Why is there so much preoccupation with atmospheric CO2 concentrations and reducing anthropogenic CO2 emissions when it is well documented in the peer-reviewed scientific literature that the CO2 contribution to the overall greenhouse effect is so weak that it can be easily supplanted by small changes in clouds and water vapor, or natural climate-changing constituents?
Thursday, 8 July 2010
Why Would You Believe This? (4 of 8) . 'And that's not to mention the 30% of species at risk of extinction [due to impact of humans on CO2 levels].'
'And that's not to mention the 30% of species at risk of extinction.'
Julian Simon had the measure of this particular sleight of hand 26 years ago (3). Take the upper end of a speculative range of values, and report it as if it were a fact. Not only that, decouple it further to suggest that the '30%' applies to all species, and not merely to a subset deemed at particular risk.
The ‘30%’ figure was promoted in the IPCC's 2007 Summary Report for Policy Makers, where it was the upper end of a range. For a summary of some of their scare stories from 2007, see (4), which has this, with my emphasis added:
'The report says that around 20 per cent to 30 per cent of the plant and animal species assessed are likely to be at increased risk of extinction if global average temperatures exceed 1.5 degree C to 2.5 degree C over late 20th century levels.'
So not only is this a speculation about the impact on a subset of species, it presumes a further speculation about temperatures. Both speculations are so flimsy that the whole phrase is worthless except as a piece of propaganda designed for the mass media.
The low levels of scientific and statistical competence in the mass media allow such things to pass unchallenged in the news, and of course the juxtaposition with talk of man-made CO2 invites the public to more misleading conclusions. First of all, species have always died out, and one might argue pedantically that 100% are ‘at risk of extinction’ – it is part and parcel of evolution, and of the vulnerability of any lifeform. Why would this be worse under warming, given that conditions would be generally more favourable for life? Especially if ambient CO2 levels increase, since more CO2 would provide an appreciable surge in plant growth wherever there was no other constraint such as insufficient mineral availability.
Both the species estimates and the temperature projections are based on computer models. Computer models of these poorly underststood and complex systems are merely vehicles for exploring conjectures in limited ways. In particular, they provide neither evidence nor data, merely speculations. Apparently the species extinction models referred to by the IPCC took no account of acclimatisation nor of the more favourable growing environment produced by increased ambient CO2 levels. This is eerily reminiscent of the absurd doom-laden talk in the 1970s by the notorious scaremongerer Paul Ehrlich, who also took no account of human ingenuity and of the benefits of certain trends such as increased availability of energy supplies and other resources. His mental model of the world seems to view it as some kind of petri-dish, lacking in intelligent life.
As for the models used to support the 2007 assertions on extinctions, here is a recent expert opinion on them, with my emphasis added (5):
'The two researchers - Kathy Willis from the UK's Long-Term Ecology Laboratory of Oxford University's Centre for the Environment, and Shonil Bhagwat from Norway's University of Bergen - raise a warning flag about the older models, stating "their coarse spatial scales fail to capture topography or 'microclimatic buffering' and they often do not consider the full acclimation capacity of plants and animals," citing the analysis of Botkin et al. (2007) in this regard.'
This article concludes, my emphasis added:
‘Clearly, the panic-evoking extinction-predicting paradigms of the past are rapidly giving way to the realization they bear little resemblance to reality. Earth's plant and animal species are not slip-sliding away - even slowly - into the netherworld of extinction that is preached from the pulpit of climate alarmism as being caused by CO2-induced global warming.’
The CO2 Science site (6) has a lot more useful stuff on species extinctions, as does the SPPI site (7).
The casual throwing around of scary but phoney numbers, and their replication through mass media in support of their cause, is all part of the modus operandi of the IPCC. Their touting of the '40%' fantasy fact about the Amazon being but one of many, and one which by itself could account for a great many species extinctions. Here it is refuted (8):
'The IPCC is under scrutiny for various data inaccuracies, including its claim -- based on a flawed World Wildlife Fund study -- that up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically and be replaced by savannas from even a slight reduction in rainfall. "Our results certainly do not indicate such extreme sensitivity to reductions in rainfall," said Sangram Ganguly, an author on the new study, from the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute affiliated with NASA Ames Research Center in California.
"The way that the WWF report calculated this 40% was totally wrong, while [the new] calculations are by far more reliable and correct," said Dr. Jose Marengo, a Brazilian National Institute for Space Research climate scientist and member of the IPCC.'
So, what are we to make of the '30%'? My inclination is to read it bearing in mind the above reservations about models, and taking due note of this statement (9):
'The attitude toward scientific fact reporting by environmental scientists may be best summarized by Stanford biology professor, Stephen Schneider’s statement, “We need to get loads of media coverage, so we have to offer up scary scenarios and make dramatic statements. Each of us has to decide on the right balance between effectiveness and honesty”.'
Along with some examples where honesty seemed to count for very little:
'In ten years all important animal life in the sea will be extinct. Large areas of coastline will have to be evacuated because of the stench of dead fish.'
—Paul Ehrlich, (Earth Day 1970) (10)
'Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, believes that in 25 years, somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct.'
• Sen. Gaylord Nelson (Earth Day 1970) (11)
And perhaps, if you think the '30%' still has a shred of credibility, consider this 'data' pushed by the WWF in 1996, and roundly rebutted here (12):
'How does WWF arrive at the number 5O,OOO species extinctions per year? It can be no coincidence that this same number is the upper limit suggested by Edward O. Wilson of Harvard University. Wilson states that while only l.5 million species have been described, it is reasonable to believe that there are over 3O times that many, i.e. 5O million. Then a computer model, based on island biogeography theory, is used to generate the number 5O,OOO. There is no list of Latin names for these species. It is, in fact, a preposterous combination of extrapolation and pulling numbers from the air.'
This is all part of a long and ignoble tradition amongst political campaigners who wrap themselves in the sheep's clothing of concern for the environment (13):
'In the 45 years since the publication of Silent Spring, it is very obvious that many environmental scientists choose effectiveness in generating media attention over honesty. Today the ability to obtain government funding for environmental studies clouds their judgment even more.'
I referred to Julian Simon at the start of this post, and I expect to do so again in this series. But for now, I'll conclude with the title of his 1984 article (3), followed by an extract from it:
'Truth Almost Extinct in Tales of Imperiled Species.'
'... this pure conjecture about upper limit of present species extinction is increased and used by Mr. Myers and WWF scientist Thomas Lovejoy as the basis for the "projections" quoted in the fundraising letter and elsewhere. Mr. Lovejoy--by converting what was an estimated upper limit into a present best-estimate--says that government inaction is "likely to lead" to the extinction of between 14 and 20 percent of all species before the year 2000. This comes to about 40,000 species lost per year, or about one million from 1980 to 2000. In brief, this extinction rate is nothing but pure guesswork. The forecast is a thousand times greater than the present--yet it has been published in newspapers and understood as a scientific statement.'
Simon spotted their tricks back then. His insight was not enough to stop them at their game, neither back then nor now. We are faced with campaigners less concerned about the truth, than about the impact of their statements in the media, and upon their sources of funding.
(3) Article by Julian Simon reproduced in this link (need to scroll down to find it): http://www.skepticfiles.org/skeptic/az_mar92.htm
(5) Idsos article: http://www.co2science.org/articles/V13/N24/EDIT.php
(8) Amazongate reference http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100311175039.htm
(9) Schneider quote and more on Schneider: http://www.john-daly.com/schneidr.htm
(10) Ehrlich's and others' quotes: http://pushback.com/issues/environment/ecofreak-quotes/
(11) Gaylord Nelson's and others' quotes: http://www.ihatethemedia.com/earth-day-predictions-of-1970-the-reason-you-should-not-believe-earth-day-predictions-of-2009