extinction

Rethinking Polar Bear Evolution

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Early Edition on-line), is shaking up science's view of polar bear evolution. Previously, it had been suggested that the white bear of the north was a relatively young species that diverged from brown bears during the last glacial period. That glaciation started after the Eemian epoch (~125,000 years ago), peaking around 25,000 years ago. New genetic analysis pushes that estimated divergence back to 4-5 million years ago, though there seems to have been a significant level of interbreeding between the two species over time. Another important finding is that the polar bear population underwent a significant contraction around 500,000 years ago. According to this new information the polar bear has been around for much longer than previously thought, implying that it has survived many interglacial warm periods. In other words, those who think the polar bear cannot survive the shrinking of Arctic ice packs are dead wrong.

Wolf In Coyote's Clothing

The coyote, also known as the American jackal or the prairie wolf, is a canine predator found throughout North and Central America. Ranging from Panama in the south, north through Mexico, the United States and into Canada the wily Canis latrans has been spreading into new territory in the Eastern US, filling a void left at the top of the food chain by the virtual extinction of the gray wolf. But these new coyotes are not the little dog sized creatures from the South West—the new coyote is larger, stronger and more aggressive than his ancestors. Well known as a master of adaptation, new studies over the past few years are now revealing how these relatives of wolves and dogs are evolving into a new top predator thanks to humans. They have expanded their diet to include squirrels, household pets and even deer. Supposedly, coyotes killed a 19-year-old female hiker in Nova Scotia in 2009. It seems that this new breed of predator is actually a wolf in coyote's clothing.

Flatulosaurus Heats Up the Mesozoic

A new Current Biology paper proposes that the accumulated output of dinosaur flatulence could have changed the global climate during the age of the dinosaurs. Insert dinosaur fart joke here. No, seriously, this is a real report in an actual scientific journal. It just happens to be on a subject that the news media could not resist blowing out of proportion on their best day. Given that much of the CO2 in Earth's atmosphere was emitted by some form of living creature this is a serious area for study by environmental scientists. So after giving the chattering media magpies some time to calm down, here is a more serious take on this heady topic.

The Inappropriate Anthropocene

In 2009, the International Commission on Stratigraphy, the body charged with formally designating geological time periods, decided the Anthropocene concept “has some merit.” To investigate further they formed the Anthropocene Working Group, which published their initial findings this past February in a special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A. The group reported a wide range of human impacts that could leave a stratigraphically significant mark on the planet's geological record. There is no doubt that humans have changed the world we live in, but has the change been significant enough to declare a whole new epoch? The Anthropocene debate is continuing this week at the 2011 Geological Society of America conference.

Climate Science's Tangled Web

Recent days have seen a number of announcements about our changing climate. As it turns out Arctic ice is rebounding, sea levels are dropping and things just are not going according to the IPCC's plan for catastrophic global warming. Faced with reversal after reversal, it might seem logical for mainstream climate scientists to admit that they are wrong, that global warming is not taking place at a breakneck pace, but this has not happened. Instead, climate change apologists are weaving a tangled web of excuses—hot is cold, wet is dry, up is down. No matter what happens to the world we live in, the root cause according to the doomsayers is always the same: it's always global warming's fault.

Polar Bear Ruling Makes Mockery of Legal System

Recently, a US Federal Court ruled that placing polar bears on the endangered species list in 2008 was justified because it was based on the science available at the time and thus met the letter of the law. Yet the Polar Bear Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has issued a report indicating that there was no change in the overall global polar bear population in the most recent four-year period. Nonetheless, a Federal Judge ruled that, even though the EPA's action was based on bad science, the misclasification was justified. As Dickens' put it in Oliver Twist: “If the law supposes that, the law is a ass — a idiot.”

Of Ecological Bondage

Recently, the 3rd Nobel Laureate Symposium decided to hold a trial, charging humanity with ruining the planet. Based on the so called 9 Planetary Boundaries, a jury of 20 Nobel Laureates sat in judgment while “compelling evidence” was presented showing that “humanity may now be capable of radically altering the remarkable conditions for life on Earth.” The Planetary Boundaries approach was developed by 28 scientists, who estimated that three of the boundaries, climate change, the nitrogen cycle and biodiversity loss, have already been crossed and that several others are all ready in dangerous territory. We have all been charged with transgressing boundaries laid down by a group of scientists most people have never heard of, judged and found guilty by a gaggle of Nobel Prize winners, and been remanded to the UN for punishment. This sham trial does not represent justice but an attempt to place humanity in ecological bondage.

Bye Bye Bats?

When night falls, many insects come out to feed, often on human food crops. Helping to turn back the pillaging insect hoards is an aerial armada of unsung and unloved heroes—bats. Bats are voracious predators of nocturnal insects, helping to control the populations of many crop and forest pests. Tragically, several migratory tree-dwelling species are being killed in unprecedented numbers by wind turbines across North America. Recent analysis presented in the journal Science suggests that reduced bat populations cause agricultural losses estimated at more than $3.7 billion/year and could rise as high as $53 billion/year if bats are driven to extinction. Oblivious to the carnage being caused by wind turbines, climate change alarmists and green political dupes have continued to push for rapid expansion of wind power. It is time to call a moratorium on wind park construction until a more realistic and less damaging policy can be formulated.

Precautionary Principle Power Grab

Precaution is now an established tenet of environmental governance, law, and public policy at the international, national and local levels. When it comes to pollution, toxic chemicals, genetically modified organisms, endangered species and climate change, the so called precautionary principle has become the guiding doctrine for timorous souls everywhere. But more than that, it is a codification of the idea that before anything new is allowed, it must be proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to cause no harm to anything in anyway, under any conditions, anywhere—period. It is “look before you leap” on steroids and a major legal weapon used by environmentalists and neo-Luddites everywhere to hamstring human progress. Raising angst to an art form, progress hating activists have managed to block needed energy and industrial expansion at a critical time in humanity's development.

The Price of Biodiversity

There has been a resurgence of alarmist claims regarding the pending extinction of a majority of Earth's lifeforms due to human misdeeds—clearing rain forests, polluting the oceans and, of course, causing global warming. Perennial crank and misanthrope E. O. Wilson leads the parade of doomsayers, claiming that biodiversity is dropping and a sixth major extinction event is just around the corner. What evidence backs these claims? Why, computer model projections, naturally. The facts are researchers have identified 1.4 million animal species so far, and recently a pair of Brazilian researchers estimated that there are estimated 5.4 million yet-to-be-discovered animal species alone. The truth is, scientists have no idea how fast biodiversity is falling because they have no idea how many species there are on Earth. And the researchers put a price tag on finding out that is simply stunning.

Did Climate Change Make Us Human?

Given the ongoing controversy over global warming the question of whether humans can change Earth's climate is a familiar one. Lost in the fight over anthropogenic global warming is a more subtle and possibly more important question—how has climate changed people. In recent decades, the fossil record of hominin evolution and behavior, though still incomplete, has improved greatly. Triggered by a recent National Research Council (NRC) report, a perspective article in the journal Science poses the question, “did climate change shape human evolution?”

The Amazing Disappearing Gulf Oil Spill

Remember the 2010 BP Gulf Oil disaster? For 83 days it dominated news broadcasts in the US and was followed with interest around the world. Ecological activists wailed that the Gulf would never recover, alternative energy advocates demanded all off shore oil production be shut down, and the Obama administration quickly reversed its plans to open up more coastal areas for oil exploration. Now things have gone strangely silent regarding the worst ever US oil spill. A report commissioned by the reparations fund director pronounced Gulf fisheries mostly recovered and a number of scientific reports found that both oil and natural gas released by the spill had amazingly disappeared. Some environmentalists are still howling but the crisis seems to have passed much more quickly than even the most optimistic predictions.

CO2 Report Debunks Climate Change Catastrophes

For decades, climate change alarmists have generated a host of doomsday scenarios, all based on the theory of anthropogenic global warming: human CO2 emissions will force Earth's climate to warm uncontrollably causing all manner of unpleasantness. A new study, published by the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, addresses the major predicted effects of global warming head on. Making extensive use of peer reviewed research papers, the dire predictions of climate alarmists are demolished point by point. In fact, the authors conclude that rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations associated with the development of the Industrial Revolution have actually been good for the planet.

Carbon From The Deeps

Scientists believe that carbon released from the ocean floor played a key role in past episodes of climate change. Around 55 million years ago, the break-up of the northeast Atlantic continents was associated with the injection of large amounts of molten magma into seafloor sediments. Formation of the North Atlantic basalts heated the carbon-rich sediments, triggering the release of large quantities of methane and carbon dioxide into the ocean and atmosphere. It has been suggested that this release of previously sequestered carbon was responsible for a 100,000 year period of rapid temperature rise known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum or PETM. Three letters published in Nature Geoscience suggest that carbon trapped beneath the seabed continues to influence carbon dynamics, at least in the deep ocean.

The Case For Doing Nothing About Global Warming

Time after time, the public has been harangued by climate change “experts” predicting all form of devastation due to anthropogenic global warming. The Greenland and Antarctic glaciers will melt, as will the sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean. Temperatures will rise by 2-6°C, perhaps more in higher latitudes. Weather patterns will shift, there will be droughts and torrential monsoon rains, cyclones will increase in intensity—where will it all end? Here's a thought, we might find the world a nicer place after a bit of global warming. In fact, given the general cooling trend seen over the Holocene (the period since the last glacial period ended around 14,000 years ago) and the Cenozoic (the time since the dinosaurs died, around 65 million years ago) human CO2 may be, in some small way, the only thing delaying another devastating ice age.

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