One of the world's most outspoken climate-change Cassandras is U.S. conservation biologist Guy McPherson.
A professor emeritus of natural resources and the environment at the University of Arizona, he's warned that sharply rising methane emissions are going to create a catastrophe in our lifetimes.
McPherson, author of Going Dark, has even predicted the near-term extinction of many species, including human beings, by the middle of 2026.
It's because of something called abrupt climate change, also known as nonlinear climate change.
This results when feedback loops caused by rising atmospheric greenhouse gas levels cause the climate system to rapidly transition to a different mode, occurring on a scale that human or natural systems cannot adapt to.
In the first two decades after methane is released into the atmosphere, it's about 85 times more powerful as a heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide.
Large amounts of methane are stored in "clathrates", which are chemical substances along the Arctic continental shelves storing methane molecules.
McPherson and coauthor Carolyn Baker addressed this in their 2014 book, Extinction Dialogs: How to Live with Death in Mind.
On his website, McPherson criticizes scientists, who know about this problem, for not doing nearly enough to educate the public. He also blames politicians and the leaders of corporations and nongovernmental organizations for not raising the alarm.
"Worse than the aforementioned trolls are the media," MacPherson writes. "Fully captured by corporations and the corporate states, the media continue to dance around the issue of climate change. Occasionally a forthright piece is published, but it generally points in the wrong direction, such as suggesting climate scientists and activists be killed (e.g., James Delingpole’s 7 April 2013 hate-filled article in the Telegraph). Leading mainstream outlets routinely mislead the public."
Writer says jet stream changes are having an effect
A recent post on the Arctic News blog by its editor, Sam Carana, has even declared that human extinction could occur within a decade. Carana cites "the decreasing difference in temperature between the Equator and the North Pole causes changes to the jet stream, in turn causing warmer air and warmer water to get pushed from the North Atlantic into the Arctic".
"Warmer water flowing into the Arctic Ocean in turn increases the strength of further feedbacks that are accelerating warming in the Arctic," Carana writes. "Altogether, these feedbacks and further warming elements could trigger a huge abrupt rise in global temperature making that extinction of many species, including humans, could be less than one decade away."
At the root of this extinction prediction is methane, which is being released from sea floors along continental shelves in the Arctic as a result of melting ice.
The Counterpunch website has an article by Dave Lindroff explaining how this could rapidly increase the average global temperature by three degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times.
Lindroff suggests this would be "enough to actually reverse the carbon cycle, so that plants would end up releasing more carbon into the atmosphere rather than absorbing it".
This is what abrupt climate change looks like.
McPherson has maintained that abrupt climate change could even result in the average global temperature soon rising four degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times. Many scientists warn that increases of just two degrees will cause enormous havoc; four degrees is unfathomable.
"As we’ve known for years, scientists almost invariably underplay climate impacts (James Hansen referred to the phenomenon as 'scientific reticence' in his 24 May 2007 paper about sea-level rise in Environmental Research Letters," McPherson writes on his website. "And in some cases, scientists are aggressively muzzled by their governments."
McPherson challenged by science blogger
Not everyone subscribes to McPherson's views.
Geoscience educator Scott K. Johnson maintains on his blog that McPherson has falsely interpreted data that doesn't indicate an exponentially growing release of methane from the East Siberia arctic shelf.
"Actual measurements of methane in the atmosphere don’t show any such sudden, accelerating spike, and climate scientists don’t believe anything like this 'clathrate gun' scenario is underway," Johnson writes.
He adds that methane levels are always higher above the Arctic, which is why global averages are what scientists rely on.
"So when McPherson claims that 'the clathrate gun has fired', he does so without any evidence whatsoever," Johnson insists. "Rather, he relies on elementary mistakes made by a blogger who doesn’t appear to understand the science. Not data. And not published research. Not only do climate scientists not think that such a thing is underway, most don’t think it’s likely to be a worry this century."
McPherson has fired back on his blog, accusing Johnson of being paid to produce evidence that backs the status quo, clinging to preconceptions, and ignoring the work of legitimate scientists.
Johnson retorted on his blog that McPherson "is aware of my criticism of his argument, but has declined to consider the problems I pointed out (instead choosing to accuse me of being paid to disagree with him, which would be news to my bank account)".
Late last year, the U.S. National Snow & Ice Data Center reported that the extent of Arctic and Antarctic sea ice reached record lows in 2016 for the month of November.
Both areas were tracking two standard deviations from the norm for that time of year.
Clearly, something terribly wrong is taking place in these areas, as well as in Greenland, where ice is melting more quickly than previously forecast.
If it's an indication of abrupt climate change, we will all have to be prepared to rethink our futures.