No, there will be no “Sixth Mass Extinction”

Citing a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Gerardo Ceballos, an ecology professor at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, and his co-authors, including well-known Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich, CNN has jumped on the environmental doom-and-gloom bandwagon. The network is making the case that the Earth is experiencing a sixth mass extinction even though the network broadcast a similar report that made similar claims during 2002. This means three-quarters of all species could disappear in the coming centuries and humans are blamed as being the cause of this catastrophe.

Not so fast, says Boston Science writer Peter Brannen. In an essay he wrote for The Atlantic Brannen interviewed paleontologist Doug Erwin about the sixth mass extinction. In Brannen’s extiomation, the claims about it are junk science:

“People who claim we’re in the sixth mass extinction don’t understand enough about mass extinctions to understand the logical flaw in their argument,” he said. “To a certain extent they’re claiming it as a way of frightening people into action, when in fact, if it’s actually true we’re in a sixth mass extinction, then there’s no point in conservation biology.”

This is because by the time a mass extinction starts, the world would already be over.

“So if we really are in the middle of a mass extinction,” I started, “it wouldn’t be a matter of saving tigers and elephants—”

“Right, you probably have to worry about saving coyotes and rats.

“It’s a network collapse problem,” he said. “Just like power grids. Network dynamics research has been getting a ton of money from DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency]. They’re all physicists studying it, who don’t care about power grids or ecosystems, they care about math. So the secret about power grids is that nobody actually knows how they work. And it’s exactly the same problem you have in ecosystems.

“I think that if we keep things up long enough, we’ll get to a mass extinction, but we’re not in a mass extinction yet, and I think that’s an optimistic discovery because that means we actually have time to avoid Armageddon,” he said.

It should also be noted that one of the researches of the manuscript published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is none other than Paul Erlich of Population Bomb fame. Ehrlich is the nutcase who said in 1968 that mankind would face extinction through mass starvation within ten years due to resource depletion resulting from population growth.

To rectify the hype built up from his predictions, Ehrlich not only proposed special taxes on diapers and children, but also suggested sneaking sterilization of the public through drinking water, and even lacing foreign food assistance with anti-fertility drugs. Erich’s ideas had such an impact that India instituted a sterilization program where millions of people were sterilized in which some sterilization was forcibly administered. Despite none of Erlich’s doom and gloom predictions having come true, he remains unapologetic and continues to purport his apocalyptic vision like a fire and brimstone clergyman.

It would be interesting to see if Ehrlich and his colleagues would be able to explain the explosion of the alligator population two years ago in the American Southeast a couple of years ago. It has gotten so bad there that people in places like Florida are barricading themselves in their homes.

Thanks to a cold winter during that same year in the Northeastern US, the white tailed deer population rose dramatically. It would be curious to see if Ehrlich and his team could even explain the recent discovery of a population of New Guinea wild dogs that were once thought extinct too.

There is no doubt the climate is changing but humans are not the cause of it. Unfortunately, some species will go extinct. Species live, adjust and sometimes die resulting to climate changes. That is a natural fact of life but not solely or mostly due to humans activity. In terms of Ehrlich et. all’s study, suspicion is certainly warranted because, what James Hansen did for twisting data for his climate science studies, Paul Ehrlich is probably doing the same for studies such as this.