Our path to the end

timeline for too late we're screwed

if you have trouble figuring any of this out, refer to this chart

This post started as a response to a question on Quora. I spend way too much time on Quora and Facebook and other such time-vampire sites, but somehow I’ve worked up to the point where I’m a frequent responder on topics around climate change. I’ve become a most frequently-read poster ‘expert’ on Quora, which means… something. 

Anyway, a question came up today that merits some exploration. And since I’ve never done a compilation of the estimates and predictions about NTHE, I thought this was as good a time as any.

“What events would take place in the months, weeks, days and hours leading up to a mass Extinction event?”

(you can find the article here)

I am going by the work of scientists who’ve written about these events. These are not predictions, but estimates based on their research (which doesn’t include the word ‘prediction’). Most obvious scenarios first:

  • loss of Arctic Summer ice. As president of Finland Niinistö says to whoever will listen to him, If we lose Arctic Ice, we lose the planet. The ice functions as the world’s air conditioner, and once the ice in the Northern Hemisphere is gone, both oceans and land surfaces will heat past the point where humans have habitat. If heating alone were the issue, that might leave humans with a decade or so, but heating sets off other feedback loops that will make things worse. related to this:
  • heating past 3 C leading to death of human food crops—wheat and corn cannot germinate at the temperatures anticipated once the ice goes away. over 60% of human foodstuffs are based around wheat, with corn a close second. Humans would be gone within a few failed harvests;
  • Ocean heating leading to mass death of phytoplankton—phytoplankton are the floor of the ocean food chain and provide almost half the world’s oxygen. Loss of phytoplankton means mass death of oxygen dependent creatures including humans. Also, mass death of oxygen dependent sea life will lead to massive plumes of sulfur dioxide, a highly poisonous gas. We already have places on the coast of Africa bubbling up with sulfur dioxide. Death from sulfur dioxide might take several years to unwind. When a Killer Climate Catastrophe Struck the World’s Oceans
  • Related to loss of ice: the ‘clathrate gun’ has been fired. Clathrates are the structures that sequester over a trillion tons of methane under the Arctic, and once they begin to destabilize due to warming waters, they will release huge amounts of methane. Arctic scientist Natalia Shakhova predicted that a 50 gigaton release of methane was thus possible ‘at any time’ and since Methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, such a release would be the equivalent of sudden release of 30 years of carbon dioxide. Earth temperatures would go up by several degrees within a matter of weeks. Heat ALONE could be enough to render humans extinct—some scientists are predicting that heat prostration driven by AGW could become the major source of death within a matter of a few years. Friend of this blog Kevin Hester posted about this a few years ago– Wet Bulb Temperature Soon to Become Leading Cause of Death
  • Loss of permafrost in Siberia and other northern climes; melting permafrost is releasing millions of tons of GHG’s along with long-dormant bacteria that humans and other mammals may no longer have defenses to protect themselves from. Last year, there was a mass die-off of the Saiga, an Asian antelope, because warming temperatures made bacteria in their sinuses cause septic shock. The saiga have had such bacteria for millions of years. And an ancient plague released by warming might wipe out most of humanity within a matter of a few years.

Dr. Guy McPherson has kept a list of over four dozen such paths to human extinction. He has the list here: Climate-Change Summary and Update. The time lines are in some dispute. The Arctic Methane Emergency Group estimated that there were sufficient feedback paths in operation to drive the earth past 10.2 C above pre-industrial temperatures by 2026. Such heating would wipe out pretty much all our multi-celled animals. I’ve blogged about that hereWhen Habitat packs it in

Two more paths to extinction not mentioned here. One is the collapse of industry. The Aerosol effect aka global dimming, is what happens when particulate from fossil fuels ends up in the upper atmosphere. It reflects sunlight out into space, and was understood after 9/11, when temperatures went up because commercial aircraft stopped flying. If we had a collapse of industrial civilization, the particulate would drop out and temperatures would go up by at least 1 C immediately. That would be well past the 2 C limit we ‘must not cross’ per most mainstream researchers.

The other problem is (still) Fukushima. All the surviving Nuclear Power Plants in the Fukushima complex have been made fragile by constant bombardment of the steel by neutrons. Another earthquake could topple these structures and release Extinction-levels of ionizing radiation. TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) has never been asked to give a timeline on remediation of the Fukushima accident, but the material will take a century or more to safely sequester. A full-blown release of all the radiation still there would probably lead to human extinction within a decade.

And finally–We could also still have a plain old nuclear war. No guesses on how that would play out, but we know that ionizing radiation could remove most multi-celled life from the planet for hundreds of thousands of years.

I hope this is useful. Oh yeah, happy holidays.

Santa meme




  1. Reblogged this on jpratt27.

  2. This is too “good” not to reblog. My blog seems to be dying off from too much bad news posting so why not throw in one more?
    By the way, I don’t quite get the graph. No dates or numbers, just an infinity symbol. I suppose extinction is infinite…

    1. Thank you for posting. The graph at the top is not a ‘real’ graph, but a cartoon pointing to our situation. It’s one of many making the rounds in the climate/global warming circles. I don’t have attribution for it.

  3. Reblogged this on ~Burning Woman~ and commented:
    Thought I might as well throw this one on my pile here, to add to the fun stuff we’ve brought about for ourselves. As my erstwhile boss at Coca Cola was fond of saying, “Complaints of the Season!”

  4. Paul Anderson · · Reply

    Wow. Poe’s Corollary in action!!!

    2026 isn’t very far away. I expect most people who read this blog will live to see it. I wonder if they’ll remember that humanity is extinct by then.
    Now, the death of phytoplankton due to ocean heating started to worry me. I could almost see that happening. And that would be bad. Not “Everyone Dies” bad, but SHTF bad. I could see the human population dropping down to under a billion when we run out of fossil fuels and most people don’t know how to do subsistence wilderness farming. But that’s not an extinction event.
    And then you gotta claim that food crops won’t be able to germinate in the heat. No fricking way. Two inch soil depths can be 30*F below air temps. Corn can grow at the equator. No way that a 10*C change does more than drive corn fields out of the tropics. Sure, food production might drop in half. Still not an extinction event.
    And Fukushima is gonna wipe us out!?! When no one has been able to reliably isolate any signal in Chernobyl cancer rates? Oh, for Poe’s sake, give it up.

    The collapse of modern civilization is going to be bad enough, and something we need to be preparing for and trying to mitigate. But humankind is not going anywhere anytime soon.

  5. Thanks for your commentary. the scientists I’m following happen to disagree with you, as you could find by looking at other articles in my blog

  6. Paul Anderson · · Reply

    I spent a few hours reading on your blog and it’s linked articles. I was unable to find a source for the statement about wheat and corn not being able to germinate past a 3*C temp rise. I would be interested in reading the source document for that, if you have a link handy.

    It was interesting to read old posts, like where you mentioned that Armin Reller, in 2011, projected that by about 2017 existing gallium sources will be exhausted. This is 2019, and gallium production appears to be increasing.
    Or the guardian article from 2013 that mentioned the prediction that the Arctic would be summer-ice free by 2016.

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