Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Tobis shellacs Shellenberger

Peeking out of my hutch momentarily (maybe longer) to highlight Michael Tobis' piece at RealClimate, taking apart Michael Shellenberger's twelve non-facts he's flacking in support of his non-nonfiction book.

I'll just add a few snarky stretches of my own responding to the nonfacts but read MT for the main discussion.

1) Humans are not causing a “sixth mass extinction”

Yes we are.

Moving on to Shell's other claims....Or does it deserve more response than that? I've never gotten around to blogging my own definition of the Anthropocene Epoch, but I think that some millions of years from now, whatever corresponds to paleontologists will begin the Anthropocene about 50-60k years BP, when the fossil record demonstrates that humans showed up in Australia and the Australian megafauna went away. Sixth extinction started then, sputtered along for a while, and flared up when humans showed up in the New World and the New World megafauna went away. Sputtered some more and then picked up the pace with invention of agriculture (and pastoralism), and then went to conflagration with the modern age. The mass extinction is well in hand looking at megafauna - maybe it'll take some time to see when counting marine molluscs, but that doesn't change the issue.

On top of that, the many species that aren't technically extinct, are functionally extinct in the wild. Shellenberger's claim is that these species aren't gone, but unless you posit a future where they replenish, then those future paleontologists millions of years down the line are unlikely to dig up the few animals that were hanging out in a zoo. If you are going to take off Shell's blinders and look at the future realistically though, then real extinction and real mass extinction are the likely short-term outcomes.

10) Habitat loss and the direct killing of wild animals are bigger threats to species than climate change 

Funny how Shell put his two biodiversity arguments nearly as far apart as possible from each other. Hunting and other direct killing are of little relevance to extinction for anything other than large fauna which I thought weren't important enough to Shell to count as a mass extinction (I'll concede overfishing is a big problem). Habitat loss - yes, nearly 10k years of habitat loss to farming combined with the last 200 years of massive population growth are more influential than climate change to date, but Shell is ignoring how climate change makes habitat loss much worse. Climate change makes existing habitat uninhabitable, and habitat loss makes it impossible for species to move to refugia, or eliminates the refugia. Pretty ridiculous for Shell to say something that makes a catastrophe 10% worse (and deteriorating) is somehow not so bad.

And btw, marine mollusc extinction is not as likely to affected by habitat loss and overharvesting as opposed to climate change.

3) Climate change is not making natural disasters worse

This old canard, originally from Roger Pielke Jr. Read MT for more, but it is in part a signal/noise thing, or better what I think James Annan described as detection/attribution, where we can appropriately attribute an increase in disaster impacts to climate change even if you can't hit 95% certainty on detection.

My other point that I made as far back as when I stupidly thought RPJr worth corresponding with is that an enormous amount of cost is built into preventing disaster, from seawalls to more expensive building standards, and that cost is ignored by his standard and is a cause that reduces his cost impact measurement. It's annoying, so I'm sure he'll continue it.

5) The amount of land we use for meat—humankind’s biggest use of land—has declined by an area nearly as large as Alaska

Like MT says, more accurate than most of his points but of little relevance. Also I've read elsewhere that between some or all of the decrease in pastoral land is made up for by increased farmland, often to feed livestock (sorry, can't find the link). That's not a good exchange from an environmental perspective.

6) The build-up of wood fuel and more houses near forests, not climate change, explain why there are more, and more dangerous, fires in Australia and California

I've written an Op-Ed on this! Kind of like habitat loss and climate change - land use/abuse currently is more important, and climate change makes it worse, with a worsening trend.

9) We produce 25 percent more food than we need and food surpluses will continue to rise as the world gets hotter

I agree with MT that most of the world will be able to handle future food crises. Subsistence farmers will not. If it's possible to separate ethical and environmental impacts, then I think the greatest ethical impact from climate change will be malnutrition and death among the poorest people in the world due to changed weather, especially changed rainfall. The greatest environmental impact will be the effect on biodiversity because that will take millions of years for recovery, as opposed to merely tens of thousands of years for the atmosphere and oceans to recover. But Shell isn't worried about biodiversity.

The rest is silly, and again MT takes care of it.