As I’ve pointed out previously, I doubt there will be a human on Earth by mid-2026. Indeed, I doubt there will be complex life on this planet by then. It’ll be a small world, as was the case in the wake of each of the five prior Mass Extinction events on Earth. Bacteria, fungi, and microbes will dominate.
As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, humans will lose habitat on Earth before the last human dies. The final human probably will die after running out of canned food in a bunker. And he or she will not know human extinction has occurred.
According to the Pentagon’s JASON Group, the situation for life on Earth will be far worse than I have ever described. A well-informed insider there wrote on 19 December 2016: “THE JASON GROUP at the Pentagon is getting new data (upon my constant requests) that the effect of over 450 reactors melting down will most likely destroy the Ozone layers. Rather than going Venus Earth will end up more like Mars. Very dead with almost no chance to regenerate an atmosphere. Report to be published in 2017.”
The ice-free Arctic projected by the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in 2016, + 3 years, seems likely in 2019. Arctic ice is very fragile. Regardless when it arrives, the near-term ice-free Arctic will be experienced by humans for the first time. This event might trigger the 50-Gt burst of methane forecast by Shakhova and colleagues at the European Geophysical Union annual meeting in 2008 (“we consider release of up to 50 Gt of predicted amount of hydrate storage as highly possible for abrupt release at any time”). I reasonably use the ice-free Arctic as a proxy for this first burst of atmospheric methane. After all, it’s been “highly possible for abrupt release at any time” for nearly a decade. In May 2015, Shakhova lied about the research group’s earlier statement about an abrupt release of methane — when she could have easily retracted the statement — saying, “We never stated that 50 gigatonnes is likely to be released in near or distant future.” Arctic methane release increased significantly between 2014 and the autumn of 2016.
The first 50-gigatonne burst of methane described by Shakhova et al. translates to a global temperature rise of 1.3 C, which causes civilization to collapse because grains cannot be grown at scale. Industrial civilization, as with its predecessors, requires grain production and storage. This abrupt rise in temperature would be felt within a few weeks in the Northern Hemisphere — where nearly all civilization-supporting grains are grown — and within a year throughout the world. It would take Earth’s global-average temperature well beyond the point that has supported humans in the past. Ever.
Lack of global dimming adds another ~3 C. Earth is then ~6 C above the 1750 baseline by the following spring. About 2/3 of the temperature rise comes within a few months. I doubt there’s habitat for humans or many other animals at that point. After all, the slow rise in global-average temperature documented so far outstrips the ability of vertebrates to adapt by more than 10,000 times. In addition, evidence indicates humans will join the annihilation of “all life on earth,” that will die with a 5 or 6 C global-average temperature rise, as reported in the journal literature on 13 November 2018.*
In other words, not long after civilization fails — and certainly by mid-2026 — the planet will harbor no humans. Not in bunkers. Not in caves, eating canned peaches. I’ll go well beyond betting my life on it: I’ll bet human existence.
Some claim Earth’s climate sensitivity is insufficient to permit a global-average rise in temperature with such rapidity. They claim the oceans will buffer the Southern Hemisphere, which has relatively little land surface. They claim a long lag between a volcano ejection and the subsequent change in global dimming. In making these claims, they are ignorant about evidence: climate sensitivity is very high. Consider the following, minor example: On 14 September 2001, three days after planes in the United States were grounded because of the events of 9/11, a change in global dimming was measured.
Ponder that fact for a minute. The global-average temperature of the planet was altered three days after some planes were grounded. Fossil fuels were still burned throughout the world. A few contrails were lost. That’s it.
In the extremely unlikely event there is a human on Earth in 10 years, that person will be hungry, thirsty, lonely, and bathing in ionizing radiation. Every day will be more tenuous than the day before, as is already the case for most organisms on this planet. Habitat for human animals will return in a few million years. Humans will not. Ever.
Some people are preparing for the collapse of civilization. I used to be one of them. Now I spend my days living, rather than pursuing dying more slowly than expected.
It’s not as if I desire near-term human extinction via abrupt climate change or any other means. I do know all species go extinct, even the ones we love. And, unfortunately, I’m capable of connecting the few dots that lead to our demise. Contrary to the vast majority of people I know, I’m not afraid of the truth, even though it involves my death in the very near future.
And, to be clear, I did not cause near-term human extinction as a result of abrupt climate change. It wasn’t even my idea! Nobody accuses the oncologist of causing cancer. Ever.
I doubt my radicalism gives way to wishful thinking. Ever.
I doubt my love of life on Earth dissipates. Ever.
Carpe diem (seize the day). There aren’t many of them left.
Pressum diem (squeeze the day). Make every one matter. Like all of us, the days are going away faster than expected.
*This essay was updated more than a year after it was posted to accommodate the peer-reviewed article by Strong and Bradshaw indicating all life on Earth will be annihilated by a 5 or 6 C global-average temperature rise