Counting the Environmental Cost of the Climate Change Obsession



This BBC news item came to my attention this morning: “World’s wilderness reduced by a tenth since 1990s”. Considering the BBC’s long term obsession with promoting climate change™ as the greatest threat facing mankind and the planet since our mouse-like mammalian ancestors scurried around the feet of T Rex, it is a remarkable example of a complete lack of self-awareness on the part of the Beeb. The paper they unassumingly link to which makes this claim puts the blame for “catastrophic” environmental degradation and species decline since 1990 not on climate change™ but firmly upon exploitation/encroachment of industry/infrastructure/change of land use. Furthermore, the authors are highly critical of the fact that the loss of precious wilderness areas has been virtually ignored by international environmental organisations and international treaties whose raison d’etre is supposedly to protect the global environment, in particular the UNFCC and the Paris Agreement. Oh dear!

The main findings of the study are summarised here:

Globally important wilderness areas are ignored in conservation policy

We reveal that extensive losses of wilderness have occurred in the last two decades

Efforts aimed at protecting wilderness areas are failing to keep pace with its loss

International policy must recognize the actions needed to maintain wilderness areas

What we have here is a clear case of serious actual physical environmental degradation taking place on a global scale over two decades, largely ignored by governments and environmental lobby groups, concurrent with 20 years of exhaustive international efforts to conserve a hypothetical future environment; efforts which have sucked up truly staggering amounts of financial, political, intellectual and social capital that might have been better put to good use in preserving global wilderness areas.

I’ve been saying for some time that this is the case, as have other people. This important paper demonstrates it and moreover quantifies what might be the actual environmental cost of ignoring real problems in favour of focusing on climate change research and mitigation. Also, as the authors point out, largely ignoring real loss of natural habitat has contributed significantly to global CO2 emissions, thereby actively undermining the fight against climate change anyway. The IPCC have not ignored deforestation and change of land use, but it seems they have seriously underestimated the actual harm being done to areas of wilderness on a global scale.

Here is a summary of important quotes from the paper which I believe are self-explanatory and pretty damning as far as the modern climate change obsessed Green movement is concerned [I’ve highlighted particularly relevant points in bold]:

Despite the myriad values of wilderness areas—as critical strongholds for endangered biodiversity [7], for carbon storage and sequestration [8], for buffering and regulating local climates [9], and for supporting many of the world’s most politically and economically marginalized communities [10]—they are almost entirely ignored in multilateral environmental agreements.

We demonstrate alarming losses comprising one-tenth (3.3 million km2) of global wilderness areas over the last two decades, particularly in the Amazon (30%) and central Africa (14%).

We mapped decline of wilderness areas, defining ‘‘wilderness’’ as biologically and ecologically largely intact landscapes that are mostly free of human disturbance [2–4, 11]. These areas do not exclude people, as many are in fact critical to certain communities, including indigenous peoples [14, 15]. Rather, they have lower levels of impacts from the kinds of human uses that result in significant biophysical disturbance to natural habitats, such as large-scale land conversion, industrial activity, or infrastructure development.

The current levels of non-protection and consequent loss of wilderness areas across the planet have important ramifications for achieving global climate mitigation goals [8]. For example, the total stock of terrestrial ecosystem carbon (_1,950 petagrams of Carbon [Pg C]) is greater than that of oil (_173 Pg C), gas (_383 Pg C), coal (_446 Pg C), or the atmosphere (_598 Pg C) [23], and a significant proportion of this carbon is found in the globally significant wilderness areas of the tropics and boreal region [8, 24]. It is estimated that 32% of the total global stock of forest biomass carbon is stored in the boreal forest biome [24] and that the Amazon region stores nearly 38% (86.1 Pg C) of the carbon (228.7 Pg C) found above ground in the woody vegetation of tropical America, Africa, and Asia [25]. Thus, avoiding emissions by protecting the globally significant wilderness areas of the boreal and Amazon in particular will make a significant contribution to stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of CO2. Protection of intact forest ecosystems from industrial land uses is particularly important, given that they store more carbon than degraded forests and are more resilient to external perturbations, including climate variability, fire, and illegal logging, poaching, and mining [8, 26].

The recent severe loss of wilderness is impacting options for achieving strategic goals outlined in key multilateral environmental agreements, including the CBD’s 2020 Aichi Targets and the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Paris Agreement [22, 39].

International polices do not acknowledge the special qualities and benefits that flow from ecosystem processes operating at large scales. For example, there is no formal text within the UNFCCC, United Nations World Heritage Convention (WHC), or CBD that prioritizes or even recognizes the benefits derived from large intact landscapes for nature and people.

The lack of recognition of wilderness in global accords and national policy also has implications for international funding programs such as the Global Environment Facility, Green Climate Fund, and Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund, which are distributing billions of dollars in support for programs to help achieve the goals of multilateral environmental agreements. Within the CBD funding mechanisms, for example, 80% of funds have been allocated to nations with <20% of all wilderness area(Figures 3 and S2). The neglect of wilderness is arguably even more acute in funding under the UNFCCC and Paris Agreement finance discussions. Although there is strong financing for forest conservation under the UNFCCC REDD+ mechanism to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation, the rules stipulate that this financing must target areas with high baseline levels of deforestation [42]. Such efforts, though valuable for other purposes, serve to direct funds away from forested wilderness areas that are presumed safe from deforestation and degradation. As our results demonstrate, however, wilderness is under immense land use pressures, and there is an urgent need for greater conservation effort in these areas to help maintain their ecological intactness and integrity of function.

 . . . . . . there is a clear need to focus on halting current threatening activities that have been leading to the recent erosion of wilderness areas, including limiting road expansion [43]; preventing industrial mining, forestry, and other large-scale agricultural operations [43]; and enforcing existing legal frameworks considering that half of all tropical forest clearing between l2000 and 2012 was illegal [44–46].

22 thoughts on “Counting the Environmental Cost of the Climate Change Obsession

  1. Certainly an important paper.

    One of the first concerns I raised about climate dogma was that it took a great many eyes off basic environmental damage. It was aother issue to overload countries that hadn’t even got base level standards and gave them an excuse to blame anyone but themselves. Why save that bit of rain forest when its demise is the fault of some 4 by 4 US driver? The WWF stopped protecting animals and instead spent the money lobbying my government to raise my energy bills.

    Each paper that adds ’caused by climate change’ deflects from the genuine causes, many of which are easier to improve.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Jaime and Tiny, yes, this is a very important point and one of the driving factors behind my climate scepticism.
    I can’t put it better than Daniel Botkin in his evidence to a US Science Committee (summarised here with a link to his full text):

    The extreme overemphasis on human-induced global warming has taken our attention away from many environmental issues that used to be front and center but have been pretty much ignored in the 21st century.

    Isn’t the paper a bit alarmist though, with “Catastrophic” as the first word in the title?

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Just yet another promotion for the UNFCCC! This is but a part of the whole fascist UN that needs to be in the volcano already, along with the whole Council on Foreign Relations!! The NYC building need be converted to the NYC historic waste-water treatment facility, with testimony writ in granite outside. The Koreans did something similar to the Emperors Palace in Seoul.


  4. The obsession with carbon dioxide, the magical transforming of a beneficial gas and a gentle, beneficial, temperature trend into the stuff of crisis and catastrophe has been a disgraceful display of deliberate manipulation and political opportunism. The chart of rising CO2 observations taken at Mauna Loa was just too dramatic for some people to resist once a scary spin was put on it. And of course, their astonishing political success has meant their neglect of other matters. In some cases, that may be a good thing, given the dire track record of eco-activists for many decades.

    Donna Laframboise wrote of ’40 Years of Drama Queen Scientists’. She concluded that these are not the kind of people you want dominating matters:

    ‘Drama queens inhabit a fear-filled world – one that’s dangerously unpredictable and in which some small matter can trigger the apocalypse. They have little faith in their own ability to cope, in humanity, or in the future. No matter how many good things have happened, they insist on identifying the flaw in every apple. They are a personality type – and they are a part of our collective humanity.

    But a world that permits that part of us to determine the future is a world in which the future may, indeed, turn out to be bleak.’

    I think that is important. We need a calmer take on things, including on the threats to wild lands. Here in Scotland, much of our wild country has been defaced with deforestation, road building, and massive dumps of concrete all to support wind-turbines which clutter the landscape as they pump money into the bank accounts of a few while reducing the affordability and reliability of electricity supplies for all. One consequence of the panic-legislation called the Climate Change Act. Less panic would be a good thing, and that means more scepticism when faced with the Drama Queens of Science and their associated opportunists.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. There doesn’t seem to be a full text version of The Ecologist’s 1972 special edition ‘A Blueprint for Survival’ any more. I’m willing to bet however, that it was not global warming which was being emphasised as the ‘catastrophic’ result of unbridled economic expansion and industrialisation, but global cooling. In 1970, pollution from cars, industry etc. was being fingered as the cause of the global cooling evident over the previous decade or so. Richard Betts rightly claims that there were still scientific articles warning of CO2-induced global warming, even at the height of the 1970’s global cooling scare, but this misses the point.

    Had the cooling trend in the 60’s and 70’s continued, it is almost certain that pollution from heavy industry and western lifestyle choices would have been blamed for the trend and a whole host of climate models would have been developed predicting a new Ice Age unless we urgently curtailed our industries and lifestyles. That didn’t happen; rapid warming took off at the end of the 70’s and the alternative ‘CO2 causes warming’ hypothesis was invoked to explain the trend and we ended up instead with gloomy prognostications of Thermageddon rather than an Ice Age.

    This is not conspiracist thinking; it is a pragmatic assessment of what would most likely have happened, based upon what was happening at the time, based upon the prevailing philosophy of the time that rising population, economic growth, and industrialisation was universally bad for the environment and the only way to protect it was to revert to simple, sustainable lifestyles in small communities.

    It is self-evident that ‘development’ does seriously threaten wild habitats and that if we do not control such ‘development’ we will lose those habitats to our detriment and to the detriment of the global environment very likely. Catastrophic? Probably not, in terms of the planet. Possibly, as regards the 6 or 7 billion humans currently residing on planet Earth. It is also self-evident that modern, industrialised economies have much lower birth rates – or at least they did until our governments opened the doors to uncontrolled immigration from Third World Countries. It is self-evident that the attempt to move to a ‘sustainable future’ by unilaterally curtailing industrial CO2 emissions in the West is doomed to failure, simply because (a) CO2 is not the problem, ‘development’ is, and (b) ‘developing’ nations like China and India are not required to stringently reduce their own (large, and growing) emissions.


  6. Thanks Vinny. Can’t see all the pages, but this is relevant and proves my above comment to be wrong – the emphasis was on global warming:

    “It is estimated that in 1967 some 13.4 billion metric tons of CO2 were released from fossil fuel combustion and that emissions in 1980 (using Darmstadter’s projection) would be 26 billion metric tons for the world .as a whole.

    SCEP [SCEP, Man’s Impact on the Global Environment. M.I.T. Press, 1971.] points out that the trend towards depleting the remaining stands of original forests, such as those in tropical Brazil, Indonesia and the Congo, will further reduce the capacity of the ecosphere to absorb CO2 and may release even more CO2 to the atmosphere. The CO2 content of the atmosphere is increasing at a rate of 0.2 percent per year since 1958. One can project, on the basis of these trends, an 18 percent increase by the year 2000, i.e. from 320 ppmm to 379 ppmm. SCEP considers that this might increase temperature of the earth by 0.5°C. A doubling of CO2 might increase mean annual surface temperatures by 2°C. [See Table 3]”

    So even at the height of the 1970s global cooling scare, some scientists were warning of warming due to increasing CO2, but many more were talking about aerosol-induced cooling.

    Talk about keeping one’s options open!


  7. Raff, you ask me what I would do to address wilderness destruction. I don’t have many answers and I’m not a politician but I would certainly suggest that some sort of effective legal protection is put in place for the remaining large wilderness areas. I say effective because I think the paper points out that half of logging operations are illegal anyway. I would certainly examine what are the main drivers of wilderness destruction so that those driving forces could be mitigated or at least diverted into other outlets where they would cause less damage.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “Many more”, Jaime Jessop? Can you prove that or even provide a little evidence? Watts’ list is of magazine articles, not scientific papers.

    More to the point of the post, what is your proposal for addressing wilderness destruction.


  9. So a ban on resource (oil, gas, minerals) extracting in wilderness areas would suit you, Jaime? No Arctic drilling, no African coal mines or copper mines etc. Is that the sort of thing?


  10. Raff, are there ecologically important forests in the Arctic? Is all of Africa classed as ecologically important wilderness? A balance has to be struck between sensible exploitation of natural resources and rampant destruction of wilderness. It may be the case that a complete ban on mining operations in wilderness areas is not necessary if strict controls are in place and adhered to. I don’t know. What I do know is, if humanity is incapable as a species of achieving the aforementioned balance, then we’re in trouble, obviously.

    I’m not going to trawl through all the science papers which postulated anthropogenic aerosol cooling. There were more than a few. Our departed warmist friend Stephen Schneider originally plumped for an Ice Age when he co-authored this paper in 1971. But the nasty cooling went away, so he settled on the ‘settled science’ of GHG warming instead.


  11. How strange that Raff repeatedly demands to know Jaime’s solution to “wilderness destruction” when he is unable to produce any answers to halting emissions of greenhouse gases. Why the imbalance?

    Liked by 1 person

  12. “are there ecologically important forests in the Arctic?”

    If you think wilderness = forest, you have misunderstood, which is somewhat strange for someone writing an article about wilderness. Of course there needs to be balance, but you are very unclear about concrete for addressing wilderness destruction that are not being taken because of action (or talk about action) on climate change. You write an article about it, so you must have given it some thought – why not share those thoughts?

    “…when he is unable to produce any answers to halting emissions of greenhouse gases.”

    Have you ever asked me to produce such answers, Man In A Barrel?


  13. “If you think wilderness = forest, you have misunderstood, which is somewhat strange for someone writing an article about wilderness.”

    No Raff, I’m well aware of what constitutes a wilderness area. If you read the paper you will notice that the map of wilderness areas encompasses large parts of the Sahara, central Australia and indeed northern hemisphere Arctic tundra. I’m pretty certain these areas are not forested. If you read the paper, you will be aware that there is a whole list of defined wilderness areas which includes deserts, grasslands, shrublands, savannah, tundra, but which specifically excludes the ice caps, hence my comment using forest just as an example. But obviously, I should have been clearer so as not to give you ‘just cause’ to question my basic understanding.

    “Of course there needs to be balance, but you are very unclear about concrete [plans?] for addressing wilderness destruction that are not being taken because of action (or talk about action) on climate change. You write an article about it, so you must have given it some thought – why not share those thoughts?”

    Struggling to interpret this sentence but, yes, I am unclear about ‘concrete’ plans to address wilderness destruction because, in actual fact, there are, as far as I know, no ‘concrete’ plans in place to stop further destruction of wilderness areas, largely on account of the fact that the threat to these wilderness areas is being ignored because of the international focus on climate change! I hope that’s clear!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Wildernesses are precisely where people do not live. Therefore their loss is unlikely to have much effect at all on people’s actual lives.

    An analogy: if the Mona Lisa was destroyed, many people would claim that the world was impoverished as a result. But in what material sense would people be worse off? No-one actually ever gets to enjoy it properly precisely because it is so “protected”. It has reached an iconic status that actually prevents its real use — to decorate someone’s wall in their home. That iconic status is now out of all proportion to the real Mona Lisa, and values this magical “Mona Lisa” that supposedly embodies some great but ineffable value.

    If the Antarctic was strip mined, who would even know? No-one lives there, and no-one will ever live there. If there is an oil spill in the Arctic the damage is to emotional value, not actual value.

    Some of those “wilderness areas” meanwhile are nothing of the sort. They are actually just underdeveloped shit-holes for the people who live there. The mountains of Yemen have been inhabited since forever. The people who live there would much prefer to live in something other than grinding poverty.

    Meanwhile many unpristine parts of the world, like say the French countryside, are actually much more valuable to real people. That is where environmental degradation has an immediate and real effect. If mining the wildernesses allows us to have nicer and more livable cities and countryside, then I’m all for it.


  15. So just to be clear, Jaime Jessop, if the much derided (by “skeptics”) green blob redirected its attention to saving wilderness areas and persuading governments that have paid little attention to its climate campaign to strengthen and enforce their wilderness protection laws, would you, a) expect them to be successful, and b) support them?


  16. Chester,

    “Wildernesses are precisely where people do not live. Therefore their loss is unlikely to have much effect at all on people’s actual lives.”

    OK, one can respond to this on two levels. First, on a simple matter of fact. Large wilderness areas are in fact vital terrestrial ecosystems which, if they were to disappear, would seriously disrupt regional weather patterns, maybe even global circulation patterns. They support a huge range of biodiversity of plants and animals which, if they were to disappear, would not only be tragic per se, but would be an immense loss to the human race in terms of their potential value in the fields of medicine and agriculture, for example. Wilderness areas are, in point of fact, huge biochemical DNA depository banks.

    On another level, people do live there. Not many, granted, but they live and thrive there and many want to stay living there, because they have lived there for many thousands of years and are not much swayed by the prospect of owning Nike trainers and iPads. Who are we to tell them otherwise? But moreover, millions of animals live there. It is staggeringly arrogant to conclude that, just because these animals happen to be non-human, they therefore don’t figure in any assessment of the value of preserving the habitat where they have lived for millennia.


  17. Raff,

    “So just to be clear, Jaime Jessop, if the much derided (by “skeptics”) green blob redirected its attention to saving wilderness areas and persuading governments that have paid little attention to its climate campaign to strengthen and enforce their wilderness protection laws, would you, a) expect them to be successful, and b) support them?”

    I wouldn’t trust the much derided (by “sceptics”) green blob as far as I could throw its wobbly green arse, so no to both (a) and (b). We need a new generation of environmentally concerned to take on the task of preserving vitally important wilderness areas.


  18. Jaime Jessop says: 11 Sep 16 at 8:30 am

    Raff, blivit!!

    How bouts We just feed all that have any opinion at all on climate change to the polar bears?
    Earthlings and most other critters/creatures can than get on with what they do best! Killing and eating one another? Only earthlings drop nuclear weapons on each other! You go first!


  19. Pingback: Stephen H. Schneider’s 1970s Snowball Earth | Climate Scepticism

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