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A big story early this month warned of mass extinctions and a collapse of the planet’s biodiversity. This was based on a report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). A high-level presentation of the data by IPBES was constructed in a way that is easily revealed as misleading (see below). But the first thing to ask about bombastic reports like this is whether the authors are self-interested. There is big money in promoting apocalyptic scenarios and public programs to avert them. Large government grants are at stake for like-minded scientists, and political power is at stake for biodiversity activists worldwide. Like many other scare stories reported as “news”, this one feeds into the statist political agenda of the environmental Left.

Exaggerated claims of species endangerment are not a new phenomenon. We’ve heard grossly erroneous forecasts of polar bear extinctions, frightening but false warnings of a “beepocalyse”, and faulty claims about declines in the population of African elephants. These are headline-grabbing and more thrilling to report than mourning the prospective loss of an obscure species of cave lichen. But a mass extinction is something else! Dan Hannon reminds us of the following:

In 1980, for example, the Jimmy Carter administration distributed to foreign governments a report claiming that, by the year 2000, 2 million species would be wiped out. In fact, by 2010, there had been 872 documented extinctions.” 

Of course, that figure does not account for the multitude of new species discovered. There are many. Recent examples just gruesome enough to garner attention are the three new species of bird eater tarantulas discovered in 2017.

In the more general mass-extinction context of the IPBES report, the blame for the extremely pessimistic outlook is placed squarely on human activity. The authors allege CO2 emissions as the primary culprit, which is at best a theory and one at odds with the chief driver of extinctions during the industrial era. That is the introduction of non-native species into environments having flora or fauna unable to withstand new competitors. Matt Ridley elaborates:

The introduction by people of predators, parasites and pests, especially to islands, has been and continues to be far and away the greatest cause of local and global extinction of native fauna.”

There is no question that the IPBES report on extinctions was intended to create alarm. As Gary Wrightstone demonstrates, the lack of rigor and misleading expositional techniques used in the report are a tell:

… the data were lumped together by century rather than shorter time frames, which, as we shall see accentuates the supposed increase in extinctions. … The base data were derived from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List, which catalogues every known species that has gone the way of the dodo and the carrier pigeon. Review of the full data set reveals a much different view of extinction and what has been happening recently.”

The more granular charts Wrightstone presents are indeed contrary to the narrative in the IPBES report. And Wrightstone also highlights the following in a postscript:

In an incredibly ironic twist that poses a difficult conundrum for those who are intent on saving the planet from our carbon dioxide excesses, the new study reports that the number one cause of predicted extinctions is habitat loss. Yet their solution is to pave over vast stretches of land for industrial scale solar factories and to construct immense wind factories that will cover forests and   grasslands, killing the endangered birds and other species they claim to want to save.”

The enduring extinction racket is one among other fronts in the war on capitalism. The IPBES report must use the term “transformative” a thousand times, as it recommends “steering away from the current limited paradigm of economic growth“. Matt Ridley highlights the faulty attribution of alleged declines in biodiversity to “western values and capitalism”:

On the whole what really diminishes biodiversity is a large but poor population trying to live off the land. As countries get richer and join the market economy they generally reverse deforestation, slow species loss and reverse some species declines.”

And Ridley also says this:

A favourite nostrum of many environmentalists is that you cannot have infinite growth with finite resources. But this is plain wrong, because economic growth comes from doing more with less. So if I invent a new car engine that gets twice as many miles per gallon, I’ve caused economic growth but we’ll use less fuel. Likewise if I increase the yield of a crop, I need less land and probably less fuel too.”

It’s no coincidence that future extinctions foretold by IPBES are predicted to have drastic impacts on less-developed countries. It thus appears that IPBES exists in a happy synergy with the UN’s climate Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as well as proponents of the Paris Accord and the entire climate lobby. An objective that helps them garner support around the globe is to redistribute existing wealth to less-developed countries in the name of environmental salvation. That would prove a poor substitute for the kinds of free-market policies that would truly enhance prospects for economic growth in those nations.

The threat of mass extinctions is greatly exaggerated by the UN, IPBES, climate change activists, and members of the media who can’t resist promoting a crisis. Any diminished biodiversity we might experience going forward won’t be solved by limiting economic growth, as the IPBES report claims. Instead, advances in productivity, particularly in agriculture, can allow expansion of native habitat, as recent experience with reforestation and global greening demonstrates. This principle is as applicable to under-developed countries as anywhere else.

The kinds of centrally planned limits on human activity contemplated by the IPBES report are likely to backfire by making us poorer. Those limits would impose costs by misallocating resources away from things that people value most highly. They would also force people to forego the adoption of innovative production techniques, leading to the substitution of other resources, such as inefficient land use. And those limits would deny basic freedoms, including the unfettered use of private property.