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Grayling Brain Dead as a Dodo

Letters to the Guardian telling us we’re doomed are a dime a dozen, but this one is signed by some big names like Noam Chomsky, Rowan Williams, and Professor Grayling, Master of the New College of the Humanities, London. OK, it’s also signed by Caroline Lucas, Naomi Klein, Jonathon Porritt, and Dr Rupert Read, the Socrates of Norwich, but the first named three are not people you would normally think of as thick as planks. Not the kind of people you’d expect to sign any old bit of paper without checking the small print. Well they are and they have.

The letter starts:

In our complex, interdependent global ecosystem, life is dying, with species extinction accelerating. The climate crisis is worsening much faster than previously predicted. Every single day 200 species are becoming extinct. This desperate situation can’t continue.

And continues:

Political leaders worldwide are failing.. corporate capitalism… global catastrophe.. Complacency… paralysis… grave responsibility… climate-emergency… impoverished nations… unsustainable economic growth… planet-plundering imperialism… extreme weather.. emergency investment in agro-ecological extreme-weather-resistant food production… urgent summit…

and ends:

We further call on concerned global citizens to rise up and organise against current complacency in their particular contexts, including indigenous people’s rights advocacy, decolonisation and reparatory justice – so joining the global movement that’s now rebelling against extinction (eg Extinction Rebellion in the UK) …

Every one of us, especially in the materially privileged world, must commit to accepting the need to live more lightly, consume far less, and to not only uphold human rights but also our stewardship responsibilities to the planet.

Among the 53 signatories from Britain, I counted nine psychotherapists and the like, and ten representatives of African organisations (for some reason spelt the German way – “Afrikan”) in Britain. There’s also a professor who holds a Leadership Chair in Contentious Politics, the director of Virtual Migrants, Mr Ghosthorse of the Lakota nation, and the King of Djougou.

You’ll note that the emphasis of the letter is on biodiversity and species loss, and there is just one “fact” in the entire eight paragraphs, to whit, “Every single day 200 species are becoming extinct.” So I looked up “200 species extinct” to see where this fact came from.

First stop, the WWF biodiversity page, which says:

How many species are we losing?

Well… this is the million dollar question.

And one that’s very hard to answer.

Firstly, we don’t know exactly what’s out there.

It’s a big complex world and we discover new species to science all the time.

Of course, they space it out better than that on the page.

In different typefaces.

For their Readers.

Who haven’t read a book to the end since The Very Hungry Caterpillar..

So, if we don’t know how much there is to begin with, we don’t know exactly how much we’re losing. 

But we do have lots of facts and figures that seem to indicate that the news isn’t good.

If there are:

-100,000,000 different species on Earth

– and the extinction rate is just 0.01%/year

– at least 10,000 species go extinct every year

Just to illustrate the degree of biodiversity loss we’re facing, let’s take you through one scientific analysis…

  • The rapid loss of species we are seeing today is estimated by experts to be between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate.

  • These experts calculate that between 0.01 and 0.1% of all species will become extinct each year.

  • If the low estimate of the number of species out there is true – i.e. that there are around 2 million different species on our planet** – then that means between 200 and 2,000 extinctions occur every year.

  • But if the upper estimate of species numbers is true – that there are 100 million different species co-existing with us on our planet – then between 10,000 and 100,000 species are becoming extinct each year.

** Between 1.4 and 1.8 million species have already been scientifically identified.

Well, yes. If you play around with two quantities known to the nearest magnitude, and a third known to the nearest two magnitudes, you’re going to get some pretty impressive numbers. So the number of species disappearing might indeed be 200 a year, or 200 a day, or 200 a minute, whatever.

Of the figures used, the estimates of the natural extinction rate come from fossil studies, I think. I once found one that estimate the rate of loss of species now by looking at the rate of loss of mollusc genera 60 million years ago. The estimate of species loss of “1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate” comes from a throwaway remark in a book by E.O. Wilson written in the 1970s, when the world was cooling. It wasn’t based on anything, he just made it up. You can do that when you’re a famous biologist. E.O. Wilson was ten years old when he wrote it, or maybe a hundred. Please don’t ask me for exact references. I mean, who cares about details?

The “200 a day” figure may come from a 2010 UNEP report. From the Huffington Post:

According to the UN Environment Programme, the Earth is in the midst of a mass extinction of life. Scientists estimate that 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours. This is nearly 1,000 times the “natural” or “background” rate…

So if UNEP gets 200 extinctions a day using E.O. Wilson’s lower estimate of one thousand times the background rate, just imagine what they could do if they took his higher rate? Especially if, like the WWF, they rounded up the known number of species (1.4 to 1.8 million) to a tidy hundred million.

So how many species are actually going extinct? According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) about 15 since 1950. Not quite the 200 a day claimed by Professors Chomsky and Grayling then.

In other contexts these professors can be quite fussy about figures. I remember Professor Chomsky taking someone to task for repeating the unverified claim that Pol Pot killed 2 million Cambodians. (Professor Chomsky thinks the true figure is several hundred thousand less.) And Professor Grayling gets quite shirty if you claim that a majority of the population voted for Brexit. When you add in the people that didn’t vote, and those who couldn’t vote but who Professor Grayling thinks should have been allowed to (under 18s, the unborn etc.) the true number voting for Brexit goes down from 12 million to about twenty three (WWF figures.)

Are they like this in ordinary life, do you think?

– “How many sugars, professor?”

– “Twelve thousand please. Oh, if it’s a small cup, one and half then.”

33 thoughts on “Grayling Brain Dead as a Dodo

  1. Accurate measurement that’s so deja vu in the subjective, apocalyptic world inhabited by humanitees post-modernists. And what’s wrong with those psycho-therapists?

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  2. Pingback: Grayling Brain Dead as a Dodo – Today,s Thought

  3. If only it were as straightforward as these folks being thick. Unfortunately, being seriously emotively convinced can capture great intelligence into the service of simplistic and false cultural narratives. It’s a brain architecture thing (which means it can potentially happen to us all, yet is also domain dependent).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for this hilarious post Geoff. I had heard about the 200 a day extinction figure and it defies common sense. When reading your section from the WWF biodiversity page I assumed you were making it up. But you have extracted it pretty much word for word. I would be tempted to say “you couldn’t make it up” but they already did.

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  5. Whenever anyone makes the fatuous statements in blogs about climate change causing species extinction, I challenge them to name one. Never had a response yet. Get called a denier lots of times, which sums up the level of their reasoning power.

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  6. Indigenous people’s rights advocacy? Decolonization? *cough* “Whites” (or “People of All Colours” to correctly align with current naming conventions) are indigenous to Europe *cough*.

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  7. There are some specie of academic that are surplus to requirements, who advertise their superfluous status by writing irrelevant parts of their CVs in letters to the British Press.
    There are other specie of newspaper editor whose discriminatory switch has been turned off, who will be bedazzled by academics and who will publish any old dross and think it news of the greatest relevancy.
    These specie are obligatory symbiots.

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  8. Well, there’s one simple answer to these people – Mass extinction? the antidote is to make sure we get the temperature to increase by 5-8ºC and the CO2 up to ~2000ppm and restart the speciation that was apparent during the PETM

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  9. Pierre Gosselin has a tweet up which summarizes very succinctly and accurately the tactics currently being employed by climate alarmists to try to get us to give up our ‘addiction to fossil fuels’ and accept the tax rises and privations currently being heaped upon us by the Green Blob on the supposed pretext of ‘saving the planet’.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Chris Morris, I can name one: the Bramble Cay melomys, a rat-like creature that lived on a tiny Australian island off Papua New Guinea. After several decades of relative tranquility the island was flooded by half a dozen storm surges between 2003 and 2012. These removed most of the vegetation, so our poor little melomys mucker lost its tucker and starved.

    Was climate change responsible for the recent increase in storms in the Torres Strait? The experts think so. Therefore this melomys is the first mammal to have been made extinct by climate change.

    Or is it? It’s thought that the melomys arrived on Bramble Cay on debris floating across from Papua New Guinea, where, according to the experts who declared it extinct on Bramble Cay, populations may still survive. Consequently these experts recommended that the melomys be categorised as Possibly Extinct. The IUCN ignored that and declared it Extinct. Better headlines, I suppose.

    ===
    *Orphaned footnote: Stephan Lewandowsky’s co-chair in cognitive psychology at Bristol Uni is now an active supporter of Extinction Rebellion. Professor Colin Davis has just launched a Bristol branch of XR.

    He is best known for resigning from the editorial board of the journal Frontiers in protest at the withdrawal of a conspiracy paper that had defamed several people who should probably remain anonymous and for his theory that manipulated worms can influence elections. He started supporting XR online in late October, when XR’s self-description still said this:

    #XR / #ExtinctionRebellion is an international movement using mass civil disobedience to force governments to enter WWII-level mobilisation mode, in response to climate breakdown and ecological crisis. We begin on 31/10/18, with a Declaration of Rebellion. Join us! Based on the science, we have ten years at the most to reduce CO2 emissions to zero, or the human race and most other species are at high risk of extinction within decades.

    My bold. That bit has now been dropped.

    (My favourite XR supporter is an elderly white English woman who uses a fake African name and is a suicide counsellor, magic energy healer, certified laughter facilitator, erotic novelist and practitioner of Ilahinoor, a method of reshaping the mind that combines Sufic and Ancient Egyptian techniques with the telepathically transmitted wisdom of whales. They know their science, these people!)

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Noam Chomsky, Paul Ehrlich, Naomi Klein….all highly over rated academics who have long ago been proven wrong yet still have strong influence in the Academy and the public square.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Project fear merchants are all the same – they like pulling big numbers out of their…er, thin air. Then the media can stick them into their brain-dead headlines.

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  13. Vinny
    The Bramble Cay melomys wasn’t made extinct by climate change (especially as it is probably still living in New Guinea jungles). Its patch of vegetation was destroyed by the large increase of nesting birds.
    The alarmists only latched onto it as they are so desperate to find just one species.

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  14. Well if it’s the Guardian then it’s today’s entry for the Virtue Signalling contest. Obviously as time goes on inflation takes hold and the numbers have to have lots and lots of zeroes just to catch the eye of the letters editor.

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  15. Ode to a victim of climate change(?)

    Poor little Bramble Cay melomys
    Displaced by nasty nesting birds
    (A strange reversal of fortunes that
    Given your ratty-ness).

    Or starved by vegetation loss
    Destroyed by vicious storms,
    Conjured by man’s profligacy.

    Your continued fame depends upon
    Your proverbial extant brethren,
    The shy Papuan New Guinea melomys
    Remaining proverbial

    Singer beneath Bridges

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Regarding the “show me the corpses” meme, it is easily dismissed. The IUCN lists 15 species as becoming extinct since 1950? Certainly a plausible number. Last time I checked, the IUCN listed sensible causes for species loss/endangerment, with hardly a climate change threat in sight. But of course these 15 are – lemme guess – all well-known vertebrates.

    Most species are not vertebrates, and by estimates (I have not kept up with this) only a fraction have been described (almost all vertebrates have been described). The first to be described are the most charismatic & the most distinctive. So there are millions of species of small black beetle that no-one has had the time or inclination or funding to describe, provide a key for, estimate the range or abundance of, etc. Even in the UK there are taxa that are poorly known, possibly even unrecognised.

    Judging by the # of unrecognised species found in samples from da Jungle, it seems plausible that hundreds of thousands, mebbe millions, of such species have been lost via habitat destruction without ever having been christened, let alone evaluated as under threat.

    Obviously the loss of small black beetles does not get the heart fluttering, & I see no evidence that it might be due to climate change. Climate change, if it figures at all in extinctions, is at the ass-end of a list including: habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation, invasive species (including diseases), hunting (including by wind turbines) & pollution (of the non-carbon kind, to include things like nitrogen-based fertilisation). All the kind of things that an obsession with CO2 is distracting attention from. (All things, noticeably, that are in the power of local people to control, & cannot wholly be blamed on first-world lifestyles often far away.)

    As to the extinction rebellion, good luck to them. They are stupid (I have read a book by Grayling and he is not stupid: there may be a contradiction here). I have noticed that few people care about climate change, to judge by they way they have not adjusted their lifestyles accordingly. The rebels seem to be demanding that an authoritarian enforces compliance in their peers instead of leading by example.

    Liked by 4 people

  17. Jit
    I imagine that many of those unrequited species are nematodes. I read somewhere that if you were somehow able to magically remove everything on the Earth’s surface except nematodes, you would still be able to see everything as a faint ghostly image composed of the nematodes. They are everywhere, living in rock porosity down to considerable depths, to some species confined to specific types of beer mats.

    Gosh, save species, drink beer!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. @Alan

    I have never really believed that story about the nematodes. How do they get from pub to pub? Also, it presumably requires the pubs to keep re-using the beermats for weeks. And of course, to save the nematodes, we have to spill the beer (as mentioned, at the Fat Cat Brewery Tap), not drink it…

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  19. From the BBC item linked to by Phillip Bratby:

    “At first glance, Gail Bradbrook confirms to some people’s eco-warrior stereotype – she’s a vegan, has a nose ring, is into yoga, meditation, herbal remedies, pagan rituals and nudity. ‘If there’s a situation where not everybody would take their clothes off, she definitely will'”.

    However, according to a friend, “she’s not, kind of, airy-fairy at all. If you met her, your first impression might be that she’s prone to magical thinking, you know, but you question her or anything, she needs to check it out. She won’t take things at face value, because she knows that she needs to have credibility”.

    Extinction Rebellion is a project of RisingUp, which is an “activist collective that’s seeding widespread action against ‘our ecocidal, unjust and corrupt system’ and inviting us all to explore and implement the alternatives.”:
    http://www.commonwealnonviolence.org/blog/hope-dies-action-begins-an-interview-with-risingups-gail-bradbrook

    Gail Bradbrook: “Our experience is that, when the truth is told about climate change, it’s very hard for people to hear the latest data and the scientists who are breaking rank to speak out – people face a fear and a grief that for some brings out a new level of desire to act and offer service for the land and children, for the earth, for justice.”

    Who, I wonder, are these “scientists who are breaking ranks to speak out”?

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Gail is engaging in magical thinking, not to mention a big dose of conspiratorial claptrap thinking, on top of her demonstration of non-rational cognitive (dis) abilities.

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  21. Alex Cull: ‘Who, I wonder, are these “scientists who are breaking ranks to speak out”?’

    The video linked from that paragraph starts where she quoted Kevin Anderson and Kate Marvel and at about 4m 30s she talked about ‘scientists breaking ranks’ and quoted John Schellnhuber. I have only watched about 3 mins of the video, so there might be others. Perhaps Veerabhadran Ramanathan. XR people like his quote about strapping your grandchildren into a plane that has a 1 in 20 chance of crashing. And perhaps Mark Maslin, who signed their first open letter.

    Bradbrook herself did proper scientific research for a few years. A recent profile in Truthout described her as a professor of molecular biophysics but that’s outwith the truth. She was a post-doc researcher. Something to do with cell chemistry, I think.

    She’s booked for a talk about, er, brain chemistry next month in London:

    http://www.eventbrite.com/e/psychedelics-extinction-and-social-change-tickets-52972533273

    Perhaps she’ll talk about her scientific work too.

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  22. Is it ironic that some kid with a drone has managed to save more CO2 in one day than the entire XR crew in the lifetime of their cult?

    Liked by 2 people

  23. I suppose I should update with the news that the drone operator is probably not just a bored teenager and the drone is “industrial” grade. It would not be too surprising to see some anti-civilisation group hold a press conference announcing that they have had to do this “because words are no longer enough. The powers that be are not listening. Our planet is heading to destruction if we do not stop emitting CO2 by tomorrow. So we have had to take direct action. We have not taken this decision lightly, but the very fate of our species is at stake, so it is justified…”

    Liked by 3 people

  24. Thanks Andy and Vinny, I had forgotten outliers like Kevin Anderson – makes sense now.

    @ Jit, just wondering if we might start seeing Extinction Rebellion/Plane Stupid drone attacks on airports in the future (not that I want to give them ideas…)

    Update: we seem to be thinking along the same lines – your comment came in while I was typing.

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  25. If the drones were intended to reduce CO2 by preventing landings, then like nearly all climate obsessed actions, they have the opposite effect.
    By forcing planes to circle in a holding pattern until the deadly drone protest is ended, more fuel is burned, not less.
    For the social science “educated”, when more fuel is burned, more not less CO2 is produced.
    And when one of their drones takes down a flight filled with people, the resulting fire will produce even more CO2. And (not that climate obsessed care), a lot of people will also die.
    The unhinged anti-factual hysterical behavior of the climate obsessed is the peril endangering the world.
    Not CO2, and certainly not air travel.

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  26. Ironically, the brave scientists breaking ranks are those who point out the flaws in the consensus. Those few are risking reputation and carreer to stand up for science and truth. Those who tell ever increasing fear mongering stories that deny the data and science are the opposite of brave. And especially cowardly are those reactionaries who gang up to silence those brave scientists who dare stray from the consensus.

    Liked by 1 person

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