Tomorrow, Sunday, April 22, is Earth Day 2018 In the May 2000 issue of Reason Magazine, award-winning science correspondent Ronald Bailey wrote an excellent article titled “Earth Day, Then and Now” to provide some historical perspective on the 30th anniversary of Earth Day. In that article, Bailey noted that around the time of the first Earth Day […]
John Tierney and John Stossel look at who is making war on science.
The right doesn’t like a few things, but their impact on how science is done is minimal. The left is much more active in shutting down science, and scientists, they don’t like.
This piece at Reason Mag is the text version.
A lot of the environmentalist agenda looks like it stems from a belief that the world was created in a perfect, ideal form, and any change we make represents a fall from this pristine state.
The only creatures we should go out of our way to protect are Homo sapiens.
By R. Alexander Pyron
R. Alexander Pyron is the Robert F. Griggs Associate Professor of Biology at the George Washington University.
Near midnight, during an expedition to southwestern Ecuador in December 2013, I spotted a small green frog asleep on a leaf, near a stream by the side of the road. It was Atelopus balios , the Rio Pescado stubfoot toad. Although a lone male had been spotted in 2011, no populations had been found since 1995, and it was thought to be extinct. But here it was, raised from the dead like Lazarus. My colleagues and I found several more that night, males and females, and shipped them to an amphibian ark in Quito, where they are now breeding safely in captivity. But they will go extinct one day, and the world will be none the poorer for it. Eventually, they will be replaced by a dozen or a hundred new species that evolve later.
Mass extinctions periodically wipe out up to 95 percent of all species in one fell swoop; these come every 50 million to 100 million years, and scientists agree that we are now in the middle of the sixth such extinction, this one caused primarily by humans and our effects on animal habitats. It is an “immense and hidden” tragedy to see creatures pushed out of existence by humans, lamented the Harvard entomologist E.O. Wilson, who coined the term “biodiversity” in 1985. A joint paper by several prominent researchers published by the National Academy of Sciences called it a “biological annihilation.” Pope Francis imbues the biodiversity crisis with a moral imperative (“Each creature has its own purpose,” he said in 2015), and biologists often cite an ecological one (we must avert “a dramatic decay of biodiversity and the subsequent loss of ecosystem services,” several wrote in a paper for Science Advances). “What is Conservation Biology?,” a foundational text for the field, written by Michael Soulé of the University of California at Santa Cruz, says, “Diversity of organisms is good . . . the untimely extinction of populations and species is bad . . . [and] biotic diversity has intrinsic value.” In her book “The Sixth Extinction ,” journalist Elizabeth Kolbert captures the panic all this has induced: “Such is the pain the loss of a single species causes that we’re willing to perform ultrasounds on rhinos and handjobs on crows.”
But the impulse to conserve for conservation’s sake has taken on an unthinking, unsupported, unnecessary urgency. Extinction is the engine of evolution, the mechanism by which natural selection prunes the poorly adapted and allows the hardiest to flourish. Species constantly go extinct, and every species that is alive today will one day follow suit. There is no such thing as an “endangered species,” except for all species. The only reason we should conserve biodiversity is for ourselves, to create a stable future for human beings. Yes, we have altered the environment and, in doing so, hurt other species. This seems artificial because we, unlike other life forms, use sentience and agriculture and industry. But we are a part of the biosphere just like every other creature, and our actions are just as volitional, their consequences just as natural. Conserving a species we have helped to kill off, but on which we are not directly dependent, serves to discharge our own guilt, but little else.
Climate scientists worry about how we’ve altered our planet, and they have good reasons for apprehension: Will we be able to feed ourselves? Will our water supplies dry up? Will our homes wash away? But unlike those concerns, extinction does not carry moral significance, even when we have caused it. And unless we somehow destroy every living cell on Earth, the sixth extinction will be followed by a recovery, and later a seventh extinction, and so on.
Yet we are obsessed with reviving the status quo ante. The Paris Accords aim to hold the temperature to under two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, even though the temperature has been at least eight degrees Celsius warmer within the past 65 million years. Twenty-one thousand years ago, Boston was under an ice sheet a kilometer thick. We are near all-time lows for temperature and sea level ; whatever effort we make to maintain the current climate will eventually be overrun by the inexorable forces of space and geology. Our concern, in other words, should not be protecting the animal kingdom, which will be just fine. Within a few million years of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs, the post-apocalyptic void had been filled by an explosion of diversity — modern mammals, birds and amphibians of all shapes and sizes.
This is how evolution proceeds: through extinction. The inevitability of death is the only constant in life, and 99.9 percent of all species that have ever lived, as many as 50 billion, have already gone extinct. In 50 million years, Europe will collide with Africa and form a new supercontinent, destroying species (think of birds, fish and anything vulnerable to invasive life forms from another landmass) by irrevocably altering their habitats. Extinctions of individual species, entire lineages and even complete ecosystems are common occurrences in the history of life. The world is no better or worse for the absence of saber-toothed tigers and dodo birds and our Neanderthal cousins, who died off as Homo sapiens evolved. (According to some studies, it’s not even clear that biodiversity is suffering. The authors of another recent National Academy of Sciences paper point out that species richness has shown no net decline among plants over 100 years across 16,000 sites examined around the world.)
Conserving biodiversity should not be an end in itself; diversity can even be hazardous to human health. Infectious diseases are most prevalent and virulent in the most diverse tropical areas. Nobody donates to campaigns to save HIV, Ebola, malaria, dengue and yellow fever, but these are key components of microbial biodiversity, as unique as pandas, elephants and orangutans, all of which are ostensibly endangered thanks to human interference.
Humans should feel less shame about molding their environment to suit their survival needs. When beavers make a dam, they cause the local extinction of numerous riverine species that cannot survive in the new lake. But that new lake supports a set of species that is just as diverse. Studies have shown that when humans introduce invasive plant species, native diversity sometimes suffers, but productivity — the cycling of nutrients through the ecosystem — frequently increases. Invasives can bring other benefits, too: Plants such as the Phragmites reed have been shown to perform better at reducing coastal erosion and storing carbon than native vegetation in some areas, like the Chesapeake.
And if biodiversity is the goal of extinction fearmongers, how do they regard South Florida, where about 140 new reptile species accidentally introduced by the wildlife trade are now breeding successfully? No extinctions of native species have been recorded, and, at least anecdotally, most natives are still thriving. The ones that are endangered, such as gopher tortoises and indigo snakes , are threatened mostly by habitat destruction. Even if all the native reptiles in the Everglades, about 50, went extinct, the region would still be gaining 90 new species — a biodiversity bounty. If they can adapt and flourish there, then evolution is promoting their success. If they outcompete the natives, extinction is doing its job.
There is no return to a pre-human Eden; the goals of species conservation have to be aligned with the acceptance that large numbers of animals will go extinct. Thirty to 40 percent of species may be threatened with extinction in the near future, and their loss may be inevitable. But both the planet and humanity can probably survive or even thrive in a world with fewer species. We don’t depend on polar bears for our survival, and even if their eradication has a domino effect that eventually affects us, we will find a way to adapt. The species that we rely on for food and shelter are a tiny proportion of total biodiversity, and most humans live in — and rely on — areas of only moderate biodiversity, not the Amazon or the Congo Basin.
Developed human societies can exist and function in harmony with diverse natural communities, even if those communities are less diverse than they were before humanity. For instance, there is almost no original forest in the eastern United States. Nearly every square inch was clear-cut for timber by the turn of the 20th century. The verdant wilderness we see now in the Catskills, Shenandoah and the Great Smoky Mountains has all grown back in the past 100 years or so, with very few extinctions or permanent losses of biodiversity (14 total east of the Mississippi River, counting species recorded in history that are now apparently extinct), even as the population of our country has quadrupled. Japan is one of the most densely populated and densely forested nations in the world. A model like that can serve a large portion of the planet, while letting humanity grow and shape its own future.
If climate change and extinction present problems, the problems stem from the drastic effects they will have on us. A billion climate refugees, widespread famines, collapsed global industries, and the pain and suffering of our kin demand attention to ecology and imbue conservation with a moral imperative. A global temperature increase of two degrees Celsius will supposedly raise seas by 0.2 to 0.4 meters, with no effect on vast segments of the continents and most terrestrial biodiversity. But this is enough to flood most coastal cities, and that matters.
The solution is simple: moderation. While we should feel no remorse about altering our environment, there is no need to clear-cut forests for McMansions on 15-acre plots of crabgrass-blanketed land. We should save whatever species and habitats can be easily rescued (once-endangered creatures such as bald eagles and peregrine falcons now flourish), refrain from polluting waterways, limit consumption of fossil fuels and rely more on low-impact renewable-energy sources.
We should do this to create a stable, equitable future for the coming billions of people, not for the vanishing northern river shark. Conservation is needed for ourselves and only ourselves. All those future people deserve a happy, safe life on an ecologically robust planet, regardless of the state of the natural world compared with its pre-human condition. We cannot thrive without crops or pollinators, or along coastlines as sea levels rise and as storms and flooding intensify.
Yet that robust planet will still erase huge swaths of animal and plant life. Even if we live as sustainably as we can, many creatures will die off, and alien species will disrupt formerly “pristine” native ecosystems. The sixth extinction is ongoing and inevitable — and Earth’s long-term recovery is guaranteed by history (though the process will be slow). Invasion and extinction are the regenerative and rejuvenating mechanisms of evolution, the engines of biodiversity.
If this means fewer dazzling species, fewer unspoiled forests, less untamed wilderness, so be it. They will return in time. The Tree of Life will continue branching, even if we prune it back. The question is: How will we live in the meantime?
The researchers next pointed out that the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, from 2013, estimated that cumulative carbon dioxide emissions since 1870 would have to remain less than 2,260 gigatons of carbon dioxide to stay below the 1.5 C threshold. But as of 2014, cumulative emissions stood at just over 2,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide. Since humanity is currently emitting about 36 gigatons of carbon dioxide annually, that implies that humanity would blow through the remaining IPCC carbon budget around 2021.
Here’s where it gets interesting. The average global temperature now stands at about 0.9 C above the pre-industrial baseline, which implies that global temperature would have to increase by 0.6 C between now and 2021 if the IPCC carbon budget calculations were right. This is highly implausible since such an increase would be about 10 times faster than than what has actually heretofore been observed.
But why reuse the models that have already been shown to be off by 30 percent in their projections? Again, the difference between 0.9 C above the preindustrial baseline and the 1.5 C threshold is 0.6 C. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, global average temperature is rising at 0.17 C per decade, suggesting that the 1.5 C temperature threshold might not be passed for 30 years. The satellite temperature measurements find that the globe is warming at the rate of 0.13 C per decade, implying that the 1.5 C threshold might not be passed for 45 years or so.
These rough temperature increase calculations imply an even larger carbon budget. That might mean that humanity could burn significantly more carbon dioxide-emitting fossil fuels without necessarily crossing the 2 C above preindustrial average temperature threshold set out in the Paris Agreement.
No Cylons need apply.
Well, first of all, did they?
The veteran journalist Wes Vernon wrote about Grant’s research in this area, in an article entitled, “The Marxist Roots of the Global Warming Scare.”
The big event, as Grant called it, was a Moscow conference in January, 1990. As Time magazine described it, “At a meeting of the Global Forum in Moscow in 1990, when he was still Soviet President, Gorbachev proposed an organization roughly analogous to the International Red Cross to contend with environmental problems that cross national boundaries.” Among the guests and speakers was then-U.S. senator and future vice president Al Gore.
Talk about “collusion” with the Russians! Where was the FBI investigation?
The collusion took place through the Global Forum and various United Nations conferences, including the Earth Summit of 1992, giving rise to the concept of “sustainable development,” another way to describe socialism.
Grant wrote, “Protection of the environment may be used as a pretext to adopt a series of measures designed to undermine the industrial base of developed nations. It may also serve to introduce malaise by lowering their standard of living and implanting communist values.”
Grant predicted how this campaign would proceed, using “nightmarish” pictures of floods, scorched earth, disease and death, unless drastic action was taken at the international level to curb industrial activity in the capitalist West.
She said the campaign would be driven by Moscow’s sympathizers or dupes in “science,” academia, “and the slavishly obedient Establishment media,” all for the purpose of forcing the United States and other Western countries “to accept measures and regulations harmful to the Western world.”
In short, for communism to succeed, capitalism would have to be portrayed as based on exploitation—but not of man, as the old Marxist theory held. Rather, capitalism was now exploiting the earth! The whole purpose of this dogma has been to inhibit global capitalism, the only system that has proven capable of meeting the growing needs of expanding populations. But this time the claim was that human economic progress threatened the environment because of the capitalist model on which it was based.
Don’t take my word for it. When Natalie Grant Wraga died in 2002 at the age of 101, The Washington Post recognized her expertise as a Soviet expert, noting that she was “born in czarist Russia, saw great upheaval in her native land and became an expert in unmasking Soviet deception methods for the State Department…”
But the Post would not admit that fact in today’s political climate.
The liberal Economist magazine wrote, “She was perhaps the only person alive in the West who could claim such an intimate knowledge of Russian political thinking, from tsarist times to the collapse of the Soviet Union.” She commented, “Many people are studying the past, but very few are studying the present. Keep your eyes open and your ears open.”
How could so many incredibly intelligent people overwhelmingly reject what THE SCIENCE says about climate change? Well, they don’t. They just don’t see it as big of a threat to the world as other things. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of them felt that antibiotic resistance and pandemic disease were the biggest global threats. One person thought geopolitical instability was the biggest concern.
I told them that I believed poverty was the world’s biggest threat. The reason is poverty is the underlying condition that causes so much misery in the world. Consider that 1.3 billion people don’t have electricity. And then consider how the lack of that basic necessity — what the rest of us take completely for granted — hinders their ability to develop economically and to succeed, let alone to have access to adequate healthcare. If we fix poverty, we could stop easily preventable health problems, such as infectious disease and malnutrition.
Was I booed out of the room? No, the audience understood why I believed what I did. But woe unto you who try to have a similar conversation with climate warriors.
First off, they failed to engage. Instead. they resorted to name calling by labeling skeptics as “deniers” or worse. Then there is their exaggeration of what they see as the dire consequences of climate change. These exaggerations have led them to falsely predict that New York City would be under water and that the polls would be ice free. When that did not happen people like Al Gore lost credibility.
Fundamentally their “scientific” projections have been deeply flawed grossly overestimating the consequences of increased CO2. One of the principals of projections is that when they failed to be realized it is because they relied on invalid assumptions. This is true of financial projections and scientific projections.
In the case of the projections of the consequences of climate change, I suspect that they are overestimating the impact of CO2 on global temperatures. One reason I believe that is because they struggle to explain why they got it wrong and they do not want to admit which of their assumptions is invalid.
There is also the hysteria on the left when their beliefs are rejected. It is almost like the response of radical Islamist to the rejection of Islam. They act like the rejection of their point of view is blasphemy rather than an argument to overcome.
I think there is also the suspicion that the real objective of the left is to institute control freak government and climate change is their latest excuse for doing so since communism has been rejected.
To be fair, “failure to engage” can occur for two reasons. It may be because those who don’t engage are wrong, or because they’re right and have forgotten what Eugenie Scott has said about discussing evolution: “We’re educating a parade”.
Yes, if you have the facts in order, you may have to keep teaching them to each next person. And if you throw a fit and refuse to teach, you run the risk of looking like you don’t have anything to teach.
But not even the EPA’s Mr. Pruitt or the New York Times’s newest recruit exhibits the ill grace to phrase the “so what” question.
“So what” is the most important question of all. So what if human activity is causing some measure of climate change if voters and politicians are unwilling to assume the costs (possibly hugely disproportionate to any benefit) of altering the outcome of the normal evolution of energy markets and energy technology.
In order for climate change, global warming, the new ice age, weather distortion, or whatever to be a major cause for concern, we need to believe three things:
- The temperature of the planet is actually changing (usually, increasing);
- Some significant fraction of this change is due to human activity (and therefore humans can have a significant impact on this change by altering their activity);
- The temperature change will lead to catastrophe.
I think all serious students of the climate accept that the planet is warmer. At the very least, we’re emerging from an ice age, and this will show up as a warmer planet.
We’ve been measuring the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and watching them go past 400 parts per million. Since CO2 blocks and absorbs certain frequencies of light, it’s hard to imagine an increase in concentration having no effect. Perhaps if every human quit burning stuff, this trend could be reversed, but realistically that’s not happening. The proposals that are being described as “urgent” would have a trifling effect on human CO2 production. China and India aren’t going to change absent a major economic collapse.
It’s possible that technological fixes, including “geo-engineering” might succeed in changing the temperature of the planet, but the solutions being proposed don’t seem likely to actually solve anything.
What is the net effect of any kind of warming? Of one degree? Five degrees? Ten degrees? Each of these would have some effects. Some of the effects will be good, some bad, and some neutral. With any change, if you count up the negative effects and ignore the positive ones, you can show that it’s a negative change. We hear about how bad a given temperature increase will be, but have we fallen into the “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality? Perhaps the benefits of a temperature increase don’t make for sexy headlines, and so tend not to be reported? Or even looked for?
I really wasn’t going to do much with this Skeptical Science post by Rob Honeycutt called “Correcting Warren Meyer on Forbes,” but several readers have asked me about it and its Friday and I am sort of bored in the office so here goes. I may skip parts of his critique. That does not necessarily mean I agree with it, but several sections of this article are just so trivial (let’s defend Al Gore!) that it is hard to work up any energy about it. As reference, my original article published back in 2012 is here.
Dammit Meyer, You Changed The Words to the Doxology!
The author begins his critique this way:
Mr. Meyer opens with a misleading attempt to frame the issue as a debate on “catastrophic man-man global warming theory.” This approach conflates two very distinct elements of the science on anthropogenic climate change. Nowhere in the published scientific literature can you find the phrase he uses. When I did a search on this term in Google Scholar, what did I find? Mr. Meyer’s Forbes article. Also searching “catastrophic man-made climate change” I get a smattering of non-research related materials coming from people who rejecting human influence on climate. Meyer has formed a completely irrelevant and fabricated framing of the issue for the basis of his discussion.
In Mr. Meyer’s article he claims this is the “core theory” and states that he will use the IPCC as the primary source for this, even though there is no place where the IPCC frames climate change in this manner.
Hey, thanks for making my point! I always start climate discussions by saying that supporters of climate action are frequently sloppy with the way they frame the debate. They use phrases like “climate denier” for folks like me which make no sense, since I don’t deny there is a climate. Clearly “climate denier” is a shortcut term for my denying some other more complex proposition, but what proposition exactly? Merely saying “global warming” as a proposition is sloppy because it could include both natural and manmade effects. Climate change is even sloppier (I would argue purposely so) because it obscures the fact that deleterious effects from anthropogenic CO2 must be via the intermediate stage of warming (i.e. there is no theory that CO2 causes hurricanes directly).
With this in mind, I begin nearly every discussion of climate change by doing what many proponents of climate action fail to do — I am very precise about the proposition I am going to discuss. It’s not just global warming, it’s man-made global warming. And since the climate alarmists are urging immediate action, it is not just man-made global warming but it is catastrophic man-made global warming, ie man-made global warming with negative effects so severe it requires urgent and extensive actions to circumvent. I think that is a very fair reading of what folks like James Hansen have in mind (if he does not think it will be catastrophic, why is he getting arrested in front of power plants?) The fact that Google searches do not yield these precise terms but rather yield millions of hits for meaningless phrases like “climate denier” just go to support one of the themes of my original piece, that the climate debate is made much muddier by the sloppy framing of the issues in the media.
However, while Mr. Honeycutt criticizes my framing as non-canon, he offers no specific critiques of how the phrase “catastrophic man-made global warming” might be wrong and offers no alternative framing. I really do try to pass Bryan Caplan’s ideological Turing test on this stuff, so I am interested — if advocates for climate action do not think “Catastrophic Man-Made Global Warming” is a fair statement of their theory, what would they use instead?