On Sunday afternoon, 14 June, I attended a talk at the Duncan Island Savings Centre by Professor Guy McPherson of the University of Arizona titled "Responding to Abrupt Climate Change". Using hysteria and unsupported claims for an imminent Armageddon caused by global warming, McPherson declared the extinction of mankind within two decades, possibly even within 18 months.
A couple of examples of McPherson’s specific claims included: Â An imminent runaway greenhouse effect on Earth similar to that of planet Venus, but conveniently failing to mention that the Venus atmosphere contains more than 96 per cent CO2, while Earth’s atmospheric concentration of CO2, while rapidly approaching double the pre-industrial atmospheric concentration, is still a mere 0.04 per cent of the total atmospheric content – that’s what 400 ppm means.
He referred to some 200 million years ago when global temperatures were some two to four degrees warmer than present, that there were no human beings present; he then used this as evidence that when global temperatures hit that range humans will once again become extinct. Such a deduction is utter nonsense!
It is important to emphasize that McPherson provided absolutely no proof for his claims, and he showed no data or analyses of his own, just his opinions.
I was initially interested in McPherson’s perception of "abrupt" climate change, given that most climate scientists and the IPCC tend on the conservative side when discussing future climate scenarios. That approach is justified because of the uncertainties concerning future carbon emissions, and crying wolf is not a good way to keep public attention focused. But predictions of the extinction of mankind are also not helpful, and McPherson foisted hysteria on the public in Sunday’s presentation. I criticize this kind of presentation because it only tends to negate the positive efforts of others trying to provide public education on and to draw attention to the longer-term climate crisis.
Don’t assume the wrong message here – global warming is definitely a threat to mankind, and likely the most serious threat that we have ever faced, but mankind is not going extinct within the next 20 years, even though we will almost certainly start seeing increased deaths through drought, famine, severe storms, etc.
To date, the general Canadian public has only been barely exposed to obvious impacts of global warming, even though environmental scientists note many subtle and serious changes. However, we are fast approaching the time when we too will see many, mostly unpleasant climate impacts. The current summer drought and water shortages are just the tip of the iceberg.
While global warming could indeed threaten our very civilization by the end of this century, and while the gloves need to come off now to combat the threat, it is not helpful to have extremist presentations. Armageddon is not yet on our doorstep.
I would strongly advise that when groups arrange such public lectures on climate change in future, that they avoid both extremists and climate denialists. Neither opinion is realistic, and neither is helpful. Science is based on scientific data and facts, not personal opinions and hysteria. There are not two sides to this debate, just scientific facts. A series of public lectures on climate change by known professionals, clearly explaining the science, the impacts, the risks, and proposed solutions, all in lay-person language, would be far more helpful.
G.S. (Geoff) Strong, PhD Atmospheric/Climate Scientist Cowichan Bay