the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

TEEB Part II

Posted by Jeff Id on June 12, 2010

Aother guest post from Sam at Climatequotes, as before click the title for the main article.  The UN seems incapable of factual work these days.

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Yesterday I posted about how the UN TEEB report had an error in the very first chapter relating to forest cover. There are two more errors I’ll cover now, relating to two more items on this scary list:

However, the levels of many of the benefits we derive from
the environment have plunged over the past 50 years as
biodiversity has fallen dramatically across the globe. Here are
some examples:

• In the last 300 years, the global forest area has shrunk
by approximately 40%. Forests have completely
disappeared in 25 countries, and another 29 countries
have lost more than 90% of their forest cover. The
decline continues (FAO 2001; 2006).

Since 1900, the world has lost about 50% of its
wetlands. While much of this occurred in northern
countries during the first 50 years of the 20th century,
there has been increasing pressure since the 1950s for
conversion of tropical and sub-tropical wetlands to
alternative land use (Moser et al. 1996).

• Some 30%of coral reefs – which frequently have even
higher levels of biodiversity than tropical forests – have
been seriously damaged through fishing, pollution,
disease and coral bleaching (Wilkinson 2004).

• In the past two decades, 35% of mangroves have
disappeared. Some countries have lost up to 80%
through conversion for aquaculture, overexploitation
and storms (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
2005a).

The human-caused (anthropogenic) rate of species
extinction is estimated to be 1,000 times more rapid
than the “natural” rate of extinction typical of Earth’s
long-term history (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
2005b).

Let’s take the wetlands claim first. Their reference for the 50% reduction claim is Moser et al. 1996, referenced as:

Moser, M., Prentice, C. and Frazier, S. (1996) A Global
Overview of Wetland Loss and Degradation. Available
at http://www.ramsar.org/about/about_wetland_loss.htm
(last access 6 May 2008).

That link no longer works, this is the correct link.

However the report was wrong to cite this source, as this claim is only quoted in the article. Here is the excerpt where it was quoted:

In a very generalized overview, OECD (1996) states:

“Some estimates show that the world may have lost 50% of the wetlands that existed since 1900; whilst much of this occurred in the northern countries during the first 50 years of the century, increasing pressure for conversion to alternative land use has been put on tropical and sub-tropical wetlands since the 1950s.

No figures are available for the extent of wetland loss worldwide, but drainage for agricultural production is the principal cause; by 1985 it was estimated that 56-65% of the available wetland had been drained for intensive agriculture in Europe and N America; the figures for tropical and subtropical regions were 27% for Asia, 6% for S America and 2% for Africa, making a total of 26% worldwide. Future predictions show the pressure to drain land for agriculture intensifying in these regions.”

OECD is the correct source. It is referenced in Moser as:

OECD/IUCN. 1996. Guidelines for aid agencies for improved conservation and sustainable use of tropical and sub-tropical wetlands. OECD, Paris.

I found it here. Here is what the source says:

The drainage of wetlands has always been seen as a progressive, publicspirited
endeavour which enhanced the health and welfare of society, to alleviate
the dangers of flooding, improve sanitation, and reclaim land for agriculture. Some
estimates show that the world may have lost 50 per cent of the wetlands that existed
worldwide since 1900; whilst much of this occurred in the northern countries
during the first 50 years, increasing pressure for conversion to alternative land-use
has been put on tropical and sub-tropical wetlands since the 1950s. In northern
countries, the consequences of this loss such as decline in fisheries productivity,
greater intensity of major flooding, and loss of biological and landscape diversity,
and amenity value has led to efforts to preserve and restore wetlands.

No figures are available for the extent of wetland loss worldwide, but
drainage for increased agricultural production is the principal cause; by 1985 it was
estimated that 56 – 65 per cent of the available wetland had been drained for
intensive agriculture in Europe and North America; the figures for tropical and
subtropical regions were 27 per cent for Asia, 6 per cent for South America and
2 per cent for Africa, making a total of 26 per cent worldwide. Future predictions
show the pressure to drain land for agriculture intensifying in these regions.
Wetlands may be lost completely by drainage or infilling, but many of the benefits
can be lost even if the wetland itself remains, but in a degraded state. Pollution or
the overuse of wetland products (e.g. by deforestation) are examples of this.

They don’t cite any source for their ‘some estimates show’ claim, but it hardly matters because they openly admit “No figures are available for the extent of wetland loss worldwide”. Remember the original claim:

Since 1900, the world has lost about 50% of its wetlands

From an estimation with no source to a verified fact, in just three sources. This is like a citation version of the telephone game.

Let’s look at the last claim, perhaps the most alarming at first glance:

The human-caused (anthropogenic) rate of species
extinction is estimated to be 1,000 times more rapid
than the “natural” rate of extinction typical of Earth’s
long-term history (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
2005b).

At least they admit this is an estimation (unlike the wetlands), but 1,000 times? That seems significant. Here is the reference:

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005b) Living
Beyond Our Means: Natural Assets and Human Wellbeing.
Island Press, Washington DC.

Here it is. At first glance, this seems justified. On page 15 they say this:

Although actual disappearance of a recognized species is quite rare in terms of human time scales, it is estimated that people may have increased the rate of global extinctions by as much as 1,000 times the “natural” rate typical of Earth’s long-term history.

Below that claim is this graphic:

There is a source in the bottom corner, Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Here is the chapter on biodiversity.

In it, the following claim appears (emphasis added):

The trend in species extinction rates can be deduced by putting
together extinction rates characteristic of well-recorded lineages
in the fossil record, recorded extinctions from recent times,
and estimated future extinction rates based on the approaches just
described. All these estimates are uncertain because the extent of
extinctions of undescribed species is unknown, because the status
of many described species is poorly known, because it is difficult
to document the final disappearance of very rare species, and because
there are extinction lags between the impact of a threatening
process and the resulting extinction (which particularly affects
some modeling techniques)
. However, the most definite information,
based on recorded extinctions of known species over the
past 100 years, indicates extinction rates are around 100 times
greater than rates characteristic of comparable species in the fossil
record
. Other less direct estimates, some of which refer to extinctions
hundreds of years into the future, estimate extinction rates
1000 to 10,000 times higher than rates recorded among fossil lineages.

The TEEB report is off by a factor of ten. Both the Millenium assessment report and the TEEB report claim 1,000 when the source clearly states 100. Also, notice the very uncertain aspect of obtaining these estimates, and note that yet again they include no citation for these estimations. However, I think I already know where this claim really came from. The 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Global Species Assessment. If anyone is interested, the claim appears on this page in section 3.4 What is the Rate of Extinction? This extinction issue is a bit of a debated topic, with this claim by the IUCN being repeated frequently. Bjørn Lomborg has talked about it in his book, The Skeptical Environmentalist. All I know is that for such an important claim, there appears to be very little science behind it. The IUCN just does some very simple calculations based on the (estimated) background extinction rate, then compares them to the (estimated) current extinction rate, and claims we are killing the world.

I don’t know the current extinction rate, that isn’t the point. My point is that the TEEB report makes the claim that is ten times higher than its source, the source doesn’t have a source, but the real source of it all is a report with little actual research. Could the extinction rate be 1,000 times higher then historically? Maybe, I don’t think anyone really knows. Should we take action? Maybe, although the largest group of lost species seem to be molluscs (which hopefully won’t result in mankind’s demise). Should we take the recommendation of a UN report which advocates spending trillions of dollars (and euros) annually and can’t even keep its citations straight? No way.

If I’ve read the sources wrong let me know and I’ll admit the TEEB report isn’t full of errors in the first chapter alone. Until someone does, let me say this:

The TEEB report contains multiple errors in the first chapter alone.

Do I have to go through the entire report? This looks like yet another government-created piece of science-plated garbage. It looks like science on the outside, but don’t scratch the surface!

Tomorrow I’ll post about how these claims have spread to show what a danger these pseudo-science reports really can be.

//
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15 Responses to “TEEB Part II”

  1. RedS10 said

    In researching a 2nd grade project on endangered animals, for my eldest grandson, I came across the following, most baffling assertions & number sets from what I thought might be a reputable site.

    The International Union of Conservation of Nature, or, as you cited, the IUCN has a “Red List” that attests to the following: “… 844 extinctions (have occurred) since 1500 AD.” That’s about 1.6 extinctions per year for over 500 years.

    But the IUCN also says: “As of 2007, more than 40,000 species appeared on (their) list, with 16,306 at risk of extinction.” That’s 40% of all animals! Really, 40% of all animals are in danger of extinction?

    But… wait… someone forgot to tell Ms Mother Nature! The IUCN also lists 10 animals that are “extinct” in the late 10 years. They are/were/might-have-been: 4 birds, 3 toads/frogs, a dolphin, a rhino & an ibex.

    That’s only one a year… mush better than the animal holocaust that we’re about to impose in the name of “humanity,” dredging for agriculture, homes, etc.

    But… wait… maybe I don’t understand. The IUCN ALSO says of those 10 “extinct animals,” that : 4 were extinct, 2 were functionally extinct, 2 were extinct in the wild, 1 was probably extinct & 1 was an extinct subspecies. That’s a lot of qualifications, they must be busy creating these categories.

    Waaaa???? I don’t understand. This is incoherent, not easily researchable, nor refutable… this sounds like the IUCN is making wild assertions hoping that you wouldn’t read far enough to get to the real facts.

    The IUCN’S real facts are that there’s a historic rate over 500+ years of 1.6 extinctions per year. That’s a long time & doesn’t rely on a fossil record derived from a few holes in the ground.

    Five hundred years is a good baseline. And the IUCN’S most recent data says that we may be experiencing 1 extinction a year, although it certainly unclear if this is a qualified number… from there own assertions! Isn’t it less!?

    Ok, the new score, as far as I can tell is… 10 down & 16,296 to go, or is it 40,000 to go.

    These people are frauds, they are attempting to scare out kids, position the entire population to enhance there budgets, there under the table take, there criminal acts.

    Thanks for all your work, sorry for the length of this post.

  2. Mike J said

    Gee I wish I could get a job with the Gummint writing alarmist environmental propaganda. What a cushy number!

    (Great posts Jeff)

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  4. [...] TEEB Part II « the Air Vent [...]

  5. [...] TEEB Part II « the Air Vent [...]

  6. DeWitt Payne said

    This sort of argument is nothing new. It has even been named. It’s called: “Appeal to unknowable statistics.” One sees it all the time. For example, the number of lives saved by air bags in cars is frequently touted, but in fact one cannot know the number and can only crudely estimate it. Another classic example is the Drake equation for calculating the number of planets in the galaxy that have intelligent life forms. Several of the components used in the Drake equation are pure guesses so the result is also a guess, not a statistic.

    OT, the recent discovery that our solar system appears to be nearly unique in having gas giants far from the sun is going to significantly lower the probability of a star having suitable planets.

  7. MattK said

    DeWitt Payne said:
    OT, the recent discovery that our solar system appears to be nearly unique in having gas giants far from the sun is going to significantly lower the probability of a star having suitable planets.

    Last I read about this was that the way they detected other planets was in 2 ways, star wobble as a large massed planet went around the sun and the blink method when a planet passed between it’s sun and us (the planet partially eclipses our view of its sun).

    The first method results in mainly finding large planets close to their sun.
    The second method means the orbit of the planet must be in line with us and its sun. Which does not result in many being found since it would mean only a very small degree of a planets orbit regarding our view of it’s sun would be the only way would ever see it.

    I see nothing that significantly lowers the probability unless there is something else I am missing.

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  9. Tamara said

    I don’t understand the relationship of their rate: species extinct per 1000 species per millenium? Is there a reason not to choose a simple species per year or even species per millenium rate? Maybe someone can explain this to me.
    There are estimated to be between 3 and 30 million species alive today, and that number is estimated to be between 2 and 4% of the total species that have existed in the history of the earth.
    If we take the high end estimate for # of present-day species that means that between 750,000,000 and 1,500,000,000 species have existed. Between 720,000,000 and 1,470,000,000 species are extinct. 3.5 billion years is 3,500,000 millennia. So, there are between 205 and 420 species extinctions per millennium. So, our current rate might be 4 to 8 times the historical one (based on the figure of 834 extinctions since 1500AD). BUT, that does not consider the fact that there are only 214-429 species TOTAL per millennium.
    I realize that this is a round-about way of looking at this, but I don’t think it makes any less sense than their estimates of estimates of estimates.
    I am not sure that a time-dependent extinction rate makes sense. Especially when you consider that up to 95% of species were killed off during mass extinction events, not spread out over time.

  10. RomanM said

    Re: Tamara (Jun 15 14:31),

    I don’t understand the relationship of their rate: species extinct per 1000 species per millenium? Is there a reason not to choose a simple species per year or even species per millenium rate? Maybe someone can explain this to me.

    This would be done for the same reason that, e.g., death rates due to a particular illness might be expressed as a number per 1000 persons. It would make some sense that if there were ten times as many species during a given period of time that the number of extinctions might also be ten times as large all other factors being equal.

    There are estimated to be between 3 and 30 million species alive today, and that number is estimated to be between 2 and 4% of the total species that have existed in the history of the earth.

    That 2 to 4% estimate seems very low.

  11. Tamara said

    Thanks, RomanM, for the explanation.

    As to the 2 to 4 percent, that is on the high end of the estimates that I could find, for example here:

    http://www.macalester.edu/environmentalstudies/students/projects/citizenscience2007/endangeredspecies/origins.html

    Many more say that 99% (or even 99.9%)of all species that have existed are now extinct. For example, here:
    http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/dinosaurs/extinction/mass.php

    Here is another estimate that matches my low-end calculation of 750 million species in Earth’s history, but with a larger high-end estimate of 7.5 billion.
    http://astrobiology.nasa.gov/ask-an-astrobiologist/question/?id=143

  12. BlueIce2HotSea said

    Tamara your point is a good one. Given that some mass extinction events were completed in millenia or less and involved millions of species, 1.6 extinctions per year is not high in comparison.

    Then there was this puzzling press release in 1998, by the American Museum of Natural History (one month before the opening of their new Hall of Biodiversity) SCIENTIFIC EXPERTS BELIEVE WE ARE IN MIDST OF FASTEST MASS EXTINCTION IN EARTH’S HISTORY. I could not find a quantitative justification for this nor the actual survey.

  13. Ursus said

    What I find funny is the chart above: The text in the ‘distant past’ record points to the extinction of mammals, but in the ‘recent past’ portion of the figure (where the supposed increase in extinctions is happening) the text points to Amphibians, and the extinction of mammals has actually decreased. Apples and oranges: if Amphibian extinction wasn’t determined in the past, how can one say it has increased presently?
    And, I’d love to know how they calculated the scary future rate of extinction.

  14. Eric Anderson said

    Tamara and RomanM:

    My understanding is that the # or % of extinct species often touted is based largely on WAG’s about how many species must have lived in order for certain evolutionary models to make sense, as well as extrapolations from assumed extinction rates, etc. The actual number of documented extince species in the fossil record is only a tiny fraction of such claimed numbers.

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