WaPo Opinion Piece: Extinction is fine, Climate Change is no big deal

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R. Alexander Pyron, a professor of Biology at George Washington University, wrote an OpEd in the Washington Post urging us humans to care much less than we do about species extinction. In the essay he says:

…during an expedition … in December 2013, I spotted a small green frog … Atelopus balios… no populations had been found since 1995, and it was thought to be extinct. But here it was, raised from the dead like Lazarus. My colleagues and I found several more that night, males and females, and shipped them to an amphibian ark in Quito, where they are now breeding safely in captivity. But they will go extinct one day, and the world will be none the poorer for it. Eventually, they will be replaced by a dozen or a hundred new species that evolve later.

Mass extinctions periodically wipe out up to 95 percent of all species in one fell swoop; these come every 50 million to 100 million years, and scientists agree that we are now in the middle of the sixth such extinction…

But the impulse to conserve for conservation’s sake has taken on an unthinking, unsupported, unnecessary urgency. Extinction is the engine of evolution, the mechanism by which natural selection prunes the poorly adapted and allows the hardiest to flourish. …

Climate scientists worry about how we’ve altered our planet, and they have good reasons for apprehension: Will we be able to feed ourselves? Will our water supplies dry up? Will our homes wash away? But unlike those concerns, extinction does not carry moral significance, even when we have caused it….

Yet we are obsessed with reviving the status quo ante. The Paris Accords aim to hold the temperature to under two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, even though the temperature has been at least eight degrees Celsius warmer within the past 65 million years. Twenty-one thousand years ago, Boston was under an ice sheet a kilometer thick. We are near all-time lows for temperature and sea level …

This is how evolution proceeds: through extinction….

Conserving biodiversity should not be an end in itself; diversity can even be hazardous to human health. Infectious diseases are most prevalent and virulent in the most diverse tropical areas. …

And if biodiversity is the goal of extinction fearmongers, how do they regard South Florida, where about 140 new reptile species accidentally introduced by the wildlife trade are now breeding successfully? No extinctions of native species have been recorded, and, at least anecdotally, most natives are still thriving….

If climate change and extinction present problems, the problems stem from the drastic effects they will have on us. A billion climate refugees, widespread famines, collapsed global industries, and the pain and suffering of our kin demand attention to ecology and imbue conservation with a moral imperative. A global temperature increase of two degrees Celsius will supposedly raise seas by 0.2 to 0.4 meters, with no effect on vast segments of the continents and most terrestrial biodiversity. …

First, we don’t practice a general, thoughtless, conservation policy. The author is apparently unaware that our species had developed, in most nations and internationally, a system of identifying conservation problems and addressing them. It is not perfect, but when compared to other systems, such as identifying major health risks, emergent diseases, regional episodes of starvation, or outbreaks of armed conflict, it does as well as other systems, and is probably better than average.

Second, despite the aforementioned attempt to be smart, we are also ignorant. For example, there is a theory that the removal of keystone species has a disproportionately large effect other life forms. Key seed disperses, for example, might be essential for maintenance of important biodiversity in a forest. But, what if there are a dozen species that account for 80% of the dispersal, with one of those accounting for 70%? If that one keystone disperser were to go extinct, would that cause problems for all the other dispersers, since most dispersers also rely on the plant producing the seeds they are dispersing? Or, would one or two of the other dispersers simply and quickly take over the role of the newly extinct keystone species? Answer: We don’t know and neither does R. Alexander Pyron.

For the first of these two reasons, we should not assume we are ignorant and that R. Pyron can teach us something we don’t know. Conservation is clearly not his area of expertise. (I’ve read his resume; It isn’t.) For the second of these two issues, while we can and do make efforts to be specifically smart about our decisions with respect conservation, we also need to have a general principle of opting in favor of conservation-enhancing measures where possible, because we really, honestly, don’t know the ways in which we can screw up. A good principle is to leave stuff alone when we can.

Third, mass extinctions certainly are part of life. They happen now and then. Big giant ones have happened a half dozen times or so, and there have been a larger number of medium sized ones. Mass extinctions have two interesting characteristics. One, when the most severe ones happen, we see that life comes close to getting entirely wiped out. Here is where a form of the Anthropocentric Effect comes into play. We live in the world where mass extinctions of the past have almost, but not actually, ended life on the planet (or, perhaps better stated and more relevant, ended multi-cellular life on the planet). Why do we live on a planet where life almost, but not quite, ends now and then? Because it didn’t. Had it, we would not be living here to revel in how amazing it is that life always survives. In myriad hypotheical alternative universes, the Earth is at present inhabited by slime and nothing else, because the worst mass extinctions were slightly worse than the ones that actually happened here, which is why we are here to tell about it.

The truth is that one of these days we are going to have a mass extinction that does either wipe out all life, or all but perhaps bacteria and one kind of fungus, or something close to that. R. Pyron is fine with that. I am not. He is wrong.

The second characteristic of mass extinctions is that everything gets rearranged and nothing is the same thereafter. My favorite is the pair of events that occurred very close in time at the end of the Permian. Prior to those back to back events, most, or at least a very large percentage, of animals that we were sessile — attached to things — while many, if not most, photo-synthesizers were not. After the Permian, things changed, and most plants were planted and most animals were perambulating by some means. Alexander Pyron wants us to focus on saving humans, and never mind extinctions in general. He lacks understanding of what he writes.

R is wrong about all of the climate change related things he says. He is abysmally wrong, and is clearly repeating standard long disproved, themes of the climate denial, anti science community. Yes, folks, we found another to add to the dozen or so nearly extinct ones we knew about. Like those frogs. A tenured scientist who is a climate science denier!

The current and likely future with respect to sea levee rise is meters, not tenths of meters. The current sea levels are already on the high end for the Pleistocene, not low. Lower sea levels during the last glacial were much lower. The fact that it was warmer 65 million years ago is irrelevant, since our entire ecology, including all of the plants and animals we rely on, are categorically distinct from anything that lived then. R demonstrates in this part of his essay a Middle School level understanding of all things paleo, not what one would expect from a tenured professor of biology who supposedly studies evolution.

His comments about Florida demonstrate a dangerous ignorance. The introduction of what become invasive species is nearly universally bad, and this one kind of event is responsible for more extinction in this world than any other thing. When R. tells us that invasive species are not a problem because of Florida, he is conveying a pernicious and dangerous falsehood. If he understand that he has this wrong then he has carried out a nefarious act in writing this essay, and we need to wonder why. If he does not understand that he has this wrong, then he had demonstrated deep and disturbing ignorance. Maybe there is a third reason, but I don’t see it.

By the way, the pattern he claims for Florida, specifically, might be partly true, but there are reasons for this having to to with the region’s unique bio-geography as a peninsula jutting down into a tropical region, as well as its history as part of an earlier mass extinction event across the Caribbean. This is all interesting stuff that R is apparently ignorant of.

He does seem to be concerned with climate refugees, and he does admit that we might want to avoid some of the effects of climate change. But these ameliorating comments are buried in a larger Lomborgian style argument that we should not be concerned about extinctions, climate change, all of that.

There is an editor at the Washington Post that totally stepped in it.

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92 thoughts on “WaPo Opinion Piece: Extinction is fine, Climate Change is no big deal

  1. His comments can be summarized as the old statistical philosophy (used by people outside the discipline as well as a disappointing number inside) the discipline) of “outliers should be ignored and deleted because they don’t convey any useful information”.

    In fact outliers often indicate the degree to which your model and assumptions are incorrect and can show aspects of your model that you haven’t considered.

    1. Unfortunately, this piece is not an opinion with an interesting or other point of view. It is a poorly informed scientifically inaccurate jumble. The real science editor must have been on vacation.

    2. This shallow, ignorant, and wrong-headed “point of view” was given prominence (above the fold, full, of Outlook section) without even a ‘both sides’ balancing to highlight just how wrong-headed and ignorant the whole piece actually is.

      Sadly, this fits into a too-long ‘both siderism’ at the Washington Post with publication of people like Bjorn Lomborg (http://getenergysmartnow.com/2016/09/19/day-after-blunt-takedown-of-climate-deceivers-washingtonpost-gives-soapbox-again-to-one-of-them/), despite his serial misrepresentation of material (including WashPost articles: see http://getenergysmartnow.com/2010/04/21/energy-bookshelf-the-lomborg-deception-leads-to-a-question-does-the-washington-post-have-any-honor-left/).

      “Many points of view” should have to have substantive basis to enable informed debate/discussion … this piece is at best ignorant, at worst purposeful deception.

    3. What RickA is saying is “it is good to hear opinions from other people that reinforce my point of view.” RickA has no interest in challenging his own point of view though, so when he encounters opinions that do so he goes into full logically-fallacious lawyer mode and lists vacuous reasons why it’s not good to be presented with those challenging opinions.

      As others have indicated, Pyron shows a lack of sophisticated understanding, and indeed even much of an operational understanding at all, of the addition and removal of species from ecosystems.

      If one need an example, the spread of long-spines sea urchins out of their previous ranges has spelled disaster for southern Australian kelp forests, many of which has disappeared and where the total remaining of others is around 5% of original cover, and falling. These kelp forests were the temperate marine equivalent of rainforests and many of their inhabiting species will disappear – or if cryptic or undiscovered may have already disappeared without even ever having been recorded. It’s not theoretical – it’s happening as we speak…

      Pyron seems to be making assumptions in complete obliviousness of the concept of an extinction debt, how such debts progress from a risk to a certainty, and how it can take many, many generations of affected species before the actual extinction manifests. And he also seems to be ignorant of the fact of extinction debt cascades.

      During my PhD years I worked with a fellow like Pyron, who liked to suggest that extinction was good and that relocation was not a problem (yes, I’m referring to you Dr Browne). His attitude was that we should expedite the translocation of casuarina and melaleuca to Florida, where these species flourish even though they are becoming rare in some of their natives habitats, and where species in Florida may flourish in the old habitats of the Australian plants. This ignores the fact ecosystems are composed of thousands and even tens of thousands of species, connected in complex webs of interaction that cannot be easily replicated (if at all) at the ecosystem level.

      Brown’s stance was purely as a provocateur, intended to big-note himself and belittle potential competitors, and to attract the attention of funders who might like to hear the messages that he was prepared to spout. He was a scientific prostitute, happy to sell his qualifications to the highest bidder without any regard for fact or nuance or logic, as long as it got him what he wanted. And he certainly didn’t care about the truth: he said as much on more than one occasion and justified it on the basis that “all science is wrong anyway” – but that’s a different conversation…

  2. A global temperature increase of two degrees Celsius will supposedly raise seas by 0.2 to 0.4 meters

    Last time GAT was between 1 – 2C higher than Holocene norms – during the Eemian interglacial – MSL rose at least 6m above present levels. As for the causal attitude to a high-speed mass extinction event triggered by an astonishingly rapid increase in GAT and decrease in ocean pH, well I don’t know what to say. Perhaps the most measured response is that Prof. Pyron has greatly underestimated the probable human impacts of such a profound, rapid disruption of the global ecosystem.

  3. R. certainly appears to have the smug attitude of a sadistic selfish nump.

    Species going extinct due to chemical factors, or due to environment destruction actually do need to be a source of concern. First, the things that are toxic to a lower species are very often toxic to humans too, so when something goes extinct due to a toxin of some sort that humans have added to the environment, that is, indeed, cause for concern. R. gets a big F on that one. Second, a species which might have survived and thrived but for the destruction of prairie or wetland areas by developers brings to mind this thought….. if we set a precedent for thoughtlessly destroying non-human life for the sake of a sleazy developer’s buck, where do we stop? Where do we draw the line and say “Stop!”? At what point do we realize that a paved over planet has destroyed much of its oxygen generating ability? At what point do we realize that thoughtlessly adjusting the pH of the ocean might not only destroy important food sources for humans, but it also might decrease or destroy the ability of the ocean to generate oxygen that humans need to survive?

    Lower life forms are our valued Earth-habitat neighbors. Wantonly destroying them like a clueless lout is a screaming clue that we are not paying sufficient attention to important details, that we are valuing stupid things. It is a tell that indicates that we are in danger of destabilizing bio-networks that we don’t understand, all so some asshole can make a buck with a bulldozer or a dangerous chemical.

    So where do we draw the line? Do we do it after all the “marginal” species are killed to benefit hunters, or those that have no economic importance to the Earth rapers, what then? Destroy all the prairies? All the wetlands? All the jungles? Where is a good stopping point in halting species extinction?

  4. Unlike idiots like RickA, I believe that the corporate media shows its true colors when it publishes utter tosh like this from Pyron that will be castigated by 99% of the scientific community, including me, who has more common sense and experience in my little pinky than Pyron does. In effect, this is punk science, an attempt imho for Pyron, a relative minion (he got his PhD in 2009) to get attention by making utterly outrageous assertions.

    Much of his piece was of cringe-inducing ignorance which emphasized that Pyron is a reductionist who doesn’t study the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, a field still largely in its infancy. No scientist questions that extinction is a major driver of evolution; what we question is that the current rate is between 1000 and 10000 times the natural background rate and that if it continues like this that we can realiably expect profoundly deleterious effects on the resilience, resistance and functioning of ecosystems upon which our own survival as a species depends. Although systems exhibit some resilience to simplification, we have little idea at what point critical tipping points will be crossed beyond which these systems collapse, taking with them a range of supporting and regulating services that underpin our material economy and of which there are few if any technological substitutes. And to say that a 2 to 4 degree celcius rise in temperatures would have no measurable effect on terrestrial biodiversity is pure and utter bullshit. Has he ever studied trophic interactions? Phenology? Food webs and complexity? Environmental stoichiometry? What a flippant remark.

    Pyron, in his utterly vacuous piece, writes as if the areas I described are a non-issue. According to a rookie like him? As I said, he is a reductionist, and his head is firmly planted up his backside when it comes to systems ecology. Put him in a debate with me, or any colleagues who have written about systems and we would eat him up and spit him out. This begs the question why the Washington Post would allow a greenhorn to spew nonsense from their pulpit, particularly when it would be refuted by 99% of us. The fact is the the corporate media is agenda driven. Controversy sells whereas consensus doesn’t. Look under enough rocks and you will find someone apparently ‘qualified’ enough to espouse views at odds with just about every other scientist in the field.

  5. ” This is how evolution proceeds: through extinction “.
    Er…. I dont know nothing about the subject but i instinctivly went naaaaahhh bollocks.
    Its not commonsensicle to my understanding of a species evolving . Evolution is a seperate process from extinction.
    Its a really dumb thing for a scientist to say, and im damn comfortable , as a non academic, in saying that.
    No friggen way does a daisy sort of plant only evolve due to an extinction of some other plant or critter or mushroom or whatever.
    An extinction may well influence a daisys evolution but the process is not dependant on it. Fricken Milankovitch cycles are not an extinction. They would influence evolution in daisys too. But noone in their right mind would say evolution proceeds through them cycles. Its different mechanisms.
    This bloke would make a good religious crank with his way of thinking.
    Li D

    1. As a retired geologists (whose education included several courses in biology and paleontology) I can give you the rationale for linking extinction to evolution. Different organisms do different “jobs” (ways of making a living) and there seems to be a kind of limit on how many organisms can do the same job in a given environment. So, extinction provides an opening which some newly-evolved organism to occupy without having to compete with an established species doing that job.

      It is a paleontological fact that mass extinctions are followed by what’s called an evolutionary “radiation” (that is, an increase in the number of new species, typically beginning whole new lineages of living things.)

      For example, not long (geologically) after the mass extinction at the end of the Permian period, the first true mammal species, the first pterosaur species (flying dinosaur relatives), the first dinosaur species, and the first ichthyosaur species (streamlined reptilian marine animals similar in shape to dolphins and tuna and such) first appeared. That is not even a complete list.

      Of course, as you said, extinction is not the only thing that allows evolution to occur but it does seem that mass extinctions correlate with the appearance of whole new branches on the evolutionary tree afterward.

    2. Thankyou to commenter Tyvor Winn for courteous reply.
      I did think up a scenario whereby some generalist species grows to huge numbers ( the exact opposite of extinction! ) and this forces an evolutionary response in other species, perhaps being crowded out or preyed on.
      Your point concerning extinction stimulating radiation is certainly valid in it self, but i dont feel is enough to justify the statement from Pyron i quoted. Radiation is a different thing again to evolution. A sort of potential result of its mechanism , not the mechanism itself.
      Again, thanks for reply. Its most kind of you.
      I bet you have no shortage of paperweights due to your career!
      Li D

    3. My previous reply was just informational, Li D. I did not mean to suggest that I support Dr. (Mr.?) Pyron’s position on extinction so I hope you didn’t take it that way.

      Just because something is natural doesn’t necessarily mean it is a good thing from a human perspective. The fact that a mass extinction may in millions of years to some new and interesting branches on the evolutionary tree doesn’t thrill me if it also means that my particular branch, Homo sapiens — the last twig on a once twiggy branch, goes extinct or slides into barbarism or worse as it is likely to do. I certainly don’t think we ought to help extinction along. There’s plenty of it without our aid.

    4. …I can give you the rationale for linking extinction to evolution.

      The evacuation of ecological niches certainly allows other species to enter these nacently empty niches, and thus to generate new species at a faster detectable rate. Note though that the species aren’t speciating faster at a genetic level, they’re simply able to fill new niches that otherwise wouldn’t have been available when their mutations arose, and thus they remain as ‘new’ species rather than blipping out against a background of stable biodiversity.

      However it’s important to emphasis that this observable rate of realised speciation following mass extinction events does not imply that the emptying of niches is required for speciation. Over much of geological time biodiversity has continued to increase, to the point that Holocene biodiversity was about as diverse as the planet has ever seen. There is a plateauing of course, when further successful species specialisation and insertion into narrowing niches is balanced by other species ceding to evolved extinction debts, but this does not mean that speciation (or “evolution” as was referred to elsewhere) requires extinction to occur.

      At an abstract level a resilient and highly diverse planetary ecosystem is best for most of its constituent species. There can be no ‘ethical’ justification for driving species to their extinction before their time on the premise of allowing the evolution of new species, and in the chaos that follows a mass extinction there is an increased risk that some of those newly evolving species may find themselves in empty niches that permit the evolution of characters that could potentially harm humans. In a warmer, wetter world with new combinations of species in disrupted ecosystems it’s highly possible that lethal diseases may emerge, and if they’re bacterial in nature we’ve just happened to have run our previous best defenses into the ground. Or there may emerge newly resilient pests, or predators of economically important species, or other speciation that destroys biodiversity values that humanity holds important.

      And despite the increased observed rate of speciation after extinction, the new plateauing of biodiversity is unlikely to be higher than it would have been if the extinction event had not occurred in the first place. Even if it were I struggle to see the philosophical justification for being blasé to the currently manifesting mass extinction event for the possibility of some distant biodiverty in which humans (and many non-humans) will never participate.

      It’s a fool who says that extinction is good for life and for biodiversity, unless that claim is intended to refer only to the new species arising.

  6. Pyron is a young hot-shot who works on the molecular phylogeny of reptiles and amphibians. But he does not work on species interactions or interaction networks. He is a reductionist. Ask him about the laws that govern the assembly and functioning of ecosystems and you will get a blank stare. This is why he of all people is unqualified to comment on the global and regional ecological consequences of climate change and other anthropogenic stresses. Species do not exist in isolation: they interact with other species over variable spatial and temporal scales and in numerous ways that determine how well systems function. In turn, the stability and resilience of these systems determines their ability ton generate services that support both the natural and material economies.

    Pyron’s piece is abominable and peurile, the kind of thing a mediocre undergraduate student might write. I am sure that, given there is a paucity of qualified ecologists that would writer such piffle, he will come under the radar of the climate change denial and anti-environmental lobbies and possibly be courted by them. They would promote him as a ‘leading ecologist’ in their battle to win hearts and minds. Just whate we don’t need – a slightly more qualified Bjorn Lomborg.

    1. Not that you need my approval, but your comment on “species interactions” is right on point according to what ecology and paleoecology I know. One species may not seem to be of much importance but its extinction will generally put stress on other species that depend upon it in some way (and there are several ways). That stress may lead to evolution but it is probably even more likely to lead to further extinction. And humans are already pushing thousands of species towards extinction.

      Pyron’s basic premise that extinction is necessary to evolution, even if it were true, doesn’t mean that we should ignore or even encourage it. To me it is like saying “We should not attempt to save human lives because death makes room for more people.” We or more specifically our advanced civilization are the likely potential victims, not the beneficiaries of extinction. It is our enemy unless we really want to see our population shrink and the survivors go back to living as people did in ancient times, perhaps in small bands of hunter/gatherers.

      I’ve been reading your posts with interest so thank you.

    2. Thanks Tyvor. I enjoyed reading your paleoecological perspective as well. Pyron doesn’t encourage extinction but he is indifferent to it. A no-brainer, revealing he is out of his depth. That species interactions play a crucial role in the maintenance of ecosystem functions and production of critical services goes over his head. And he has absolutely no moral or ethical valuation. Clearly, if polar bears, tigers, African elephants and White rhinos disappear he won’t lose any sleep over it.

      Pyron is young – 29 – and ambitious. Making outrageous assertions like he does in an article which should never have seen the light of day will put him on the map. I expect him to be featured prominently in time by think tanks, the media and blogs that downplay human impacts on the environment. I am sure this will stoke his ego.

  7. This Professor appears remarkable ignorant of even the general published literature that demonstrates how wrong he is.

    Elizabeth Kolbert’s ‘The Sixth Mass Extinction’ even has an illustration on the cover which should arouse the interest of any herpetologist worth his PhD.

    Then there is Richard Pearson’s widely informative ‘Driven to Extinction’

    E. O. Wilson has also written on the topic with his ‘The Future of Life’

    Tony Juniper has a new book in the offing which promises to inform on the state of play with the rainforests with ‘Rainforest: Dispatches from Earth’s most vital frontlines’ due in April 2018 but there are signs that it may be available earlier. Juniper has a number of other books and one, although aimed at a less sophisticated audience provides a wide ranging look at how humanity has messed up, in all directions. ‘What’s Really Happening to Our Planet?: The Facts Simply Explained’ is worth getting in to pass around the family and friends.

    Message for RickA, do try to stop positing from ignorance, try to learn something about a topic first. IOW, engage brain before opening mouth. References which even you should be able to understand have now been pointed out.

    1. Lionel:

      Please point out exactly what I said that you think is “positing from ignorance” (whatever that is).

      Do you disagree that the article is opinion?

      Do you disagree that hearing opinions from all sides is good?

      Or perhaps you just disagree with everything I post, seemingly almost automatically.

      Please think a bit before you post – you are embarrassing yourself.

    2. Do you disagree that hearing opinions from all sides is good?

      If an opinion is incorrect, misleading or political bullshit, then it doesn’t need airing to the wider public as the peeps are easily confused and climate change is a serious matter. That’s why deniers forever megaphoning each others’ lies via the rightwing media are so fucking pernicious.

    3. BBD:

      Well, as always, you are entitled to your opinion (grin).

      I disagree with your opinion in this case – especially as to “incorrect” opinions.

      Incorrect is another way of saying “wrong”.

      So you are saying nobody should have a “wrong” opinion, or be able to publish a “wrong” opinion.

      Lets apply that to the case of a scientific paper.

      Scientific papers are nothing more than opinions – the authors opinion that their interpretation of the data or their hypothesis is correct.

      That is why they are often times corrected, rebutted, responded to, challenged and criticized.

      That is how science works – one puts his or her opinion out their (and their reasons for it) and another disagrees and puts forward their reasons for disagreeing.

      Many many scientific papers are “wrong” or “incorrect” – but we all benefit from their publication.

      Ultimately a consensus is formed around which opinion is correct and sometimes even grows to form a theory.

      Many opinions can be wrong – but useful.

      Why even whole theories can turn out to be wrong – but useful.

      Also, please be aware that when one publishes an opinion, not many would agree up front that their opinion is “wrong” or “incorrect”. I doubt the author of the subject of this post would agree he is “incorrect” – or he would not have written his WaPo piece.

      After all – who is to say ones opinion is wrong or right. I think your opinion is “wrong” – you think my opinion is “wrong”.

      So I think it a mistake to argue that “wrong” or “incorrect” opinions should not be heard.

      But that is just my opinion.

    4. RickA

      Your opinions have been SHOWN to be wrong over and over and over and over and over again. Right here, in this blog. But you keep on and on repeating your debunked crap which makes you a knowing peddler of misinformation. As dean says below, the days when you could pretend that you were just voicing an opinion are long gone. You are pushing manifestly incorrect information into the public discourse which is pernicious. It’s no different from pushing race hate or homophobia or antivax lies. You are a loud and tireless mouthpiece for lies designed to keep corporate profits flowing irrespective of the consequences for the rest of us. It’s enough to make me want to believe in hell.

  8. RickA, Hearing opinions from different sides is fine, as long as there is intellectual support for both sides. Pyron writes a lot of piffle. He is not a systems ecologist and as such he doesn’t seem to understand the importance of interactions in maintaining systemic resilience and stability. His view runs counter to the leading experts who study ecological interactions, including the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. He is a reductionist. Why interview a rank amateur when there are much more qualified scientists such as Stuart Pimm, Paul Ehrlich, Tom Lovejoy, Martin Scheffer, Kevin McCann, John Lawton, David Wardle, David Tilman, Shaheed Naeem et al. who would demolish Pyron’s arguments? And these are system ecologists and conservation biologists, not a molecular phylogenist. I have published almost 200 articles in ecological journals and I would be glad to debunk this gibberish.

    This reminds me of a story told by Professor Peter Raven of the Missouri Botanical Garden some years ago. Raven said that he was contacted by a journalist who was writing an article about the current mass extinction event underway. Raven concurred that the current rate of extinction, driven in large measure by human actions, is large. “Dang” the journalist replied. “ I have spoken with 30 leading biologists and they all say the same thing”. “Then what’s the problem?” Raven asked. The journalist replied, “Well, the economist Julian Simon claims that extinction rates are exaggerrated, but I need to find a biologist who agrees with him but I can’t. You all seem to agree that the extinction rate is very high. It is not a good story”.

    There you have it. Consensus doesn’t sell. Clearly, Pyron was scraped out from under a rock somewhere and given his pulpit because his view is different. BUT IT’S WRONG AND AT ODDS WITH THE VAST MAJORITY OF EXPERTS. Why is he allowed therefore to be given such a prominent platform? It is simply because it is different, and has nothing to do with its credibility.

    I am sure that RickA welcomes opinion pieces in thw WaPo from flat earthers, creationists and white supremacists. After all, hearing from all sides is good in his jaded view.

    1. Jeff says “Why is he allowed therefore to be given such a prominent platform?”

      See – this is dangerous thinking.

      He was allowed because the WaPo decided to publish his opinion piece.

      The world would be a poorer place where your gate keeping allowed.

      I for one, applaud WaPo for publishing this piece.

      Don’t ban, censor or preclude speech you disagree with – publish your disagreement in response.

    2. rickA, as long as opinions are based on valid science then opposing opinions are indeed welcome and important for discussions and advancement. But

      – your comments are never based on science, merely your uninformed opinion, which is completely useless
      – As Jeff points out above, contrary statements that seem to be science-based have to be vetted — if they use data incorrectly, or ignore data that is vital to the topic, then those issues need to be pointed out, and if the errors are serious enough to render those comments worthless then so be it

      The problem is that denialists like you and others like you continue to march out the same lies and distortions of fact, well after the issues have been pointed out. What may have been, at one time, a clear opinion of yours based on limited information has been corrected so often that now when you march it out there is no other name for it than bald-faced lie.

    3. Dean and Jeff spell it out at least as clearly as I did. So that’s you told three times now.

      Your denialist rhetoric is pernicious, dishonest, politicised, plutocracy-serving shit.

    4. “Scientific papers are nothing more than opinions”

      If you truly believe that means the opinion of anyone is as valid as the conclusions of scientific research then it is impossible to quantify your level of ignorance.

  9. RickA, this gate-keeping has a name.

    It is called “peer review”. Had Pyron’s puff piece been assessed by experts in the fields where he lacks the proper knowledge, then it would have been rejected because of the numerous flaws. In the end he would have had to accept his article being published in the ‘Gunnison Gazette’ or ‘Sierra Vista Register’, where it would have been ignored and disappeared without a trace.

    Given his views on extinction are nonsense, I wonder when the WaPo is going to publish a series of rejoinders. Ummm… never? The corporate media doesn’t work in this way. They sold their story and damn the consequences.

    You are being hammered here big time. My advice is to give up defending the indefensible.

    1. Jeff:

      WaPo opinion pieces are not peer-reviewed.

      It is you who are defending the indefensible, namely calling for gate keeping of newspaper opinion pieces based on subjective opinions of correctness.

      What next – book burning?

    2. What next – book burning?

      Some day, it is to be hoped that you and your fellow misinformers and liars are held accountable for what you have collectively done.

    3. …namely calling for gate keeping of newspaper opinion pieces based on subjective opinions of correctness.

      Nothing screams “I have no intention of taking part of a discussion of science by using real science” more than your continued equating of ignorant opinion with evidence supported research (emphasized above).

  10. It is you who are defending the indefensible, namely calling for gate keeping of newspaper opinion pieces based on subjective opinions of correctness.

    I agree.

    We can only but look forward to the products of the WaPo’s in-depth investigative journalism on such cutting-edge topics as: astrology, BigFoot, ancient astronauts, Feng Shui, the Bermuda Triangle, and the acquisition of virtues through cannibalism.

    I can hardly wait.

    1. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse, now that
      was a delightful retort.

      As anyone can tell after reading Professor
      Laden’s Blog, Climate Carpetbaggers have
      absolutely no sense of humor.

      Professor Harvey, replied in detail and with force;
      while the others simply demanded censorship,
      coupled with defamation of character.

    2. Professor Harvey, replied in detail and with force;
      while the others simply demanded censorship,
      coupled with defamation of character.


    3. while the others simply demanded censorship,
      coupled with defamation of character.

      Lies like this are so blatant you have to wonder how any person could utter them.

      Then you look at the source.

  11. BBD says “Some day, it is to be hoped that you and your fellow misinformers and liars are held accountable for what you have collectively done.”

    I don’t lie. I just don’t agree with you (about much).

    I am quite comfortable with being held accountable for my opinions.

    You, dean and Lionel have been wrong footed in this thread and are on the wrong side of history. Perhaps in a month or so you can review this thread and see it.

    You are trying to suppress speech you don’t agree with (the WaPo opinion piece).

    That is wrong.

    1. I don’t lie. I just don’t agree with you (about much).

      Either you are too stupid to understand why your crap is wrong, in which case you should shut the fuck up, or you know its wrong in which case you are a liar.

      You are trying to suppress speech you don’t agree with (the WaPo opinion piece).

      Nope. We are unhappy about bollocks being platformed. You know, stuff that is wrong, as in incorrect. Like the pernicious crap you keep on coming out with despite a myriad corrections.

      The only person on the wrong side of anything in here is you – a misinformation-peddling climate change denier.

    2. Yes, for you siding with science and evidence is being on the wrong side of things. You’ve repeatedly made it clear that you don’t value either science or integrity.

    3. “Free speech” is a loaded phrase. Scientists have a special responsibility because of their choice of career so they are not completely free if they want to stay in good standing in that career.

      Part of the education of scientists is that as a scientist you don’t write a paper/give a talk on a scientific topic until and unless you first research the scientific literature on that topic. This is to keep scientists from wasting their time and also disrespecting those who went before. Papers can be and are rejected for not taking account of relevant previous research.

      Now, if a scientist thinks that the relevant scientific literature is wrong or incomplete, he or she needs to reference it and carefully frame his/her contrary argument and present strong evidence for it. It seems that Dr. (Mr.?) Pyron failed to do this.

      It is not a crime in the U. S. to publish a personal opinion and buttress it with an advanced degree in what many in the general public would take as a relevant field but fail to do his/her due diligence as described above but it does reflect poorly on him/her. In the Pyron case, the matter under discussion is of much importance to many people so it is all the more important that opinions that involve science should contain as much relevant science as possible in both the preparation and presentation stage.

  12. You are free to believe I am wrong.

    I am free to believe you are wrong.

    I actually do not accept the label denier and believe I am actually on the side of science and integrity.

    I accept that you also believe you (BBD and dean) are on the side of science and integrity.

    What we have is a difference of opinion.

    What is ECS – we don’t know yet. It could be anywhere between 1.5 and 4.5C.

    We are just waiting for science to provide further clarification and that is what pisses you guys off the most. You cannot say I am wrong because we really don’t know whether ECS is 1.8C or 3C or 4C. Everyday more papers are published and they are all over the place, some with high values, some with middle values and some with low values. The science just hasn’t settled this debate yet.

    I say we have to wait until we hit 560 ppm to know more and you guys just keep repeating that we already know the answer – when everybody knows we don’t know the answer – just the incredibly broad range into which the answer falls.

    All you two have is your opinion – which is worth just as much as my opinion.

    So you get mad and call names.

    I try to avoid making that mistake.

    1. …believe I am actually on the side of science and integrity.

      So do the vaccine denialists, and anti-relativity people, and many other cranks. If what you say is 100% opposed to what the science says, and you have no credible support for your view, you are not on the side of science. When you’ve had the huge holes in your statements pointed out and you continue to say your comments are valid, you are not on the side of integrity. The term “denier” is perfect for people like you.

    2. Everyday more papers are published and they are all over the place, some with high values, some with middle values and some with low values.

      Nope. You get the odd lowball by politicised mischief-makers like Nic Lewis but the evidence is very strong for an ECS of about 3C. You’ve had this shown to you, explained to you, told to you over and over and over again, yet still you lie about it.

      All you two have is your opinion – which is worth just as much as my opinion.

      And that’s just not true. I can marshal a pretty solid, scientifically-backed argument for why ~3C is very much more likely than either end of the range.

      You can’t back up your dishonest pretend agnosia with anything more than than the lie that your opinion is as valid as mine.

      As I’ve said many times, you’re as dishonest as they come.

  13. R. engages in all sorts of generalizations meant, perhaps, to appeal to the white nationalist, libertarian, hurray-for-me-screw-verybody- else adolescent mentality. Or perhaps not. Who knows. But in the excerpts of his piece provided, he gives no concrete examples to support what he is talking about, just a vague generality that can be used as fodder for stupid arguments by the inherit and conquer crowd. His piece will doubtless be used by those who think that a poorly conceived man-made environment splotched with large patches of oil soaked ground, coal ash leachate, diaper filled garbage dumps, and bull dozed landscapes populated with architecture of the J. Fred. Muggs school is all superior to well thought out, well conceived living spaces and energy systems that integrate humans with non-human nature in a way that preserves natural networks of extreme beauty, while creating a maximally healthy environment for humans.

    R. had the luxury of working in beautiful tropical jungles. He might have had a better informed world view if he had spent some time down wind and down stream of petroleum refineries, petrochemical plants, petroleum dumps, coal ash waste dumps, Koch plants, landfills, and other very real manifestations of human interactions with the environment. His “who needs frogs” mentality is pretty sick for a biologist. Yeah, every life form is just a flash in the pan of time. Including, and especially humans. R.’s poorly articulated piece will, unfortunately, be used as justication for trash and kill behavior, and will, ultimately result in a poorer environment for humans.

  14. Please point out exactly what I said that you think is “positing from ignorance” (whatever that is).

    Your response as if R-Reductionist had any weight indicated you have a blinkered view of the human attack on ecosystems and species.

    Do you disagree that the article is opinion?

    Of course not, but as opinion it was worse than worthless, as Greg indicated, for it was pernicious nonsense. If you cannot understand that then study the sources cited and works by the others Jeff mentioned, I have some of those too.

    Now stop jerking people around. I know, I know you are a lawyer and it is hard to break the habit of a lifetime.

  15. Excellent ripostes of RickA here by BBD, Dean, Lionel and SteveP.

    RickA believes that the mainstream media has no responsibility to report the truth. Therefore, opinion pieces pushing flat earth theory, alchemy, faith healing, white supremacy, and much more should fill the pages of the WaPo and other major newspapers. Why not? They are as credible as the garbage Pyron spewed from his pulpit.

    In truth, this has nothing to do with free speech but with RickA’s own right wing political beliefs which push the discredited belief that climate change and extinction are exaggerated and can therefore be downplayed or ignored. It is just that RickA uses free speech to camouflage his political views.

    1. RickA, read the comments that accompany Pyron’s opinion article. Pretty well he is trashed by everyone. I particularly like the comment describing his approach as ‘anthropofascist’. Another said ‘ if Pyron is the future of science, God help us all’. For sure the article was utter garbage, and should never have seen the light of day in a major mainstream paper.

  16. To take Trevor’s point further, mass extinctions create vacancies in niche space that facilitate adaptive radiation and speciation. At the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary the dinosaurs rapidly became extinct – rapid meaning over the course of 10,000-20,000 years after the impact of the huge meteorite off the Yucatan Peninsula (put this in the context of the current human-driven mass extinction which is occurring over a few centuries).

    The Tertiary void took some 10 million years to be resolved, with first birds and then mammals vying for the domination of terrestrial ecosytems. Mammals ultimately won. Moreover, both changevand stasis are drivers of speciation. Change opens up new niches or habitat occupancy space whereas statis enables species to evolve highly specialized traits to exploit more narrow niche space.

    All of this is irrelevant to Pyron’s gibberish though. The question is not whether the first mass extinction event to be caused by one of the planet’s evolved inhabitants (us) is underway or not (it is), the question is what effect it is likely to have on the functioning of complex adaptive ecosystems that generate services which permit humans to exist and persist. Pyron said little about this in his puff piece. The truth is that the widespread collapse of ecosystem services will rebound on us, making humans the most apparent species to become extinct during the sixth great extinction.

    1. Thanks for the extension. For comparison, the first appearance of pterosaurs, dinosaurs, and true mammals took about 27 million years, until early in Late Triassic time. Their immediate archosaurian ancestors, of course, appeared earlier in the period. Ichthyosaurs and several other marine reptiles first appeared in Early Triassic.

      The more rapid Tertiary radiation was probably faster because both birds and mammals were already in existence. (BTW: Tertiary and Quaternary are now being replaced by Paleogene and Neogene with a different split time between them.)

      There is little to applaud about either mass extinction or evolutionary radiation except as descendants of one of the surviving groups. As future events they lack appeal.

  17. Jeff Harvey:

    The truth is that the widespread collapse of ecosystem services will rebound on us, making humans the most apparent species to become extinct during the sixth great extinction.

    And then, a million years from now, an extra-terrestrial civilization will discover the Earth, and examine the odd, carbon-rich and radioactive sediments laid down a million years before, and they will discover an archived copy of the Washington Post that includes several articles in a strange undecipherable language that are clearly associated with images of primate tetrapods wearing head-coverings made of aluminum foil.

  18. I feel a little uncomfortable with the statement ” Mammals ultimatly won ” when various bacteria and insects and planktony type things seem to achieved so much success thus far.
    But im very naive in the subject.
    Id love to read a response to Pyron from E O Wilson, assuming Wilson would even bother with the fluff.

    1. It’s an unfortunate but understandable multicellular bias on the part of us multicellular animals. We also tend to ignore plants and invertebrate animals.

      Even in the context of birds versus mammals, mammals “won” only in the sense that they are now the major large land-living carnivores and herbivores and the 6 to 7-foot- tall giant birds of that previously filled those roles in earlier times (and some of whom persisted until a million years ago) are now gone. Birds radiated in a different direction, flight, and there are now twice as many bird species as there are mammals. Winning, like beauty, is in the eye/mind/opinion of the beholder.

  19. Li, good comment. However, if I was referring to pathogens primarily in the soil I would have had to go backwards 300 million years at least. And I would also have to include insects and other arthropods. I was focusing instead on the dominant vertebrates. But you are indeed correct: the little things do indeed run the world, and have for a long, long time. Our survival depends on them.

  20. I would pose a very simple question to Dr. Pyron: Tomorrow astronomers identify a 30km asteroid that will hit the Earth in 100 years with a greater than 50% probability. Asteroid-planet collisions are a totally natural process that can lead to large extinctions. What does he propose to do?

    According to the “reasoning” in his opinion piece, I can only assume his answer is that he do nothing different at all and live business as usual.

  21. His Deanship cursed, “Lies like this are so blatant you have to wonder how any person could utter them.

    Then you look at the source.”

    Howard Dean, have I ever told the truth? Has BB ever
    contributed any of value?

  22. “Howard Dean, have I ever told the truth?”

    About science? No, you never have here. About race? No. You probably did tell the truth when you mentioned your business hustled patients out quickly simply to garner more revenue, but that’s not something you should be proud of.

    1. Lionel, not many in the aggregate.

      “6.60 billion; according to the CIA World Factbook is the population of the earth and siince “Science is a refinement of everyday thinking.”(Albert Einstein) everyone is a scientist. Actually,
      According to AAAS, there were 5.8 million science and engineering researchers in 2006. “

    2. And wait for some moron to comment on the total number of scientists in the world and how 15,000 is a small portion — without the intelligence to realize that the majority of scientists have no relevant expertise in climate issues.

  23. Re: Bernard J’s comments, e. g.:
    “… it’s important to emphasis that this observable rate of realised speciation following mass extinction events does not imply that the emptying of niches is required for speciation. Over much of geological time biodiversity has continued to increase, to the point that Holocene biodiversity was about as diverse as the planet has ever seen.”

    Speciation certainly has more than one cause and empty niches are not the sole reason. That said, empty niches are certainly much easier to fill than displacing an already well-adjusted lifeform is. From a paleontological perspective, it is important that post-mass extinction radiations typically fill many empty niches with species belonging to different higher-level taxa than the species which filled them previously. When species are removed in wholesale lots, some higher-level groups are bound to be completely or near-completely eliminated.

    Two examples: (1) After the end-Permian mass extinction (est. at >90% at the species level), brachiopods became minor players in the seas and molluscs (especially pelecypods) took over their niches. (2) On land, most therapid synapsid carnivores and herbivores were replaced by archosaurian diapsids which in turn evolved into a variety of crocodilians, dinosaurs, and pterosaurs. In the Linnaean biological classification, this is phylum-level, class-level, or order-level replacement.

    This aspect of life’s history noted above adds a lot of novelty and interest for paleontologists but it is not appealing to think about as something in our future. We, the last remaining synapsids, are in no position to feel sanguine about our future in the post-mass extinction world we are rapidly bringing into being.

    1. I should have said “the last remaining hominin synapsids” because all mammals are synapsids; all evolved from a cynodont branch of the therapsid line during Late Triassic time. The fossil record from then on indicates relatively low mammal diversity and ecological importance during the next two periods — Jurassic and Cretaceous — followed by a major radiation soon (geologically) after the end-Cretaceous mass extinction.

  24. Tyvor, with my scientist’s hat on I too am absolutely fascinated by the speciation after the evacuation of niches.

    As an extant life form and as an (imperfectly) ethical being I am rather committed to preserving the greatest and overall most beneficial biodiversity from now into the future in which we as humans have an influence. In that regard I have to emphasise your comment that mass extinction is “not appealing to think about as something in our future”…

  25. Greg, Bernard etc. our new paper is now out in Bioscience (Editor’s Choice) in which we evaluated the positions of 45 pro science and 45 denier blogs on arctic ice extent and predictions, and in turn on polar bear status. We have received immense coverage e.g Dana Nuccitelli in the Guardian, Newsweek, Reddit etc. Would you be interested in putting it up on your blog? Desmogblog has a piece on it as does Skeptical Science. The denier blogs have gone ballistic, as expected, including WUWT.

    Co authors include Steve Lewandowsky and Michael Mann.

  26. Very off topic query for those knowledgable in the subject. Why is methane emmisions a big Northern Hemisphere thing and why does it not seem to mix well into the Southern Hemisphere?
    Is it a seasonal thing and it would be reversed
    in a Southern Autumn ? Or what?
    The difference between the hemispheres is bloody huge at the moment, at all hPa altitude graduations on the brilliant European Copernicus system.
    Thanks for any replies and thanks Greg for the
    space to ask this. Please delete if you feel its too inappropriate a query.
    Thanks to those who contemplated my views on extinction and influence on evolution earlier. I really appreciate it.

    Li D

    1. Li D

      Without going into the detail it’s pretty safe to say that you get all that methane in the N hemisphere because methane is a land thing* (at least for now) and most of the land is in the N hemisphere.

      *Excepting Arctic lakes.

  27. His Deanship barked, “And wait for some moron to comment on the total number of scientists in the world and how 15,000 is a small portion — without the intelligence to realize that the majority of scientists have no relevant expertise in climate issues.”

    Only the self-righteous have the authority to
    opine on enviro issues.

    This is known as the Dean’s Board of Enviro
    Governance. All other thoughts, theory and
    opinions are expressly deemed (Dean) non germain.

    1. Only the self-righteous have the authority to
      opine on enviro issues.

      You seem to be as ignorant an ass as bb. You denialist jerks can certainly have opinions, but there is no reason to take them seriously when you don’t have any expertise in the relevant area (or continually lie, which is also your stock in trade).

      The comment you reference goes to that. It is true that 15,000 out of all scientists and engineers is a small fraction, but since the vast majority of the scientists don’t have any training in areas relevant to statistics or climate science, the comparison bb made is irrelevant. There is no more validity there than you see from the occasional mechanical engineer who argues that relativity based corrections aren’t needed for GPS satellites.

      If he wanted to do a little work (which won’t happen, because convenient lies and misdirections are the only things that appeal to folks like you) he’d try to figure out what percentage of people who work in areas related to climate science who agree with the latest results.

      Clearly you and others have the right to make stupid statements and flat out lies (like you did in your most recent comment). Also, clearly, you’re going to get called on them (and apparently get childishly butt-hurt for having your dishonesty pointed out). Too bad snowflake.

    2. Re: Anonymous’s comment.
      Did you read the quotation you posted in your introduction? It includes a quite clear and rational justification for his point.

      Or perhaps you don’t realize that because of the advancements in many fields of science, modern science and the education of most modern scientists with advanced degrees is specialized enough that many modern scientists’ opinions on scientific topics outside of their immediate areas of expertise and research can not be assumed to be any more informed than those of members of the general public.

      That is why surveying scientists in general would not be a particularly good way to evaluate the conclusions of climate scientists regarding AGW in general and climate change prediction in particular. After all, if you have had a heart attack, you shouldn’t go to a gp or an ob-gyn for the best information and care possible.

  28. And if biodiversity is the goal of extinction fearmongers, how do they regard South Florida, where about 140 new reptile species accidentally introduced by the wildlife trade are now breeding successfully? No extinctions of native species have been recorded, and, at least anecdotally, most natives are still thriving….

    A thorough rebuttal to Pyron could run to pages, but I’d suggest that he simply stand on a fire ant nest for a few seconds. That should be sufficient to motivate him to do his own literature review to the extent that he retract the cavalier blathering that he’s posted…

  29. All Pyron had to do was consult Wiki

    Burmese pythons share the top of the food chain in the Everglades with alligators and prey on 39 endangered species and 41 additional rare species.

    Not recorded is not ‘not happened’ and ‘yet’ is an important word.

    His article is a bonfire of his vanities, a pyron pyre.

    1. ‘yet’ is an important word.

      Critical, and not just for exotic species introductions, but for global warming and climate change.

      It’s all about the normalcy bias, it seems…

  30. Well shit. Now i know the blokes a goose, trying on that crap.
    Its a real denier sounding thing actually.
    Oh yas like diversity, so whats wrong with adding ferals! Thats more diversity isnt it!
    Its one of the stupidest bits of attempted rationalisation ive ever read.
    The fuckwit really needs to read about carp, gamba grass, cats, and canetoads, to mention just a few .
    Its almost impossible to believe hes in the natural science field.
    Im not convinced its not satire, because noone could be that fucking wrong headed ( except deniers, i spose ).

    Has the bloke done any other writings, for comparison?

  31. Pyron has backpedalled furiously on his op ed:


    I suspect that he’s feeling the heat not only on the WaPO site:


    He’s been excoriated on scientofic and non-scientific sites alike, so I’m not surprised that he’s pulled in his head.

    1. From the link ” … Australia …represent a vision for the future for both humanity and biodiversity.”
      Jesus H Christ!
      Has the fuckstick got any idea of what is happening in Australia? Has he seen what a wheatfield looks like?
      Has he looked at land clearing rates?
      Has he looked at the human rights record?
      Its a vision alright, but far from a pleasant one.
      For christ sake dont anyone use Australia as model for anything related to humanity or biodiversity.
      Im quite surprised at the lack of sanctions against Australia.
      Go out to, say , Richmond, or Julia Creek.
      Whats there? What isnt there that was there before?
      An Australian vision! Jeez.

  32. Pyron has backpedalled furiously on his op ed:


    I suspect that he’s feeling the heat not only on the WaPO site:


    but elsewhere as well – he’s been excoriated on scientific and non-scientific sites alike, so I’m not surprised that he’s pulled in his head.

  33. Thanks Bernard, at the foot of his grovel:

    As I stated at the end: The Tree of Life will continue branching without us, even if we prune it back.

    As we have pruned it back, no question, we may well have already compromised the branch at the end of which we sit, thus:

    The question is: how will we live in the meantime?

    Is the wrong question. The question is: how long will humanity survive in this form?

    Indeed I suspect that Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees is on the money with his book and talk (Is this) Our Final Century: Will Civilisation Survive the Twenty-first Century?

    1. ” …, at the foot of his grovel : …”
      Hahahaha. Thats a brilliant bit of writing there.
      It has something of Conrad about it.
      Muchly impressed.

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