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posted by martyb on Tuesday January 11, @04:47PM   Printer-friendly
from the Betteridge-says-"No" dept.

Can We Feed Billions of Ourselves Without Wrecking the Planet?

We are now producing more food more efficiently than ever, and there is plenty to go around for a human population of 7 billion. But it is coming at a drastic cost in environmental degradation, and the bounty is not reaching many people.

Sustainable Food Production, a new Earth Institute primer from Columbia University Press, explores how modern agriculture can be made more environmentally benign, and economically just. With population going to maybe 10 billion within 30 years, the time to start is now, the authors say.

The lead author is ecologist Shahid Naeem, director of the Earth Institute for Environmental Sustainability. He coauthored the book with former Columbia colleagues Suzanne Lipton and Tiff van Huysen.

This is an interesting interview with the author. Do you agree (or disagree) with his conclusions?

Columbia Climate School

[Also Covered By]: Phys.org


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  • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Wednesday January 12, @08:58PM (28 children)

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Wednesday January 12, @08:58PM (#1212207)

    There are lots of ways to grow tomatoes. The biodiversity of that swamp is gone, lost forever in exchange for a couple of decades of low value food that could have been gotten other ways.

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  • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday January 13, @03:17AM (27 children)

    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday January 13, @03:17AM (#1212304) Journal

    The biodiversity of that swamp is gone

    Much more accurately, the biodiversity of the swamp has changed. And they can keep growing tomatoes for more than a couple of decades.

    • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Thursday January 13, @02:28PM (26 children)

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Thursday January 13, @02:28PM (#1212411)

      Much more accurately, the biodiversity of the swamp has changed.

      Yes, it has. From 274 identified species to 32.

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      • (Score: 1) by khallow on Friday January 14, @05:32AM (25 children)

        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Friday January 14, @05:32AM (#1212615) Journal
        Reading over this thread again, I see so many problems. First, it's not tomato crops, it's flood control. Second, even if we allow for the species count (more on that later), we still have that you haven't counted it more recently and seen the pickup in number of species as the ecosystem adapts to the new normal and species move into the new habitat. After all, it didn't go away, it just changed.

        Third, I don't buy that the river is somehow only able to support 32 species. My take is that a flooded drainage ditch could do much better than that, much less a 70 mile river with ample neighboring swamps. Florida has a lot of living stuff, and it gets around.

        This link indicates that 32 bird species [ebird.org] were observed in July of last year in the Myakka River State Park. While that includes potential observations off of the river and swamp, I think it illustrates the fundamental frivolousness of your complaint. That's just bird species seen in a single four hour period (by a lot of bird spotters).

        And finally, just consider the story itself. The idea is that this Florida river was converted by man from a river that had a rather extreme wet/dry cycle to one where it's almost always flowing. That's it. So while I can see a short term reduction in species present due to the radical changes in water flow, it's still a nice river with a lot of habitat. Life will move back in, assuming it hasn't already (or rather never left in the first place). The above link indicates to me that birds already have, as well as their food sources.

        Is this really a narrative you want to push? My take is a far better example of the harm of transporting water is Owen's Valley in California. Basically, Los Angeles turned the place into a desert. Even if that situation continued for a thousand years, you won't see a lot of biodiversity.
        • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Friday January 14, @03:07PM

          by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday January 14, @03:07PM (#1212674)

          The crops are tens of miles away from the swamps they are keeping innundated year round, the well established maximal yield minimal cost tomato growing method is called flood-runoff irrigation, like the trees but on a shorter timescale, the roots of the tomatoes need to alternate between wet and dry. It's the same for almost all crops, particularly the oranges - they use "microdrip" irrigation which flows hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per acre per day from the deep potable water aquifer up into the roots of the trees where it then drains off through the surface sands into the creeks, rivers, and swamps.

          Before the advent of irrigated agriculture, the swamps dried on an annual cycle with the rains. Now crops are grown during the dry season with deep aquifer pumped water, dozens of farms across tens of thousands of acres. When it was a few cattle ranchers tapping the naturally flowing aquifer to make new springs for the cattle to drink from, the streamflow could handle it without overly wetting the swamps during the dry season, but today it's a completely new hydrodynamic, and that kind of basic resource shift is like pushing the reset button on the ecosystem. We're back from a stable, evolved, diverse community of mutually beneficial species to an invasion of a few pioneer species that can handle the new environment. Give them a few million years and they will evolve to work in the new system, but in the meantime the pioneers are going to be roughing it in a relatively very non-diverse community of species.

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        • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Friday January 14, @03:13PM (22 children)

          by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday January 14, @03:13PM (#1212677)

          it's still a nice river with a lot of habitat.

          That's mostly because you never saw it before the change. In the 1800s the river supported many species of fish up to very large (good to eat) sturgeon in the thousands. Today, you're lucky to see one a year.

          On the riparian land in the 1800s, small to medium sized mammals were abundant enough to support thousands of panther. The deer are coming back, and we can't get rid of the wild boar, but they're hardly anything to be proud of by comparison.

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          • (Score: 1) by khallow on Saturday January 15, @04:58AM (21 children)

            by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Saturday January 15, @04:58AM (#1212863) Journal

            That's mostly because you never saw it before the change. In the 1800s the river supported many species of fish up to very large (good to eat) sturgeon in the thousands. Today, you're lucky to see one a year.

            So 2000s tomatoes killed off 19th Century fish diversity? Sounds like we need to rethink what we're blaming here.

            • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Sunday January 16, @05:54PM (20 children)

              by JoeMerchant (3937) on Sunday January 16, @05:54PM (#1213174)

              The tomatoes have been killing the swamps since the 1960s, heavily by the 1980s, by 2000 the damage was nearly complete.

              Fish diversity took a dive with the population boom, overfishing, ag runoff pollution, strip mining of phosphates, you name it, it all had a hand. Biodiversity on the land, in the alternately wet/dry lands, is what was hammered by never letting the land get dry.

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              • (Score: 1) by khallow on Sunday January 16, @06:59PM (19 children)

                by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Sunday January 16, @06:59PM (#1213195) Journal

                The tomatoes have been killing the swamps since the 1960s, heavily by the 1980s, by 2000 the damage was nearly complete.

                In other words, most of the damage done by the time environmental regulations kicked in. I also see that we have somewhere around 60 years of tomatoes which is up to three times the duration of tomatoes you claimed [soylentnews.org] we would have for this environmental impairment.

                Fish diversity took a dive with the population boom, overfishing, ag runoff pollution, strip mining of phosphates, you name it, it all had a hand.

                Elsewhere you mentioned [soylentnews.org] other environmental problems that are pre-green such as mercury emissions, acid rain, and burning rivers in a discussion of the US's current environmental progress. My take from all this is that it's a classic way that environmental problems get grossly exaggerated and all the blame dumped on modern, developed world people even though they're solving most of those problems (when they are problems, I might add) rather than making them worse!

                Not much to fixing the world when you don't understand what's broke.

                • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Sunday January 16, @10:49PM (18 children)

                  by JoeMerchant (3937) on Sunday January 16, @10:49PM (#1213268)

                  most of the damage done by the time environmental regulations kicked in.

                  Environmental regulations have been "kicking in" since the 1960s, and even before in egregious cases where people couldn't deny direct harm easily witnessable.

                  I also see that we have somewhere around 60 years of tomatoes which is up to three times the duration of tomatoes

                  60 years of tomatoes, 600 years of tomatoes, both a relative blink in comparison to the evolution of ecosystems.

                  pre-green such as mercury emissions,

                  What's your line for "pre-green"? My parents were eco-weenie science majors in college in the 1960s.

                  Mysterious mercury emissions were killing alligators in the Everglades in the 1980s, and had been ever since a later acquaintance of mine installed Dutch municipal waste incinerators in Palm Beach County in the late 1970s. Turns out the Dutch are better about not chucking batteries and other toxic waste in their kitchen trash than South Floridians. Greenpeace (active since 1972) managed to elevate that to public attention in the 1990s and get action taken to stop the waste incinerators relatively quickly - then they went right back to excacerbating climate change by crying NUKE NUKE! at every opportunity.

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                  • (Score: 1) by khallow on Monday January 17, @06:26AM (17 children)

                    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Monday January 17, @06:26AM (#1213340) Journal

                    Environmental regulations have been "kicking in" since the 1960s

                    So what? It remains that you're taking a really bad time in US history and claiming it happened recently.

                    60 years of tomatoes, 600 years of tomatoes, both a relative blink in comparison to the evolution of ecosystems.

                    Except, of course, that ecosystems don't need 60 years, much less 600 years to evolve.

                    What's your line for "pre-green"? My parents were eco-weenie science majors in college in the 1960s.

                    1960s definitely is pre-green. Nor does this need to be a hard line.

                    Mysterious mercury emissions were killing alligators in the Everglades in the 1980s, and had been ever since a later acquaintance of mine installed Dutch municipal waste incinerators in Palm Beach County in the late 1970s. Turns out the Dutch are better about not chucking batteries and other toxic waste in their kitchen trash than South Floridians.

                    Sounds like a very relevant anecdote. /sarc Notice two factors: first, that mercury emissions were monitored, and second, tracked to sources. That wouldn't have happened in the 1960s. There's also the possibility that someone added some other mercury waste to those incinerators. It may not be just sloppy south Floridians with batteries.

                    • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Monday January 17, @01:52PM (16 children)

                      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Monday January 17, @01:52PM (#1213381)

                      The Cuyahoga river caught fire at least 13 times before they addressed it, most dramatically in 1969. Acid rain was still a serious problem in the 1980s and didn't get adequately addressed until the shift to natural gas for power generation after the advent of fracking, and what did fracking bring? Most dramatically: flammable residential tapwater, and there are still unaddressed negative effects of fracking today, as much being quieted with buyouts of affected people as measures to stop the negative environmental effects. Again, such wildlife as remains in Texas and other well field areas is underrepresented in the courts.

                      Evolution of fruit flies can be observed in 6 weeks. Rebuilding of endemic food webs which have suffered mass species extinction takes millions of years. Pioneer species start the process within a season, but that is like a scum of algae replacing a rainforest.

                      Mercury emissions at the source affecting the everglades were not adequately monitored to prevent catastrophic damage to the top level predators. It was successfully caught and addressed, but there was a decade of predators dying of mercury toxicity, and it was the unusual level of predator deaths that led to testing and investigation, not monitoring, which caught the problem.

                      We are improving, but your perspective lacks a good baseline. We are still far from good, and such sustainability as we may have achieved continues to exitnct species at catastrophic rates.

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                      • (Score: 1) by khallow on Monday January 17, @03:36PM (15 children)

                        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Monday January 17, @03:36PM (#1213394) Journal

                        The Cuyahoga river caught fire at least 13 times before they addressed it, most dramatically in 1969.

                        Fixed problem number one.

                        Acid rain was still a serious problem in the 1980s and didn't get adequately addressed until the shift to natural gas for power generation after the advent of fracking, and what did fracking bring?

                        You just stated that fracking brought end of acid rain. I would note that chemical scrubbers [wikipedia.org] really are the reason that acid rain ended. Fracking however did greatly reduce the consumption of coal.

                        Most dramatically: flammable residential tapwater, and there are still unaddressed negative effects of fracking today, as much being quieted with buyouts of affected people as measures to stop the negative environmental effects.

                        Must not have been much in the way of environmental effects, if that worked. Flammable tap water doesn't register with me as a serious environmental problem, even if it's due to fracking.

                        So here you already mentioned directly or indirectly multiple ways that things got better as I noted.

                        We are improving, but your perspective lacks a good baseline.

                        Really, then why is it that you're the one with the trouble distinguishing between baseline and today?

                        We are still far from good, and such sustainability as we may have achieved continues to exitnct species at catastrophic rates.

                        Maybe so, but there should be evidence for that, right? What I find in practice is that while there is a considerable amount of local extinction going on, due to some continued habitat destruction (which incidentally does not include the Myakka River), the big extinctions are in the developing world (mostly because that's where the poor people are). No amount of complaining about how the developed world isn't quite perfect is going to change that. As I've noted before, it's time to look at what's working. Those tomatoes are working. A slight impairment to natural ecosystems for many decades of tomatoes and counting.

                        Going back to the original story, your anecdote about the Myakka River misses the point. The environment changed, it didn't go away. Thus, species can and probably by now have returned to make the place a diverse refuge, just with a somewhat different species mix.

                        • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Monday January 17, @09:58PM (14 children)

                          by JoeMerchant (3937) on Monday January 17, @09:58PM (#1213479)

                          I have lived too many places where the chemical scrubbers were operated as an optional nice to have instead of a necessary feature of the plant to call them a solution. They make things better when they work, but are far too easy to turn off, and incidentally they cost a lot of money to operate, so excuses to operate without them seem endlessly abundant.

                          Flammable tap water (from private wells) is a huge deal when it is in your house, and it is less than a tip on an iceberg compared to the list of harmful groundwater contaminations associated with the fracking process.

                          1950 isn't a good baseline. 1492 might be a reasonable baseline to consider, but even then pre-Columbian residents had extincted a lot of megafauna and scary predators. Ecological damage isn't exclusively a modern thing, we have just accelerated the situation dramatically.

                          Extinction isn't a slight impairment.

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                          • (Score: 1) by khallow on Tuesday January 18, @12:14AM (13 children)

                            by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday January 18, @12:14AM (#1213501) Journal

                            1492 might be a reasonable baseline

                            No, it wouldn't be a reasonable baseline because it's three centuries before even the creation of the US and hence, absolutely useless as a guide to how the US has improved its environment impact since the 1950s and 60s which are the worst point of US environmental harm.

                            It's also worth noting that the pre-Columbian residents created a bigger extinction than modern man has (I'm of the school that humans caused these extinctions - just about everywhere they went - rather than just merely being around). Perhaps we ought to think about why a bunch of spear chuckers were able to cause so much damage while modern society hasn't?

                            • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Tuesday January 18, @02:48AM (12 children)

                              by JoeMerchant (3937) on Tuesday January 18, @02:48AM (#1213520)

                              National boundaries in time and space may excuse your conscience, but they are entirely irrelevant to damage done to the ecosystems of the world. Saying that we are better than the 1950s is like saying the slave trade of the early 1800s was less brutal than what was practiced in the 1600s.

                              Pre-Columbians did indeed kill off a lot of large animal species, and that loss is inherited by all who follow. There's no bankruptcy laws wiping the slate clean.

                              By comparison, modern society is an absolute horror show in terms of species and ecosystem loss. We're on par with a major asteroid strike already.

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                              • (Score: 1) by khallow on Tuesday January 18, @05:32AM (11 children)

                                by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday January 18, @05:32AM (#1213535) Journal

                                National boundaries in time and space may excuse your conscience, but they are entirely irrelevant to damage done to the ecosystems of the world.

                                Your disinterest in time and space indicates my conscience has little to excuse. If you're not interested in who did what when, then that indicates you have a similar disinterest in our attempts to fix the harm we've done.

                                Saying that we are better than the 1950s is like saying the slave trade of the early 1800s was less brutal than what was practiced in the 1600s.

                                And that's supposed to be bad why? I think this shows the utter bankruptcy of your argument. We can't magically end environmental harm because we can't magically make almost 8 billion people disappear. The analogy above hides the enormous positive nature of that observation. We are indeed much better off just as 1800s Earth was much better off in terms of slavery. And just as parts of the world led the way in abolition of slavery, so does the developed world lead the way in abolition of unnecessary environmental harm. Hopefully, some day you'll let go of these poisonous narratives and learn who really is making the world better today.

                                • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Tuesday January 18, @11:14AM (10 children)

                                  by JoeMerchant (3937) on Tuesday January 18, @11:14AM (#1213556)

                                  The point is, at this juncture we are no longer the relatively powerless Pre-Columbians who rightfully feared the large predators for the survival of their own species. We are no longer an insignificant bit player in the planetary ecosystems. But we are mostly still acting like we are, and if that rate of adapting doesn't pick up, it will be more disasterous than it already has been.

                                  In as much as the US is a world leader, we bear that responsibility for leading the necessary positive changes. While we are changing in the right direction, the magnitude of our change is insufficient, by a wide margin. The carrot of "just be rich like us, prosperity solves everything" is ultimately just as hollow as social solutions based on the "just don't be poor" philosophy.

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                                  • (Score: 1) by khallow on Tuesday January 18, @05:29PM (9 children)

                                    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday January 18, @05:29PM (#1213613) Journal

                                    The point is, at this juncture we are no longer the relatively powerless Pre-Columbians who rightfully feared the large predators for the survival of their own species.

                                    I quite agree.

                                    But we are mostly still acting like we are, and if that rate of adapting doesn't pick up, it will be more disasterous than it already has been.

                                    You've already given many examples of how that isn't true.

                                    In as much as the US is a world leader, we bear that responsibility for leading the necessary positive changes.

                                    That box is checked.

                                    • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Tuesday January 18, @06:18PM (8 children)

                                      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Tuesday January 18, @06:18PM (#1213619)

                                      if that rate of adapting doesn't pick up, it will be more disastrous than it already has been.

                                      You've already given many examples of how that isn't true.

                                      Your naked assertions imply nothing about my agreement or disagreement. Assume when I don't answer your disagreements, I remain unconvinced and stand by my statements.

                                      In as much as the US is a world leader, we bear that responsibility for leading the necessary positive changes.

                                      That box is checked.

                                      The expression: "Checkered past" comes to mind in this situation. Policy waffling, open political hostility to environmental progress and science in general, fig-leaf regulations cast aside when the price is right and openly flaunted for decades. With this kind of leadership it's no wonder that practices like dynamiting fish habitat for a cheap/quick single harvest, and similarly use of habitat destroying poisons (cyanide in particular) to collect ornamental pet fish are still practiced around the world.

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                                      • (Score: 1) by khallow on Wednesday January 19, @02:46AM (7 children)

                                        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday January 19, @02:46AM (#1213757) Journal

                                        [JoeMerchant:] if that rate of adapting doesn't pick up, it will be more disastrous than it already has been.

                                        [khallow:] You've already given many examples of how that isn't true.

                                        [JoeMerchant:]Your naked assertions imply nothing about my agreement or disagreement. Assume when I don't answer your disagreements, I remain unconvinced and stand by my statements.

                                        They don't have to. You've granted many such examples whether you intended to or not, or agree or not. Just in this particular thread:

                                        Our switch from coal to natural gas has dramatically reduced mercury emissions

                                        While we are changing in the right direction, the magnitude of our change is insufficient

                                        not due to pesticides or even fertilizer - which were monitored and controlled

                                        Moving on, we have appeals to the distinct past - because you can't find enough environmental harm in the present to sell us.

                                        In the 1800s the river supported many species of fish up to very large (good to eat) sturgeon in the thousands. Today, you're lucky to see one a year.

                                        1950 isn't a good baseline. 1492 might be a reasonable baseline to consider, but even then pre-Columbian residents had extincted a lot of megafauna and scary predators. Ecological damage isn't exclusively a modern thing, we have just accelerated the situation dramatically.

                                        Not extinction of megafauna though!

                                        The deer are coming back, and we can't get rid of the wild boar

                                        Back to acknowledging progress in the backhanded Joe way.

                                        Saying that we are better than the 1950s is like saying the slave trade of the early 1800s was less brutal than what was practiced in the 1600s.

                                        Depends on your definition of "great job" better than flaming rivers and 100% of lakes 100% dead from acid rain, yeah, we're beating that standard - now.

                                        Repeatedly, you've had to acknowledge the great progress the US has made environmentally. Sure, I'm not quoting the many subsequent "buts" where you say. But that's because I think your buts are dishonest.

                                        My take is that you are heavily invested in ideologies and narratives that force you to treat the developed world as the bad guys, environmentally. This is a lot like the "What did the Romans ever do for us" [youtube.com] Monty Python skit where a rebel Jewish group bellyaches about the Roman oppressors and then comes up with a large list of positive things that the Romans did.

                                        My take on this is that if you can't see who is doing the right thing here, then you can't have an informed opinion on environmentalist matters.

                                        • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Wednesday January 19, @02:55AM (6 children)

                                          by JoeMerchant (3937) on Wednesday January 19, @02:55AM (#1213762)

                                          you can't find enough environmental harm in the present to sell us.

                                          https://www.sciencealert.com/new-evidence-confirms-the-sixth-mass-extinction-has-already-begun-scientists-warn [sciencealert.com]

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                                          • (Score: 1) by khallow on Wednesday January 19, @03:35AM (5 children)

                                            by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday January 19, @03:35AM (#1213774) Journal
                                            First, where is most of the species extinction happening? My bet is the developing world.

                                            Second, the present bout of extinctions is not being accurately compared to the big five. When all you have is a fossil record, you'll get a much lower extinction count than we have here.

                                            Finally, a big indicator of mass extinction is twofold: extinction of genus level or higher classification, not just species, and the extinction of large organisms. IF this really is the sixth mass extinction, it started 10k years ago, not 500 years ago.

                                            Sorry, this is hysterical hyperventilating based on really poor comparisons to true, environmentally dangerous periods of time. The narrative needs work.
                                            • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Wednesday January 19, @04:49PM (4 children)

                                              by JoeMerchant (3937) on Wednesday January 19, @04:49PM (#1213872)

                                              First, where is most of the species extinction happening? My bet is the developing world.

                                              First - what does this do to the argument: "The solution is to promote economic development everywhere."?

                                              When all you have is a fossil record, you'll get a much lower extinction count than we have here.

                                              Second - dem scientist types is moar clever then yew giv um credit fer. Ratios are a thing, and they know how to use them. Arguments like: "We'd have lower COVID rates if we did less testing" only work on the weak minded.

                                              Sorry, this is hysterical hyperventilating

                                              Sorry, but this isn't a new story, nor is it hysterical, it continues to be re-confirmed by every group who studies the situation with no credible opposition for decades now. A lot like climate change was 20 years ago.

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                                              • (Score: 1) by khallow on Wednesday January 19, @05:36PM (3 children)

                                                by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday January 19, @05:36PM (#1213881) Journal

                                                First, where is most of the species extinction happening? My bet is the developing world.

                                                First - what does this do to the argument: "The solution is to promote economic development everywhere."?

                                                It strengthens the argument since the developing world would then be transitioning into a part of the developed world with its greater care for the environment - such as much lower pollution, growing land set aside for wilderness and habitat, and all the things that Joe cares about like CO2 emissions or the broad list of stuff mentioned in this discussion.

                                                Bottom line is that poor people can't afford to care about the environment or the future.

                                                When all you have is a fossil record, you'll get a much lower extinction count than we have here.

                                                Second - dem scientist types is moar clever then yew giv um credit fer. Ratios are a thing, and they know how to use them. Arguments like: "We'd have lower COVID rates if we did less testing" only work on the weak minded.

                                                Ratios only are relevant, if they know what the ratios are and actually use them. Here, I see a huge case of not comparing like to like. You're the first to mention those alleged ratios.

                                                Sorry, but this isn't a new story, nor is it hysterical, it continues to be re-confirmed by every group who studies the situation with no credible opposition for decades now. A lot like climate change was 20 years ago.

                                                Well, it's getting opposed now. And yes, it is hysterical - if you look at those past extinctions, they are huge with large percentages of genus level groupings going extinct. Sorry, we don't have anything comparable here.

                                                The weakest (ignoring that there are probably a bunch of others of more serious nature than today's wave of extinctions) of the five great extinctions, the Triassic-Jurassic [soylentnews.org] extinction event is thought to have killed somewhere in the neighborhood of a third of all species. Even at the worst alleged rate of 13% since 1500 CE, that's another thousand years before the total number of extinctions can match the level of the weakest of the five big extinctions.

                                                I find it interesting how once again, your only argument is a sad argument from authority. Fallacy once again is your go to argument.

                                                • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Wednesday January 19, @06:09PM (2 children)

                                                  by JoeMerchant (3937) on Wednesday January 19, @06:09PM (#1213891)

                                                  transitioning into a part of the developed world with its greater care for the environment

                                                  Greater care = greater extinction of species? I think you mean greater short term exploitation. Short, in this case, being ~100 years or less.

                                                  poor people can't afford to care about the environment or the future.

                                                  Agreed there. UBI would solve that.

                                                  You're the first to mention those alleged ratios.

                                                  I'm sure you've read the statistical methods of the underlying research thoroughly. /s Popular press is incapable of expressing anything as sophisticated as a ratio.

                                                  Well, it's getting opposed now.

                                                  Not by anyone credible.

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                                                  • (Score: 1) by khallow on Wednesday January 19, @06:47PM

                                                    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday January 19, @06:47PM (#1213900) Journal

                                                    Greater care = greater extinction of species?

                                                    You really think I said that? Reread it again.

                                                    I'm sure you've read the statistical methods of the underlying research thoroughly. /s Popular press is incapable of expressing anything as sophisticated as a ratio.

                                                    So you haven't actually read the research. Not my problem.

                                                  • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday January 20, @01:31AM

                                                    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday January 20, @01:31AM (#1214022) Journal
                                                    More on this:

                                                    You're the first to mention those alleged ratios.

                                                    I'm sure you've read the statistical methods of the underlying research thoroughly. /s Popular press is incapable of expressing anything as sophisticated as a ratio.

                                                    So why quote the popular press rather than the underlying research in the first place? And then foist off the work of showing your correctness onto me when the going got hard?

                                                    My bet is that the popular press sold a sexy narrative while the underlying research does not. Moving on, I've actually parsed the research and well, it doesn't have that ratio you claimed it would have. For example, the authors of the research just took the background species extinction rate at face value - likely because it showed a background rate two or more orders of magnitude lower than the estimated modern rate.

                                                    When I read the actual research [wiley.com] on background extinction rates, it's remarkably useless. They don't take into account the narrow habitat range of most species on Earth. Widespread genuses are much more likely to be fossilized than a collection of species on a small island. Similarly, narrow niche species would be far less likely to leave a fossil record and far more likely to go extinct for any reason.

                                                    Based on these data, typical background loss is 0.01 genera per million genera per year. Molecular phylogenies are available for more taxa and ecosystems, but it is debated whether they can be used to estimate separately speciation and extinction rates. We selected data to address known concerns and used them to determine median extinction estimates from statistical distributions of probable values for terrestrial plants and animals. We then created simulations to explore effects of violating model assumptions. Finally, we compiled estimates of diversification—the difference between speciation and extinction rates for different taxa. Median estimates of extinction rates ranged from 0.023 to 0.135 E/MSY. Simulation results suggested over- and under-estimation of extinction from individual phylogenies partially canceled each other out when large sets of phylogenies were analyzed.

                                                    Notice the boilerplate. They've got models and simulations galore, but no estimate of the island effect in there at all or any factor between fossil-based estimates of speciation creation and extinction and modern ones. The fundamental problem is that islands (both natural ones and the metaphorical ones of niche ecological zones on the continents) have exaggerated species creation and extinction rates - almost none of which will show up in fossil records.

                                                    In your article, the island effect is exaggerated for effect.

                                                    Most estimates of extinction rates, including ours (Régnier et al., 2009, 2015a, 2015b; Chiba & Cowie, 2016; Cowie et al., 2017), indicate that island species have suffered far greater rates than have continental species, a fact that is widely acknowledged (Manne, Brooks & Pimm, 1999; Stork, 2010; Triantis et al., 2010). However, Briggs (2017) discounted this as not representative of a Sixth Mass Extinction, focusing on continental faunas with much lower extinction rates. But ignoring island species downplays the seriousness of these losses, with figures such as 2,000 bird species extinctions on Pacific islands after human colonisation beginning just a few thousand years ago (Steadman, 1995), that is, the loss of almost one sixth of the current worldwide bird fauna. While it has generally been thought that the vast jungles of the Amazon Basin and Central Africa may not be populated by extremely narrow endemic species, at least not on the scale of island endemics inhabiting only a few square kilometres, there are nonetheless many habitat islands within continental regions that do indeed support relatively narrow endemics that are just as threatened as those of oceanic islands (Manne et al., 1999).

                                                    Golly, 2000 bird species gone extinct! Almost one six of the current worldwide fauna! Sounds like a lot, until you realize it's bird species that have almost no habitat and hence, little impact environmentally and would be on the razor's edge anyway. Even primitive humans can easily drive extinct birds in that situation. As can volcanic eruptions, well-placed hurricanes at the wrong time, unusually large tsunami, wildfires (for continental niches) and other perfect storm disasters.

                                                    My take is that this research exaggerates the extinction rate by playing the sort of games I've noted before. Such as comparing geological continental rates of species extinction to modern island extinction rates. Or ignoring the spottiness of fossil records of extinctions, assuming all extinction rates must be lower because the ones you can see are lower.

        • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Friday January 14, @04:08PM

          by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday January 14, @04:08PM (#1212686)

          Is this really a narrative you want to push? My take is a far better example of the harm of transporting water is Owen's Valley in California.

          Yes. All the stories need to be told, and this is one I have actual firsthand experience in. When we bought our land on the Peace River, first day after closing we just laid down under the trees after lunch and rested. We had been on the land 100 times before, but never really stopped and just rested there. Something was making a big racket in the leaves just behind us, it wouldn't stop so eventually I went to see what it was and it turned out to be a little funny colored skink. I took a picture and looked him up on the internet later. Turns out his coloration nailed him down as a very specific species of skink with a known range that stopped about 100 miles north of where we observed him back in the woods. It's not surprising that a lizard is found outside its known range in Florida, but it does tell you something about the state of "science" and the description of the species. All it took to observe him was sitting quietly in the woods for 15 minutes, but I'd bet that no scientist had done that in that area in a long long time.

          If I wanted to tell a story of a massive hydrological fuckup, I don't have to leave Florida. Just lookup the Everglades Restoration Project, it's a slow motion train wreck 100+ years in the making, and they still aren't on a good course for making things even close to right. Just because the Myakka river basin is less than 5% the size of the Everglades doesn't make it less important. If anything, it needs more attention because it is representative of hundreds of similar situations scattered around the SouthEast US which all are basically ignored and unaddressed because they're "insignificant" compared to the poster-children ecological screwups.

          Basically, Los Angeles turned the place into a desert. Even if that situation continued for a thousand years, you won't see a lot of biodiversity.

          Desert has its own biodiversity, and being different from the environments we normally inhabit that diversity is, if anything, more important than making more habitat for golden retrievers and Holstein milk cows. I'm sure the people who lived in Owen's valley before the change could list a huge inventory of the value that was lost, and if my Grandfather's conspiracy theory that fusion power has been "in reach" since the 1960s but funding for its development has been suppressed by petro-energy concerns, then it is a true tragedy that Los Angeles was built on the desertfication of Owen's valley and so many other places like it, instead of being hydrated by fusion powered desalination plants.

          One of the biggest problems about man-made shifts in hydrology and similar bio-resources is that we are fleeting little flits in the bigger picture of evolutionary time. We may well start supplying Los Angeles' water from desalination by the 2050s, so then the "desert reset" in Owen's valley will have lasted just 100 years or so, long enough to wipe out the endemic species and push "reset" on evolutionary biology there that may take a million years to rebuild to something on the level of what it once was. Same for most of the U.S., really. South of the 49th parallel, we've wiped the continent clean down to maybe 1% "virgin" lands, except in the deserts and extreme swamps, and even they have huge problems from the changes that have taken place around them.

          Stocking a lake with Rainbow Trout and stocking a prarie with grazing cattle may look all rosy and productive, but it's not the same thing as naturally evolved communities. Will we ever "grow up" enough to not be afraid of large apex predators (lions, tigers and bears?) Probably not, and more's the shame for future generations.

          --
          Україна не входить до складу Росії.