Scientists Debunk Alarmist Claim That Vertebrates Declined 69% Since 1970


Chris Morrison

Two independent groups of scientists have destroyed the always improbable claim that vertebrates across the planet have declined by 69% since 1970. The averaged claim is made by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). It is a bedrock climate and ecological scare story repeated endlessly in the mainstream media and broadcast everywhere from UN platforms to school classrooms. A group of Canadian biologists have shown that the figure is a statistical freak. They reveal that the estimate is driven by 2.4% of wildlife  populations, adding, “If these extremely declining populations are excluded, the global trend switches to an increase.”

The 69% scare is contained in the Living Planet Index (LPI) compiled by the WWF and the ZSL. The latest bi-annual report was released late last year to coincide with the COP15 Biodiversity Summit in Montreal, and claimed the decline was “an average fall in species population numbers between 1970 and 2018”. Commenting on its report, the ZSL said one million species of plants and animals are threatened with extinction. The joint report is said to have looked at 32,000 populations of animals from over 5,000 species.

The report is highly political, arguing for a complete transformation of society. The planet is said to be in the midst of a biodiversity and climate crisis, and we have a last chance to act. “A nature-positive future needs transformative – game changing – shifts in how we produce, how we consume, how we govern, and what we finance. We hope it inspires you to be part of that change,” say the authors. Less inspiring might have been the message that 2.4% of vertebrate populations are currently doing badly – it’s nature, it happens – but the rest on average are just dandy.

This latest debunking of a cherished green scare is further bad news for publicity-seeking climate catastrophists. Introducing the LPI report, the ZSL also noted that a 0.3°C warming would result in a loss of up to 90% of warm water coral, a scare that has a very ‘last decade’ look about it, given that corals on the Great Barrier Reef and elsewhere have rarely been in better shape. Slowly recovering Arctic ice, including the Greenland ice shelf, plateauing global surface temperature, and more polar bears hunting more seals, have all added to the recent misery.

The essence of the debunking scientists’ argument is that trying to distill disparate population trends into a single global index distorts the full picture. Calculating the straight line average across populations is strongly influenced by outliers, or extremes. For example, the biologists put forward a hypothetical scenario in which one animal population declining by 99%, while a second population increases 50 fold, or 393 populations increase by 1%. In this scenario, the geometric average – the metric used by the WWF and the ZSL – would show a catastrophic decline of 50%.

This work was done by the Canadian biologists before the last 2022 LPI report. The dotted line above indicates overall population stability. The red line shows a 50% decline averaged across all populations, but the removal of just 2.4% of separate populations produces a positive trend. The scientists observe that such clusters of decline require different conservation measures compared to widespread falls across the planet. But such a subtle understanding of focused conservation measures is entirely missing from the unhinged view spread throughout politics and the media that the planet and climate is under mortal threat, and urgent, collectivist Net Zero measures must be immediately implemented.

Accounting for extreme clusters “fundamentally alters the interpretation of global vertebrate trend”, say the scientists. The sensitivity of global average trends to outliers “suggests that more informative indices are needed”, they add.

Last month, a group of Finnish biologists joined the scientific fray over the Index and noted that statistical calculations prevented any straightforward interpretation in the change of animal abundance. The LPI measure is biased downwards because proportions are measured, not actual abundance. In fact, the more populations vary in their rate of increase or decrease, “the more downwardly biased the LPI will be as a measure of abundance”. Even worse, the scientists go on to show, the downward past bias is baked into future calculations, since previous index values are multiplied with the current one. Overall, the Finnish scientists take on board the outlier problems identified by the Canadians, but observe the trouble with the LPI methodology “is deeper than that and cannot be resolved by removing extreme population trends from the analysis”.

The LPI garners massive publicity and it is also used as an indicator for international negotiations within the UN Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD). “We urge scientists that have used the LPI methodology to scrutinise the conclusions of their work, and those negotiating future indicators for the UN CBD to critically review the interpretation of the LPI,” they conclude.

Chris Morrison is the Daily Sceptic’s Environment Editor.

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Mike McMillan
February 17, 2023 10:32 pm

When confronted with extinction claims, I always say, “Name two.” I can, and that’s without even consulting the Red List.

Ben Vorlich
Reply to  Mike McMillan
February 17, 2023 11:43 pm

Are they due to “Climate Change” or some other reason like habitat loss, human predation, or an introduced species all of which are more likely.

James Snook
Reply to  Ben Vorlich
February 18, 2023 1:00 am

The WWF itself states that the main causes of extinction, in descending order, are over exploitation, loss of habitat, pollution, invasive species and finally climate change at less than ten percent.

Janice Moore
Reply to  James Snook
February 18, 2023 10:09 am

That’s the fine print. Buried somewhere on page 97. 🙄

The scare story repeated endlessly is all about one thing for them: MONEY.

Lie to get donations. Pathetic. 

Reply to  Janice Moore
February 19, 2023 6:22 am

Thank you. Its always about the MONEY for these supposedly environmental groups barking about saving the planet/wildlife/etc. None of their data, when looked at closely, proves anything near the claims they make. Just about sucking in more funds to pay the big shots running most of these liberal/progressive outfits so they can live their high-toned lifestyles without really working for it.
Pick a topic, follow the money trail and see what ya find. Grifters and con artist(redundant, I know) everywhere. Shut ’em down.

Reply to  James Snook
February 18, 2023 5:31 pm

The WWF itself states that the main causes of extinction, in descending order, are over exploitation, loss of habitat, pollution, invasive species and finally climate change at less than ten percent.”

WWF is not a neutral third party!

Donations to WWF depends completely upon their messages of doom and abjectly specious claims that donating to WWF helps any species.

WWF is not an honest recognized species authority.

Listening to WWF is akin to listening to the devil, especially when WWF preaches species doom in their television commercials and mailed advertisements.

Joseph Zorzin
Reply to  Ben Vorlich
February 18, 2023 3:55 am

Exactly. Here in Wokachusetts, back in 2010, a 20 acre solar “farm” was installed near my neighborhood. On that land were several wildlife species identified as “rare and endangered species”. If I as a forester had planned a light thinning of the forest- this designation of rare and endangered species would have tied me up for several months and the project might not have been permitted. Yet, the state wanted to promote solar “farms” so they approved clearcutting the site. So let’s add “renewable energy” as another threat to wildlife species.

Janice Moore
Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
February 18, 2023 10:12 am

comment image

Janice Moore
Reply to  Janice Moore
February 18, 2023 10:23 am

These inviting “lakes” incinerate birds.
comment image

Solar power. GREED in action. Greed is an ugly thing.
comment image

Last edited 3 months ago by Janice Moore
Reply to  Janice Moore
February 18, 2023 5:42 pm

Agreed, Janice!
Greed is a major cause of species extermination and as you point out, that cause is still a major detriment to wildlife populations.

Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
February 18, 2023 11:56 am

I have ribbed you in the past for forestry shilling, but this is right on the mark…many upvotes to you….

Eamon Butler
Reply to  Ben Vorlich
February 20, 2023 2:47 pm

Yes. There may be various reasons that threaten the beasts of this world but I think they are probably able to cope with a bit of inclement weather, wherever they may be.

Neil Lock
Reply to  Mike McMillan
February 18, 2023 12:49 am

My approach is to ask for the name of one species to whose extinction I have contributed, and for exactly what I did to contribute to that extinction, and when I did it. I have never got an answer yet.

Reply to  Mike McMillan
February 18, 2023 8:54 am

Intelligent and honest beings have become very rare.

Mr David Guy-Johnson
February 17, 2023 10:57 pm

Cherry picking and obfuscation. The very bedrock of CAGW believers

Rod Evans
February 17, 2023 11:27 pm

There are lies, damned lies and there are Climate Alarms.
Happy Birthday Willis, please ask your new found acquaintance ChatGPT, what evidence would be required, to convince the Climate Alarmists there is no climate crisis.

John Hultquist
Reply to  Rod Evans
February 18, 2023 9:16 am

Wrong post! 😒

February 18, 2023 12:16 am

The rule is it’s always far worse than they thought it was….

February 18, 2023 1:06 am

“one million species of plants and animals are threatened with extinction”

No, ALL life on earth is threatened with extinction …
( one smack from an asteroid would do it ),
maybe we should all pay more taxes to prevent it happening !!!

Joao Martins
Reply to  1saveenergy
February 18, 2023 3:00 am

” ( one smack from an asteroid would do it ) ”

No need for the asteroid: just let biological evolution play naturally.

Jaime Jessop
February 18, 2023 1:08 am

There’s been no 69% decline in vertebrates since 1970, but there has been a large decline in spines since then.

Peta of Newark
February 18, 2023 1:10 am

We really are going to extinguish ourselves..

This is beautiful:

Two beaver kits moved to Loch Lomond and……
…die in ‘otter attack’


Ron Long
February 18, 2023 1:54 am

This cooking of the books on species decline reads a lot like Mikey Mann Nature Trick 2.0.

Pat from Kerbob
Reply to  Ron Long
February 20, 2023 3:44 pm

Everyone needs a hero to emulate, just depends on how you define hero

February 18, 2023 5:55 am

“2.4% of vertebrate populations are currently doing badly – it’s nature, it happens – but the rest on average are just dandy.”

The “rest” would be 97.6%, Isn’t that the magic number for goodness?

Mr David Guy-Johnson
Reply to  BobM
February 18, 2023 12:39 pm

Well played sir!

February 18, 2023 7:21 am

Chris Morrison ==> Very nice done,sir.

February 18, 2023 7:58 am

An entire article monkeying with the numbers, but not one of these “outlier” species is named. I am as quantitative as the next guy, but I wonder: Tell us the names, ranges, causes for the specific “outlier” species that are skewing the picture. Are they ecologically important? Do we really care about them, or are many of them just sub-sub-species living in isolated karst caves or in bays and estuaries, found and named by too many bored, out-of-work biologists? If they are species deemed important, there are likely to be existing protection programs for them.

The story and the index they criticize are far too vague.

John Hultquist
Reply to  pflashgordon
February 18, 2023 9:31 am

I spent 20 minutes searching and found nothing.

Also, the stories from 6 years ago claim: “World on track to lose two-thirds of wild animals by 2020, major report warns2020!
This was in the Guardian, so you know it is true. 

Curious George
February 18, 2023 9:13 am

Vertebrates did not decline by 69%, but an average IQ did.

February 18, 2023 11:51 am

Do WWF and ZSL have “Donate” buttons on their website? There is a strong correlation between “donate” buttons and “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” stories…..
I click it once in a while for WUWT, generally after a good Willis CERES analysis post…

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