Climate Change and Biodiversity

Climate alarmists have claimed that global warming will cause massive species extinctions. The geologic record shows the opposite. As “climate change” itself loses traction, green extremists are switching to “biodiversity” as the next bogeyman. The U.N. is launching its “International Year of Biodiversity.” But the current wildlife extinction rate is the lowest in 500 years according to the UN’s own World Atlas of Biodiversity. Environmental groups are beginning to use the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as an excuse to control carbon dioxide emissions. Perhaps the first species to be listed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) on speculation of the effects of global warming is the polar bear.

On May 14, 2008, FWS listed the polar bear as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), based on the supposition that carbon dioxide emissions are melting the bear’s Arctic habitat.

In 2007, just prior to listing, the Arctic sea ice reached the lowest level recorded since 1979 when satellites began tracking the ice. However, that same year, Antarctic sea ice reached the maximum extent ever recorded. Did you hear about that?

The Department of the Interior press release on the polar bear claimed, “The listing is based on the best available science, which shows that loss of sea ice threatens and will likely continue to threaten polar bear habitat. This loss of habitat puts polar bears at risk of becoming endangered in the foreseeable future, the standard established by the ESA for designating a threatened species.” Really? Environmental groups are suing to force FWS to upgrade the listing to “endangered.”

The FWS listing is based on computer projections and false assumptions. An article in Science Daily claims, “Federal Polar Bear Research Critically Flawed…” People who live in the Arctic know that polar bear populations have been increasing, mainly due to changes in hunting regulations. Native Inuit hunters say that “The growing population has become ‘a real problem,’especially over the last 10 years.”

The polar bear has been around for a very long time and somehow survived conditions that were warmer than now and warmer than computer projections. It is also telling that the Canadian government, which oversees 14 of the 19 polar bear populations, has not listed the bear as “threatened” or “endangered.” The Alaska Department of Fish & Game opposed the listing claiming that FWS did not use the best available science and that FWS cherry-picked models, choosing only those which supported their case. Alaska fish & game says that polar bear populations “are abundant, stable, and unthreatened by direct human activity.”

FWS has a Climate Change Strategic Plan which is based largely on reports from the now discredited Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). (See my posts The Assumed Authority, and IPCC and Peer Review.)

 Real, on the ground, research into the relationship between global warming, species extinction, and biodiversity paints a picture very different from the speculative computer models. Abundant research shows that warming increases the range for most terrestrial plants and animals, and for most marine creatures. Increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere makes plants more water efficient and more robust. For an introduction to this research see “The Specter of Species Extinction, Will Global Warming Decimate Earth’s Biosphere?” That report concludes:

The CO2-induced global warming extinction hypothesis claims that as the world warms in response to the ongoing rise in the air’s CO2 content, many species of plants and animals will not be able to migrate either poleward in latitude or upward in elevation fast enough to avoid extinction as they try to escape the stress imposed by the rising temperature. With respect to plants, however, we have shown that as long as the atmosphere’s CO2 concentration rises in tandem with its temperature, most of them will not “feel the heat,” as their physiology will change in ways that make them better adapted to warmer conditions. Hence, although earth’s plants will likely spread poleward and upward at the cold-limited boundaries of their ranges in response to a warming-induced opportunity to do so, their heat-limited boundaries will probably remain pretty much as they are now or shift only slightly. Consequently, in a world of rising atmospheric CO2 concentration, the ranges of most of earth’s plants will likely expand if the planet continues to warm, making plant extinctions even less likely than they are currently.

Animals should react much the same way. In response to concurrent increases in atmospheric temperature and CO2 concentration, they will likely migrate poleward and upward, where cold temperatures prevented them from going in the past, as they follow earth’s plants. Also as with earth’s plants, the heat-limited boundaries of their ranges should in many cases be little affected, as has been observed in several of the real-world studies that have been wrongly cited as providing evidence for impending species extinctions, or their entire ranges may simply shift with the rising temperature, as has been observed in many real-world studies of marine ecosystems.

To summarize, both theory and observation paint the same picture. A goodly portion of earth’s plants and animals should actually expand their ranges and gain a stronger foothold on the planet as the atmosphere’s temperature and CO2 concentration continue to rise. If the air’s CO2 content were suddenly to stop increasing, however, the biosphere could find itself facing a significant challenge, as the world’s plants would cease acquiring the extra physiological protection against heat stress that is afforded them by rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Consequently, the end result of curtailing anthropogenic CO2 emissions might well be just the opposite of what many people are hoping to accomplish by encouraging that policy, i.e., many species might actually be driven to extinction, rather than being saved from such a fate.

For even more information, go to and look in their subject index under “extinction.” There you will find reviews of the scientific literature based on real world observations. This research, as well as geologic history, show that a warmer world increases biodiversity. Habitat destruction from other causes is a separate issue.

Looking at the greater geologic record, we see that major extinctions are associated with ice ages and other cooling events. After each ice age, as the planet warmed, life rebounded with more speciation and greater biodiversity. The geologic record also shows that the “normal” temperature of this planet (when we are not in an ice age, or an interglacial period of an ice age) is about 18 degrees F warmer than now (see chart in this post). Even in our current interglacial period, warm cycles have been up to 10 degrees F warmer than now and we have not seen massive extinctions. (The megafauna extinction of about 10,000 years ago was associated with a rapid cooling period, the Younger Dryas.) The hot and steamy Cretaceous Period saw the development of flowering plants and a great increase in biodiversity.

It seems that the Fish & Wildlife Service is following a political agenda based on junk science.

(For another example of FWS junk science see, Jaguar Listing and Habitat Designation Based on Junk Science)