News Brief by Kip Hansen – 4 August 2021
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (US FWS) apparently thinks federal policy should be based in single, speculative studies that claim to predict the future. In this case, Martha Williams, principal deputy director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a statement:
“The decisions made by policymakers today and during the next few decades will determine the fate of the emperor penguin.” During an announcement that US FWS was proposing listing the Emperor Penguin under the protections of the Endangered Species Act.
Catrin Einhorn, a journalist for the The New York Times says, erroneously, that “The penguins live much of the year on Antarctic sea ice, which is disappearing or breaking apart because of the heat-trapping gases released by humans’ use of fossil fuels. The penguins need the ice to breed, raise their young and escape predators.”
The U.S. FWS proposal is claimed to be “informed by scientific research that was published independently in the journal Global Change Biology on Tuesday. That study found that if sea ice continues to disappear at the rate predicted by climate models given the world’s current energy trends and policies, more than 80 percent of emperor penguin colonies would in effect become extinct by 2100.”
Just to be clear, Antarctic Sea Ice is not disappearing in the present nor has it been disappearing for as long as reliable satellite-based observations have been available.
I have modified the NSIDC graph by bolding the trace for 2021. The year 2020 is at the top edge of the shaded area representing the 1981- 2010 median. It is obvious that since 1979, Antarctic Sea Ice has been stable within a narrow range and recent sea ice extents are right in the middle of that range. 2017, however, is a record minimum. The trace that is the exceptional all-time high (black) is 2014.
The study is titled “The call of the emperor penguin: Legal responses to species threatened byv climate change” by Stephanie Jenouvrier et al. Jenouvrier is with the Biology Department of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The abstract states: “Our results show that if sea ice declines at the rate projected by climate models under current energy system trends and policies, the 3Rs would be dramatically reduced and almost all colonies would become quasi-extinct by 2100. We conclude that the species should be listed as threatened under the ESA.”
“And not just for penguins,” Dr. Jenouvrier noted. “For us and for our children.” [quote given to the NY Times]
Read the study if you like, it is the culmination of a career spent predicting the demise of Emperor Penguins. It has been produced specifically to influence the US FWS court-ordered decision whether or not to propose listing the Em Emperor Penguin under the Endangered Species Act. Quoting the study: “The FWS is now under a court deadline to conduct a full scientific review of emperor penguin status and decide whether the listing is warranted by July 2021. [Note: the study was not officially published until 3 August 2021.] Previous modelling efforts to project the effects of climate change on the status of emperor penguin populations (Jenouvrier et al., 2009, 2012, 2014, 2020) were not designed to provide assessments relevant to any legal framework. The analysis described below is specifically tailored for decision-making under the ESA, and expands upon previous research by assessing the effects of annual extreme climate-related perturbations through exploration of various climate scenarios.”
Please note that “Two co-authors, Shaye Wolf and Noah Greenwald, are employees and members of the non-profit conservation organization that petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to consider the scientific case for listing the emperor penguin under the Endangered Species Act.”
Jenouvrier et al. do not give Emperor Penguin population figures in their study to support the claimed threat to the species. Why? As Susan Crockford reported just last August: “Emperor penguin (Aptenodytes fosteri) populations in 2019 were found to have grown by up to 10% since 2009 – to as many as 282,150 breeding pairs (up from about 256,500) out of a total population of over 600,000 birds (Fretwell et al. 2012; Fretwell and Trathan 2020; Trathan et al. 2020) – despite a loss of thousands of chicks in 2016 when an ice shelf collapsed.”
Readers can decide whether such a purpose-driven study is actual science or simply an exercise in activism following on to the numerous activist legal actions intended to force government policy.
If you are not convinced, here is the Conclusion of the study:
The world is facing a profound climate crisis and we need to act now to avoid the most catastrophic impacts; global society must therefore listen to science and meet the moment (Biden, 2021). Natural systems provide the ecosystem services that support people and sustain their livelihoods, as well as supporting the wildlife that form an intrinsic part of these systems. Sustaining these systems now requires legal frameworks that are appropriate to protect them based on the best available scientific evidence. Long-term ecological studies, such as that for the emperor penguin, are critical for providing robust science to document ecological responses to environmental change. Interdisciplinary science is also necessary to project population viability and species persistence in a future warming world. Such investments in science provide knowledge which must now inform legal frameworks, because with knowledge comes responsibility. Continuing to strengthen international climate action and biodiversity protection frameworks is key, but in the meantime, immediate efforts must also focus on the effective legal tools already in place, such as the ESA. “
Saving the penguins apparently means supporting President Biden’s “Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad” and pushing for the UN’s IPCC dictated policy solutions on “climate action” by [mis-]using the Endangered Species Act as a political and legal lever.
As far as I can tell, there is no validity to the “models predict the future” approach used in this study – which naturally emphasizes RCP8.5-style fantasy predictions of global temperature rise. Antarctic Sea Ice has not been reduced over the last 40 years during which climate change is purported to have been rampant. There is no reason to believe this will change in the near future. There is no predicting long-term futures of weather or climate. There is, therefore, no reason to accept the study’s findings that the Emperor Penguin needs protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act or that listing the Empire Penguin under the U.S. ESA would affect the future survival rates or population dynamics of the Emperor Penguin.
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Yes, I know all the pros and cons of models. Some models are useful, some are just plain speculation using maths and computer code. Some are outright tools of activism. Readers can (and will, undoubtedly) rattle on about this in comments below.
The more interesting aspect of this is that the U.S. FWS caved to activists, under legal threat and pressure, based on a “study” produced, in part, by the very activists that brought legal action.
At least it isn’t blatantly just secret smiles hiding the old “sue and settle” scam.
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