It is often said that politicians require a steady stream of crises from which they can purport to save us. In that dynamic, environmentalists have come to play an important role. Rachel Carson and Paul Ehrlich were among the pioneers, and the model they established hasn’t changed much. Environmentalists issue hysterical warnings about disasters that threaten to overtake us, and the remedy is always the same: we must turn over more money, more power, and more of our freedom to the government. Some of the environmentalist doom-mongers are misguided but sincere, while others are outright frauds.
You likely will be hearing soon about a new prophet of calamity, a Brit named Stephen Emmott, the author of a book titled 10 Billion. 10 Billion is a short paperback, published by Vintage in the U.S. and Penguin in the U.K., that tells its story of disaster largely through a series of charts that were created by the author, ostensibly based on the work of actual scientists.
As science, 10 Billion is a bad joke. The folks at Watts Up With That? have been having fun with Emmott, and particularly with the charts that undergird his predictions of doom. Geoff Chambers dissected Emmott’s work in “The Thirteen Worst Graphs in the World:”
Wherever we could check Emmott’s claims, they turned out to be false or exaggerated. His claim that a Google search uses as much electricity as boiling a kettle was the subject of a retraction at New Scientist, following a complaint from Google that the claim was out by a factor of a hundred. His claim in a talk that species lost is running at more than a thousand times the natural rate was based on a 20-year-old source which estimated loss at “a hundred to a thousand times the natural rate”. Emmott simply took the upper estimate and added “more than”. It’s true that there is an official UN estimate of a population of ten billion by the year 2100 (in a 2010 online update to the last official report in 2004) but Emmott fails to mention that the report has population flatlining by this time, and declining thereafter. …
The publicity handout is a collection of thirteen graphs, which I’ve analysed very briefly at
They are, quite simply, terrible. They’d be a disgrace in an essay by a first year university student. In at least two cases, the timescale on the x axis changes half way along with no indication. They appear to have been drawn by hand by someone who can’t use a ruler. Decadal changes appear to happen roughly every 12-15 years. Scales are deliberately chosen to create hockeysticks. Future population growth is represented as a vertical line, instead of the S-shaped curve which every serious demographic study supports.
Another poster at WUWT, Willis Eschenbach, analyzed the Emmott chart relating to species extinction. This is Emmott’s graph:
Of course, the first thing you notice is that massive extinction is a prediction; it takes place, on this chart, entirely in the future. But that only scratches the surface of the graph’s lunacy. Eschenbach, who has written on the subject of species extinction, begins by noting the obvious deficiencies on the face of the graph:
I’m sure the alert reader can see a few problems with Figure 1 at first glance, including chartsmanship of the highest order. The things that caught my eye were the use of the logarithmic vertical scale; the lack of units on the vertical scale; the short level section followed by the abrupt jump around 53,000 years BC; the huge increase at the end; and oh, yeah, see the little hash marks ” // ” along the bottom time scale to the right of -50,0000?
… Usually, that just means they’ve left out a chunk of years, it’s a common and legitimate technique used to show two separate time periods on the same graph. But they usually don’t splice the graph lines for the two periods together as he has done.
In addition, in this case the hash marks don’t mean just that. In this case, it also signifies a change in the time scale itself. So on the left side of the hash marks, the graph shows a span of about ten thousand years. On the right side of the hash marks, on the other hand, it shows a span of only about two hundred and fifteen years (1835-2050). Bizarre. The consequences of this are displayed and discussed later.
Next, regarding units, the extinction rates are usually given in units of extinctions per million species per year, or E/MSY. This makes comparisons awkward because we don’t know how many species there are. We can reduce the inexactness somewhat by noting that the Red List shows 207 extinctions of birds and mammals over the last 500 years. And in total, they list 15,565 species of birds and mammals. That gives us a raw rate of about 25 extinctions per million species per year (E/MSY). And that’s roughly the number that they give for the recent part of the data. So it seems that they are using the standard units, E/MSY.
The key point regarding the modern history of species extinction is that humans have, indeed, been responsible for an elevated level of extinction in modern times, because we have introduced alien predators to previously insulated regions:
In the case of extinctions, once again humans are indeed the cause … but again, not through the mechanism they claim, that of habitat reduction. Instead, humans have caused widespread extinctions through the introduction of “alien predators” into new areas which had never before seen them. These alien predators were and are a wide variety of species, humans among them. The list includes dogs, cats, rats, rabbits, foxes, mongoose, gray squirrels, brown tree snakes, and a host of other species including funguses and diseases. Heck, in a wonderfully strange case of environmental recursion, it turns out that for a while the lovely Central American frogs were being helped to extinction by the fungus unknowingly spread by the very biologists studying their extinction … introduced predators.
But there’s an oddity in that kind of extinctions, those caused by introduced alien predators. It is reported, perhaps apocryphally, that when Alexander the Great saw the extent of his domain he wept because there were no new worlds left to conquer. And the same is true regarding extinctions from introduced predators. Most of those extinctions occurred in several waves. First there were early extinctions in the Caribbean in the 1500s. Then extinctions rose again during the first wave of expansion and exploration in the 1700s, and then again during the age of empires after 1850. Since peaking at the start of the 20th century, they’ve generally declined. Here’s the data from my earlier post.
Note the peak rate of 1.6 bird and mammal extinctions per year, and the most recent rate of 0.2 extinctions per year. [I]n 2013, as with Alexander, there are few new worlds left for alien predators to conquer—there’s not much of the planet that hasn’t already seen invasive alien predators of many kinds. …
Now, if we leave out the extinctions by introduced predators, then out of the 207 bird and mammal extinctions there are only 9 extinctions in 500 years, three mammals and six birds. This means that other than extinctions from introduced predators the extinction rate is only 1.2 extinctions per MSY … very low.
This is what Emmott’s chart actually looks like if the data he uses (including his predictions for the future) are presented in a normal fashion:
Hilarious! This is Science For Suckers Only. Eschenbach next takes a look at the two halves of Emmott’s graph, individually. This is what Emmott represents for Ice Age extinctions:
The notable feature is a sudden spike, which never comes back down, so it is hard to see how it can be attributed to any natural event. Apparently Emmott just made it up:
Now that, I have to call hokey. It has a huge jump between 53000 and 52000 years BCE, and while I imagine that it is supposed to reflect the so-called “Late Quaternary Extinctions” of the megafauna, I’ve never seen it represented like that. Nor do I have any idea why it would jump up and not come back down again … and I can’t find any such jump in the two works he cites, Pimm and Barnosky.
Finally, Eschenbach gives us Emmott’s “data” for the modern era, presented with a normal rather than logarithmic scale. Eschenbach comments: “In Figure 4, you can see that the man is truly barking mad.”
Here’s the looney part. From 1835 up until the present (2013), the extinction rate is claimed to increase slowly from 16 E/MSY at the start to 28 E/MSY in 2013. Over the next 30 years, to 2043, this slow increase is supposed to continue at the same rate, with the 2043 value estimated at 37 extinctions per million species per year. Then, in seven short years, by 2050 it’s supposed to increase more than tenfold, to 4,600 in 2050. Does he really believe this pseudoscience?
First off, there’s no indication that the extinction rate has been rising steadily since 1835 as he claims. Compare his claims in Figure 1, to Figure 2 for what the data actually shows about the historical waxing and waning of extinctions over the years.
More to the point, my goodness, what’s supposed to happen in 2043 to drive extinction rates up by a factor of more than a hundred, two full orders of magnitude, up from 37 extinctions to 4,600 extinctions per MSY? A nuclear winter? A meteor strike? Runaway gene-spliced chimeras? The world wonders…
Eschenbach sums up:
So in summary, Emmott took three different datasets. One was a bogus dataset regarding the middle of the last ice age. The second was a bogus estimate of modern extinction rates. The third was a colossally ridiculous estimate of the future changes in extinction rates. He spliced them all together and voila! The famous extinction hockeystick is born, the 13th unlucky bastard step-child of one Stephen Emmott.
Sometimes, these guys are beyond parody.
It’s really fun to rip the alarmists apart, but count on it: No matter how bad Emmott’s work is, it will be widely cited on left-wing web sites, he will be interviewed admiringly on television and radio, legislation may even be predicated on his flimsy “science.” And he will make a lot of money on his book. Thus does the machinery of leftism grind on. They don’t need quality, they only need persistence. Because, never forget: they are not trying to fool the smart, they are trying to fool the stupid, a much easier task.