The American Kakistocracy and Biological Annihilation

“Our data indicate that beyond global species extinctions Earth is experiencing a huge episode of population declines and extirpations, which will have negative cascading consequences on ecosystem functioning and services vital to sustaining civilization. We describe this as a “biological annihilation” to highlight the current magnitude of Earth’s ongoing sixth major extinction event.” – Gerardo Ceballos, Paul R. Ehrlich, and Rodolfo Dirzo [Ceballos 2017]

Tony Noerpel

First the bad news; My crude estimate of the probability of a major mass extinction is supported by a number of journal articles. The probability of our self-extinction is between likely and highly likely. I found an article by Mark Urban from 2015 wherein he estimates the percentage of species which will go extinct due to climate change alone to be 2.8% of all species currently and up to 15.7 % of all plants and animals under the IPCC business as usual scenario as shown in Figure 1 [Urban].

I asked Urban: “Is the forecast extinction rate due strictly to global warming in isolation of other environmental factors such as over fishing, habitat destruction, plastics in the ocean and other pollution such as agricultural chemicals?”

He replied: “You are correct that my study only evaluated extinction risks from climate change. There were too few articles that also evaluated other threats. Currently, habitat degradation and overexploitation are the largest threats to biodiversity, but climate change is increasing in its threat and will interact with the other threats.” Figure 2 from a World Wild Life report confirms Urban’s view. Climate change may be responsible for only 7% of extinctions to date. The rest being attributed to other causes as shown in the figure.

Urban recommended an article by Gerardo Ceballos, Paul R. Ehrlich, Anthony D. Barnosky, Andrés García, Robert M. Pringle, and Todd M. Palmer published in Science Direct [Ceballos 2015]. These scientists estimate using conservative methodology that between 1.5% and 2.2% of vertebrates have already gone extinct to all causes and that is already between 8 and 100 times the background rate. They conclude: “These estimates reveal an exceptionally rapid loss of biodiversity over the last few centuries, indicating that a sixth mass extinction is already under way. Averting a dramatic decay of biodiversity and the subsequent loss of ecosystem services is still possible through intensified conservation efforts, but that window of opportunity is rapidly closing.” This begs the question can we afford another four years of kakistocracy?

Now the really bad news, in a video, titled “Trump Climate Change and Climate Policy”, Prof Susanna Hecht of UCLA explains the impact of the Trump administration on our survival [Hecht]. As I’ve written our government has deteriorated from a highly intelligent and well-informed President Johnson in 1965 to President Trump’s kakistocracy, or rule by the clueless. Most people assume it will be four bad years and then things will get better. It is not that simple. Already 25 Obama Era environmental rules have been overturned:

Flood building standards
Proposed ban on a potentially harmful pesticide
Freeze on new coal leases on public lands
Methane reporting requirements
Anti-dumping rule for coal companies
Decision on Keystone XL pipeline
Decision on Dakota Access pipeline
Third party settlement funds
Offshore drilling ban in the Atlantic and Arctic
Ban on seismic air gun testing in the Atlantic
Norther Bering Sea climate resilience plan
Royalty regulations for oil, gas and coal
Inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions in environmental reviews
Permit issuing process for new infrastructure projects
Green Climate Fund contributions
Mining restrictions in Bristol Bay, Alaska
Grizzly bear listing as endangers species
Hunting ban on wolves and grizzly bears in Alaska
Protection of whales and sea turtles
Reusable water bottles rule for national parks
National parks climate order
Environmental mitigation for federal projects
Calculation for ‘social costs” of carbon
Planning rule for public lands
Copper filter cake listing as hazardous waste

A further 19 rollbacks are in progress:

Clean power plan
Paris climate agreement
Wetland and tributary protections
Car and Truck fuel-efficiency standards
Status of 10 national monuments
Status of 12 marine areas
Limits on toxic discharge from power plants
Coal ash discharge regulations
Emissions standards for new, modified and reconstructed power plants
Emissions rules for power plant start-up and shutdown
Sage grouse habitat protections
Fracking regulations on public lands
Regulations on oil and gas drilling in some national parks
Oil rig safety regulations
Regulations for offshore oil and gas exploration by floating vessels
Exploratory drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge
Hunting method regulations in Alaska
Requirement for tracking emissions on federal highways
Emissions standards for trailers and glider kits

Norm Ornstein [Ornstein] describes the Trump administration as a kakistocracy or “government by the worst and most unscrupulous people among us” or perhaps the “most inept and cringeworthy.” This indictment applies to the entire Republican Party, even those like Charles Murray and George Will who claim to be stridently opposed to Trump. Murray by his racism [Noerpel] and Will by decades of lying about climate change created an atmosphere in the party which enabled Trump. Republicans thanks to this level of perfidy and punditry have no idea what the truth is. They get their “facts” from Twitter. Linsey Graham was the only Republican primary candidate who acknowledged climate change and he never polled more than 1% in any state. And where are the moderate Republicans? Even erstwhile moderates like Mary Collins and John McCain supported Trump’s most sociopathic cabinet appointments.

So, if you want some kind of good news, vote for every Democrat for every political office and while I am not a great fan of many Democrats and wish there were alternatives, they are the only rational game in this election. Otherwise, frankly, the future is very dim for our kids and grandkids and as a matter of fact for us in the very near future.

Listen to the story about two planets 9 minutes into the EPA video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wR2JBc0WI4. As Trump would tweet “sad”.

References

[Ceballos 2015] Gerardo Ceballos, Paul R. Ehrlich, Anthony D. Barnosky, Andrés García, Robert M. Pringle, Todd M. Palmer, Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction, Sci. Adv. 2015;1:e1400253 19 June 2015.

[Ceballos 2017] Gerardo Ceballos, Paul R. Ehrlich, and Rodolfo Dirzo, Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1704949114

[Hecht] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlALo1CnzwQ Hecht recommends Legal Planet run by the UCLA law school http://legal-planet.org/

[Ornstein] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/10/american-kakistocracy/542391/

[Urban] Mark C. Urban, Accelerating extinction risk from climate change, DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa4984, Science 348 (6234), 571-573, http://science.sciencemag.org/content/sci/348/6234/571.full.pdf

Figure 1 [Urban]. Predicted extinction risks from climate change accelerate with global temperature rise. The gray band indicates 95% CIs. Preindustrial rise was calculated by using standard methods (27). Circles indicate posterior means with area proportional to log10 sample size (bottom left, key). Extinction risks for four scenarios are provided: the current postindustrial temperature rise of 0.8°C (5), the policy target of 2°C, and RCPs 6.0 and 8.5.

Figure 2 Estimated causes of extinction today. Source https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/29/earth-lost-50-wildlife-in-40-years-wwf

Figure 3. The Kingston Fossil Plant coal fly ash slurry spill 1 a.m. on Monday December 22, 2008 viewed a day after the event. By Tennessee Valley Authority – Tennessee Valley Authority website http://www.tva.gov/emergency/photo_gallery/pages/123002.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11081771

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingston_Fossil_Plant_coal_fly_ash_slurry_spill Public Domain, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20836337

1 Comment

  • Bill Roman November 4, 2017 6:06 pm

    As usual, Tony’s assessment is accurate and depressing.

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