stat counnnter

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Ecosystems Must Be Permanent?

The Detroit Free Press of April 9th had a front page story titled "It's a wild, wild state of Warming" by Free Press writer Tina Lam. The whole article is a roundup of all the creatures in Michigan and elsewhere that are now enjoying an expansion of their habitat due to milder and somewhat shorter winters. Naturally, all of this is being framed as undesirable and blamed on man made global warming. The article makes a lot of unwarranted assumptions in my opinion and some of these by scientists.
Usually cautious scientists are using words like "dramatic" and "startling" to describe the changes.

"The speed of the change is provocative and somewhat frightening," said Myers, who has studied small mammals at the University of Michigan since the 1980s.
The assumption here is that climate is not supposed to change fast. According to this NAS 2005 report: "Large, abrupt climate changes have repeatedly affected much or all of the earth, locally reaching as much as 10*C change in 10 years. Available evidence suggests that abrupt climate changes are not only possible but likely in the future, potentially with large impacts on ecosystems and societies." They can happen in the future because they have happened in the past, i.e. they are a natural aspect of Earth's climate systems.

And, the same page (15) says: "We do not yet understand abrupt climate changes well enough to predict them." Are you listening Al Gore!

This idea that change should only happen slowly is repeated later in the article when the reporter says: "Creatures evolve over centuries as parts of complicated ecosystems. Take a link out of that system and bad things can happen." Bad? According to what standard? Droughts kill off lots of plant life as do floods and lightening burning down forests. Nature herself not only takes out links but destroys entire systems. To say that these events are "bad things" is to deny the most essential aspect of nature--change. That is irrational.

The expansion of species is in fact the creation of new and more ecosystems. This is not a bad thing. It is a very good thing, that is, if one really values life. Some may be long lasting but no ecosystem is permanent. The idea that all ecosystems that exist today should be preserved just as they are is unrealistic and immature.

It is true that some creatures take centuries to evolve. Why? Because they must learn how to survive sudden climate changes. Those that don't, perish.

This whole idea that ecosystems are some kind of super delicate idol that must be worshiped at all costs and that nothing must interfere with them is utter nonsense. Much hand wringing is made of creatures expanding their habitat and bringing disease with them. This is a dishonest statement since disease goes wherever other organisms go. It is condemning a species expansion on the grounds that it can't migrate disease free!

And what is disease? It is the existence of deadly pathogens which want to make an ecosystem of your and my bodies. This is not a good thing normally. It is the job of modern medicine to destroy such ecosystems.

Despite all the alarmism, about halfway through the article is this paragraph:
Most of the change is in winter and spring night temperatures, which have risen 3 to 5 degrees. Although the numbers are still within the range of natural variation, what has happened in Michigan matches changes globally. Researchers say they believe carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have led to the temperature change.
So the temperature changes are within natural variability and this article is supposed to be evidence that those numbers are not going to stay there. But no causal connection is demonstrated. They just "believe" man made global warming is the culprit.

There are other inanities in that article which I won't go into but there is one that demonstrates the level of scientific acumen of today's intellectuals.
Mice are food for larger animals; they distribute seeds and transport fungi that benefit trees and keep pests like gypsy moths and sawflies in check. If one species dies, the one that replaces it may have characteristics just different enough to throw the ecosystem out of whack.

One type of mouse could be a better distributor of maple seeds and the other may be better with acorns that produce oaks. One may carry diseases, like hantavirus and Lyme disease, more effectively than the other.
What is the scientific meaning of "out of whack"? What is in whack? What reporter Lam doesn't seem to understand is that these kind of alterations to ecosystems are happening all the time. They are natural. It is ludicrous to think that any given patch of nature must maintain the same number of Maples and Oaks all the time.

I also object to scientists and reporters who cater to the least educated of the public with sloppy unscientific phrases like "out of whack" and so on. If an educated public is a value, intellectuals should raise their own communication standards when addressing that public.

An article like this clearly shows why both science and education desperately need to be removed from the influence of government.

(Update 8pm, Lubos at The Reference Frame has a good post on global warming. In particular, a focus on Michael Mann's response to the claim that CO2 lags behind temperature increases by 800 years. I tend to agree with RF because I have heard of studies that show a 1900 and 2600 year lag.)


Amit Ghate said...

Hi Mike,

I plan on blogging on this article tomorrow, but I thought these three paragraphs were quite relevant to your discussion of climate sometimes changing very rapidly:

Bryson mentions the retreat of Alpine glaciers, common grist for current headlines. “What do they find when the ice sheets retreat, in the Alps?”

We recall the two-year-old report saying a mature forest and agricultural water-management structures had been discovered emerging from the ice, seeing sunlight for the first time in thousands of years. Bryson interrupts excitedly.

“A silver mine! The guys had stacked up their tools because they were going to be back the next spring to mine more silver, only the snow never went,” he says. “There used to be less ice than now. It’s just getting back to normal.”

Michael Neibel said...

Thanks for the link to that supporting evidence article. I just got through reading it. I'll be looking forward to your post tomorrow.