A Conversation in Santa Cruz

The video embedded below was shot on 11 May 2016 by Annie Newman. Thanks, Annie, for editing out the F-bombs sent my way during this conversation. I’m sorry about the forthcoming idiocy from the usual suspects on your YouTube channel. Big thanks to Gail Williamson for hosting in her home the conversation embedded below and to Crawford’s Attractions for thousands of details regarding logistical support.

The group involved in this conversation was described to me as comprised of radical activists. Ergo, they required no data about abrupt climate change. I might describe the group differently, at least in retrospect.


I was interviewed for the Safe and Sound podcast on 26 May 2016. The audio interview was posted 13 June 2016. It can be heard here and downloaded here.

I will be featured on the Carol Rosin Show at www.americanfreedomradio.com on Friday, 17 June 2016. It will air live between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m. Eastern time. It will be archived and will be posted on YouTube.

Comments 117

  • You guys need some Badfinger.

    Best wishes

  • mod note:

    Gerald, your 2016/06/19 at 7:41 am comment was deleted because of antisemitism.

  • Gerald, thanks for posting the link to the ultimate cruise ( http://goo.gl/KReOJe ).

    Didn’t think anything could still rock me back on my heels, but this did it!

  • Just a quick impression from the video.

    A lot of us were “driven crazy” by the destructiveness of Industrial Civilization, a long long time ago. Living with it for 50-60+ years. And we have adapted in various ways.

    Sounds like you stumbled into a bunch of people who’ve taken refuge with like-minded thinkers about that dysfunction. (And living comfortably enough in the Industrial North. I remember a couple of very beautiful visits to Santa Cruz.)

    Their view is probably true on some level, but they’re talking their book, not their experience. They’ve been circle-jer — er, talking — among themselves for so long. And agreed upon a vocabulary and a mindset. Comfort zone, within a “community of concern.”

    It works for awhile, until an intervening reality disturbs that mindset.

    Guy did it for me in 2012, and I haven’t been able to retreat to any of those theoretical concepts since then. When the ice goes, THAT is physical reality. To be dealt with, not denied.

    Yes, the metaphysical world may exist, and provide some larger “answer” to all of this. But it doesn’t guarantee a physical “solution”.

    And, from the tone of these voices, who cannot absorb what Guy says, and then respond with equal Compassion, they just haven’t done the work internal to getting to that metaphysical balance point.

    I guess it used to be called “Faith”, which in Guy’s construct, means keeping on in spite of uncertainty. Or, means accepting some certainties/probabilities that you just don’t like.

    They want answers, and fixes, and, sorry, that just ain’t happening this time ’round. Hey, couple hundred years ago, all you had to do was kill off those Indians in your way. Farms everywhere.

    Ripples on their Golden Pond, comforts disturbed, predictable reactions. Stages of grief.

    Peter Melton, as always, a gem — rising up out of that comfortable world and taking a bigger look around.

  • On a lighter note, I love it when Guy & Mike say that just sitting and watching human behavior for a bit in a shopping mall is evidence for NTHE. I was reminded of this levity when I just came across these photos (of current dystopia?) -> http://goo.gl/dn3jJ9 .

  • Daily CO2

    June 18, 2016: 406.92 ppm

    June 18, 2015: 401.69 ppm

    Up 5.23 ppm.

    I wonder how long this trend will continue, and whether anyone ‘significant’ will notice. The seasonal turn-around usually comes shortly after the Arctic ice minimum. September is going to be ‘interesting’ for many reasons.

    There is no knew information in the following item but collapse of civilisation and extinction are mentioned:

    ‘Roughly speaking, we are toast if the Earth’s surface temperatures reach something like 3 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.

    We have already reached about 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial, and we will go higher even if we stop adding more greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere, because it takes time for the Earth’s system (the oceans, atmosphere, and ice, mainly) to catch up.

    It is generally thought that if we don’t keep about 80% of the known fossil fuel, including coal, oil and other oily substances, and gas, in the ground, then we will go past that 3 degree level.

    As noted in a recent panel discussion with the Democratic National Convention platform committee:

    These numbers vary, and if you look at the literature on this topic over the last few years, you may become justifiably mystified. One of the problems is that people have been talking about a 2.0 degree limit, but with the assumption that we are now closer to 1.0 degree. But we have been beyond that for a long time, if you measure the surface temperature fairly and accurately. Another factor is some confusion and uncertainty (two different things) about the level of surface warming that will occur with a given increase on greenhouse gasses. But even if all this is straightened out, there is still another source of uncertainty. This is the degree to which Earth systems will helpfully absorb some of this extra carbon, or be altered to release even more, because of feedback effects.

    Historically, feedback effects have turned out to be positive more often than negative. Here, the word “positive” is bad, because it means that when you release greenhouse gasses, it warms stuff up, and then that causes some extra greenhouse gasses that were previously stored away somewhere to also be released (such as from warmed up Arctic soils). There is no reason to expect that in the future this trend will reverse, and in fact, there are some systems that are likely to become more of a positive (as in bad) effect than they are now. The degree to which this may occur is not clear.

    There are two important things you need to know about the 80% limit and its relation to effects on the planet. First, if we meet that 80% limit, things are still going to continue to warm up and change, and things are going to get pretty bad for some people. The difference between staying just under the limit and going well beyond the limit is the difference between things getting bad and things getting so bad that we can start talking about extinction and the collapse of civilization.

    The second thing you need to know is that we need to remain skeptical about this number. Among those in the know, who are not deniers of the science, there are very few if any who think this is too conservative, and a good number who see it as not enough. No matter what, we have to constantly monitor what is happening with the climate as well as our energy industry.

    This is doable.’


    Needless to say, most effort in the industrial world will continue to be devoted to getting fossil fuels out of the ground and burning them as quickly as possible.

  • Because I haven’t any interest in perusing Guy’s “long essay” so as to find Shakhova supposedly denying her earlier claims, does anyone have a direct link to her doing so?

    This is a fairly big deal where it concerns NTE, curious as to why it’s getting such little attention.

  • Dmitry Orlov: The US Is Sleepwalking Towards A Nuclear Confrontation

  • Feed jake, EVERYONE needs some Badfinger. Thanks for tossin that on. Often listen to ‘Straight Up’ when just sittin ’round, at home.

    Tragic what happened to Pete Ham & Tom Evans, after POS lawyers swindled their royalties. Imagine all the great work they would’ve put out, if this world weren’t so dirty.

    Jeff S, Regarding your reply to my Titanic comment. Of course you’re correct in this unprecedented nature, I just wanted to emphasize the quiet dignity some admirable people will display, when there seems to be no hope.

  • Daniel –

    Top of NBL home > links to Monster Essay > S.R Feedbacks 2of3 >

    paradoxically, on 23 May 2015 Shakhova said, “We never stated that 50 gigatonnes is likely to be released in near or distant future”

    links to > http://tribunecontentagency.com/article/the-methane-apocalypse/


    FWIW I searched the link for “We never stated” and didn’t find Shakhova retraction.

  • Thank you, Dr. McPherson, for you summary reviews of climate science, and for having the care and courage to warn us of our tragedy. I myself oscillate between local activism and anger that naional leaders seem determined to use all available resources to play 18th century games of making teams of nation states to see which team can beat the other teams in geopolitical war. It looks like our team is winning and the BRICS team is losing.

  • “We will accept our place in the political wilderness and build alternative movements and parties to bring down corporate power or continue to watch our democracy atrophy into a police state and our ecosystem unravel.” http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/con_vs_con_20160619/

  • Thank you Bob!

    Not only is she claiming she never stated what she clearly has regarding the 50 gt release, I found this paragraph from the link you posted rather interesting as well:

    “But there is scepticism about Shakhova’s actual measurements, too. For instance, her team has reported that methane levels above some hotspots in the East Siberian shelf were as high as 8000 ppb. Last summer [2015], Crill 
was aboard the Swedish icebreaker Oden, measuring levels of methane over the East Siberian shelf. Nowhere did he find levels 
this high. Even when the Oden ventured near the hotspots identified by Shakhova’s team, he never saw levels much beyond 2000 ppb. “There was no indication of any large-scale rapid degassing,” says Crill.”

    Something doesn’t smell right.

  • I’ve posted video from last month’s speaking tour, along with additional information. It’s all here.

  • Dave Thompson: sometimes Hedges drives me crazy but his latest is piece, Con vs Con, is (imo) excellent—thanks for posting.

    IN keeping with this, here is Conman Coming by the very talented Monica Heldal
    Her song, Boy from the North is amazing as well:

  • Dave & Caroline, “The race will be devoid of content.” Hedges in Con v Con
    Yep…that about sums it up. Irony abounds in the statement, as there is, boys and girls, actually no “race.”

  • It’s often said that the future is unpredictable. Of course, that’s not really true. With extremely high confidence, we can predict that the next total solar eclipse over the U.S. will be August 14, 2017

    We also know the Earth’s mean temperature to within a degree. Just about every decision we make implicitly includes a prediction for what will occur given each possible choice, and much of the time we make these predictions unconsciously and actually pretty accurately. Jump over the ravine, or climb down?

    Max Planck GERMANY “Our mind contains a number of systems comprising quite a sophisticated prediction engine that keeps us alive by helping make good choices in a complex world.”

    Yet we’re often frustrated at our inability to predict better. What does this mean, precisely? It’s useful to break prediction accuracy into two components: resolution and calibration. Resolution measures how close your predictions are to 0% or 100% likelihood. Thus the prediction that a fair coin will land heads-up 50% of the time has very low resolution. However, if the coin is fair, this prediction has excellent calibration, meaning that the prediction is very close to the relative frequency of heads vs. coin flips in a long series of trials.

    When we say we can’t predict the future, there are generally a few different things we mean. Sometime we have excellent calibration but poor resolution. A good blackjack player knows the odds of hitting 21, but fun of the game (and the Casino’s profits) relies on nobody having better resolution than the betting odds provide. Weather reports provide a less fun example of generally excellent calibration with resolution that is never as good as we would like. While lack of resolution is frustrating, having good calibration allows good decision-making because we can compute reliable expected values based on well-calibrated probabilities.

    What are much much less useful are predictions with poor, unknown, or non-existent calibration. These, alas, are what we get a lot of the from pundits – vs – scientific experts. For example:

    GUY Mc PHERSON and other Concerned Scientist: “Rapid global warming could lead to a runway greenhouse effect and turn Earth into Venus.

    Audience member: “Well, I don’t think that’s very likely.”

    Concerned Scientist: “All of humanity and life on Earth, and all humans who might ever live over countless eons will be extinguished. What would you say the probability is?”

    Unconcerned reply: “Look, I really don’t think it’s very likely.”

    Concerned Scientist: 0.0001%? 1%? 10%?

    Now, if you try to weigh this against a decade of Global analysis:

    “I’m a little worried that one of the dozens of near-miss nuclear accidents that already happened and are likely to continue to happen over the next decade will lead to a nuclear war.”


    “Our CIA covert funding of an apocalyptic cult could use CRISPR and published gain-of-function research to bioengineer a virus to cleanse the Earth of all humans.”


    “I’m a little worried that a superintelligent AI could decide that human decision-makers are too large a source of uncertainty and should be converted into paperclips for predictable mid-level bureaucrats to use.”

    Then you can see that the person who does not even know these programs exist response of “I don’t believe that” is not useful: it provides no guidance whatsoever into what level of resources should be targeted at reducing this risk, relative to other existential risks.

    People do not generally have a good intuition for small probabilities, and to be fair, computing them can be quite challenging. A small probability generally suggests that there are many, many possible outcomes, and reliably identifying, characterizing, and assessing these many outcomes is very hard. Take the probability that the US will become engaged in a nuclear war is quite small.

    Yet limited Nuclear between other nations increases this factor. There are many routes by which a nuclear war might happen, and we’d need to identify each route, break each route into components, and then assign probabilities to each of these components.

    1: Will there be significant ethnic Russian protests in Estonia in the next 5 years?

    2: If there are protests, will NATO significantly increase its military presence there?

    3: If there are protests, do 10 or more demonstrators die in the protests?

    4: If there are increased NATO forces and violent protests, does violence escalate into a military conflict?


    Each of these component questions is much easier to address, and together can indicate a reasonably well-calibrated probability for one path toward nuclear conflict. This is not, however, something we can generally do ‘on the fly’ without significant thought and analysis.

    What if we do put the time and energy into assessing these sequences of possibilities? Assigning probabilities to these chains of mutually exclusive possibilities would create a probability map of a tiny portion of the landscape of possible futures. Somewhat like ancient maps, this map must be highly imperfect, with significant inaccuracies, unwarranted assumptions, and large swathes of unknown territory. But a flawed map is much better than no map!

    Some time back, when pondering how great it would be to have a probability map like this, the JASON group decided it would require a few ingredients.

    First, it would take a lot of people combining their knowledge and expertise. The world — and the set of issues at hand — is a very complex system, and even enumerating the possibilities, let alone assigning likelihoods to them, is a large task. Fortunately, there are good precedents for crowdsourced efforts: Wikipedia, Quora, Reddit, and other efforts like NBL have created enormously valuable knowledge bases using the aggregation of large numbers of contributions.

    Second, it would take a way of identifying which people are really really good at making predictions. Many people are terrible at it — but finding those who excel at predicting, and aggregating their predictions, might lead to quite accurate ones. Here also, there is very encouraging precedent. The Aggregative Contingent Estimation project run by IARPA, one component of which is the Good Judgement Project, has created a wealth of data indicating that (a) prediction is a trainable, identifiable, persistent skill, and (b) by combining predictions, well-calibrated probabilities can be generated for even complex geopolitical events.

    Finally, we’d need a system to collect, optimally combine, calibrate, and interpret all of the data. This was the genesis of the idea for Metaculus, a new project JASON/DARPA started with several Stanford physicists.

    Many thanks to GUY and everyone on NBL.