In this current climate, where much of the population is seemingly on edge and wracked with worry, we thought it would be interesting to speak with someone who has a grim outlook on the future, yet refreshingly enlightened methods of coping with it. This dichotomy belongs to acclaimed scientist Prof. Dr. Guy McPherson, who is credited with coining the harrowing phrase “near-term extinction,” while at the same time wearing the title of Certified Grief-Recovery Specialist. He was kind enough to sit down with us for a very brief interview that ranges from art and literature to, of course, the end of civilization.
R. Missing: What influence (if any) have art, literature and music had on your life and work?
Guy McPherson: Literature has been key to my work. Most notably, the writings of desert anarchist Edward Abbey provided inspiration.
In my latter years on campus, I required each student in every science course I taught at the University of Arizona to complete a significant piece of art or literature as a major part of his or her grade. I took this liberal approach to teaching because I’m convinced art, literature, and science are pieces of an interconnected whole.
R. Missing: If the arts did not exist, would you feel any less motivated to carry on with your endeavors?
Guy McPherson: No, because my primary influence is nature. Artistic depictions of nature allow some to access nature’s bounty. I’m content with primary experiences.
R. Missing: When you think about human nature in connection with near-term extinction, do you believe a different outcome was ever really possible?
Guy McPherson: I don’t confuse human nature with the actions of humans within civilization. The latter lie at the root of our predicaments. Our genus persisted 2.8 million years on Earth. Our culture, not our nature, has brought us to the abyss.
R. Missing: Are modern-day humans inherently more destructive than their ancestors or have they simply acquired more tools of destruction over the course of time?
Guy McPherson: I believe both are to blame. Our “civilized” nature takes us to the cliff’s edge. Access to technology drives us over the cliff.
R. Missing: You have talked about living life without being attached to outcomes. How difficult was it for you to fully embrace that mindset and what steps were necessary to achieve it?
Guy McPherson: On a scale of 1 to 10, the degree of difficulty was a 12. Multiple steps were necessary, including my education as a rational conservation biologist, time spent studying horrible, “civilized” human behavior, education in sociology and the grieving process, and a Buddhist-inspired series of meditations on death and dying. My journey continues, it is not complete.
R. Missing: Please tell us about what you’re working on now.
Guy McPherson: My work centers on promulgating evidence regarding near-term human extinction and our response. I also work on an active homestead in Belize.