow to get there also. Nunavut does not have a big Tourist Trade.
Also of course is the possibility that as Available Energy drops below Critical Mass, it will not be possible to keep cool the Spent Fuel Ponds in the plethora of Nuclear Reactors spread across the world, there would be many Meltdowns on the Chernobyl/Fuk-U-shima model and perhaps also Super Critical Events where some Reactors actually BLOW on the Nuclear Level. If they all go this way, it could spread enough Radioactive Poison through the atmosphere to make most animal life impossible. Homo Sapiens is probably amongst the first to go in this scenario, only fitting since we were the Dummies that dropped these Killers on the Landscape to begin with.
Global Thermonuclear War, quite possible once the REAL FIGHT begins over the remaining resources of the earth also could spread enough Radioactive Poison around to Knock Down Homo Sapiens in short order. This is also a possibility, but is also is only tangentially related to the ongoing Climate Change. Extinction here does not come as a direct result of the Climate Change, it is just a corollary of Industrialization and the insatiable Jones for more electricity in more places all the time.
Then of course there are those naturally occuring phenomena which have led to ELEs before, Asteroid Collision and Super Volcanic eruption such as the Toba Cataclysm 75,000 years ago which led to the genetic Bottleneck for Homo Sapiens, leaving only perhaps 10,000 Human Souls or 1000 Breeding Pairs left walking the Face of the Earth in the aftermath of that one. This of course though also was not really an ELE for our species, since enough were left standing to re-breed up now to the tune of 7B Human Souls inhabiting the planet at one time. Are the consequences of Industrialization and the burning of Fossil Fuels really WORSE than Toba, where this can do a better job with total EXTERMINATION than that one was able to accomplish? Does not seem likely to me, certainly not on such a rapid timeline and more certainly not without other tangential factors also coming into play here. I still do not see how even an average Global Temperature increase of 10C does this in and of itself in such a rapid fashion.
Some folks would argue that this is Nit Picking, if you only leave alive 10,ooo people, 99.99999% of us are as good as extinct ourselves. The difference though is that even EXTREME Die Off still leaves open the HOPE that the Great Experiment with Human Sentience can be rebooted one more time, and perhaps in the next iteration we will do a bit better job managing our Stewardship of the Earth. As I move along the Collapse Highway here, this is my Hopium. If you buy the idea we are going Extinct here for sure; there is NO POSSIBILITY anymore it can be averted; what reason is there to do anything else other than Party Like it is 1999? No reason to make any changes in lifestyle anymore, and you might as well Snuff your kids now, since they are just going to grow up in a world where everyone around them is Dying, including them before they make it to 40.
MAYBE this will occur. there most certainly are out there numerous Vectors which could enable such a Rapid Extinction Level Event, but not a one of them is WRITTEN IN STONE. Climatic Theories are just that, THEORIES. Not proven fact and based on some Mathematical Models which themselves have identifiable flaws in them. For Guy and many of his readers on Nature Bats Last, they talk about such things as "Acceptance", growing comfortable in a sense with the idea that Homo Sapiens is going the way of the Dinosaur. This thinking process evolves out of the 5 Stages of Grief model proposed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross back in her 1969 book Death and Dying
The stages, popularly known by the acronym DABDA, include:
Denial — "I feel fine."; "This can't be happening, not to me." Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the individual. This feeling is generally replaced with heightened awareness of possessions and individuals that will be left behind after death. Denial can be conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information, or the reality of the situation. Denial is a defense mechanism and some people can become locked in this stage.
Anger — "Why me? It's not fair!"; "How can this happen to me?"; '"Who is to blame?" Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person is very difficult to care for due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy. Anger can manifest itself in different ways. People can be angry with themselves, or with others, and especially those who are close to them. It is important to remain detached and nonjudgmental when dealing with a person experiencing anger from grief.
Bargaining — "I'll do anything for a few more years."; "I will give my life savings if…" The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay death. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the individual is saying, "I understand I will die, but if I could just do something to buy more time…" People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise. For example "Can we still be friends?.." when facing a break-up. Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution, especially if it's a matter of life or death.
Depression — "I'm so sad, why bother with anything?"; "I'm going to die soon so what's the point?"; "I miss my loved one, why go on?" During the fourth stage, the dying person begins to understand the certainty of death. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving. This process allows the dying person to disconnect from things of love and affection. It is not recommended to attempt to cheer up an individual who is in this stage. It is an important time for grieving that must be processed. Depression could be referred to as the dress rehearsal for the 'aftermath'. It is a kind of acceptance with emotional attachment. It's natural to feel sadness, regret, fear, and uncertainty when going through this stage. Feeling those emotions shows that the person has begun to accept the situation.
Acceptance — "It's going to be okay."; "I can't fight it, I may as well prepare for it." In this last stage, individuals begin to come to terms with their mortality, or that of a loved one, or other tragic event. This stage varies according to the person's situation. People dying can enter this stage a long time before the people they leave behind, who must pass through their own individual stages of dealing with the grief.
Even if a Near Term Human Extintion is TRUE though, from my POV having such an attitude is counter productive. You have to believe in SOME CHANCE here, or there is no reason to Fight the Good Fight anymore. To me, Giving Up is not an Option, not until the Fat Lady Sings, and she is not singing yet IMHO. I don't buy NTHE until the Phytoplankton Collapse here, or until every last square inch of the Earth has consistent temps above what a large mammal like ourselves can survive at. This is not evident YET, though to be sure models and Positive Feedback Loops that could make it so are out there. It is not a LOCK, not yet, though no doubt it does look pretty nasty overall.
No way to make it through if you ACCEPT it as inevitable. You gotta make the fight BELIEVING you can win, right up to the day you Buy Your Ticket to the Great Beyond. Tough times ahead, to be sure. I am confident however that SOME people will make it through the Zero Point. They will be DINERS!
In the words of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson…
You won't find any Weirder bunch of Collapse Professionals than the Diners anywhere else on the net, I GUARANTEE it.