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What? No sixth extinction?

Andrew Montford, GWPF

A prominent scientist inadvertently rebuts much of the climate hype

Extinction Rebellion seem to be everywhere at the moment. And everywhere their story is the same. We are in the middle of a climate catastrophe. As the Huffington Post put it,

Human-caused climate change is driving sea-level rise, drought, extreme weather and a biodiversity crisis that scientists have declared Earth’s sixth mass extinction event. As many as 150 species die off each day.

Scary eh? Surely that’s enough to justify the odd street protest?

It was therefore interesting to see read some remarks from Richard Betts today. Professor Betts is the head of climate impacts at the Met Office, so his views in this area carry a certain amount of weight. Asked what he thought were the top three negative impacts of climate change that have “absolutely started”, he replied:

  • Sea level rise
  • Increasing risk of high temperatures
  • Changes in phenology and distribution for numerous species

This left me agog. There was nothing about drought or hurricanes or any of the other manifestations of extreme weather that are said to be afflicting us; nothing about floods, or typhoons, or desertification or crashing crop yields or climate refugees, mass extinctions, skydiving walruses and any of the thousand and one tall tales that climate activists spin and the media faithfully repeat every day. The contrast between this take on currently observed negative impacts and David Attenborough’s risible Climate Change: the Facts programme last week is startling. The take home message is that most of what the “national treasure” told viewers about climate change was grubby insinuation rather than fact: less to do with science than with the BBC’s ongoing eco-campaign.

And when you look more closely at Betts’ list it’s hard not come away with the impression that there is little to write home about at all. Sea levels have been rising for centuries and evidence that it’s getting faster is marginal at best. The suggestion that “changes in phenology” are negative seems a little spurious too; if daisies bloom a few weeks earlier than they did, there’s not much of a problem, surely? And similarly, higher temperatures bring undoubted benefits, particularly in the winter. Is the overall impact negative? Probably not. None of this is to suggest that Betts has become a sceptic – quite the contrary. But it does provide us with useful clarity over what the case for climate alarm is and isn’t. It’s little to do with what is actually happening now. Mostly it’s about what scientists’ computer simulations say might happen. That’s fine, but reasonable people can agree that prediction is hard, particularly of the future. If serious people are ready to move on from “we are in the midst of climate breakdown”, then all well and good. Let’s now have a conversation about climate simulators and what they can tell us about the future.

If anything.