As the San Jose Mercury News reports, “In the most sobering study of extinction yet, a team of Bay Area scientists says that animal species are disappearing at an accelerating rate — portending the sixth mass extinction in the 4.5-billion-year history of the Earth.” Perhaps inspired by the recent book by Elizabeth Kolbert titled ‘The Sixth Extinction‘, the subject is now au courant. Personally I preferred The Fifth Element.
Such a story would be incomplete without a mention of Paul Ehrlich, and he does indeed appear, saying “without any significant doubt that we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event.”
The entire argument is not helped by the fuzzy nature of the mathematics used by those announcing the Sixth Extinction. We quite literally don’t know how many species exist on the planet. We do not know how many species are going extinct now. We don’t know how many species existed, nor how many went extinct in a specific time frame in the past. Those saying that X% of terrestrial or marine species have gone extinct in the past 50 years are just guessing. They don’t have many specific species to point to saying they are gone.
As is always the case in modern times, when talking about the modern causes of threats to biodiversity, they put the least important factor–climate change–at the front of the list, when in fact habitat reduction, conventional pollution, over hunting/fishing and the introduction of alien species have far greater impacts.
Indeed, while the warming we have experienced has caused a poleward shift in migration patterns and changes in the time of the year that species migrate, breed and give birth, those changes–those adaptations to climate change by species that don’t have global warming alarmists to tell them they’re doomed–seem to be effective. In other words, birds and insects are not going extinct because of climate change, they’re just changing their habits and habitats. As they have done countless times before, adapting to changes in the climate that were caused by Mother Nature rather than Man. Our responsibility, if responsibility we have, is to insure that as these species look for new and more congenial territory, there in fact is new territory available to them.
Back before we started hunting species to extinction, extinction happened in slow motion, taking hundreds or thousands of years. That’s one cogent argument against blaming climate change for current threats to biodiversity–it’s too recent to be the culprit. Anthropogenic climate change is the dog that hasn’t had time to bark.
If, as I suspect, the attribution of stress on species from climate change is around 1% of the total (when compared to habitat reduction, hunting/fishing, pollution and alien species), the best thing we can do is continue the good work started by real environmentalists (not the Konsensus Alarmists masquerading as such) in preserving or restoring natural environments, reducing pollution, managing the fisheries and being more attentive regarding the introduction of alien species.
This will do far more to preserve the biodiversity of this planet than any of our efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. And I say that as someone who firmly believes we need to reduce our contributions to greenhouse gases. Eventually, climate change will become a significant stressor for some, perhaps many species.
It just hasn’t happened yet.