Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Biodiversity loss is an order of magnitude worse than other climate impacts....

...if you measure by recovery time. Full recovery of the climate from anthropogenic GHG emissions will take hundreds of thousands of years. Recovery from mass extinctions, like the one that climate change is exacerbating for 1 out of 6 species, can take 10 million years (or longer).

The biodiversity crisis seems underemphasized to me. I think there's a chance that with a combination of luck both on climate sensitivity and speed of technological change, together with achieving the better end of the range of feasible political action on climate, we can escape a climate tragedy (for most people). The mass extinction, though, is already here. It's just a matter of how much worse we'll make it.


Tom said...

Mr. Bernard J. kindly posted a link to Hoffman et al. In the paper.From the abstract:

“…main drivers of biodiversity loss in these groups: agricultural expansion, logging, overexploitation, and invasive alien species. ”

To check Mr. Fuller’s guess about 1% loss to climate change:

fig S7 allow one to estimate the fraction of deteriorating species (of the IUCN list of 25780 endangered species) due to climate change or extreme weather and fire regime changes, as well as several other factors:

For birds: total number of deteriorating species=433, those due to climate change or severe weather, 8, those due to fire regime change, 1
The corresponding numbers
For mammals:: 171,3,7
For amphibians: 456, 5,1

Slightly above 1%.


Bernard J. said...

Tom, Tom, Tom...

You post that extract as if it somehow refutes in Brian's original post. The problem is that it most certainly does not.

You must surely have read further down the thread to which you linked, so you would know that subsequently I and others noted that the Hoffman et al figures pertain to extinction rates resulting from contemporaneous factors. Climate change was (and still is) putting on its skates and those figures are not relevant to the impact that climate change will have throughout the latter half of the 21st century and over the centuries and millenia following.

I can only surmise that you are for some reason trying to downplay the profoundly serious extinction event that humans have set in train.

That's not a very nice thing to do.

Alternatively you may just be ignorant (although if you're Tom Fuller you have no excude to be so at this point in time) in which case you need to go back to Ecology 101.

For the record Brian's correct. An extinction event has been initiated and the only thing that we can do now is to minimise the damage.

Bernard J. said...
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Bernard J. said...
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Bernard J. said...

Apologies for the repetition. My modem was burping. :-(

EliRabett said...

Bernard, you owe Eli a keyboard and a cup of coffee

Aaron said...

Academic reticence passes peer review!

We have lost 4 of 13 species of chipmunks from Yosemite Park. An area with no farming and limited development.

The problem has NOT really showed its full scope yet. This year the local bees were not ready for the early spring bloom. By the time the bees were ready, much of the bloom was past. This kind of timing mismatch is hard on both the plants and the pollinators.

"1 in 6" is an understatement of what is to come.

Dano said...

Man is the simplifier of ecosystems.



Russell Seitz said...

Ethon should have left that passenger pigeon alone.

Bernard J. said...

"Man is the simplifier of ecosystems.


In fact, humans are the simplifier of the universe, the rabid facilitators of the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

This leads me to a remarkable coincidence. Last week I tried to explain to a friend how humanity is like a wind that creates disorder, and that modern technological civilisation is like a tornado that uses a very specific and unusual alignment of energetic conditions to give rise to extraordinary (thermodynamic) disorder. I pointed out that such technological civilisation, based as it is on a very particular set of thermodynamic conditions, is remarkably unstable and temporary. Today I heard a very similar analogy given by David Christian, who frames the whole issue into a philosophical condensed history of the universe. (Downloads will be available at the link in a few hours.)

What I found particularly interesting was his throw-away conclusion that if there was an alien intelligence capable of reaching Earth, it would likely treat us as battery chickens. SO if ET really is out there, he's quite likely to be something like the Visitors or the Borg... So perhaps Stephen Hawking is closer to the bullseye than is Jill Tarter.

Bottom line though, is that were not steering our energetic trajectory with anything resembling wisdom or finesse.

Barton Paul Levenson said...


Any civilization capable of crossing the interstellar distances is also capable of generating its own food supply. Besides which, the possible number of biochemicals is so astronomically huge, it is most unlikely that ETs could eat us. They would either find us undigestable or die of anaphylactic shock.

EliRabett said...

Yes, but is it tasty?

Besides which Eli is a believer in panspermia (only when he wants to be annoying)

Barton Paul Levenson said...

Eli-sama, please let me know what way I can send you the guest blog. At the moment it's 1550 words, which I suspect is way too long.

Brian said...

Russell - we had a dustup here a while back on the de-extinction effort for passenger pigeons. I raised doubts about bringing back a species that blanketed eastern N. American even when it had diseases and parasites, but not all agreed.

I still think a more easily-managed species would be better, like mammoths.

Hank Roberts said...

How can I say this more clearly?
The ecologists ... know how local extremes matter.
Most organisms can tolerate some extreme condition for some brief period of time — and move at some best speed away from the condition if that’s possible. Else, the individual doesn’t survive and the area where that happened drops out of the range in which the population can be found, until and if it’s recolonized.
Mapping how thoroughly the extreme events cover the territory tells you what survives.
Take a target, hit it with a shotgun pattern — that’s how extremes affect a population’s range.
Shoot it again, get a different pattern of holes.
Eventually …

Lars Karlsson said...

Recommended reading: Richard Pearson, Driven to Extinction: The Impact of Climate Change on Biodiversity, 2011.

Bernard J. said...

The pressure on UWA from its staff, students, alumni, peer institutions, and the general public has resulted in them tearing up the Lomborg contract:

Expect an avalanche of righteous umbrage from the deniers donning their tinfoil hats and declaring censorship, conspiracy, and any and every other excuse for the university’s administration seeing sense.

EliRabett said...

Anybunny know who Nobel Prize winners that Lomborg claims to work with are?

Barton Paul Levenson said...

"The pressure on UWA from its staff, students, alumni, peer institutions, and the general public has resulted in them tearing up the Lomborg contract"

Thank you, God!

Russell Seitz said...


While a brace of pigeon, or for that matter wigeon, is a welcome addition to any sideboard, many qusetion the wisdom of restoring native American pachyderms and the toothsome giant ground sloths that were long ago eaten into Pleistocene extinction to our national cuisine.

Apart from issues of portion control and the difficulty of achieving pasteurization temperatures in meter-thick roasts there is the risk of collateral mayhem, both when the beasts take umbrage at being hunted, and when carvers wielding the larger sort of samurai sword feel out of sorts.

I have retained one round of elephant gun ammunition for emergency use, but oerhaps we should wait for the current interglacial to peter out, or else focus on resurrrecting the passenger pigeons more promising contemporaries, the Moa , dodo, and Madagascarene Aeornopteryx, or is it the Aepyornithidae ?

However you spell them, we'd beter do it soon, lest the invasion of alien chili peppers from the south lead to Moctezuma's dread revenge-- the imposition of pain as a food group by WHO and its minions.

Hank Roberts said...

I missed this for ten years somehow -- but it seems like a good idea (I've also mentioned it at RC).

Nature 436, 888 (11 August 2005)

Prometheus unbound, at last
Kim Stanley Robinson

Anyone know how to organize? These days there's a form -- a public benefit corporation -- for doing such.

---excerpt follows----

... Then the scientifically augmented human population catastrophically overshoots the long-term carrying capacity of the planet. Scientists in their various toothless non-decision-making organizations conclude that the anthropogenically initiated climate change, and mass extinction event associated with it, probably threatens their descendants' welfare, and thus scientists' own evolutionary fitness. The sleepers awake.

Meanwhile a certain proportion of humanity makes a cost–benefit analysis comparing 15 years' work learning a science with saying "I believe" and through group political action controlling more calories per capita than scientists do, also more power over funding and rather more offspring. Many conclude faith-based parasitism on science less costly to the individual, so more adaptive. (Vampires living off zombies, guns brandished, chases by night: the novel gets pretty lurid at this point.)

Then at a modelling conference a discussion springs up concerning Hamilton's rule, which states that altruism should evolve whenever the cost to the giver, C, is less than the fitness benefits, B, obtained by helping another individual who is related by r, with r being calculated as the proportion of genes these two individuals share by common descent (as in Hrdy, 1999): C less than or equal to Br.

A geneticist at the conference points out that as humans share 60% of their genes with fruitflies, and all eukaryotes share 938 core genes, r is probably always higher than heretofore calculated.

An ecologist mentions the famous Nature article in which the benefits provided by the biosphere to humans were estimated at $33 trillion a year (R. Costanza et al. Nature 387, 253–260; 1997).

An economist suggests that the cost for individual scientists wanting to maintain these benefits could be conceptualized in the form of a mutual hedge fund, with initial investment set for the sake of discussion at $1,000 per scientist.

Comic scene here as modellers debate the numbers, with a biologist pointing out that the benefit of life to every living organism could justifiably be defined as infinity, considerably altering equation's results. (Shouting, fights, saloon demolished in Wild West manner.)

Conference attendees conclude altruism is probably warranted, and hedge fund is established. (Readers of novel wishing to pre-invest are directed to a website Participating scientists then vote to establish a board; a model constitution for all governments to adopt; a policy-research institute tasked with forming a political platform; and a lobbying firm. All scientific organizations are urged to join the fund.

Fund's legal team goes to World Court to claim compensation for all future biospheric damage, to be paid into the fund by those wreaking the damage and the governments allowing it.

Many meetings follow ...

----end excerpt-----

Perhaps Climate Legal Defense could spread its umbrella.

Mal Adapted said...

Russell Seitz: "many qusetion the wisdom of restoring native American pachyderms and the toothsome giant ground sloths that were long ago eaten into Pleistocene extinction to our national cuisine."

I often wish I'd had the chance to witness North America's pleistocene menagerie in all its diversity, but I confess some ambivalence about restoring it. I'd love to see mammoths, mastodons and ground sloths roaming the Buffalo Commons, but I'm sort of glad there are no giant short-faced bears or American lions still around.

I imagine the first immigrants taking a look at Arctodus simus, and saying to each other "let's kill every one of those monsters, or we'll never be safe here!"

Russell Seitz said...

At lase we agree, Mal-- I imagine A. simus oogling the first human arrivals from Kamchatka and thinking :


The niche equilibrium must have been touch and go for some millennia after.

Florifulgurator said...

Bernard J.: "In fact, humans are the simplifier of the universe, the rabid facilitators of the 2nd law of thermodynamics."

Wrong-way omphaloskepsis. Life facilitates the 2nd law. This is the ultimate purpose of Life itself. By simplifying Life, humans are in fact working against this purpose. A simplified universe has less possibilities to eat useable energy. The sun will shine in vain on the remains left by a vain species that lost its sense of purpose and beauty...

Hank Roberts said...

Oh, I think we can bring back the big bears and lions. After all, we have modern technological solutions to the problems they would pose, which have already proven themselves adequate, as shown in this photograph:

Bernard J. said...

Florifulgurator, the key word here is "rabid".

Humans are uncoupling evolution's trick of getting maximum ordered complexity bang for an energy buck. Yes, we're taking out a lot of life in terms of biodiversity, but future plagues of jellyfish and kudzu will probably maintain most of the the metabolic promotion of the Second Law. The problem is that wiping out the species and ecosystem diversity still turbocharges the progress of entropy in our spaciotemporal region. Oh, one day that overdraught will be paid and the overall pace of the second law's trajectory will be back in step with its pre-human progress, but for that brief moment in time when it matters to humans we'll have squandered our entropy budget and hastened the extinction of our civilisations, habitable emnvironments, and species.

The fundamental problem for humans in entropy terms is that we are not as efficient as evolution in using our ecosystem's available energy.

Basically, blowing off a few hundred millions years of energy organised by fossilisation as reduced carbon, and wiping out a fair chunk of evolved diversity from the back to the same period, changes the local entropy profile from a steadily increasing line to something more resembling a rising step. It's for this reason that we're rabid facilitators of the Second Law...

Jim said...

World wildlife populations halved in 40 years – ‘The scale of biodiversity loss and damage to the very ecosystems that are essential to our existence is alarming’

We've destroyed about half of all land species in 40 years, and about three-quarters of freshwater species. There's no reason to expect an inflection point in this trend. I'm fifty years old now, and I may live long enough to see humans destroy the rest in the next 40 years.

Jim said...

Btw, it's been pointed out to me that I misspoke here: it's populations that have been reduced by half, not the count of species. Mea culpa.