“What We Really Know” and What the AAAS Failed to Mention.
Guest essay by Jim Steele, Director emeritus Sierra Nevada Field Campus, San Francisco State University
Climate scientist Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr. recently posted that the AAAS has ignored “the recent recognition of the heightened importance of natural climate forcings and feedbacks” and condemned AAAS media release as “an embarrassment to the scientific community.”
It is not just natural climate forcings that the AAAS ignored. As a biologist who has studied the impacts of regional climate change on wildlife in California’s Sierra Nevada for 3 decades, the AAAS’s simplistic and misleading discussion of extinctions and ecosystem collapse is simply shameful fear mongering. I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. Pielke. It is an embarrassment to the scientific community.
All my red flags (marked with icons) were raised when the AAAS woefully wrote “As the world has gotten hotter, many of the world’s plants and animals, on land and in the oceans, have begun moving toward the poles. Where possible, some terrestrial species are moving up mountainsides, and marine species are moving to deeper depths and higher latitudes. These changes are happening on every continent and in every ocean”.
To “inform the public” about their fearful conclusions, they cited 2 outdated peer-reviewed articles1,2 written by Camille Parmesan, who not surprisingly was one of the 13 scientists writing the AAAS’ media release. The section on “Ecosystem Collapse” also refers to a 2013 report by the National Research Council titled “Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises,” which not so coincidentally cites the same 2 Parmesan papers purporting climate caused “extinctions” and “ecosystem collapse”. If we peruse those papers, we find that one of those 2 papers1, cites 11 other Parmesan papers, creating a consensus where Parmesan agrees with Parmesan. Not only are the AAAS’s argument very inbred, they are outdated and contradicted by more recent peer-reviewed studies. Below are the most salient examples from Parmesan’s 2 suspect publications showing how they have shaped the AAAS’ narrative on climate change and biological catastrophes.
1. In one cited example from 1996,3 she claimed the Edith Checkerspot (Euphydryas editha) was moving northward and upward from Mexico to Canada, consistent with global warming. This paper had evoked great fears and was touted by over 500 consensus scientists as proof of global warming disruption, and got her invited to the White House.
Although the AAAS authors gallantly profess that they write because it is “increasingly urgent for the public to know,” Parmesan did not take this opportunity to inform the public about the good news: Many of the populations she had declared extinct in 1996 have now fully recovered. She also failed to mention that only the statistical average moved northward and upward because the urban sprawl in southern California decimate souther populations and dominated the statistics. Actual butterflies never moved. The preponderance of evidence by several experts indicates landscape changes, not climate change, were the driving force of the extirpated populations. Read more here.
2. In another paper,4 she had claimed global warming was causing extreme weather that resulted in butterfly extinctions, and that was the mechanism driving butterflies upward and northward.
Again she never reported the good news, (either originally or in this AAAS report), In their natural habitat the butterflies had thrived better than ever during the same supposed “extreme weather”. However to create the illusion of a climate catastrophe, she only published that butterflies just 10 meters away in a recently logged area were extirpated by the mountain weather, a logged area in which the food plants and the microclimate had been drastically changed. Due to such a sin of omission, I requested an official retraction but the editors of the AMS excused the deception of telling such half truths. Was the refusal to retract bad science affected by political pressure because Parmesan’s papers have been the foundation of so many biological climate catastrophe stories like this AAAS media ploy??? Read more here.
3. The AAAS cited Parmesan’s IPCC paper, “A Globally Coherent Fingerprint of Climate Change Impacts across Natural Systems”,2 in which she reported that her model could distinguish between ecological disruptions due to landscape change versus climate change, and she argued that the evidence was clear that a multitude of species were undergoing a pole-ward expansions due to climate change.
First she failed to mention that the very species she used as a definitive example of climate change was moving northward as it recovered thanks to conservation efforts. More efficient animal husbandry had reduced grazing and the extermination of most of England’s rabbits by an introduced virus had caused the grasslands to become overgrown. The shaded grasslands had extirpated warmth‑loving butterflies, relegating them to southern England. To save them from extinction, conservationists mowed critical habitat and encouraged more grazing, and soon warmth‑loving butterflies expanded northward. But the good news was metamorphosed into a climate catastrophe, and perpetuated by the AAAS. Read more here
4. In “Ecological and Evolutionary Responses to Recent Climate Change” cited by the AAAS, Parmesan relayed the story of another climate disruption, “In the most-extreme cases, the southern edge [of a butterfly’s range] contracted concurrent with northern edge expansion. For example, the sooty copper (Heodes tityrus) was common in the Montseny region of central Catalonia in the 1920s, but modern sightings are only from the Pyrenees, 50 km to the north. Symmetrically, H. tityrus entered Estonia for the first time in 1998, by 1999 had established several successful breeding populations.”
Again she failed to mention that southern Montseny population was ironically extirpated due to conservation efforts not climate change. The Montseny region had been designated a natural preserve and grazing was prohibited. As a result the Sooty Copper lost its warm open grasslands as it converted to shady forest and shrub land. More disturbing was Parmesan altered her story. She had originally reported5 that the Sooty Copper’s northern expansion had been documented “first” in Estonia by 1942 – not 1998.
5. Again in “Ecological and Evolutionary Responses to Recent Climate Change” cited by the AAAS, Parmesan had argued global warming was causing amphibian extinctions writing, “Documented rapid loss of habitable climate space makes it no surprise that the first extinctions of entire species attributed to global warming are mountain-restricted species. Many cloud-forest-dependent amphibians have declined or gone extinct on a mountain in Costa Rica.”
Despite the AAAS’ stated intentions “that it is important and increasingly urgent for the public to know”, Parmesan and the AAAS did not report that virtually every shred of evidence has attributed those amphibian extinctions to a novel chytrid fungus spread by the pet trade and researchers. Amphibian extinctions were occurring in a pattern exactly opposite to global warming theory. Population of amphibians species were thriving in warmer habitat, but extirpated in cooler high elevations, or during the winter. Despite the consensus that virtually all amphibian deaths can be attributed to lost habitat or the spread of the deadly chytrid fungus, Parmesan continues to argue climate change killed the Golden Toad and other amphibians.6 If amphibian extinctions were truly their concern, this would be a good time for the AAAS to warn the public that moving tadpoles and frogs from one place to another spreads the disease and is a much bigger problem than climate change.
6. Again in “Ecological and Evolutionary Responses to Recent Climate Change” cited by the AAAS, Parmesan argued Adelie Penguins were being decimated by climate change highlighting that “Adelie Penguins have declined by 70% on Anvers Island. “
The AAAS and Parmesan chose not to inform us of more good news of penguins nd climate change. Across 95% of coastline, the number of Adelie penguins has multiplied.10 Parmesan’s cherry-picked data focused on declines from just 5% of the Antarctic coastline, a coastline which is most sensitive to cycles of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and El Nino. Changes in the wind’s direction caused shifting patterns of snow accumulation, and the populations unaffected by heavier snow still remained on Anvers Island. At Dumont D’urville, Adelies increased “between 1984 and 2003 at a rate of 1.77% per year.” In the Ross Sea, home to 30% of the world’s Adelie penguins, populations tripled between the 1960s and the mid-1980s.16
7. In both papers cited by the AAAS,1,2 Parmesan had reported marine life was moving northward due to global warming. She wrote, “Decades of ecological and physiological research document that climatic variables are primary drivers of distributions and dynamics of marine plankton and fish”
Parmesan had cited papers that had indeed reported dramatic shifts in marine communities, but she failed to report that those authors had suspected or predicted those “climatic variables” were natural cycles. She and the AAAS failed to share with the public recent research that has now verified those natural cycles.
For example in both Parmesan papers she had cited the paper “Seventy Years’ Observations of changes in Distribution and Abundance of Zooplankton and intertidal Organisms in the Western English Channel in relation to Rising Sea Temperature,” in which she implied it was a fingerprint of CO2 warming. However the author had actually warned that northward movement could be cyclic writing, “To fully prove the effects of global warming, future changes in the marine biota must exceed those recorded in the 1950s and 1960s.”
To date the northward extension of cod and other well documented marine organisms have yet to reach the northern extent observed earlier in the 20th century.
Both papers also cited “Changes in an Assemblage of Temperate Reef Fishes Associated with a Climate Shift.” However the authors never attributed the changes to CO2 warming as Parmesan again implied. The authors reported that before 1976, there was no warming trend in the California Current, and ocean temperatures fluctuated around a lower average. Then after 1976, temperatures jumped higher and then fluctuated around a new higher average, but with no further warming trend. Holbrook cautioned, “The steep abundance declines on all levels were events that are not obvious predictions from present models of climate change.” In contrast to Parmesan’s interpretation, the authors suggested the climate shift was cyclical and they predicted the California Current would revert to cooler temperatures. They concluded the following decades “would provide a natural ‘test’ of our hypotheses” And indeed their prediction has come true.
Scientists have now documented the effects of Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) reported “the transition between the strong El Niño event in 1997–1998 and the 1998–1999 La Niña was possibly the most dramatic and rapid episode of climate change in modern times.” Mean summer ocean temperatures off the coast of Oregon decreased by 2°F beginning in 1999. Temperatures at some locations off the California coast fell by nearly 18°F between 1998 and 1999, and coastal sea levels were the lowest in at least 65 years. As the PDO persisted into its cool phase during the new millennium, warm-water fish like sardines declined moving southward and the more cold-loving anchovies and smelts increased by an order of magnitude.9 The natural regime shift hypothesis was confirmed. It is also noteworthh the AAAS did not mention that the consensus derived from Argo data, now reports the upper 300 meters of the oceans have not warmed or cooled since 2003.13
8. In the paper cited by the AAAS, Parmesan reinforced her illusory claim about global warming driving butterflies northward and upward by cherry-picking a Eric Beever paper that claimed global warming was driving the pika upward. She reported “in the Great Basin of the western United States, 7 out of 25 re-censused populations of the pika were extinct since being recorded in the 1930s.” She failed to mention that the paper only represented a small group of previously known populations, located in isolated habitat and not readily re-colonized, and in all sites vegetation was heavily grazed.
We now know far more about the pika, and again the AAAS failed to convey the good news that would assuage any climate fears. There are now more known pika populations than ever before, and they are being found in hotter habitats and at lower elevations. “In total, 19% of the currently known populations are found at lower elevations than ever documented by any study during the early 1900s”14 Even 2 of Beever’s original “extinct” populations have now returned.
Dr. Andrew Smith is one of the world’s leading pika experts and he recently testified against listing the pika as endangered by global warming writing, “I grimace at the hyperbole of the current PR campaign to make the pika an endangered species, as I similarly decry the loss of scientific objectivity and/or the failure of those embarking on this campaign to recognize that the USFWS, State of California and IUCN have all objectively not listed the pika as endangered.”
9. Again in “Ecological and Evolutionary Responses to Recent Climate Change” cited by the AAAS, Parmesan had reported that, “polar bears have suffered significant population declines at opposite geographic boundaries. At their southern range boundary (Hudson Bay), polar bears are declining both in numbers and in mean body weight (Stirling et al. 1999).”
Again Parmesan and the AAAS avoided telling the public the good news. They failed to mention that in same paper (Stirling et al. 1999), polar bears had nearly tripled since the 1980s when hunting stopped, and by 1987 had reached the region’s carrying capacity of between 900 and 1100 bears. Despite predictions that the bears should have declined to just 600 by now, the most recent survey reveals the bears are still at carrying capacity with more than 1000 bears.15 All indicators show the productivity of the Arctic food web has improved from phytoplankton, to cod to ringed seals to bears. Although Parmesan cited another Stirling paper,12 she failed to mention that he reported it is heavy ice causing food web declines, “Heavy ice conditions in the mid-1970s and mid-1980s caused significant declines in productivity of ringed seals, each of which lasted about 3 years and caused similar declines in the natality of polar bears and survival of subadults, after which reproductive success and survival of both species increased again.”
And they failed to update us on more good news that since 1997 the condition of polar bears in the Hudson Bay has been steadily improving
As the Inuit steadfastly argue, “It is the Time of the Most Polar Bears,” and as Daniel Shewchuk, Nunavut’s Minister of Environment, wrote in 2010 “No known environmental or other factors are currently posing a significant or immediate threat to polar bears overall.”
Far from alleged ecosystem collapse due to global warming, the biological icons of climate catastrophe have either recovered and are now thriving, or their demise has been clearly due to non-climatic factors like the introduced chytrid fungus and landscape changes, or the their fluctuations have been caused by changing weather associated with natural cycles. The AAAS report fails to honestly relay “What We Know” regards the climate and the state of our ecosystems. They simply rehashed outdated stories to promote fear of ecosystem collapse. The report would be more accurately titled, “What Alarmists Want You to Believe”.
Dr. Pielke nailed it. The AAAS report as “an embarrassment to the scientific community.”
Segments of this essay are Adapted from several chapters in Landscapes & Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism by Jim Steele
1. Parmesan, C. (2006). Ecological and evolutionary responses to recent climate change. Annual Review of Ecology Evolution and Systematics, 37, 637669.
2. Parmesan, C. and Yohe, G. (2003). A globally coherent fingerprint of climate change impacts across natural systems. Nature, 421, 37-42.
3. Parmesan C. 1996. Climate and species’ range. Nature 382:765–66
4. Parmesan C, Root TL, Willig MR. 2000. Impacts of extreme weather and climate
on terrestrial biota. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 81:443–50
5. Parmesan C, Ryrholm N, Stefanescu C, Hill JK, Thomas CD, et al. 1999. Poleward
shifts in geographical ranges of butterfly species associated with regionalwarming. Nature 399:579–83
6. Parmesan, C., et al. (2011) Overstretching attribution. Nature Climate Change, vol. 1, April 2011
7. Holbrook, S., et al., (1997) Changes in an Assemblage of Temperate Reef Fishes Associated with a Climate Shift. Ecological Applications, vol. 7,p. 1299-1310
8. Southward, A. et al. (1995) Seventy Years’ Observations of changes in Distribution and Abundance of Zooplankton and intertidal Organisms in the Western English Channel in relation to Rising Sea Temperature. J. Thermal Biology. vol. 20, p. 127-155.
9. Peterson,W., and Schwing,F., (2003) A new climate regime in northeast pacific ecosystems. Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 30, p. 1896, doi:10.1029/2003GL017528
10. Ainley, D., et al., (2010) Antarctic penguin response to habitat change as Earth’s troposphere reaches 2°C above preindustrial levels. Ecological Monographs, vol. 80, p. 49–66
11. Stirling, I. et al. (1999) Long-term Trends in the Population Ecology of Polar Bears in Western Hudson Bay in Relation to Climatic Change. Arctic vol . 52, p. 294-306.
12. Stirling, I. (2002) Polar Bears and Seals in the Eastern Beaufort Sea and Amundsen Gulf: A Synthesis of Population Trends and Ecological Relationships over Three Decades. Arctic, vol. 55, p. 59-76
13. Xue, Y., et al., (2012) A Comparative Analysis of Upper-Ocean Heat Content Variability from an Ensemble of Operational Ocean Reanalyses. Journal of Climate, vol 25, 6905-6929.
14. A. Smith, C. Millar, R. Westfall and D. Hik. (2009) North American pikas: population status, thermal environments, and periglacial processes. 2009 Meeting of the American Geophysical Union
15. Atkinson, S. (2012) Western Hudson Bay Polar Bear Aerial, 2011. Government of Nunavut, Department of the Interior.
16. From the chapter “Top Ten Reasons Why Rising CO2 Has Not Harmed Adelie Penguins, in in Landscapes & Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism by Jim Steele