Cumulative Environmental Damage

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Bart Stewart
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Cumulative Environmental Damage

Post by Bart Stewart » Wed Nov 12, 2008 5:40 pm

The case for global warming would seem to be growing stronger as more and more high profile doubters come around to endorsing the reality of it. Back in 2006, one arthurkoch wrote on this forum, "What's needed is a true debate, which I feel will happen at the presidential elections, when the Democratic candidate (Gore, Hillary?) will be squashed, if they persist in global warming scares." In fact, the presidential and vice presidential candidates of 2008 accepted the reality of global warming, with the possible exception of creationist Sarah Palin. Even George W. Bush accepts it as reality now. I only want to add these points :

1) Al Gore said we may have as little as ten years to mitigate the effects of global warming! And he said that a few years ago! Ten years is NOTHING in terms of Earth changes, of course. So, the real message is -- It is probably too late to do anything to weaken the effects of global warming. We can try to keep from making it worse, and otherwise try to adapt to it, that's all. Nobody claims to know exactly how bad it will get anyway. Maybe we'll get lucky. It will be a slow motion disaster. We may have time to make the accomodations necessary for civilization to survive it.

2) Global warming is not our only environmental problem. You could be forgiven for thinking so, the way it has supplanted all else in the discussions on the environment, but in fact ALL of the problems that we wrangled about before global warming came to dominate the stage are still with us. The oceans are a basket case. Vast "dead zones" devoid of life stretch out in seas around the world; a particularly huge one is found in the Gulf of Mexico. Mass extinctions are well underway, particularly among species that are as vital as they are unappealing to humans. That is, amphibians, birds, and small mammals. Nature's insect control species are vanishing. Then there are all kinds of environmental problems that are out of sight and out of mind. We just don't think about stuff like automotive leaks of oil and fluids onto streets and parking lots, which leech into streams and rivers whenever it rains. We don't think about cumulative environmental damage.

3) We like to compartmentalize our thinking about environmental damage, and consider things one at a time. But in fact the various pollutants are mixing together out there. Chemicals interact in the environment to create a "witch's brew" that defies human comprehension. Vicious cycles get started. Factors like deforestation and loss of wet lands compounds the scene in ways we are not equipped to understand. There really is no aspect of the earth's environment that is not under stress. When you look at the big picture it is easy to see why we have as many alarmists as we do. Not that alarmists are likely to solve the problem(s).

4) The earth has self-cleaning mechanisms. Unfortunately we are destroying them as fast as we can. The biggest problem is that the earth is a closed system. Being a sphere, and not an infinite plane, there is a "point of no return" out there somewhere, in terms of how much damage the eco-system of the planet can withstand. There is no logical basis to pretend otherwise.

5) Outer space IS an infinite plane. A steady progress toward permanent colonization of space is essential for the human race.

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BrianG
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Re: Cumulative Environmental Damage

Post by BrianG » Wed Nov 12, 2008 11:21 pm

Care to list any of the "extinguished" species?
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Re: Cumulative Environmental Damage

Post by Bart Stewart » Sat Nov 15, 2008 3:34 pm

BrianG wrote:Care to list any of the "extinguished" species?


Well, okay. Black Rhinoceros, Baiji White Dolphin, Caribbean Monk Seal, Pyreanean Ibex, Red Colobus Monkey, Golden Toad, Sturdee's Pipistrelle, Mountain Mist Frog, Marbled Toad, Leopard Frog ... How many do you need? The lists of amphibians and birds are rather lengthy. (They being the natural insect-killers I referenced above.) Are you doubting that there are mass-extinctions going on these days?

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Re: Cumulative Environmental Damage

Post by Hecateus » Sat Nov 15, 2008 4:18 pm

It would be wise to apply a scale of the human caused extinctions.

For instance, the demise of the Carrier Pigeon gets a 5 for human involvement as humans deliberately hunted it out of existence.

The Dodo gets a 4 as human carelessness with dogs and cats aboard ships eliminated them. The Baiji River Dolphin might get a 4.5.

Most global warming extinction events would likely get around a 2-3.

Mammoths and other recently extinct megafauna get a 1 due to uncertainties of human involvement.

extinctions which have nothing to do with Man, such as the Dinosaurs, would get a 0.
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Re: Cumulative Environmental Damage

Post by BrianG » Sat Nov 15, 2008 6:28 pm

Bart Stewart wrote:Are you doubting that there are mass-extinctions going on these days?


Close, I hypothesize that global warming is not causing mass extinctions and the current rate of extinction is exaggerated. Let’s take a look at your list:

Black Rhinoceros: Wikikpedia reports a population of 3600. Cause of population decline, Poaching.

Baiji White Dolphin: Functionally Extinct, Cause: a period of hunting by humans during the Great Leap Forward, entanglement in fishing gear, the illegal practice of electric fishing, collisions with boats and ships, habitat loss, and pollution.

Caribbean Monk Seal: as of 1962, officially extinct and the only seal to vanish due to human causes (habitat loss and hunting)

Pyreanean Ibex: Last sighting, January 6, 2000. Cause of extinction unknown.

Red Colobus Monkey: Not extinct, several subspecies: Western Red Colobus, Pennant's Colobus, Preuss's Red Colobus, Thollon's Red Colobus, Central African Red Colobus, Ugandan Red Colobus, Uzungwa Red Colobus, Zanzibar Red Colobus and Tana River Red Colobus.

Golden Toad: Extinct, last seen 1989, Small habitat area in Costa Rica.

Sturdee's Pipistrelle: Extinct, species range was one island in the Pacific

Mountain Mist Frog: Wikipedia lists this as not extinct, threatened by habitat loss.

Marbled Toad: Not extinct, wide habitat, many subspecies

Leopard Frog : Not extinct, Buy one for dissection at Edmund Scientific or a live one on eBay.

Maybe this is a normal rate of extinction.
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Re: Cumulative Environmental Damage

Post by Bart Stewart » Sat Nov 15, 2008 9:07 pm

BrianG wrote:
Bart Stewart wrote:Are you doubting that there are mass-extinctions going on these days?


Close, I hypothesize that global warming is not causing mass extinctions and the current rate of extinction is exaggerated.


The species on my list were plucked at random from much longer lists of recently extinct species I found on-line. I don't claim that global warming is causing all of it, but human actions of one kind or another are. Habitat loss is a big factor. Continuous release of toxins into the environment is another one. These pollutants combine and recombine in the air and water to the point that we don't know what's out there. Deformities in frogs are being observed all over the world, that is, frogs with three legs or two legs or whatever. Such frogs might as well be dead. Songbirds are disappearing. These are indicator species, as well as insect regulators.

I don't have all the stats on hand, but there seems to be a fairly broad scientific consensus that mass extinction is underway.

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Re: Cumulative Environmental Damage

Post by BrianG » Sat Nov 15, 2008 9:49 pm

Bart, this consensus stuff is the problem, things are either observable facts, or not. When you tell me that leopard frogs are extinct, and I show you several places to buy them, one of us is right and the other is wrong.

Species do go extinct. The question is why, evolution is all about species creation and death. What is the normal, back ground rate of species extinction? Is the rate of species extinction increasing? Is the cause hunting, toxic pollution or global warming?

It's sad to see fear and propaganda ruling our debate.
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Re: Cumulative Environmental Damage

Post by Bart Stewart » Sun Nov 16, 2008 5:17 am

I would think scientific consensus is not the problem, but rather the only way any progress is ever made. People started accepting Darwin's theory of evolution when it became the overwhelming consensus of those who work in the field of biological science. If consensus is a problem why do we value peer review? The average citizen, being non-expert in any science, has little choice but to trust the people who work in the field. There are always dissenters, but you assume that great numbers of scientists being in agreement must be onto something.

I think you will agree that in any poll of the relevant scientists there is agreement on things like A) global warming is reality. B) Human activity caused it. C) We are in a period of far greater extinctions than should be the case. I would hasten to say that most of these disappearing species are amphibians and birds. But there was a news item recently predicting that some appalling percentage of mammals will soon be extinct. I don't recall what the percentage was, or who was making the claim. By the way, on that Leopard Frog that we both mentioned, I must confess that it had a longer name and I just typed Leopard Frog. So, it was a variety of Leopard Frog that is extinct. And I am surprised to see you citing the Golden Toad as still living because I saw that one listed as extinct on multiple sites.

Certainly these days we have a problem with bias in science, but that only makes large consensus that much more important.

I would also ask, how could mankind not be destroying the environment, given what we know about the amount of polluting we do, and how long we've been doing it? I know the earth has self cleaning mechanisms, but so does a human body. There is still a point of no return somewhere. New York City alone discharges five hundred million gallons of untreated sewage every week into the ocean. That's one snapshot, of one city, of one type of pollution. It's out of sight and out of mind. I don't want to be an alarmist, but if the house is on fire that's the appropriate way to be. The facts are alarming.

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Re: Cumulative Environmental Damage

Post by BrianG » Sun Nov 16, 2008 6:36 am

Bart Stewart wrote:
I am surprised to see you citing the Golden Toad as still living because I saw that one listed as extinct on multiple sites.



I distinctly wrote:

"Golden Toad: Extinct, last seen 1989, Small habitat area in Costa Rica."

The point is, global warming is not producing mass species extinctions. Peer review determines acceptability, not validity.

I debate your three conclusions: “A) global warming is reality. B) Human activity caused it. C) We are in a period of far greater extinctions than should be the case.”

A) Revised NASA findings demonstrate the ‘90s weren’t the warmest decade of the century, the ‘30s were. Observed recent cooling (probably caused by El Nino El Nina currents) show global warming is not on an unstoppable upward trend. The Medieval Maximum was ignored the AGW data and historical climate cycles indicate that climate change is natural and unstoppable.

B) Human activity produces a small increase in greenhouse gasses and the effect is easily swamped by other factors such as water vapour.

C) This “period of greater extinctions” is not verified by the literature, when I read the newspapers I find a column of obituraries every day, but I seldom find articles about species extinctions. New species are found at a greater rate than extinctions. Extinctions that do occur are not caused by climate change, instead habitat loss seems to be the greatest threat.

I agree that the danger produced by raw sewage flowing into the ocean is a great threat. We should concentrate our efforts on the mature science of waste management before we worry about climate speculations.
I never learned from a man who agreed with me.

Robert A. Heinlein

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Re: Cumulative Environmental Damage

Post by Bart Stewart » Mon Nov 17, 2008 2:39 am

Given the amazing biodiversity of the rainforests, and the rate at which they are being burned and cleared, it seems that would justify the term mass extinction right there.

I hate to return us to the subject of scientific consensus, but I have to ask you about it. I'm not a student of atmospheric science, but I don't have to be one to see that the vast majority of the scientists in that field are believers in global warming, and a clear majority of them blame human activity. As a doubter, how do you explain that? I mean, are all those guys paid off? Are they stupid? We're not talking about the Science Minute crew on NPR, we're talking about practically all the big government and university labs. It's all the relevant scientists, seemingly. The Bush administration was virtually standing alone in insisting that global warming was unproven (Junk Science I believe was their term) and then THEY came on board. Bush is now a believer, as is John McCain and the incoming president.

I must admit your points sound impressive, but what would a NOAA bigshot have to say about them? How come your camp is in such a minority?

My original post in this thread dealt only briefly with global warming and mass extinction (I was brief because I consider them settled topics!) My larger point was that our environmental problems are manifold and multitudinous, and they are not isolated, but they interact and otherwise become compounded out there. I mentioned some environmental points that never seem to get talked about, like run-off from streets and parking lots. I think the environmental problem is bigger than we are hearing about, not smaller, only because so much of it is out of sight and out of mind. What did you think about the rest of that essay?

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Re: Cumulative Environmental Damage

Post by BrianG » Mon Nov 17, 2008 9:13 am

Why do the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration worry about CO2? If your job is to study the atmosphere it’s natural to worry about CO2. We give these agencies billions for research, but it’s up to us to use their findings to make policy.

Atmospheric mass in kg----------------------------------5.1361E+18
Atmospheric CO2 mass in kg--------------------------1.9569E+15
Annual CO2 input from man----------------------------------7.8E+12

Man’s CO2 input is a millionth of the mass of the atmosphere and seven thousandth of the mass of CO2.

I think we need to worry about deforestation, sewage management and removing toxic chemicals from combustion waste. I think we have to promote economic growth, education and health.

Economic prosperity is the best cure for pollution. People don't fix the environment until they enough water and food for their families.

I’m not saying we don’t need to worry about pollution, I’m saying we should worry about the stuff we know is dangerous, and continue to study the rest.
I never learned from a man who agreed with me.

Robert A. Heinlein