WOOF! Watchdogs of Our Freedom

MASS EXTINCTION ISN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE!

In "Apocalypse NOT" forum on May 31, 2018 at 10:39 pm


In which WOOF’s editor in chief, Old Bugler, expresses his up-to-the-minute-if-frustratingly-excursive views on nothing but 100% guaranteed genuine news, mostly in the annoyingly officious third-person, as befits his station!   

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Fellow earthlings—that sounds inclusive enough, doesn’t it? —your humble editor begs your indulgence as he departs the political realm in this column to address a topic about which he knows absolutely nothing. This is merely to say that your editor is not a meteorologist, has never studied meteorology, and, like most Americans, relies on those trained in that expertise for guidance. This is especially the case when such guidance appears undersigned by 15,000 recognized experts whose uniform opinion is that we—meaning all of us, including, presumably, each of Facebook’s 71 gender options—are blindly marching toward planetary disaster. Given the gravity of the situation, surely our readers will acknowledge the importance of turning–for at least this crucial moment–from our typical fare to a far less subjective discipline–one amounting to settled science.

Can 15,000 scientists be wrong?

Old Bugler felt compelled to undertake this discussion despite his confessed unfamiliarity with the field, owing to his shock and alarm upon learning that “Humans are sleepwalking into a mass extinction of species not seen since the demise of the dinosaurs.” That headline, emblazoned above an article in the U.K. Independent, derived in turn from the authoritative Journal of Communications Biology, certainly commanded attention. Moreover, the discovery that “British scientists” were the principal issuers of the warning served to instill the matter with an unsettling momentousness, because–as most Americans intuitively grasp–British scientists, being British, are prohibited by their inherent Brythonic natures from issuing frivolous or irresponsible pronouncements—a characteristic that imbues their findings with  near-lapideous credibility.

From Old Bugler’s “Great Moments in British Science” archive, the Dr. Quatermass section.

On this basis alone, it seemed imperative to absorb the entire report, described by the authors as a “new letter to humanity” (presumably because nobody would bother to reread an old one) signed by the above-mentioned 15,000 scientists joined in tendering a “catastrophic warning about the fate of the world.” Readers will readily apprehend the mounting trepidation with which your editor read further, anxious as he was to descry by what means our mass extinction was to ensue. Were these learned scientists privy to the emerging truth about UFOs— had the Zeta Reticulans communicated their intent to eradicate earth’s dominant species? Or was an enormous asteroid hurtling toward us via some unanticipated orbit leaving only weeks—perhaps days—before its globe-shattering impact vaporized the lot of us? Or was the long overdue yet widely anticipated Planet Nibiru finally entering that aspect of its oft-described elliptical orbit so proximal to our world as to occasion our moon’s ejection from orbit, followed swiftly by a stupendous collision with Earth as a grand finale? Or perhaps the Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists accidentally moved their doomsday clock’s hand all the way to midnight, thus ensuring thermonuclear war.

“Careful, you fool! Another inch and you’ll blast the planet to smithereens!”

Old Bugler’s mind raced as he probed for details, and while he was instantly uncomfortable with the article’s content, his initial objections pertained more to the designated cause of mankind’s demise than any doubts about substance. True, a less dull-witted reader might have inferred at first glance that our impending mass extinction was, like so much else nowadays, a ramification of climate change–and certainly mass extinction is no less frightful whether provoked by aliens, asteroids, or global warming. That said, your humble editor is so peculiarly constituted that faced with inevasible doom, he would prefer something more original. But this admittedly irrational reaction was quickly superseded by an encroaching awareness of something more authentically anticlimactic. The report’s language took what seemed a curious turn, and precisely at that point typically devoted to substantiating the authors’ findings.  Instead, the prose seemed almost to downshift–to reflect a more nuanced tone, even while maintaining that “man-made global change is threatening the diversity of different creatures that have taken millennia to evolve.”

Poised to extirpate….

All right, any sentence containing a reference to man-made global change (by which was clearly intended global climatic change) is far from sanguine, and readers may be forgiven for deeming it premature, even reckless, to characterize evidence of an event poised to extirpate “different creatures that have taken millennia to evolve” as “downshifting,” or anticlimactic. Your editor felt a flash of shame at his rising incredulity. He reminded himself that any species said to have evolved has, in fact, “taken millennia to evolve,” including our own. That’s what we call settled science.  Thus, humans might well be among those “different creatures” to which the report alluded. But even as this logic compelled his further investigation, Old Bugler felt the tingle of an almost preconscious wariness–a sensation akin to that creeping blush of mortification that accompanies the realization that one has been cozened. Yes, cozened— a polite, nearly archaic term, less violent and roughshod than swindled, or flimflammed, meaning congenially and artfully deceived.

As history bears witness, global warming experts sometimes indulge in outright fakery, as in the NOAA scandal exposed by Dr. John Bates in 2017; but your editor suspects no such overt manipulation of data in this instance–British humor is subtler.

Science has long predicted extreme weather events even more disturbing than depicted here! 

At first, your humble editor’s aforementioned faith in the integrity of modern science, and modern British science in particular, forestalled any suspicion greater than a reflexive distrust of his own perceptions. Surely, an epistolary decree to the world undersigned by a veritable pantheon of distinguished scientists (not a few of whom actually study climate) surely exemplified a level of scholarship so elevated as to exclude any hint of…well…syntactic chicanery? And yet—reading on—one learns that “global warming and rising sea levels threaten to wipe out many species that cannot adapt to change quickly enough.” Worrisome, to say the least, but hardly, on the surface of it, indicative of the epic debacle implied by the title. What revelations lurked in the full report?  Was humankind among those species teetering on the brink of destruction? Does a subset of humanity reside nearer “the brink” being situated nearer beaches and ports? Is this subset liable to wholesale slaughter because rising sea levels will ultimately consume our coastal cities (despite several postponements and hasty reschedulings) whereupon the tides are expected to surge so violently that these hapless souls will be “wiped out” because they “cannot adapt to change quickly enough?” And even if such a catastrophe drowned multitudes of injudiciously situated victims, could we objectively call it “mass extinction?” No, something was definitely amiss.

Save the undocumented species!

Extinction is real,. The “Aye Aye” of Madagascar, for example,, is reportedly nearing extinction. Nature can certainly be cruel.

An impression began to solidify in Old Bugler’s consciousness:. Humans weren’t “sleepwalking into mass extinction” after all. Rather, it appeared that various species quite apart from our own were facing extinction, or might be, which datum formed the gravamen of what came advertised as a “catastrophic warning about the fate of the world.” In fairness, your editor reasoned, the deceptively crafted headline was probably the handiwork of some junior editor at the Independent assigned the task of slyly sensationalizing relatively mundane science stories—the better to encourage “clicks.”

But no, as a careful rereading served to verify, the language derived verbatim from the report itself, in which no less a luminary than Professor of Evolutionary Paleobiology Matthew Wills at the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath (which is in England, please note) specifically stated, “We are sleepwalking into a mass extinction of a magnitude unparalleled since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs.” The miscommunication seemed to stem from Professor Wills’s liberal application of the pronoun ‘we,’ by which he seems to refer to sentient lifeforms quite apart from ourselves, only certain subspecies of which are threatened with possible extinction, and none of which, so far as Old Bugler is aware, is known to sleepwalk. In fact, the majority of lifeforms identified in the “New Letter to Humanity” as likely candidates for extinction appears to constitute shrimp. Adding to these concerns, Wills makes so bold as to declare: “We are already losing diversity that has never even been documented” –an illation suggesting near-supermundane percipience, one must conclude, considering the difficulties inherent in verifying the loss of species that have “never even been documented.”

Knowing the fate of the dinosaurs should serve as ample warning as to what occurs when climatologists are ignored. Or gigantic meteors, anyway.

Dr. Katie Davis enjoys a large order of french fries, demonstrating, perhaps, that concerns about cholesterol become academic on the presipice of mass extinction.

Next, Research Fellow Dr Katie Davis, an evolutionary palaeobiologist at the University of York, (England), explained that “Understanding the processes that shaped the strikingly irregular distribution of species richness across the Tree of Life is a major research agenda,” which one can readily believe without seeing any obvious way in which such a quest, no matter what its priority, bears on humankind’s blind march toward “extinction of a magnitude unparalleled since …the dinosaurs.” In fact, even an exact appraisal of the threat level eludes us, as Davis acknowledges “depending upon estimates, between two and fifty million extant species of animals (Metazoa), all derived from a single common ancestral species that lived some 650 million years ago.” So if there are either 50 million or 2 million of them, or any number in between, surely predicting what number of them will or will not become extinct entails considerable arbitrariness? And besides, Davis reveals, “net rates of speciation…exceed rates of extinction,” even though, she somewhat defensively insists, “the balance of these processes varies greatly, both between clades and throughout geological time.”

Like Darwin’s finches…

Dr. de Grave is head of research at the prestigious Oxford University Museum, yet so unaffected, you can call him “Sammy.”

Clades and geological time aside (lest they distract us from mass extinction of the imminent variety), the data, viewed objectively, show that more species are tabulated extant than extinct by a sizable margin. Even more reassuring is the discovery that “shrimp have independently transitioned from marine to freshwater habitats repeatedly, creating much richer pockets of biodiversity.” Surely this suggests a level of adaptability that belies the premise of the report? Indeed, it transpires that “the relative isolation of lakes and rivers appear [sic] to increase the diversity of species in a similar way to Darwin’s finches on island chains.” And diversity, as every educated person is aware by now, is wonderful. So, given these uplifting discoveries, what is the problem? In a game attempt to maintain the study’s apocalyptic tenor, co-author Sammy de Grave, head of research at the Oxford University Museum, adds: “But rising sea levels caused by climate change could put these pockets at risk, disrupting these freshwater distributions and leading to extinctions as a result.”

Could?  Really? So because 15,000 scientists saw fit to misrepresent a conglomeration of learned speculation and unbridled conjecture as proof of Armageddon, Old Bugler suffered a hair-raising endocrine event culminating in rampant adrenal surges, autonomic nervous conniptions, waves of quasi-suicidal angst and a pounding pulse rate? Good heavens, people, get a grip on yourselves! Why restyle what amounts to a preponderantly uplifting review of the miracle of expanding biodiversity and the amazing versatility of living organisms, as a “catastrophic warning about the fate of the world” when in reality, the worst extractable possibility is that, in the event of certain mootable hypotheses coming to fruition given certain circumstances that might or might not develop, it could be the case that certain levels of destruction might or might not, be visited upon certain unknowable varieties of species whose current numbers cannot be accurately estimated, and who are, in any case, largely “carideans,” which, not to put too fine a point on the matter, means shrimp.  By what evaluative standard is the loss, however regrettable, of a few million carideans, (give or take a few million), a blow to humankind equatable with mass extinction on a par with the dinosaurs?  And come to think of it, when was the last time you really needed a dinosaur?

“You, your community, and your family!”

Old Bugler is happy to report that his parasympathetic nervous system has restored him to psycho-biological homeostasis in the wake of what initially seemed an inescapable, onrushing cataclysm.  He is once again seated calmly before his Alger Hiss autograph-series Woodstock Model 5 typewriter, sipping a sudsy Yuengling, and sorting through the day’s dispatches. Outside the WOOF cave, seabirds–at least the surviving species of them–are cawing and cavorting blithesomely. Before him, your editor cannot help noticing among the daily flurry of news items, lies an “updated” bulletin from the Union of Concerned Scientists. A glance suffices to establish that “Unless we take immediate action to reduce global warming emissions, these impacts will continue to intensify, grow ever more costly and damaging, and increasingly affect the entire planet — including you, your community, and your family.” Be that as it may, Old Bugler will resist, for now, examining precisely what “these impacts” entail. One Götterdämmerung a week is enough for any senior editor–and this one is content to leave planetary salvation in the capable hands of concerned scientists, especially those residing in England.

Wait a minute–those aren’t seabirds!

Second thoughts…

Although on second thought, it seems churlish to eschew all responsibility for the fate of the planet—especially in view of the tireless efforts at outreach emanating from so many informed professionals enjoining us to “take immediate action.” With this in mind, your editor scribbled a hasty memo to the elves in WOOF’s art department, requesting the “immediate” designing and limited issuance of bumper stickers exhorting our fellow citizens to “SAVE THE SHRIMP!”

Further, your editor pledges to affix one to his 1964 Corvair’s rear bumper, right next to the sticker bearing the faded legend: “AuH2O,” and beyond this, he pledges to forward an additional bumper sticker absolutely free to anyone requesting it, while supplies last.  One must, after all, do one’s part–our planet is depending on us! 

Free while supplies last!

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