Dr. Susan Crockford
My scientific blog posts contributed to the failed Antarctic Treaty bid to protect Emperor penguins
There is actual evidence that two of my fully-referenced blog posts caused some Antarctic Treaty delegates to reject a bid for special protected status for Emperor penguins. Activist heads have exploded.
At a meeting of the Antarctic Treaty organization in Berlin last week–see yesterday’s post–it seems the Chinese delegates read my blog and weren’t impressed to find out that the predicted ‘march to extinction’ for Emperor penguins was based on climate change/sea ice models that used an utterly implausible and discredited ‘worst-case’ scenario: I’m guessing the penguin scientists hadn’t stated clearly that their “unmitigated scenario” in their artfully constructed infographic (below) is so far removed from reality that it could never happen (Burgess et al. 2021; Hausfather and Peters 2020; O’Neil et al. 2020; Spencer 2021).
Apparently, my informed analysis caused the Chinese delegates to lose trust in penguin scientists.
It also appears that the Chinese envoys saw parallels between the penguin narratives and claims that polar bear numbers are declining when there are actually many more polar bears now than there were in the 1960s. If you press, polar bear specialists will admit this is true but explain it away by saying this is only due to a ‘rebound’ from over-hunting. Of course it is: protect populations from over-hunting and their numbers increase (Crockford 2017, 2019).
However, this is not how polar bears (or Emperor penguins) are routinely portrayed in the press and many scientific publications: it is either stated explicitly or implied that overall numbers have declined due to loss of sea ice. And, not surprisingly, the same ‘worst-case’ scenario models used to predict the coming ‘march to extinction’ of Emperor penguins have also been used to predict polar bear extinction.
Once your eyes have been opened to the fact that conservation specialists may be presenting misleading or incomplete information to push a particular agenda, they cannot be un-opened: you begin to look much more critically at the evidence presented to you and go looking for what might be missing.
As far as I can determine, that’s what happened to the Chinese delegates last week in Berlin.
There is no indication that the envoys simply took my word regarding the polar bear and penguin situations and every reason to believe they checked all the references I provided as well as the evidence presented by penguin scientists before publicly revealing that they had used my blog posts to inform their decision.
According to a reporter from a South African news outlet (7 June 2022) who claims to have “seen” papers circulated at the closed-door Antarctic treaty meeting:
But the Chinese delegation suggested the “case of polar bears conservation” was “informed by climate models and the potential similar case of emperor penguins”.
“The truth is that polar bear numbers are the highest they have been in about 60 years as of today,” their paper said. The paper further argues the emperor penguin has also increased in numbers, contending that the international scientific community may have misled the public on both species’ population trends. …
Citing Crockford’s blog “Polar Bear Science”, the Chinese paper suggests this “could be used as reference materials to facilitate the consideration of Antarctic Special Protected Species issues and particularly the emperor penguin designation”.[T. Walters, Daily Maverick]
Actually, these papers are not a secret that only she had access to: they are publicly available to download on the meeting website here [search for ‘Submitted by’ China]. However, you won’t find a single link to the meeting website in Ms. Walters’ article so that you can see for yourself what they contain. For example, the ‘reference’ materials cited by the Chinese delegation in document ATCM44_ip123_e.docx [‘The Case of Polar Bears Conservation informed by Climate Models and the Potential Similar Case of Emperor Penguins‘] are two recent blog posts of mine:
Copies of those blog posts (and my ‘About me’ page) were entered into the record by the Chinese delegates but you won’t find a link to any of those in Ms. Walters’ article either. And since she could not actually refute the information in those blog posts, Ms. Walters belittled my scientific credentials, leaving out the important fact that I have a Ph.D. and a recent peer-reviewed scientific paper on polar bear sea ice ecology (Crockford 2022). Climate mauled yet again!
In the end, the Chinese delegation obviously examined all information available to them and concluded, quite reasonably:
In summary, the emperor penguins are currently listed as Near Threatened in the IUCN Red List, the population of the species has been increasing at the regional (Antarctic) scale, the northernmost emperor penguin colony on Snow Hill Island is stable, the known and emerging terrestrial and marine threats affecting emperor penguin are considered relatively small if not negligible, and the considerable uncertainty regarding the threat from climate change and sea ice reduction which is predicted to take place only until after 2050. Considering these facts, it may be inappropriate to designate the emperor penguins as an ASPS [Antarctic Specially Protected Species] at this stage, in accordance with Annex II to the Protocol and the Guidelines adopted in 2005.ATCM44_wp035_e.docx ‘Proposal for Development of a Targeted Research and Monitoring Plan for the Emperor Penguins’
Since the Chinese delegation considered the proposal ‘inappropriate’, there was no consensus (as required) and therefore, no special protected status for the Emperor penguin, which the penguin scientists hoped would clear the way to having the birds up-graded to ‘Vulnerable’ status on the IUCN Red List (Trathan et al. 2020): I’m guessing they are now worried that might not happen.
All because I provided critical perspectives that penguin scientists withheld from the Antarctic Treaty delegates.
In this case, it seems I really do get to take the credit. I’m no fan of the Chinese government but see this as a win for scientific transparency.
Burgess, M.G., Ritchie, J., Shapland, J. and Pielke Jr., R. 2021. IPCC baseline scenarios have over-projected CO2 emissions and economic growth. Environmental Research Letters 16:014016. https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/abcdd2
Crockford, S.J. 2017. Testing the hypothesis that routine sea ice coverage of 3-5 mkm2 results in a greater than 30% decline in population size of polar bears (Ursus maritimus). PeerJ Preprints 19 January 2017. Doi: 10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v1 Open access. https://peerj.com/preprints/2737/
Crockford, S. J. 2022. Polar bear fossil and archaeological records from the Pleistocene and Holocene in relation to sea ice extent and open water polynyas. Open Quaternary 8(7): 1-26. https://doi.org.10.5334/oq.107
Hausfather, Z. and Peters, G.P. 2020. Emissions – the ‘business as usual’ story is misleading [“Stop using the worst-case scenario for climate warming as the most likely outcome — more-realistic baselines make for better policy”]. Nature 577: 618-620. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00177-3
O’Neil, B.C., Carter, T.R., Ebi, K., et al. 2020. Achievements and needs for the climate change scenario framework. Nature Climate Change 10:1074-1084. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-020-00952-0
Spencer, R.W. 2021. ‘An Earth Day reminder: ‘Global Warming’ is only ~50% of what models predict. Dr. Roy Spencer blog, 22 April. https://www.drroyspencer.com/2021/04/an-earth-day-reminder-global-warming-is-only-50-of-what-models-predict/
Trathan, P.N. and others, including Fretwell, P. T. 2020. The emperor penguin – Vulnerable to projected rates of warming and sea ice loss. Biological Conservation 241:108216. [open access] https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2019.108216