By Larry Bell
Brace yourself – but also try to relax a little.
You didn’t really create another new crisis. Capitalism didn’t either.
Be prepared for findings of a soon-to-be released gloom and doom report to be issued by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) claiming that “around one million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades.”
First, consider that the report was prepared under the leadership of Sir Robert Watson (UK). He happens to be the same guy who chaired the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from 1997 to 2002.
This period kicked off feverish frenzy with IPCC’s Third Assessment Report (AR3, 2001) featuring Michael Mann’s famously alarmist “Hockey Stick Graph” global warming projections.
So what, exactly, are we supposed to become alarmed about this time around? Breathless press release advances headline such terrifying teasers as “Nature’s dangerous decline,” and “Unprecedented species extinction rates accelerating.”
Moreover — and once again — urgent measures are immediately needed to avert a human-caused calamity, “Current global response insufficient; Transformative changes are needed to restore and protect nature; Opposition from vested [capitalistic] interests can be overcome for public good . . . ”
This time, however, the transformative changes must extend far beyond the simple elimination of smokestacks, SUVs and flatulent cattle: “The direct anthropogenic drivers are those that are the result of human decisions, namely, of institutions and governance systems and other indirect drivers.”
Press releases list those anthropogenic drivers to include habitat conversion, e.g., degradation of land and aquatic habitats, deforestation, and afforestation, exploitation of wild populations, climate change, pollution of soil, water and air, and species introductions.
Those references to “air pollution” and “climate change” are regularly and transparently conflated as euphemisms attached to carbon dioxide. UK children have recently been prompted to protest CO2 emissions under the banner of “Extinction Rebellion.”
Certainly don’t expect the U.N. to credit increased CO2 emissions for the substantially increased biodiversity-beneficial global greening observed by satellite imagery over the past 35 years.
Alarm over biodiversity peril got a big boost more than a decade ago when Harvard ant biologist Dr. Edward O. Wilson estimated that 50,000 species are going extinct. When Environmental activist Tim Keating of Rainforest Relief was asked if he could name any of them he replied, “No we can’t, because we don’t know what those species are. But most of the species we’re talking about in those estimates are things like insects and even microorganisms.”
Apparently, those casualties primarily inhabited the computer hard drive that generated Wilson’s theoretical model.
Regarding Wilson’s predictions, UK scientist and professor emeritus of Biogeography at the University of London, Philip Stott commented, “The Earth has gone through many periods of major extinctions, some much larger than even being contemplated today.” He went on to say “…the idea that we can keep all species that now exist would be anti-evolutionary, anti-nature and anti the very nature of the Earth in which we live.”
Regarding species introductions, for example, major mammal and bird casualties that peaked in the 19th century are attributed to stowaway rats which were transported by 18th century whaling ships.
But let’s also recognize occasional progress.
Eradication of all rats on South Georgia island was a good example thanks to a totally successful massive bait effort eradication poison costing more than $13 million over nearly a decade.
Humpback whale numbers which were down to a few thousand in the 1960s and listed as “endangered”, were downgraded to “a vulnerable” category in 1966. In 2008 they were downgraded again to “least concern.” Today there are some 80,000 of them…fortunately back to pre-exploitation populations.
We humans have been altering ecosystems and species diversities over more than the past couple 100,000 years. This has been occurring from the time stone-age hunter-gathers caused mass megafauna extinctions on North and South America, Australia, New Zealand and Madagascar.
Meanwhile, Homo sapiens have been accepting a self-loathing bad rap dating back to when we first began domesticating animals for agriculture, developed settlements, and survived through societal cooperation, innovation and enterprise. Had our ancestors been less successful, their physically superior but now extinct Neanderthal hunter-gatherer competitors would have killed off many more species by now than we did.
Biodiversity becomes most impaired through bad ecosystem impacts of large impoverished populations of modern-day foragers desperately attempting to survive off the land without benefit of bountiful agriculture technologies and adequate energy sources.
By contrast, prosperous, well-nourished capitalistic Americans now require 68 percent less land to produce a given quantity of food than we did in as recently as 1960. As a result, more natural areas can, and are, being conserved and reforested to slow — and sometimes even reverse — species losses.
By all means, doing so is a very good thing indeed.