09 June 2011

No Mass Extinction

More old news, this time from UD. We learn that the "sixth great extinction," said to be caused by you and your carbon and certainly not Algore, who uses 24 times the carbon you do but he's better than you and so it's okay for him to do so, and you should feel bad, has been grossly miscalculated. According to Debora MacKenzie writing for New Scientist:

It is impossible to accurately measure extinction rates. Dozens of new species are identified each year, and counting those that disappear is hard because many are small and live in poorly studied, mainly tropical environments.

Instead, extinction rates are often predicted from a mathematical model based on habitat loss, which is more easily measured. (Bold Added)

Just like absolutely everything else a mathematical model is used instead of actually looking at the facts. They're not even measuring habitat loss, they're using a model of habitat loss to make predictions and then blaming you when two species of plant and one species of fish no one knew or cared about go missing. As a matter of fact, a full third of all mammal species declaired extinct in the past few centuries have turned out to be just hiding, including a cute little brown and white thing called an okapi and a few rat-like creatures. 67 out of 187 missing mammal species since 1500 have turned up alive and well. The sooner the little fellas went "extinct" the more likely they were to just be hiding somewhere. If a creature went missing in the 20th century it was three times more likely to still be alive than if it went missing in the 19th century. I guess a hundred years ago people knew what extinction really means. There is also the distinct possibility that the thylacine (Tazmanian tiger/wolf) did not go extinct in 1936, as evident by alleged sitings in the 1970s and even today, although no one really knows (I happen to think there is a very good chance they are still alive, maybe 80+ percent).

A new method for calculating the extinction rates of animals produces numbers 83-165 percent lower than using the old habitat loss models. That's a huge discrepancy with broad policy implications, such as plunging California's Central Valley into economy crushing drought to protect a tiny fish that may or may not have any significance to the area's ecosystem and probably won't go extinct anyway if water is diverted back to agricultural usage.

Extinction, habitat loss, and environmental degredation are serious problems, but it shouldn't be necessary to scare people into draconian 1984 iron-fisted government control to fix a problem that may not even exist. A little self-control goes a long way, and taking time to look through all the data is usually the best choice of action. There probably isn't a sixth great extinction, and if there is it probably isn't our fault (the first five weren't, after all; it's pretty arrogant to think this one is), but responsible stuardship of the planet is still important and is best conducted in a thorough, prudent manner.