The End of Doom

Leaked U.N. Report Says a Million Species Are at Risk of Extinction

Such predictions were wrong half a century ago, and this one is likely mistaken too.

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"Half-a-million to a million species are projected to be threatened with extinction, many within decades." So warns the leaked Summary for Policy Makers from a draft of forthcoming report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The final version, which is scheduled for release on May 6, will be mammoth 1,800-page assessment of scientific literature on the state of nature.

Dire warnings of an imminent global extinction crises are not new. As I reported in my book The End of Doom, S. Dillon Ripley of the Smithsonian Institution predicted in 1970 that in 25 years, somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of all the species of living animals would be extinct. That is, 75 and 80 percent of all species of animals alive in 1970 would be extinct by 1995.

In 1979, Oxford University biologist Norman Myers stated in his book The Sinking Ark that 40,000 species per year were going extinct and that a million species would be gone by the year 2000. Myers suggested that the world could "lose one-quarter of all species by the year 2000." At a 1979 symposium at Brigham Young University, Thomas Lovejoy—who later served as president of the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment—announced that he had made "an estimate of extinctions that will take place between now and the end of the century. Attempting to be conservative wherever possible, I still came up with a reduction of global diversity between one-seventh and one-fifth." In 1994, biologist Peter Raven predicted in Nature Conservancy that "since more than nine-tenths of the original tropical rainforests will be removed in most areas within the next thirty years or so, it is expected that half of the organisms in these areas will vanish with it."

Happily, none of these dire extinction predictions came true. Contrary to Raven's prediction, about 47 percent of the world's forests now grow in tropical areas; the World Bank reports that global forest cover declined from 31.8 to 30.8 percent of the world's land area from 1990 to 2015. (Recent satellite data suggest that global forest area has actually been expanding since 1982.) In other words, nine-tenths of the world's tropical forests did not disappear over the past 25 years.

What should we make of the U.N. report's forecast? It declares that the rate of species loss "is already tens to hundreds of times higher than it has been, on average, over the last 10 million years." Researchers have estimated the background extinction rate without human influence is about 0.1 species per million species years. In other words, if you follow the fates of a million species, you would expect to observe about one species going extinct every 10 years. The report evidently estimates that the planet harbors around 8 million species, of which the majority is insects. Those figures suggest that around 8 species naturally go extinct every 10 years.

Boosting that factor by 1,000 suggests that 8,000 species go extinct every 10 years, or 800 per year. At that rate, some 64,000 species—about 0.08 percent of species—could go extinct by the end of this century. To get estimates of between a half million and a million extinctions, the U.N. report may be citing studies that suggest future extinction rates are likely to be 10,000 times higher than the natural background rate.

The report notes that human beings and our livestock now account for more than 95 percent of mammal biomass. This figure is likely derived from a 2018 Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNASstudy, which notes that "human activity contributed to the Quaternary Megafauna Extinction between 50,000 and 3,000 years ago, which claimed around half of the large (>40 kg) land mammal species." Among the 178 now extinct mammal species are woolly mammoths, saber-tooth tigers, ground sloths, toxodons, Irish elks, and woolly rhinoceros.

The PNAS study estimates that the biomass of wild land mammals measured in gigatonnes of carbon (GtC) prior to the period of extinction was at 0.02 GtC. The present-day biomass of wild land mammals is approximately sevenfold lower, at 0.003 GtC.

Despite these wild species extinctions and reduced numbers, the biomass of land animals has never been greater. Today, the PNAS paper reports, the biomass of livestock (0.1 GtC) is about five times larger than that of all the terrestrial wild megafauna before the extinction period. Even the total biomass of human beings (0.05 GtC) is around twice the biomass of all wild megafauna before the Quaternary Megafauna Extinction event.

Chris D. Thomas, a conservation biologist at York University, thus suggests (in his riveting book Inheritors of the Earth) that "the natural state of the world—to be full of large herbivorous animals and carnivores that eat them—continues to the present day." Now the herbivores are cows and chickens, and we're the carnivores.

The U.N. report says the greatest threats to species are shrinking habitat, hunting, climate change, pollution, and the introduction of alien species. It notes that more than two billion people rely on wood fuel for energy and four billion rely on natural medicines. This will most likely not be the case by the end of the century as at least 85 percent of people will be living in cities and much larger incomes will give them access to modern medical treatments.

The U.N. study also says that more than 75 percent of global food crops require animal pollination. This is somewhat misleading. The leaked draft reportedly acknowledges that "the degree of yield dependency on pollinators varies greatly among crops, [and] pollinators are responsible in a direct way (i.e., the production of seeds and fruits we consume), for a relatively minor fraction (5–8 per cent) of total agricultural production volume." Staple food crops that account for most of the calories that sustain humanity like corn, wheat, rice, soybeans and sorghum are wind-pollinated or self-pollinating.

The leaked draft does get matters right when it urges the end to subsidies to fisheries, industrial agriculture, livestock raising, forestry, mining, and the production of or fossil fuel energy. Such subsidies encourage waste, inefficiency and overconsumption. Biofuels subsidies are particularly egregious: About 25 percent of U.S. corn acreage can be attributed to ethanol production. Another study found that biofuels production claim an area of about 41.3 million hectares (about the size of California), accounting for about 4 percent of the global surface of arable land.

The good news is that however dire the trends with respect to the natural world are, they are unlikely to persist for the remainder of this century. An insightful 2018 BioScience article by some Wildlife Conservation Society researchers identifies the "conservationist's paradox": The "same forces that are destroying nature now are also creating the circumstances for long-term success." As a result of wealth creation, technological progress, and urbanization, humanity will be withdrawing from nature, leaving vast expanses of land and sea for the recovery of wild species.

And that means the dire predictions in the leaked draft are as likely to come true as those made by Dr. S. Dillon Ripley nearly 50 years ago.

 

 

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  1. “What should we make of the U.N. report’s forecast?”

    It’s a bunch of bullshit (which could probably be extended to all U.N. reports).

    1. Yep. No environmental scientist ever got any press by saying “the environment is fine, no need to worry”. They only report on the ones running about shrieking about imminent destruction with their hair on fire.

      1. No funding either.

  2. 100% of all species are “threatened” with extinction.
    Thermodynamics is a cruel mistress.

    1. And you’re not even going to use the “projected to be threatened with extinction” qualifier? You seem awfully sure of yourself, you must be using some of that old-fashioned logic and reasoning. Modern science no longer subscribes to the scientific method, what with it being all dead white male patriarchy-ish, it’s much more inclusive now that it works on the consensus of feelings and opinions.

      1. You’re missing the joke, “thermodynamics” was the punchline.

        All life will die, long before the heat death of the universe, within about 6 billion years when the sun expands and consumes most of the planets.

        So in the long run, because of thermodynamics, all species will become extinct.

        You can make the same joke with evolution as the punchline: all currently extant species will become extinct once they evolve into the next species.

        1. Unless we colonize other planets.

  3. So maybe a million extinct species is a worst case scenario. Still, just to be safe, we need to vote Democrat so they can implement the Green New Deal.

    1. Because tons of solar and wind installations will have zero environmental impact.

      1. I would love to see somebody – almost anybody – look at a question I’ve been ponder for decades;

        Say that, magically, we have a solution too all the reliability issues associated with shifting the entire energy grid to ‘renewables’ (fat chance) and that the Greenies don’t object to the construction of the massive installations involved. Hey Presto! Now, all of a sudden, we are taking vast amounts of energy out of the environment where it was doing SOMETHING.

        What effect does that have, and can we live with it?

        1. To tell the truth, it won’t have a major effect.

          Of note, Hydropower does increase rainfall in the area due to the new lake. However, wind and solar don’t take a meaningful amount of energy out of the system (if you try, it becomes less and less effective). Also, due to thermodynamics, you have a lot of waste heat from both sources (Carnot efficiency, the maximum possible, of solar and wind are around 30%). The power of the sun is so massive and widespread that it’s just not a meaningful amount of energy removed from the system. Outside of extremely local effects (shade and reflections from solar panels, bird chopping from windmills, and the concrete for their foundations), it’s not big.

          Biomass, on the other hand, does have a huge impact. You rip out whole acres of land to farm it and then burn the crops. Whether it’s wood, hay, or corn, the impact is the same. huge quantities of land taken of for agricultural use instead of wild use.

    2. Black bears were nearly extinct in Massachusetts 50 years ago, now they are a common site in suburban back yards. Hopefully they will start eating some of the Democrats there.

      1. Turkeys were almost gone too. Now they are everywhere.

        1. Especially in Congress!

        2. Gee, I wonder why game species do so well.

    3. Somehow I suspect that the kind of headlong ACTION! proposed by the Green Oat Meal would do more damage to the environment than the status quo.

      1. There is no doubt. Just the retrofit-every-building part alone would be an ecological disaster on a scale never seen before. The sheer amount of raw material extraction and shipping that would have to happen, all the new cement (*huge* carbon footprint) that would need to be produced, all the electricity and internal-combustion engines, the compressors, the dust and debris produced by all the demo that would have to happen. You’re never going to undo all that through your energy-efficiency savings.

        It’s almost like the whole plan wasn’t really thought through very well.

  4. Such predictions were wrong half a century ago, and this one is likely mistaken too.

    But just in case, let’s roll out global Marxism… you know, just to be sure.

    1. Yeah, nothing better to protect our environment than making the world look like the Soviet Bloc in the 80s.

      1. All those house pets and zoo animals aren’t going to eat themselves.

        1. I just spit my drink. Thanks for the LOL

          1. Ray’s on a roll today.

    2. Do people not know that all of the places that really tried Marxism had terrible environmental records? Enviro-commies are weird. Or dishonest about their intentions. Probably a lot of both.

      1. Damn watermelons.

      2. Enviro-commies are weird. Or dishonest about their intentions. Probably a lot of both.

        In fairness, I think there’s a significant dose of ignorance blended in.

        1. Yes, that may actually be the most significant factor.

      3. The best thing for the environment is to raise the standard of living for everyone. When someone is poor and struggling, they don’t have the energy to care about endangered species and habitat loss.

        1. It has been shown time and time again, in African countries that allow hunting of big game, the villagers benefit from the hunting. The get meat (most of the meat is donated since few western countries allow the importation of African game meat), jobs and money. They therefore are much more willing to assist the government’s in protecting wildlife, and much less cooperative with poachers. In countries that ban big game hunting, the locals actively assist the poachers or simply turn a blind eye. It’s hard to raise enough crop for your family and have any left to sell when elephants are constantly destroying it. Once again capitalism has proven to be a better conservationist then authoritarianism.

          1. You are absolutely correct, sir.

  5. It’s the same old problem of “if current trends continue…”, which they never do.

    1. If college freshmen keep drinking at the current rate, over the next ten years up to 80% may be dead from cirrhosis.

      1. If ride share apps keeps expanding at their current rate, by 2040 every vehicle on earth will be working as an Uber or Lyft!!!!

  6. Ron should dig up a an originalcopy of Al Gore’s 1992 book, The Earth In The Balance
    and reprint the rate of species extinction graph Al wisely redacted from later reprints of the book

    It illustrates a passsage lamenting how the million year ascent of man has been attended by an increasingly rapid decimation of edible creatures, its curve of the number of species lost by human action rising from a few species per millennium in neoithic times, to hundreds per century in the age of exploration, and accelerating upward through the 20th century until the line became vertical in the year 2000.

    In 1993 I took the trouble to point out in The Scrptical Inquirer that as a vertical line has an infinite slope, Gore was projecting extinction of an infinite number of species in the year 2000.

    As a member of one of the species doomed to extinction by Al’s innumerate curve , I suggested he publish a correction while we were still around .

    He instead chopped the graph from subsequent printings without a corrigendum leaving those who read the original edition in consequence of his 2000 Presidental run wondering if the report of their extinction might be somewhat exaggerated

    1. Hey, you can’t hold politicians to what they said in the past!

    2. E: I just happen to have my 1992 copy handy, so I took a look. The chart is on page 24 and while not quite infinite the chart does end at 2000 with the rate of extinctions being 100,000 per year by then. Gore writes: “…living species of animals and plants are now vanishing around the world one thousand times faster than at any time in the past 65 million years (see illustration).” Thanks for reminding us of it.

      I don’t know if this will work but perhaps this link will take you to a photo of Gore’s chart: https://reason.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Gorespeciesloss-331×186.jpg

      1. Slightly better image of Gore chart is at this link: https://reason.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Gorespeciesloss-2-331×186.jpg

      2. R as you can see, the extinction graph merges with the Y-axis on the right hand side of the graph.
        As that ordinate is a dead vertical line, and vertical lines are of infinite slope, the rate of extinction becomes infinite at that point because the slope of the extinction curve is the rate of extinction.

        As the number of species is finite, Al well and truly predicted the extinction of all creatures great and small in the year 2000.

        1. The line on the graph is truncated by the axis, it doesn’t merge with it. And in any case, the slope of the graph denotes the rate of change of the extinction rate (not the rate of extinction, as you suggest) and it would only be valid to assume it continued upwards to infinity if it was a smooth continuous function.

  7. “Half-a-million to a million species are projected to be threatened with extinction, many within decades.”

    Translated:
    Something is going to happen sometime!!!!!
    I guess the neo-malthusians have learned from Ehrlich not to be specific enough to become a laughing-stock.

  8. Extinction is a core component of natural selection. And progressives hate natural selection, with all that winners and losers, and success and failure (and real shitty outcomes for failures).

    Much better to promote a world where the weak not only survive but thrive. I can imagine eco-progs using time machines so they could kick photo-amphibians back into the ocean, before their greed could colonize the land.

  9. “It declares that the rate of species loss “is already tens to hundreds of times higher than it has been, on average, over the last 10 million years.” Researchers have estimated the background extinction rate without human influence is about 0.1 species per million species years. In other words, if you follow the fates of a million species, you would expect to observe about one species going extinct every 10 years.”

    Given the multiple ice ages earth has experienced in this timeframe, I would suggest that this estimate is a pantload.

    1. They don’t know the extinction rate 10M years ago because most species don’t leave fossils behind.

      1. I know. The level of certainty with which these people often speak is disturbing.

    2. Why do you suggest that?

      1. Because one species every ten years given how devastating an ice age is to species living solely within the temperate zone seems extremely low to me. It might be accurate if one excludes ice ages may be correct (see Alphabet Soup’s comment above). Add ice ages into the mix, then common sense suggests otherwise.

        1. Thanks for the clarification.

  10. Science has some kind of weirdness going on with species. Dinosaur species are few in number and very long-lived compared to modern species, and it ought to be obvious that the difference is age. If you assume that species richness is generally unchanged from 100M years ago, the conclusion is inescapable that 99.999999% of species lasted so shortly that they left no fossils behind.

    Sometimes scientists get so caught up in what is proven that they ignore everything not proven. I just read of finding some graves and tools in the Amazon from 10K years ago, when previous evidence had gone back only 2000 years. This lack of imagination leads to some mighty stupid claims, and the press just laps it up.

    1. This is a principal argument that Darwin used to prove evolution.

      Look at all these extinctions. Something must be creating new species to replace them.

      1. God is god-damned busy.

    2. Well, you can only work with the data available.

  11. You know who else is projected to be threatened with extinction?

    1. Williams College Students?

    2. The Truth?

  12. Fortunately, this problem is easily solved.

    Simply impose a World Government that adheres to strict Marxist principles. This will save us all.

    It is the solution to ALL problems.

    1. But that would lead to extinction of kulaks, wreckers, individualists,
      savers, anyone not registered in the approved Party, and those who in any manner piss off the Party leader.

    2. Yeah, that has always been great for the environment. What could possibly go wrong?

      1. Yeah, that has always been great for the environment. What could possibly go wrong?

        Exactly!

        Strict adherence to Marxist principles will finally give us a world ruled by science, instead of superstition.

      2. Happy Chernobyl Anniversary, everyone!

  13. My wife saw a cat walking down the street with a opossum the other day. They were just strolling along like no big deal but I know better. Build your bunkers deep.

    1. My wife saw a cat walking down the street
      …and his hair was purrfect.

  14. Technically if the plan is hit by an asteroid everything will be at risk and that is the problem with these types of pronouncements. Take the worst case of anything and it looks bad and the science behind the worse case scenarios are off by huge margins in the first place

  15. Chickens are not herbivores, but omnivores, meaning they eat anything. Were they large enough, they’d be eating us.

    1. They are dinosaurs.

      He should have said “sheep”.

    2. They love to eat other chickens too. Alive or dead, it doesn’t matter, they’ll eat each other for the heck of it.

    3. This is why I laugh at those damn commercials promoting their chicken is fed an all vegetarian diet and is all natural. If you ever want to see something funny, through a baby snake in a pen of chickens. It is a mad rush to see which chicken gets the snake. Well not funny for the snake.

  16. So is there a list somewhere of all the species that are going extinct? Or is this all just statistical?

    If life on earth were a delicate balance, it would have ended a long time ago.

    1. It’s all made up, Zeb.

      It’s lies from word one.

  17. A science reporter on the extreme optimist side of the spectrum speak to people who don’t even believe the problem is real.

    What a helpful contribution to the internet.

    1. people who don’t even believe the problem is real.

      What problem?

    2. i, for one, am very skeptical of extinction warnings bereft of any citation of their cuteness factors.

  18. It’s been a bad day for the extinction counting classes:

    A paper just published in _Cell_ reports the discovery of 195,282 new species of marine viruses by the Tara expedition.

    https://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(19)30341-1

  19. You know one species I would like to go extinct?

    Plasmodium vivax

    1. And the other ones.

  20. Two points: 1) although (thankfully) the extinction rate has stayed well below what was predicted, the number of wild animals has halved since 1970. Apparently all those deaths were more evenly distributed than anticipated. 2) I don’t understand why you would comment that “Despite these wild species extinctions and reduced numbers, the biomass of land animals has never been greater.” Obviously if one cut down the Amazon rainforest to raise cattle intensively, there would be a net increase in animal biomass. But what conservationist has ever had the objective of more cows, pigs, goats etc?

    1. , the number of wild animals has halved since 1970

      Do you have a reference for this that describes WHICH animals have disappeared?

      I wouldn’t miss a loss of raccoons.

      1. https://www.zsl.org/global-biodiversity-monitoring/indicators-and-assessments-unit/living-planet-index

        Lots of extrapolation, for sure, but even over my lifetime (which doesn’t extend back to 1970) I have noticed a decline in birds in the garden and local parks. I imagine raccoons, foxes, pigeons and certain sea gulls are some of the only species to have fared well. So many animals are averse to the noisy, light filled environments of our cities and towns. But there are plenty of dropped burgers etc to feed anything that can cope with proximity to humans.

    2. Some have halved, others not so much. It’s estimated there are double the number of Virginia White Tailed Deer presently than there were when men began to chop down trees. Who knew they were creatures of edges and flourished with agriculture.

  21. A million species may not be unreasonable, depending what you consider a species. There may well be 100 million species of life, and some estimates are up to a trillion. That makes a lot of species of beetles, nematodes and fungi (and bacteria and archaea) that could go extinct without us even noticing.

  22. So one set of twits is trying to count species headed for extinction – and another set of twits is trying to pretend that the only important thing is that the first set of twits can’t count.

    Is this a Monty Python sketch?

    1. “…and another set of twits is trying to pretend that the only important thing is that the first set of twits can’t count.”
      That’s called ‘correcting a mistake’.

      1. No. It’s called two sets of twits competing to see who gets the Biggest Twit award.

        eg Antarctic krill will not be going extinct. More biomass there than all our livestock. But once you understand why its population has dropped by 80% in the last 30 years, then you realize than any future technological fix (eg iron fertilization of HNLC oceans) that depends on krill will also disappear or become less effective as well in that proportion.

        Unfortunately, the population of twits is not at all threatened by extinction.

  23. Some Things were meant to be weeded out of Our EnViRoMenT, Giraffes, quite Possibly The Most UnWorthy of which, are True Inferiors, Right? Right. Right? Right!!3!!

    Happy BirtHDaY, EvE!!3!!

  24. 99% of all species have gone extinct.

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  26. You can’t justify broad new administrative powers and ever more money if you say things aren’t bad.

  27. […] muuttunut. Parhaillaan tällä hetkellä noin miljoona lajia on kuolemassa sukupuuttoon (https://reason.com/2019/04/26/leaked-u-n-report-says-a-million-species-are-at-risk-of-extinction/). Ihmiset ja ihmisten kotieläiment muodostavat nyt n. 95% kaikkien suurten eläinten biomassasta. […]

  28. Know-nothing environmentalists – now there’s a species we could do without!

  29. […] Leaked U.N. Report Says a Million Species Are at Risk of Extinction: Such predictions were wrong hal… […]

  30. […] of future extinctions is to assert that the rate of species disappearance is accelerating. As I reported earlier, IPBES researchers estimated the background extinction rate without human influence is about 0.1 […]

  31. […] of future extinctions is to assert that the rate of species disappearance is accelerating. As I reported earlier, IPBES researchers estimated the background extinction rate without human influence is about 0.1 […]

  32. […] of future extinctions is to assert that the rate of species disappearance is accelerating. As I reported earlier, IPBES researchers estimated the background extinction rate without human influence is about 0.1 […]

  33. […] of future extinctions is to assert that the rate of species disappearance is accelerating. As I reported earlier, IPBES researchers estimated the background extinction rate without human influence is about 0.1 […]

  34. […] of future extinctions is to assert that the rate of species disappearance is accelerating. As I reported earlier, IPBES researchers estimated the background extinction rate without human influence is about 0.1 […]

  35. […] of future extinctions is to assert that the rate of species disappearance is accelerating. As I reported earlier, IPBES researchers estimated the background extinction rate without human influence is about 0.1 […]

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