Rupert Murdoch, Tear Down This Wall!

[Update 10/18 8:30 am: Honestly, when I wrote this post last night, I could only access the first couple paragraphs of the op-ed in question. But now the link takes you to the full text. Could it be that my cries were heard?? Doubt it, but open access is always nice.]

In today’s Wall Street Journal there was a very provocative op-ed by ecologist Daniel Botkin. He argues that the evidence of potential harm from global warming is overblown. Here is what you can see for free…

Global warming doesn’t matter except to the extent that it will affect life — ours and that of all living things on Earth. And contrary to the latest news, the evidence that global warming will have serious effects on life is thin. Most evidence suggests the contrary.

Case in point: This year’s United Nations report on climate change and other documents say that 20%-30% of plant and animal species will be threatened with extinction in this century due to global warming — a truly terrifying thought. Yet, during the past 2.5 million years, a period that scientists now know experienced …

…experienced…what? Well, you’ve got to pay to find out, or know somebody who subscribes to WSJ.

Botkin does make some cheap shots. He singles out the fact that the glaciers on Mt. Kilimanjaro are not melting due to global warming, and claims that “the paper is scorned by the true believers in global warming.” I so wish that op-ed writers were required to footnote their pieces. Who is doing the scorning? Perhaps, instead, they are looking at the melting of glaciers in many other parts of the world and see a pattern that is partly natural, but strongly influenced by recent human-driven warming.

But Botkin is not a crank. He accepts the reality of global warming. And he makes a lot of good points about the potential impact of warming on biodiversity. I talked to Botkin earlier this year to report an article in Sciencean article in Science on the models used to make extinction projections, and he was in accord with lots of other people I spoke to that these models are incredibly crude.

I’m not totally convinced by the evidence he offers that there won’t be many extinctions. For example, he makes a big deal about the fact that over the past 2.5 million years, the climate has swung violently without major extinctions. But this particular swing is different. When the climate warmed at the end of each ice age, glaciers retreated, exposing lots of new territory to colonize. Our current increase in temperature is beginning from a warm period between Ice Ages. We may well end up with a temperature higher than anything seen in a long, long time. So perhaps one shouldn’t be too complacent about what happened in the past.

Still, no one should consider this debate settled, by a long shot. I’ll be sure to talk about his column at my lecture tomorrow. But, please, Mr. Murdoch, scrap that subscription model.