Posts Tagged ‘mass extinction’

“Mad Professor” Ehrlich cries wolf again

June 20, 2015

Paul Ehrlich will probably be remembered as being the professor who has been more wrong, more often than any other.

To be proved spectacularly wrong , time after time, is apparently a prime qualification for “mad professors” to remain employed. Paul Ehrlich is the perfect example of what is wrong with the tenure system. Of course it helps if your predictions are about catastrophes to come which inevitably garner headlines – no matter how stupid the predictions are. He is at it again making doomsday predictions. This time the doom approaching is because humans have already started the 6th mass extinction which may include the disappearance of the human species. (Actually the earth has too many species and a drastic cull of species is needed).

It is worth recalling all the sensational, headline grabbing but wonderfully wrong predictions that Ehrlich has made:

  • 1968, “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate …”
  • 1968, “India couldn’t possibly feed two hundred million more people by 1980.”
  • 1969, “By 1985 enough millions will have died to reduce the earth’s population to some acceptable level, like 1.5 billion people.”
  • 1969, He predicted that by the end of the century the population of the US would be under 20 million, and our life expectancy would be around 40 years – due not to starvation, but to pesticides.
  • 1970, “In ten years all important animal life in the sea will be extinct. Large areas of coastline will have to be evacuated because of the stench of dead fish.”
  • 1970, “When you reach a point where you realize further efforts will be futile, you may as well look after yourself and your friends and enjoy what little time you have left. That point for me is 1972.”
  • 1970s, “The train of events leading to the dissolution of India as a viable nation is already in motion.”  He proposed a number of radical solutions to the overpopulation crisis; dumping sterilizing agents into water supplies, allowing only selected people the privilege of reproduction, and performing mass “triage” of nations, between those who don’t need help (North America, Australia, parts of Europe), those who can be saved, and those who are beyond help – India, Sub-Saharan Africa, and much of Asia, which he predicted would be hell on earth by the 1980’s
  • 1971, “By the year 2000 the United Kingdom will be simply a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70 million hungry people. …… I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.”

For 4 decades he has made predictions about catastrophes due to famine, depletion of resources, disease, poisoning by pesticides, global warming and climate disruption. Every one of his predictions about the future has been, or is being, proved wrong. Sometimes he gets his history right, but his ability to look forward, even over short times, is hopelessly flawed.

Now he is at it again about the 6th mass extinction that has “already started”. But we actually have more species today than we have probably ever had. The detritus of failed and failing species needs to be cleaned out.

Gerardo Ceballos, Paul R. Ehrlich, Anthony D. Barnosky, Andrés García, Robert M. Pringle and Todd M. Palmer. Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction. Science Advances, 2015 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1400253

Abstract: ...  We assess, using extremely conservative assumptions, whether human activities are causing a mass extinction. First, we use a recent estimate of a background rate of 2 mammal extinctions per 10,000 species per 100 years (that is, 2 E/MSY), which is twice as high as widely used previous estimates. We then compare this rate with the current rate of mammal and vertebrate extinctions. The latter is conservatively low because listing a species as extinct requires meeting stringent criteria. Even under our assumptions, which would tend to minimize evidence of an incipient mass extinction, the average rate of vertebrate species loss over the last century is up to 114 times higher than the background rate. Under the 2 E/MSY background rate, the number of species that have gone extinct in the last century would have taken, depending on the vertebrate taxon, between 800 and 10,000 years to disappear. These estimates reveal an exceptionally rapid loss of biodiversity over the last few centuries, indicating that a sixth mass extinction is already under way.

But there are still more species around than ever before. And a lot of them need to go extinct to make way for others that are more suited. No previous mass extinction has been any threat to life on earth though it has each time cleared the decks of species not fit or worthy to continue.

The fossil record shows that biodiversity in the world has been increasing dramatically for 200 million years and is likely to continue. The two mass extinctions in that period (at 201 million and 66 million years ago) slowed the trend only temporarily. Genera are the next taxonomic level up from species and are easier to detect in fossils. The Phanerozoic is the 540-million-year period in which animal life has proliferated. Chart created by and courtesy of University of Chicago paleontologists J. John Sepkoski, Jr. and David M. Raup.

But the one good thing about Paul Ehrlich’s predictions is that it provides a clear identification of an area not to worry too much about.

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Earth has too many failed species and 30% need to go extinct

May 1, 2015

There is a biodiversity myth that “more species” is better than “fewer species”. Even when the species are failed or useless species. The myth counts the 5 mass extinctions of the past as “bad events”, even though many current species (including humans) could not have evolved without the mass extinctions creating the space for new species. Every mass extinction has provided a cleansing (though not always effective) process for removing the failures of evolution.

The alarmist brigade are publicising a paper which claims that 1 in 6 species will go extinct due to global warming. (I note that the paper refers to global warming but all the publicity quotes “climate change”. What if the climate change was a global cooling?) The paper published in Science is a nonsense speculation and the abstract begins “Current predictions of extinction risks from climate change vary widely depending on the specific assumptions and geographic and taxonomic focus of each study.” He then goes on to selectively review the literature and chooses just those papers which support his conclusion. The author, Mark Urban, really has no value to add to anything about the climate and has just used the most “politically correct” opinion which ensures his funding and his publication. He uses “politically correct” assumptions to come to – surprise, surprise! – “politically correct” conclusions. He is a biologist but his “suggestions” about species and species extinction are equally valueless. He concludes that if global temperatures rises by 4ºC then up to 1 in 6 existing species will go extinct.

There are two things wrong with this example of bad science:

  1. Both the magnitude of global warming and the effect of warming are assumed (by the author and the papers he chooses to cite). The argument is circular.
  2. He assumes that the extinction of 1 in 6 species is a “bad thing”, even though there are more species now than ever before.

The sheer number of species in existence today is an indicator of how inefficient the process of evolution is. There are more failed species struggling along today and which need to go extinct, than ever before. It is my thesis that there is an optimum number of interconnected species to suit any given conditions. Evolution does not go for the optimum and because of the ineffectiveness of the process produces a great deal of “rubbish”. It is my contention that the Earth desperately needs another mass extinction to clean out the accumulated and accumulating muck of the “rubbish” of failed species.

Evolution fails in over 99% of its attempts to create species that can survive. The 1%  of species that do and have survived may seem to be perfectly tailored for the prevailing conditions but that is putting the cart before the horse. Evolution has no direction and does not seek excellence. It only throws up a plethora of species where just 1% of those species happen to suit the prevailing conditions.

The “conservation” movement and its blind worship of “biodiversity” borders on the stupid. Failed and useless species are given as much weight (sometimes more weight) than successful and useful species. Failing species are protected and successful species are persecuted. Useful species are hunted and useless species are coddled.

The fossil record shows that biodiversity in the world has been increasing dramatically for 200 million years and is likely to continue. The two mass extinctions in that period (at 201 million and 66 million years ago) slowed the trend only temporarily. Genera are the next taxonomic level up from species and are easier to detect in fossils. The Phanerozoic is the 540-million-year period in which animal life has proliferated. Chart created by and courtesy of University of Chicago paleontologists J. John Sepkoski, Jr. and David M. Raup.

The 3rd and 5th mass extinctions probably reduced the then existing number of species by about 50%. More than 30% of the species alive today (plant and animal) could be considered failed species – where a “failed species” is one which cannot cope with current change, or provides no benefit to any other species, or is in an evolutionary cul-de-sac. These species need to be allowed to go extinct or – when they are harmful to human or other life – to be terminated.

No mass extinction! Dinosaurs shrank to become birds

August 1, 2014

Sixty five million years ago, the theory goes, a 6 mile long asteroid slammed into the earth and caused the extinction of all non-avian dinosaurs as part of a mass extinction event. Some 50% of all species living at the time – the hypothesis proclaims – vanished in this mass extinction event. It’s the stuff of catastrophe theories and movie scripts.

Smithsonian: Sixty-five million years ago the dinosaurs died out along with more than 50% of other life forms on the planet. This mass extinction is so dramatic that for many years it was used to mark the boundary between the Cretaceous Period, when the last dinosaurs lived, and the Tertiary Period, when no dinosaurs remained. This is called the Cretaceous/Tertiary (or K/T) boundary, and the associated extinction is often termed the K/T extinction event. …….  Most theories focused on climate change, perhaps brought on by volcanism, lowering sea level, and shifting continents. But hundreds of other theories were developed, some reasonable but others rather far-fetched (including decimation by visiting aliens, widespread dinosaur “wars”, and “paläoweltschmertz”­the idea that dinosaurs just got tired and went extinct). It was often popularly thought that the evolving mammals simply ate enough of the dinosaurs’ eggs to drive them to extinction.

But a new paper now suggests that dinosaurs actually shrank as they evolved over 50 million years to become the birds we know today. This still means that it was the dinosaurs vacating space on land which gave rise to the growth of mammal species, but it was not a one-time catastrophic event. No mass extinction then!

No fireworks apparently. Just a gradual, fairly mundane process where the large and cumbersome were deselected as they ran out of the ability to feed themselves and died off.  While the small and the nimble both needed less food and were more capable of getting it.

Michael S. Y. Lee, Andrea Cau, Darren Naish, Gareth J. Dyke. Sustained miniaturization and anatomical innovation in the dinosaurian ancestors of birds. Science, 1 August 2014: Vol. 345 no. 6196 pp. 562-566 DOI:10.1126/science.1252243

University of Southampton Press ReleaseA new study involving scientists from the University of Southampton has revealed how massive, meat-eating, ground-dwelling dinosaurs evolved into agile flying birds: they just kept shrinking and shrinking, for over 50 million years.  

Today, in the journal Science, the researchers present a detailed family tree of dinosaurs and their bird descendants, which maps out this unlikely transformation.  They showed that the branch of theropod dinosaurs, which gave rise to modern birds, were the only dinosaurs that kept getting inexorably smaller.  

“These bird ancestors also evolved new adaptations, such as feathers, wishbones and wings, four times faster than other dinosaurs,” says co-author Darren Naish, Vertebrate Palaeontologist at the University of Southampton.  

“Birds evolved through a unique phase of sustained miniaturisation in dinosaurs,” says lead author Associate Professor Michael Lee, from the University of Adelaide’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences and the South Australian Museum.  

“Being smaller and lighter in the land of giants, with rapidly evolving anatomical adaptations, provided these bird ancestors with new ecological opportunities, such as the ability to climb trees, glide and fly. Ultimately, this evolutionary flexibility helped birds survive the deadly meteorite impact which killed off all their dinosaurian cousins.”  

Co-author Gareth Dyke, Senior Lecturer in Vertebrate Palaeontology at the University of Southampton, adds: “The dinosaurs most closely related to birds are all small, and many of them – such as the aptly named Microraptor – had some ability to climb and glide.”  

The study examined over 1,500 anatomical traits of dinosaurs to reconstruct their family tree. The researchers used sophisticated mathematical modelling to trace evolving adaptions and changing body size over time and across dinosaur branches.  The study concluded that the branch of dinosaurs leading to birds was more evolutionary innovative than other dinosaur lineages. “Birds out-shrank and out-evolved their dinosaurian ancestors, surviving where their larger, less evolvable relatives could not,” says Associate Professor Lee.

 

Too much biodiversity – time to let some species die out

July 28, 2014

Conservationists would have us believe that the earth is losing species at an alarming rate and that evil humanity is to blame and therefore more and more species must be protected by “freezing” them into an unnatural existence. Alarmist “conservationism” has led to the ridiculous situation where successful species are termed pests and are eradicated. Hopelessly unfit species – if they are cuddly or otherwise attractive to watch – are protected by being sentenced to a “frozen” existence in zoos or in “protected” and totally unnatural and anachronistic habitats.

I was just watching a program about the highly successful urban coyotes of N. America. They have found a new prey in domestic pets and are thriving. But having adapted successfully to the changing environment they have – needless to say – earned  the status of being declared a pest to be wiped out!!

And yet there have never been more species alive than there are today.

A new review paper warns with great alarm about another impending mass extinction due to the loss of fauna that man has caused. The press release for this paper (why do scientific papers need press releases?) begins thus:

Stanford biologist warns of early stages of Earth’s 6th mass extinction event

The planet’s current biodiversity, the product of 3.5 billion years of evolutionary trial and error, is the highest in the history of life. But it may be reaching a tipping point.

In a new review of scientific literature and analysis of data published in Science, an international team of scientists cautions that the loss and decline of animals is contributing to what appears to be the early days of the planet’s sixth mass biological extinction event.

If biodiversity “is the highest in the history of life” and many species are incapable of adapting to the world they live in, perhaps it is time for them to exit gracefully.

Perhaps the progress of humankind requires that some of these obsolete species must be allowed to disappear.

The dangers of reducing biodiversity are being hyped to a ridiculous extent. Without the mass extinctions of the past, most of the species living today would never have evolved. If the dinosaurs had not gone extinct we would not be around. And the disappearance of the dodo has not increased any threat to humanity.

Related:

Fighting against species extinction is to deny evolution

Genetic adaptation – not stagnating conservation – is the way to help threatened species


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