I enjoy science, and fiction (science fiction and just fiction), but I like to know how much fiction is in the science fiction I’m reading, and I certainly don’t want any fiction in the science I’m reading. With that caveat in mind, I’d like to comment on, and recommend to you, a book I’m currently reading. I think I understand how much of it is fiction, and there’s a lot of interesting science in it. It’s The 6th Extinction by James Rollins, Harper Collins, 426 pp. I’m recommending it with a little bit of caution, to help you separate the science (lots of it) from the fiction (an important bit).
I’m not going to spoil the mystery of the story by telling you how it comes out. It’s full of an amazing amount of real science, set in some exotic places I never heard of before, buffeting some interesting action figures (“Sigma Force”, Rollins’ scientifically-erudite military elite types) to stop some mad scientists from taking over the world to prevent the extinction of 25% of the world’s animal species by AD 2100 due to destruction of habitat and….climate change. Oh, you weren’t aware a major part of the world’s species are doomed…..DOOMED? Well, it’s a major sub-theme of the catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW) nonsense, intended to appeal to people who think with their emotions.
I put the picture of my little foxy friend in here to make the case that I like animals too, and try to protect them, with money and my vote. Foxes are doing quite well here in Colorado, sponsored by Californians who come here and let their cats run loose. The coyotes are doing well too.
Everybody has heard of the Fifth Extinction; that was 66 million years ago, when something got the dinosaurs, and three out of four other species as well. That’s small potatoes, compared to The Great Dying, the largest extinction event and the one that affected the Earth’s ecology most profoundly. 252 million years ago, as much as 97% of species that leave a fossil record disappeared forever.
The dinosaur extinction is reasonably blamed on a meteor strike into the Yucatan Peninsula, followed by major volcanism. Some paleontologists blame the other extinctions on meteor strikes as well. However, Rollins’ tale of The 6th Extinction is based on some recent “science” that grows out of CAGW. Like the rest of CAGW, it echoes the liberal theme that humanity is a blight on the Earth, causing overpopulation, habitat destruction, and catastrophic climate change/warming. This theme appeared with Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb in 1968, prophesying worldwide multi-million death by famine in the 1970’s and 1980’s. It hasn’t happened, but Ehrlich is still employed – in academia, of course. Incidentally, one of Ehrlich’s colleagues was John Holdren – now Mr. Obama’s science advisor.
A commendable feature in the book is an Author’s Note explaining some of the science described in the book – real science. Rollins quotes other books on the supposed coming extinction, such as The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert (Henry Holt, 2014), but he doesn’t try to defend the thesis as real science. In his Notes from the Scientific Record, at the beginning, Rollins quotes a recent Duke University study by Stuart Pimm et. al.: The biodiversity of species and their rates of extinction, distribution, and protection. As the Washington Post explained:
“Calculating extinction rates can be difficult, in part because no one knows exactly how many species there are,” explained Christine Dell’Amore of National Geographic. Experts have managed to identify at least 1.9 million animal species, and the study reported that there are at least 450,000 types of plants in existence, she added.
Pimm told Dell’Amore that conservationists are able to calculate the extinction rate of those species by tracking how many of them die out each year, similar to the technique used to determine a country’s mortality rate. Based on that approach, the study authors determined that between 100 and 1,000 species were lost per million per year, primarily due to climate change and habitat destruction resulting from human causes.
We don’t know how many species there are… wait, what?
There are, roughly 2 million animal species, and by those numbers, and their extinction rate (~500/million/year), we’re losing 1000 species per year? Really? I’ve heard of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon, in the early 1900’s, by idiots that simply slaughtered them. And the American Bison was reduced to a few hundred individuals, before their slaughter was stopped. Neither of those was caused by habitat destruction or climate change; just by simple, stupid individual human greed. More recently, with flourishes of “science”, we’re been warned of the possible extinction of the polar bear and the Adelie penguin. Both species are thriving. And, as a general principle, there are more species and greater variety of species in warm climates – think Central Africa and the Amazon Basin – than in cold ones, like the polar regions. Global warming will kill them?
Do species become extinct? Of course; you can GOOGLE “species extinction 2013” and find some. One such website is called Living Along Side Wildlife. Another is a 10-year extinction countdown on the Scientific American blog.
The saddest example is the Western Black Rhinoceros, which has been reduced to about 20 individuals in the wild, due to individuals who kill the animal for its horn, ground up and sold as an aphrodisiac. But that’s not the fault of humanity, nor caused by climate change; that’s the crime of poachers who are killing protected animals in poor countries that don’t have the resources to protect a valuable resource. The list of 2013 extinctions is rather misleading; the ten species listed disappeared as long ago as the 1880’s. It’s certainly not 1000 species in a year…or even 100…or 10. It’s more like a small fraction of one species per year, at most, many due to natural changes – such as predation by other species. NONE have been caused by climate change.
So where does this seemingly serious “science” about extinction come from? Can’t you guess? More garbage from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); specifically, from Working Group 2 of Assessment Report 4 (AR4), issued in 2007. They said:
§4.4.11 Global synthesis including impacts on biodiversity was quite specific. If arming reached 3°C above pre-industrial levels (projected absent serious mitigation) 21-52% of all species were committed to extinction (not necessarily yet extinct) by 2100. This official finding was based on 78 conclusions from 57 peer-reviewed papers on climate change impacts on biodiversity, all listed in WG2 table 4.1. It appears to be overwhelming scientific evidence.
Well, there you go; 3 C (or 5 F) will wipe out a quarter to a half of all species on Earth. 57 peer-reviewed papers on the impact of CAGW on biodiversity tell us so.
This, of course, is the fiction part of Mr. Rollins’ book. Well, if you want to be a New York Times Best Selling author – as it says on the cover – I guess you have to pretend to believe in Catastrophic Anthropogenic Climate Change. And quoting Elizabeth Kolbert – a former NYT columnist – doesn’t hurt. Sigh!
If you’d like to read a serious book on climate and ecology, I recommend Landscapes and Cycles by Jim Steele, ISBN 1490 390189. It’s available from Amazon. Be sure to read Chapter 6, Saving the Large Blue Butterfly – which went “extinct” because its microclimate cooled. The cooling was real; the “extinction” was bogus.