By Kenneth Richard
Last month, National Geographic and other news organizations ran the disheartening headline “First Mammal Species Goes Extinct Due to Climate Change“1.
The small rat, whose only habitat was “a single island off Australia,” hasn’t been spotted since 2009.
Bramble cay melomy Melomys rubicola. In 2016 declared extinct on Bramble cay. Photo:
When scientists set up traps for the rodent in late 2014 to assess how many were left, they were unsuccessful in trapping any. Therefore, the conclusion is that the Melomys rubicola species is “likely” extinct. It is claimed to be the first mammalian casualty of human-caused global warming. Scientists warn there will be more. Many more. Many, many more.
Forecast: One million extinct species by 2050
It was only 12 years ago (2004) that National Geographic was alarming the public with the headline, “By 2050 Warming to Doom Million Species, Study Says”2. According to the article:
By 2050, rising temperatures exacerbated by human-induced belches of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases could send more than a million of Earth’s land-dwelling plants and animals down the road to extinction, according to a recent study.”
The referenced recent study projecting more than one million species extinctions by the year 2050 was a paper published in the journal Nature by Thomas et al. (2003) entitled “Extinction risk from climate change“3. The authors based their conclusions on a species sample size of 1,103 in their study, claiming that between 15 and 35 percent of those species will be facing extinction by 2050 due to warming, which was extrapolated to over a million species disappearing on a global scale by the mid-21st century.
Consider that to reach one million species die-offs between 2003 and 2050, as the Thomas et al. (2003) authors projected, there would need to be about 200,000 species extinctions per decade, or about 20,000 species extinctions per year. An extinction rate that high would certainly be alarming — and catastrophic.
Forecasts of doom vs. observations
Interestingly, a single revelation from the Thomas et al. (2003) paper seems to undermine or even contradict the authors’ forecasts of biospheric doom. The very first sentence of the paper’s abstract says this:
Climate change over the past ~30 years has produced numerous shifts in the distributions and abundances of species and has been implicated in one species-level extinction.”
One species extinction in the previous 30 years, or since the early 1970s. One species extinction. Between the early 1970s and the early 2000s, instrumental datasets indicate that surface temperatures warmed by about 0.5°C. So the same authors projecting more than 200,000 species extinctions per decade during the next 4 or 5 decades have acknowledged that global warming only produced one species extinction in the previous 3 decades.
But it gets worse.
In 2012, BBC News published an article (“Biodiversity loss: How accurate are the numbers?“4) indicating that only one species extinction – a mollusc – had occurred since 2000 (through 2012):
According to IUCN [International Union for Conservation of Nature] data, only one animal has been definitely identified as having gone extinct since 2000. It was a mollusc.”
So with the addition of the small rat species claimed to have disappeared, there have been a total of perhaps 3 species that have been lost in the last ~45 years. To reach one million species losses by 2050, the rate of extinction will now need to accelerate from less than one species loss per decade to about 300,000 species losses per decade during the next 34 years. That’s 30,000 extinctions per year, or 82 extinctions per day, between now and 2050.
Question: Does doubting the conclusion that we shall see an average of 30,000 species extinctions each year for the next 34 years qualify as “denying” peer-reviewed climate science if only 3 species may have disappeared in the last 4 or 5 decades?
Dramatically declining extinction rates with warming, high CO2
And it gets even worse for those peddling alarm. The same BBC News article had this to say about the recorded extinction rate since 1500:
It is possible to count the number of species known to be extinct. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) does just that. It has listed 801 animal and plant species (mostly animal) known to have gone extinct since 1500.”
So that’s a few more than 800 species extinctions since 1500. Of those, just 3 have occurred since rapid global warming resumed in the 1970s (following the 1940s to 1970s cooling period), or since CO2 concentrations have risen from about 325 ppm (1970s) to over 400 ppm (2016).
Analyzing these IUCN figures further, this would imply that during the 470 years between 1500 and 1970, when much of the globe was experiencing the coldest temperatures of the last 10,000 years (i.e., the 1500 -1900 A.D. Little Ice Age), and CO2 ranged between a “safe” 280 ppm and 325 ppm, there were an average of 17 extinctions per decade, or 1.7 extinctions per year.
1500 to 1970 = 800 extinctions, or 17 extinctions per decade, 1.7 extinctions per year
1970 to 2016 = 3 extinctions, or 0.7 extinctions per decade, 0.07 extinctions per year
We can conclude, then, that the species extinction rate has been 96% lower in the last approx. 45 years — when global warming has been rapid and CO2 concentrations have supposedly reached “dangerous” levels — than it was in the 470 years prior to 1970, when temperatures and CO2 were at cooler, “safer” levels.
It is doubtful, however, that National Geographic would ever run the headline: “Dramatic reduction in species extinction rates with global warming”, as this admission does not fit the doomsday narrative.