The “Escalator to Extinction” Myth

Guest post by Jim Steele

Crested Quetzal

In Life on the Mississippi Mark Twain wrote, “There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.” Unfortunately, conjecture based on limited facts has produced “research” trumpeting catastrophic fears of extinction. The “escalator to extinction” theory argues organisms must migrate to higher elevations where a cooler altitude will offset global warming temperatures. But there is scant evidence that is happening.

For example, in 1985 researchers spent 33 days surveying the wondrous bird diversity along a narrow ascending 5-mile trail in southern Peru. They recorded an amazing 455 unique species. In 2017 they repeated the survey, but for only 22 days. Still they observed 422 species consisting of 52 additional species never observed in 1985, but they also failed to detect 71 species that had been documented in 1985. Clearly, more extensive surveys are needed to accurately detect all species and determine their abundance. Nonetheless, because 8 ridgetop species (i.e. Crested Quetzal) that were previously observed only at the highest elevations but were not detected in 2017, researchers conjectured the “escalator to extinction” eliminated those 8 species. Additionally, they asserted similar local extinctions must be happening along ridgetops all across the earth’s tropical mountains.

Modeled temperatures had risen by 0.8°F between the two surveys, so they concluded those missing 8 species were extirpated by global warming because birds already at the ridgetop could no longer flee upwards to cooler temperatures.  For most people, the idea that a 0.8°F rise in ridgetop temperatures could be deadly greatly strains the imagination. Moreover researchers in nearby regions of Manu National Park, found the alleged “extirpated species” thriving at lower elevations where temperatures are 3-5 °F warmer than their ridgetop. Falsely asserting most Peruvian birds are “highly sedentary” and don’t migrate, the scientists argued it was unlikely they missed any birds during their 10 days on the ridgetop due to migration. Thus, the birds must be locally extinct.  Not having the critical eye of a Mark Twain, mass media journalists – BBC, the Atlantic, and Yale Environment 360 – promoted those extinction fears. Regretfully only good investigative journalism has become extinct.

It is well documented that about 24% of Peru’s birds are “elevational migrants”. Elevational migrants are typically on the move between different elevations during August and September, the same months of the 1985 and 2017 surveys. The high chance of not observing randomly migrating species prudently explains why their short-term surveys each missed detecting 12% and 16% of the region’s species. And there’s good news to counter their extinction conclusions. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature determined those “extinct” 8 species are relatively abundant elsewhere and categorized as species of Least Concern.

A global warming explanation only obscures complex movements within ecosystems elsewhere. Researchers comparing early 20th century bird surveys in California’s mountains found as many species were moving downslope as species “fleeing” upslope. Furthermore, the same species moved differently in different regions. But fearmongering media journalists don’t find such facts newsworthy.

The theory that global warming relentlessly pushes species up mountain slopes to their eventual extinction, has been preached by climate scientists like James Hansen to add urgency to his catastrophic theories.  Unfortunately, such theories have constrained the objectivity of several researchers to the point they manipulated observations to fit the theory.

For example, pika are rabbit-like creatures that live in rockslides of western America’s mountains. By comparing the elevations of territories documented in the early 1900s to their current elevation Dr. Beever argued global warming was causing a “five-fold increase in the rate of local extinctions.” However, of the 25 pika territories surveyed, 10 were now inhabiting lower and warmer elevations. To preserve a scary theory, Beever eliminated those observations from his calculations, guaranteeing a statistical upslope retreat. But recent US Forest Service surveys also found 19% of the currently known pika populations are at lower elevations than documented during the cooler 1900s, as well as a few thriving pika territories that Dr. Beever had deemed locally extinct.

Dr. Camille Parmesan’s 1994 Edith’s Checkerspot butterfly study made her an icon for climate change catastrophe. Featured on the Union of Concerned Scientists’ website Parmesan stated,  “The latest research shows clearly that we face the threat of mass extinctions in coming years,” For promoting global warming catastrophe, she earned an invitation to speak at the Clinton White House and to join the IPCC. I tried to replicate her study, but she refused to supply the necessary data and she never published a methods section. However,  it was privately admitted the Checkerspot butterfly had been increasing through the 2000s and many butterfly colonies she designated extinct, were now thriving. But such good news was never published. What is truly worrisome is all these misleading  claims have duped the public into a hysteria regards climate “extinctions”.

Jim Steele is Director emeritus of San Francisco State’s Sierra Nevada Field Campus and authored Landscapes and Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism

Contact: naturalclimatechange@earthlink.net 

Published in my  What’s Natural column, Pacifica Tribune

September 15, 2020

69 thoughts on “The “Escalator to Extinction” Myth

    • She needs to turn up the thermostat on your furnace BEFORE sending you upstairs!

      Then you will be toast. (Literally and figuratively.)

      *** The research above was created using my proprietary Escalator to Extinction computer model. You cannot see my data or software, but my model is absolutely beyond reproach.

    • The main things at risk of extinction are truth and objective science.

      A new pre-print presenting evidence for “gain of function” origin of ncov2 is currently being deleted by compliant public platforms.
      https://zenodo.org/record/4028830#.X2IFqmgzaUn

      Most of it seems to be genome sequence data I’ve seem before, including the S1/S2 furin cleavage site which had previously been published by Shi Zhengli’s team at WIV.

      The author seems to be an anti-CPP Hong Kong citizen who fled to US, so may well have an axe to grind but the informations seems well argued and plenty of concrete detail of gnome sequences involved.

      • I didn’t get the impression at all that she is politically inclined. She is clear and sequential in her explanation of why the SARS-Cov-2 virus cannot have emerged as a result of random mutations in an intermediate species, which is the party line.

        The article is convincing.

        The virus genome has some “tools” left behind in the form of portions created to make it easy to swap a variety of spike proteins into that space to see which gave the most “gain of function”. The answer was the SARS hACE2 version. So it was copied onto the bat virus, whole and unedited.

  1. Well, 6,000 years ago at the peak of the Holocene, trees were growing at levels 200 to 300 meters above the current timberline as well as further north, and it was estimated that temperatures were 2 to 3 degrees C warmer than now. However, I doubt that it was because they had to do so in order to survive. (Reference: “Climate Change in Prehistory” by Burroughs, page 48)

    I would expect that some birds, and perhaps squirrels, also moved further north with them.

      • No, not actually, they have a pat answer – that the climate has been steady with no optima ever since the planet formed. And you won’t convince them that it has ever been warmer than now.

  2. The real irony is, to the extent that any life forms move to higher latitudes when temperatures at such latitudes are going up, it is not to “escape” from the warmer temperatures at lower latitudes, but it is simply taking advantage of the fact that the warming temperature has made said higher latitudes hospitable to said life forms!

    One of the biggest lies they are selling with the “Climate Crisis” snake oil is the ridiculous notion that warmer climate means worse weather, and that a warmer climate is worse for life on Earth. Nothing could be further from the truth, which is precisely opposite. One look at the diversity of life in the tropics as compared with the poles should tell anyone with a functioning brain that warm climate is better for life than cold.

    • I have a DVD series of lectures, “The Physics of History” including a half-hour talk on the Milankovitch Cycles. Temperatures, CO2 levels, etc. were derived from ice core records on both Greenland and Antarctica. By analyzing the amount of dust and sea spray in the layers it was clear that the earth was stormier during the cold periods.

      Any meteorologist can tell you why. Storms are the result of temperature differentials, and the poles change temperature far more than the tropics as the temperature of the earth changes. It is the poles where the massive ice sheets appear during the ice ages.

      Incidentally, CO2 levels went up and down with the temperatures, but the change in temperature came first. The reason is that as the oceans grow colder they can absorb more CO2 from the atmosphere. CO2 is a very small part of the atmosphere, but the oceans are loaded with CO2 as a result of undersea volcanoes.

  3. “There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.”

    Science has evolved… progressed as the philosophy, practice, and art of plausible. The inference of Natural states and processes from limited, circumstantial evidence has been a playground for contemporary faith and ostensibly “secular” religions (e.g. “ethics”). That said, the progress of dodo dynasties, planned parenthood, and normalization of other dysfunctional choices are a milestone, a monument to human development.

  4. What a mess that Peru survey is! After such a cursory search, one in which over 10% of the sightings in the second survey were missed in the first, they nevertheless assumed that some species from the first that were not found in the second were not found because they were extinct.

    • It sounds a little like the survey on the Great Barrier Reef that claimed there were extirpated coral species.

      Peter Ridd ran his own survey line and documented that he observed the missing corals.

      Pointing out the glaring errors in the “scientific narrative” resulted in him being branded as uncollegial – rather than a good, actual scientist.

  5. There is indeed an Escalator to Extinction, although perhaps not quite as the author imagines. It can be compared to the Stairway to Heaven. Note that there is a cautionary tale that attempting to buy that stairway can lead to a negative outcome. Also there is the well known Highway to Hell. Nobody doubts the existence of this highway, as it is well traveled. The slow lane is paved with Good Intentions, the center lane paved with dead bodies, and the express lane paved with the bodies of the innocent.

    People studying the Escalator may indeed be on the Highway instead.

    • There is a big difference between an escalator and a stairway. The escalator requires no effort. The highway to hell? Downhill all the way. A scooter will get you there very quickly with no effort. But the stairway requires effort all the way. The researchers Jim Steele talks about are not willing to put in the effort and consider all the data.

  6. Anyone who thinks that you can detect every bird species in an Andine Montane Rain Forest in a 22 or 33 day survey, is highly deficient in field experience of Neotropic forest birds. I’ve often spent days trying to find a specific species which I actually knew occurred within a very limited area without succeding.

    Even completely unknown bird species are still regularly discovered in just this habitat, after two centuries of research.

    But it is quite likely that montane species will move up- and downslope as climate changes. However it should be noted that just about every species found in the Andes survived both the Last Glacial Maximum, when tempeatures were 8 degrees lower than now, and vegetation zones 1,000 meters lower, and the previous interglacial when temperatures were 3 degrees warmer than now, and vegetations zones 500 meters higher. And also repeated changes of about 10 degrees in just a few hundred years at the beginning of interglacials:

    https://cp.copernicus.org/articles/7/299/2011/cp-7-299-2011.pdf

    • It’s positively amazing how many new species are discovered every day….

      of course, by default….they are automatically on the endangered list

      • No, usually they start out as DD “Data Deficient”. A fair proportion are indeed classed as “vulnerable” because new species discovered today often have very small ranges – widespread species were discovered long ago.
        Any species occurring e. g. on a single small island, or a single mountain is vulnerable.

  7. “While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.”
    GENESIS 8:22

  8. “For most people, the idea that a 0.8°F rise in ridgetop temperatures could be deadly greatly strains the imagination.”

    As well it should when one takes into account the fact that most of the increase in the average temperature is contributed from nighttime and Winter increases, not the increase in maximum temperatures.

  9. As the old saying goes: “Follow the money”.

    There are arguably too many PhDs being graduated for the number of employment opportunities that exist. Ethically challenged teams of grant dispensers know how to get the study results they require to keep the scare alive, …and the continuing flow of new money into their pots.

  10. This Jim Steele piece shows examples of why there has been a great loss of trust in science. It is part of Dwight Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, in which he expressed concern about the increasing dependence of the scientific community and the intertwining of science and government to both manipulate and make public policy.

    Kudos to Jim Steele. Keep fighting the good fight for truth and legitimate science instead of this trash.

  11. “Falsely asserting most Peruvian birds are “highly sedentary” and don’t migrate, the scientists argued it was unlikely they missed any birds during their 10 days on the ridgetop due to migration.”

    Why is it so difficult for humans, and in particular scientists of all varieties, to admit they may have made a mistake or could have reached the wrong conclusion?

    • One of the co-authors is John W. Fitzpatrick who is the director of Cornell’s Laboratory of Ornithology. I have met him at a fund raiser nd he is an effective wheeler-dealer hired to bring in more funding. If you tell people everything is all right there is no motivation for people to donate. Tell the public that their donations can prevent further extinctions they did deep into their pockets. Fear mongering has its benefits!

      • How easy it is to ignore Twain’s warning about conjecture.

        Amother example: The high chance of not observing randomly migrating species prudently explains why their short-term surveys each missed detecting 12% and 16% of the region’s species.

        So much easier to conjecture from ones den rather than spend weeks in the Peruvian scrub with a clipboard and binoculars.

        • So much easier to conjecture from ones den rather than spend weeks in the Peruvian scrub with a clipboard and binoculars.

          That’s research, field research, not as easy as playing with models on a computer 😀
          The models maybe would have found the missing species, who knows ?

        • Loydo, I have spent 30 years doing field research on bird populations in the Sierra Nevada. I have extensive knowledge on what needs to happen in order to accurately detect species presence and changes in their abundance.

          From the ignorance displayed in all your posts, it is clear that you have no science background or relevant field experience. You probably have not ventured in to the realm of truth any further than your troll factory laptop and alarmist websites

          • How wrong you are.
            Species are being forced to move by AGW. There are dozens of research papers showing this. Slow moving, terrrestrial species, let alone plant species, have habitat fragmentation to navigate as well in a double-whammy.
            For someone who calls “the theory that global warming relentlessly pushes species up mountain slopes to their eventual extinction” a “myth” that has been “preached”, there is a word thats describes you and that word begins with D.

  12. Hundreds of millions of migratory song birds travel from Peru to Canada every year across just about every climate zone there is.

    These birds have wings that enable them to fly to very high and low elevations, which they do. They also have feathers that insulate them from hot and cold temperatures, which they experience without dying.

    The facts don’t matter, though. What’s important is how peabrains FEEL regarding stuff they are totally ignorant about. Of course, they aren’t interested in how non-peabrains feel about them. If they only knew…

  13. Citation from the paper (my emphasis):

    “Mean elevations for commonly mist-netted species shifted significantly upslope by 40 ± 98 m (mean ± SD)”

    So a shift of less than half the SD is “significant” in Nature these days? To be significant at the 95% level the shift would have to be >196 m (provided data are normally distributed, which is far from certain).

    As a matter of fact the probablity that a shift this small is not just random noise is only about 30%, once again if data are normally distributed.

    • tty, I am glad you mention that. There were so many things that were wrong with that paper. But for a short newspaper article, I could not go too deep in the weeds. There are so many bad science papers that too easily get published just because they push climate catastrophe!

    • They claim p=.002 error probability, and I think it’s ok (didn’t check it). With n=65, the SD of the mean (SE), which is what matters, is about 12. Now, even when a 40 m shift is statistically significant, is it practically meaningful ? That’s the height of a tree over 30+ years.

  14. My first Pika siting was on a mountain in Jasper National Park. We were told that was their habitat, and we were not likely to see any at low elevations.
    Eventually moved to Central Washington State and found a Pika hay pile at 4,450 feet. That’s not real low, but I was a bit surprised.
    Then when the WA-DOT began a major rebuild of I-90 east of Snoqualmie Pass agreements were made to increase the wildlife friendliness of the highway corridor. The Forest Service and the Central Washington faculty and students were active participants.
    The large rock cut-&-fill construction (~2,500 ft. elev.) produced habitat for Pika:
    https://i90wildlifewatch.org/pikas-taking-advantage-of-new-roadside-real-estate

    • Pikas are very dependent on scree areas which are rarely found at low altitudes, if the highway department constructs extensive scree slopes low down the pikas will quite possibly move in.

      There were once pikas in Eastern Canada, but they died out as forest covered their habitat duing the Holocene.

  15. I wrote about both the mountain extinction myth (essay Burning Nonsense, where the second plant biodiversity survey ignored two massive forest fires along the route since the first survey) and the general climate extinction myth (essay No Bodies, (also includes the pika) where AR4 WG2 created two demonstrably false ‘general survey’ charts from essentially just one triply flawed paper– biased equation, wrong z, biased sample examples) in ebook Blowing Smoke.

    A never ending game of ‘whack-a-mole’, as Jim points out again.

  16. The reality is actually the opposite. Cold climate organisms have no problem with warmer temps, but not the reverse so much.

    Take a penguin from Antarctica and a raven from Seattle and have them trade places.

  17. Jim ==> Thanks, nice piece.

    Battling corrupt, unthinking, “journalists from a distant galaxy” is a somewhat thankless task, must we must fight on.

  18. The Archbishop of natural catastrophism in the U.K. has just made a much hyped programme on extinctions for the BBC. Loss of habitat, over exploitation and pollution are responsible for 90% of extinctions (WWF report 2018), but he gave equal weight to climate change, claiming that the ‘escalator’ and wildfires were given as the main extinction mechanisms resulting from it.

    At least he didn’t mention Polar Bears – perhaps he has read Susan Crockford’s work.

  19. Hard to believe Steele passes himself off as an ecologist.
    Pika CAN live at lower altitudes. Until competitors move in. Then they find their high niche gone. Bye bye pikas.
    This is taught in the 4th to 6th chapter in ecology, depending on the text. Maybe Steel should take an ecology course before he claims to speak as one.
    So far, he sounds like a fool.

    • If this comment had anything at all to do with what Steele wrote, it might be useful. But as it appears to be merely an excuse to snipe at the author, combined with non-relevant facts, one must conclude that you aren’t worth engaging with.

      rip

  20. One additional anecdote: in my “backyard” lies Brokeback Mountain (of the movie). I have climbed that mountain about 20 times in 40 years. In early times one could occasionally spot a Pika, but the real pleasure was seeing a Marmot about 20 years ago. Since then one could spot a Marmot occasionally, al at about 7000’ elevation, above the tree line. In the valley running through the complex, access was restricted around that same time. Never a Marmot in the valley.
    To my surprise, last year during a Valley hike we encountered dozens of Marmots, thriving at elevations of less than 4000’, well below the tree-line. Clearly the escalator here runs the other way

  21. Jim,
    Once again, it is a pleasure to read your clear and concise posts! I’ve had the pleasure of spotting pikas while fishing exit streams from high altitude lakes in the Sierra Nevada. Some dastardly defilers of the natural order stocked many of them with different non-native species of trout like Rainbows, Brooks and Dolly Varden; but my favorite will always be the Golden Trout from the area around Mt. Whitney! The best breakfast I have ever had was bacon and eggs with sourdough pancakes and fresh, pan-fried trout! Of course, being situated in a nice, glaciated valley at ~7,500 of elevation does tend to improve the flavor of almost everything!

  22. Remember the humpbacks having a tropical holiday in northern Australia-
    https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/australians-hope-save-whale-crocodile-infested-river-72994981
    Where you find whales the Orcas won’t be far behind them-
    https://www.bing.com/search?q=orcas+gulf+of+carpentaria&cvid=54b34c0fd3e94169a1a99b861beb8a6c&FORM=ANAB01&PC=U531

    It’s what happens when we don’t want whales for their oil anymore and sooner or later the whales will press upon their food stocks like krill in Antarctica and then it will be the survival of the fittest whales and the Orcas too.

    • Orcas are whales.

      And when baleen whale stocks in Antarctica recovers (which will take many decades, whales being slow breeders) the main losers will be penguins who have increased greatly in numbers, now when there is little competition for the krill.

    • ‘Our results suggest that terrestrial species are lagging behind shifting isotherms more than marine species, which is probably related to the interplay between the wider thermal safety margin of terrestrial versus marine species and the more constrained physical environment for dispersal in terrestrial versus marine habitats.‘

      Who’d have thunk it! Seven researchers and a pile of money really deliver the goods.

    • Terrestrial species’ range shifts almost always lags climate change, often by millenia, as anyone familiar with historical biogeography is well aware.

  23. I have a semi-related question. One thing about extinction rates has always puzzled me, and I bet there are people here who know a lot more than I do about this.

    When I see reports of exceedingly high extinction rates nowadays, most of it is salamanders, butterflies, and other small short-lived critters which probably speciate a lot faster than bigger animals. How are their ancestors represented in the fossil record? I’d expect about the only insects you’d find would be in amber, and very few of them, certainly not enough to know how many species there were or long they lived.

    Even some middling-sized animals seem like they’d be too rare in the fossil record to be able to count species or estimate how long they lived — gophers, foxes, rabbits.

    What exactly are the species extinctionists claiming to measure when they say species are going extinct more often than, say, 10 million or 100 million years ago?

    • Well we certainly have very many survey/records and so on of what the animal and invertebrate populations of the globe were throughout most of the last 150 years (and more). you can have a very good idea, for example, what butterfly, beetle, bug species were found and in what numbers in the UK throughout the 20th century and at the present moment. UK bird numbers have been regularly assessed in detail for 50 years now using the same methodology…

      And comparison shows less species and a crash in numbers during that 150 years in most areas…

      (Though we did actually save the whale!)

      • Actually birds in patrs of Europe and North America are just about the only organisms for which we have reasonably good population data.

        For just about everything else everywhere else, nada.

    • Actually the speed of speciation is not at all proportional to animal size. Insects for example change very slowly, insects in 30 million years old amber are often identical to existing species.

      Mammals evolve much faster, and large mammals oddly enough not slower than small ones. The most slowly evolving mammals are actually bats.

      Birds evolve noticeably slower than mammals, existing species often go back to the Pliocene, or even late Miocene, which is virtually unheard of for mammals.

      • Is that phenotype or genotype with the insets in amber?

        I was taught more years ago than I care to remember that many amphibians and insect phenotypes are reasonably static, but there are large genotype changes “under the bonnet” over the years.

    • After the extinct Carolina Parakeet the Ring-necked Parakeet is the most winter-hardy parrot in the northern hemisphere (there are a few species in Patagonia and on the islands south of New Zealand that may be hardier still).

  24. Of course we are or our descendants certainly will be extinct when the sun runs out of fuel. Nothing for us to worry about of course. Despite Sci-Fi starship and predictions of warp drive – the whole shooting match/or planet is ultimately doomed.

    • Ultimately the sun will grow to a red giant and boil the oceans away.

      Though oddly enough it would not take enormously advanced technology to change the Earth’s orbit enough to avoid this, a few meters per year would suffice, and a few asteroids with orbits modified to transfer momentum from Jupiter to Earth could do it. It would however require a technological civilization lasting for many million years to do it.

  25. That’s what happens when the fuel runs out. Gravitational force is no longer balanced by the pressure energy sustained by nuclear fusion, the star collapses in on itself and if large enough would produce a neutron star or pulsar even. Our star is small and would probably produce a n outpouring that would engulf us. Changing our orbit combined with variable radiation output from the sun would perhaps lead to a frozen end point

  26. Of course we do have about 4.5 billion years to work on it (ie orbit change) – but unfortunately we don’t produce sufficient high calibre scientists for the task. We have plenty of climate scientists spouting rubbish of course – selecting the easy option. Or politics, sport, banking, accountancy and lawyers. God one could go on and on with useless occupations.

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