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What follows is about an encounter on Facebook, or Meta. I don’t know which for sure, as it happened in the transition so I can’t say where it landed. So far, all my FB icons remain the same, untouched by the mind of Zuckerberg.
I have been reading a couple of books of apostasy, they being Apocalypse Never, by Michael Shellenberger, and Unsettled? What Climate Science Tells Us, What it Doesn’t, and Why It Matters, by Steven E. Koonin. I have been drawn to them in part to test my own skepticism, and to learn why they had jumped ship.
Briefly, both are still convinced that there is indeed climate change characterized by a small increase in global temperature. What they both reject is the proposition that this increase will be catastrophic in the near future and is an existential threat. They differ on possible resolutions of this “crisis”.
Because I have not finished the Koonin book, I will concentrate on Shellenberger as he is most germane to my confrontation. His book is wide-ranging, touching on much of the environmental movement and his participation in it over the last thirty years.
The encounter began when a post1 from SciTech Daily appeared in my FB feed. I do not even recall the specifics of the post, other than to say it had to do with some environmental issue. In passing, the author of the post mentioned the ongoing “sixth extinction” underway. Among the many topics Shellenberger discussed, this extinction event was one of them. I responded per Shellenberger that this had been long ago discredited and left it at that.
Posts like this are widely seen and can draw a lot of comments, so I expected that my comment would be quickly buried. That was not to be. Shortly thereafter, a response came in which the poster stated that I was obviously not up to speed on the subject and should cite my source, insisting that it should be from a peer-reviewed journal. I responded by stating that it was so stated in Michael Shellenberger’s book and suggested that he(?) should do likewise. He responded with a reference to an article in a journal2 from the National Academy of Sciences that makes the case for the sixth extinction. He also dismissed Shellenberger with the observation that Shellenberger is a journalist, not a scientist.
I left the argument at that. Online arguments can be tedious, and I did not want to spend much effort on it. But it did raise a few questions as to how one should consider the paper offered and just who is entitled to comment. After all, if one must be a scientist, then there is no discussion as the pronouncements contained in the article must be treated as dogma and not questioned. Even then, the question as to who is a scientist is undetermined. Does any scientist count? Or is the commentary limited only to those from the specific field. If having “scientist” attached to one’s resume suffices, are political scientists acceptable? Obviously, the argument descends into silliness essentially because there is no rigid definition for “scientist” and the objection to Shellenberger is about what he said and not what he is. Shellenberger could have a Climate Science Ph.D. and the same objections would be raised against his claims.
The essence of Schellenberger’s argument, in this case, is that the rate of extinction claimed in support of the sixth extinction hypothesis is not abnormal, and further, it has been grossly exaggerated based on — you guessed it — a model, not observation. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, some 0.8 percent of the 112, 432 species, plant and animal in their catalog, have gone extinct since the year 1500. This is an annual rate of two per year. This clearly supports the argument against a sixth extinction. Shellenberger went to some length to dissect this issue as part of his general contention that the hysteria/emergency/crisis is largely manufactured.
But what of the paper my protagonist offered in evidence? Consider that the title states that the sixth extinction is underway, and the paper is an examination of the evidence. While it is properly peer-reviewed and referenced to a fare thee well, it is unlikely to offer an evaluation or critique of the merits of the claim. I think Shellenberger would say that it is too narrow in scope and timeframe to make such a broad claim.
Finally, no paper submitted can authoritatively answer the question as to what constitutes a mass extinction. The very idea is not science but is instead science highjacked for political purposes. Science properly considered is a statement of facts. Conclusions may be drawn from said facts, but qualitative conclusions are a statement of opinion and not fact. Thus, one can say that the number of reindeer was X in 1960 and is now some value less than X. One cannot conclude that an extinction is underway, only that the known population of reindeer has decreased during the observed timeframe. Thus, no paper, however rigorous or thoroughly peer-reviewed, can state that an extinction is in progress.
My protagonist made one last attempt, slipping in a reference to a criticism of Shellenberger’s book. The title was, as you might guess, How Shellenberger Got It All Wrong. Whatever errors he may have made, isn’t this how it always ends? No matter the issue, he who deviates from the dogma will be thoroughly flagellated and cast out into the darkness. So it is with Michael Shellenberger. I, for one, think his book is worth your time and his proposition that nuclear power may be the way out of the “climate crisis” one to be reckoned with.
- https://www.pnas.org/content/117/24/13596? fbclid=IwAR0ziq54brgDrHYdii6z2B_u8FGUDxdadD3Uj6D8B1eYyyBA65bj1QTv0kY