Of Toads and MenScaremongering,
Warts and All
A significant and abrupt climate change has obliterated several
species of animals. These helpless creatures were utterly incapable of dealing with the
ravages of this harsh new environment, having evolved to live happily in a completely
different climate. Their destruction was rapid, capricious, and deadly. They will never
inhabit our planet again, and we are all diminished by their loss.
We are talking here, of course, about
dinosaurs, banished from Earth by an abrupt cooling. Was it a meteorite hitting the earth
or some other factor? No one can say. Tragic? Perhaps. But hardly unique. Over the course
of Earths history, more than 99 percent of all species have disappeared completely.
They no longer exist. Thats 99 percentgone forever!
Of course, the big dinosaur decline
was good for some groups, namely mammals, who are little more than tasty morsels for T.
Rex and company. Now, homo sapiens (one example
of the type of mammal that thrives in a Tyrannosaurus-free environment) are chastising
each other for causing the decline of some toad in Costa Rica. Of course, climate change
is once again to blame. In an explanation more convoluted than our Balkan strategy,
legions of our greener friends are conflating global warming with dead frogs, mistiness,
flies, and chytrid fungus outbreaks.
This presents a
wonderful opportunity for Big Government to link several programs that have been utter
failures. The infamous Endangered Species Actunder the auspices of which the EPA
runs rampant over individual liberties and property rights in an attempt to save creatures
such as the California kangaroo rathas not demonstrably, in its 25 years of
existence, saved a single species from extinction. Simultaneously, the government has been
pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into general circulation models (GCMs) of past,
present, and future climate. Despite their inability to accurately reproduce either the
past or even the current climate, these models predictions for future climate are
widely regarded as dogma, an essential ingredient in the recipe for cooking up a
greenhouse warming bio-scare.
Heres the recipe, step by step:
1) Get government bucks to poke
around enough fly-infested haunts until you find some species that has either a) declined
in numbers, or b) moved somewhere with fewer flies.
climate modeler. (An easy step. One time-tested approach is to stick your head out a
window in Boulder, Colo., home of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and yell,
Hey, climate modeler!)
3) Ask your new modeler friend to
come up with some hypothesis to explain how the near-extinction is related to global
running 20 different versions of the GCM with 30 different parameterizations, find one
that produces the precise combination of factors to explain why your favorite species is
5) Send two papers to Nature magazine (one on the species decline, the
other on how the GCM predicted that identical set of events to happen), making certain
that they reference each other profusely.
6) Publish the findings on Earth Day
for maximum press ogling.
Now to the news. In a beautiful
harmonic convergence of climate change and endangered species, several species of birds,
frogs, and toads are disappearing from the highland, cloud-enshrouded forests of
Monteverde, Costa Rica, according to an article in Nature
magazine by researchers J. Alan Pounds, Michael Fogden, and John Campbell, all from Costa
Ricas Golden Toad Laboratory for Conservation. The species declines are coincident
with changes in the patterns of dry-season mist frequency, which has been declining since
Sounds like catastrophic climate
change is to blame, right? These declines in mistiness are exactly what should be expected
from human-induced global warming (big shock!). As proof, we have the lifting-cloud-base
hypothesis, which was first proposed by the three authors in a workshop in 1997 and
was verified in Nature three pages earlier by
Stanfords Christopher Still and Steve Schneider (and coauthor Prudence Foster).
Here, they compare global climate model simulations for a doubled CO2 atmosphere with
current conditions and note shifts in the height of cloudiness in the dry season that
correspond exactly to the decline in toadies.
Isnt this self-referencing
system wonderful? Each paper confirms its accuracy by
referring to the other a la This sentence is a self-referencing sentence.
There are so many fish in this barrel
that its almost a shame to waste ammunition! First, we keep hearing about how the planet
is going to become moister from global warming and the enhanced hydrological cycle.
In general, based on simple physics, a moister atmosphere will produce more clouds that
form at lower elevations and a wetter forestmaking for an extremely
Second, if we were interested in the
climate in some unique montane environment in Central America, the last place wed look for answers is a GCM.
Remember, GCMs dont even have realistic clouds. Their spatial scale is so large that
they cant replicate huge cyclonic storm systems. The only way to use a GCM for this
kind of problem is to downscale to subgrid processes (downscaling is
climatology lingo for added errorin other words, add some fudge factor
to the recipe!).
Third, just for kicks, we present the
95-year precipitation record from the Costa Rica grid cell, which includes mostly land
stations from this country (Figure 1). There is no long-term change, nor is any change
evident since the mid-1970s, when the authors detected an abrupt oceanic temperature
Figure 1. Historical precipitation amounts for Costa Rica
from Hulmes global precipitation dataset.
Fourth, even if you believe it is
possible to detect global warming on one specific mountaintop, the little golden toadies
were not even directly killed by climateas Pounds himself admits:
As the habitat dried and the frogs gathered near
waterfalls, their probability of being attacked by parasitic flies increased sharply:
Forty dead or dying frogs were observed (in 1983). Because climate affects hostparasite
relationships and amphibians in various ways, it may have set the stage for similar
mortality events, including those ascribed to chytrid fungus outbreaks.
In the near future, we can expect to
hear more and more about species declines and migrations linked to global warming. Since
we have yet to prevent the eradication of a single species, and since species have been
dropping like toads for millennia, we hardly see the logic. But we can predict with
certainty that the implementation of draconian taxation programs such as the Kyoto
Protocol will have absolutely zero impact on golden toads in Costa Rica.
As we ponder
the toads plight, we reflect on one species that has migrated significantly over the
past half-century. Humans, specifically Canadians and Americans, who have been migrating
in drovestoward the South.
Pounds, J.A., et
al., Biological response to climate change on a tropical mountain. Nature, 398,
C.J., et al., Simulating the effects of climate change on tropical montane cloud forests. Nature, 398,