Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

Trophic Downgrading or Where Have All the Predators Gone?


(Or, where have all the predators gone?)

  J.A. Estes, et al. (2011) The Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth (2011) Science, 15 July, 333(6040) 301-306.

Summary and Comments by Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

This is a paper that is worth your diving into because the information it contains is important to the health of our planet. I will help you get through it by summarizing and commenting on it. You can either read the summary or skip directly to my comments on it at the end of this post. What is it about? It deals with the recent and rapid disappearance of top predators, such as wolves, lions, & sharks, mostly brought about by the actions of that top predator of all – mankind, and the surprisingly profound effects their loss is having on ecosystems worldwide.  It was the feature article in the July, 2011 issue of Science, one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world. Among its 23 authors are: John Terborgh, Joel Berger, Michael Soule, and William Ripple. The former three are considered to be among the founders of the field of Conservation Biology, and Ripple is our foremost researcher into the effects of top predators on the ecosystems of North America. Simply put, a trophic cascade (TC) is the effect that the absence or abundance of a top or apex predator has on succeeding levels of the rest of the ecosystem. The authors have gathered a vast array of evidence showing that these losses lead to ever-increasing and widespread effects on other living creatures, on ecosystems, and on the Earth itself. Terborgh pioneered this type of study by showing the profound effects of the presence or absence of predators on the fauna and flora of isolated islands in the Barro Colorado, a recently flooded region near the Panama Canal. Soule, in a classic paper, neatly demonstrated how the presence or absence of coyotes effected the bird and cat populations within the urban canyons of San Diego. Ripple has shown the profound influence that the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstoneand loss of mountain lions in Zion National Park  have had on the animals and plants in those areas. In this paper, these scientists turn their attention to the effects of predators on ecosystems worldwide and warn us of the present and impending dangers that our  steady & seemingly inexorable extermination of predators is having on the Earth

Summary of the Paper

 The loss of apex predators all over the world is having a pervasive influence on nature. There are cascading effects of the disappearance of predators. These “top-down forcings” (causes of variability) are having unanticipated effects, such as increase in disease, wildfires, losses in carbon sequestration, appearance of invasive species, and disruption of biogeochemical cycles. In its 4.5 billion years of existence, our planet has undergone several mass extinctions, with huge loss of biodiversity, followed by novel changes. We are now in the early to middle stages of a sixth mass extinction. Man has mostly caused these recent extinctions. Many of them are started by the removal of apex predators. These extinctions may be mankind’s most pervasive effect on the natural world. Extinction obviously means a permanent loss of these animals, which in turn often has a ripple effect, causing many other changes throughout the ecosystem. These widespread changes are what are referred to by scientists as “trophic cascades” (TCs). Some of the ultimate outcomes of TCs are: fires, disease, climate change, habitat loss, and pollution. Theory behind concept of TCs: (1)  An ecosystem is shaped by its top consumers (usually apex predators). (2)  Alternative stable states. TCs push a system, and it reaches tipping points. These are thresholds or breakpoints, and when they are reached, significant phase shifts occur. (3)  Connectivity – this is built around connection webs and through the mechanics of predation, competition and mutualism (organisms that have a supportive effect on each other), biologically, and through physicochemical processes. Cryptic nature of TCs: Species interactions are usually invisible under stable conditions. They may require years to become evident due to the long generation times of some species.  The effects usually do not become evident until after the loss. The scales of TC s can be much more vast than most feasible scientific studies can handle. Most field biology studies concentrate on small, discrete areas, and on non-motile species, with short generation times, making them easy to  manipulate. This results in an incomplete and distorted picture of apex predator influence. Hence, the authors have written what is called a mega study, which brings together the results of many other similar studies, using similar protocols & subjects. This enables them to combine the studies & to note general principles and draw important conclusions with more certainty. Widespread Occurrence of TCs: TCs have been documented throughout the world. When apex predators are reduced or removed, and sufficient time and space are accounted for, their influence becomes obvious. “Natural experiments” showing these effects are pervasive: e.g. loss of: killer whales, lions, wolves, cougars, sharks, sea otters.

These interactions are often complex. e.g. apex predators have little influence on megaherbivores:  Elephants, hippos, rhinoceroses, etc. in Africa are basically invulnerable to predation. Mostly, therefore effects are seen in the increase in smaller herbivores: e.g. Thompson’s gazelle, impala. Influence of apex predators on autotrophs (An organism capable of synthesizing its own food from inorganic substances, using light or chemical energy. Most plants are autotrophs): (a)  Increase of autotrophs – by suppression of herbivory (any animal that feeds mostly on plants), e. g. the loss of sea otters, which prey on shellfish,  have diminished the health of kelp forests. The extirpation of wolves from forests has resulted in a corresponding increase of ungulates adversely effecting other animals and plants in various ecosystems. e.g. the removal of wolves from what has become Rocky Mountain NP in Colorado has resulted in the overgrowth of elk, which in turn have devastated much of the plant life. (b) Decrease of autotrophs – e. g. large mouth bass by feeding on smaller fish, which feed on 200 kinds of plankton (microscopic aquatic plants & animals)  have decreased their numbers to such an extent in many mid western US lakes, that this has resulted in a loss of oxygen, leading to the demise of other life forms in these lakes. Herbivory and Wildlife: Increase in herbivory (mostly domestic animals that eat plants) has resulted in a change from grass lands to scrub lands, & the burning up to 500 million hectares (ha) in the global landscape and has released over 4,000 metric tons (Tg) of CO2 into the atmosphere. Diseases: e.g. Rinderpest (an infectious viral disease) in East Africa decimated ungulates. (animals like wildebeests & buffalos that chew their cud). This led to an increase in plant biomass, which in turn led to wildfires. Vaccination and control eliminated Rinderpest and this led to the recovery of the wildebeests and buffalos. Because of this, shrub lands became grass lands, which reduced the frequency and intensity of wild fires.

e.g. Impacts of predatory fish on mosquito larvae: effects the incidence of Malaria. Physical & Chemical Influences: There is a linkage between apex predators & atmospheric CO2. e.g.  presence or absence of predatory fish in lakes can effect the production & uptake of CO2. e.g. whaling transferred 105 million tons of carbon from whales to the atmosphere. e.g. Extinction of Pleistocene herbivores reduced atmospheric methane & contributed to a drop of 9° C. temperature drop in the Younger-Dryas period, some 12,900 years ago. Soils: e.g. Herbivores profoundly influence soils. e.g. introduction of rats & arctic foxes in high latitude (mostly arctic) islands reduces soil nitrogen by disturbing nesting birds. Water: e.g. collapse of large demersal (bottom feeders) fish in the Baltic Sea led to a 20% decrease of silica in pelagic diatoms (one-celled organisms that make up the majority of plants found in the open sea). e.g. Yellowstone wolves protect riparian vegetation from over-browsing herbivores. This leads to more shade & cooling of streams, which in turn decreases streambed erosion & increases cover for fish & other aquatic organisms & leads to an increase in songbirds.

Invasive Species: Lack of top-down predators allows invasive species to spread. e.g. spread of the brown tree snake, originally from the Solomon Islands, on Guam, which has exterminated most of its birds, was due to lack of other predators, which could have held the snake population in check. e.g. reduced fish predation in the Mississippi River led to the invasion of zebra mussels. Biodiversity (Abundance of & diversification in living creatures): Biodiversity(BD) is now largely confined to protected areas (e.g. national parks, designated wildernesses). Loss of BD has been mostly caused by over-exploitation (hunting, fishing, increase of areas reserved to domestic & other ungulates, etc.) has led to habitat loss & fragmentation of ecosystems. e.g. over browsing by an increasing population of elk in Rocky Mountain NP is due to lack of natural predators,(i.e. wolves). The same situation occurred in: the Kaibab Plateau, adjacent to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, which was overrun with deer. Minnesota has a serious problem with areas overrun by more than 1 million deer. Princeton NJ had to employ sharpshooters to kill deer, which were overrunning suburban gardens. Deer (ironically) starved on Deer Island in San Francisco Bay due to their burgeoning population, which was unchecked by predators.  Mesopredators (coyotes) in San Diego canyons strikingly changed populations of songbirds and cats.

e.g. Sea Stars in intertidal areas interact with mussels, wiping out many species. e.g. loss of small vertebrates after the extirpation of wolves, cougars & bears in temperate & boreal North American forests changed the ecology of these forests. Effects of Tree Longevity: e.g. wolves & other megapredators were almost entirely eliminated in the US by the 20th century. At that time there began to be recruitment failure & reduced tree growth rate in many places (most obvious in national parks). e.g. wolves were eliminated 100 yrs. ago on Anticosti Island in mouth of the St Lawrence River. This led to a decrease in the number of saplings & an increase in graminoids (grasses), e.g. wolves were extirpated from the Scottish island of Rum 250 -500 years ago, resulting in total loss of its forest. It is now treeless.

Conclusion: “Best management solution is likely restoration of effective predator regimes.” [English translation: Bring back the predators] Paradigm Shift in Ecology: There is clearly a top-down forcing in ecosystem dynamics.  [We argue that ] “burden of proof be shifted to show for any ecosystem, that consumers do (or did) not exert strong cascading effects.” Conclusions: Unanticipated changes in the distribution & abundance of key species, as well as pandemics, population collapses, eruptions of unwanted species, major shifts in ecosystem states, are caused by altered top down forcing , brought about by loss of native apex consumers. Repeated failures to anticipate & moderate such events arise through  fundamental misunderstandings of their causes. Resource managers usually base their actions on the expectation that physical causes are the ultimate drivers of ecological change. “Top-down forcing must be included if there is to be any real hope of understanding & managing the workings of nature.”

 COMMENTS – Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

 I find it helpful in understanding TDG to picture a pyramid, with the predator at the peak or top & prey animals at several successive & increasingly wider levels, (indicating larger populations) underneath. For example, sharks are the top predators in our oceans & they prey on smaller fish such as tuna, which in turn prey on smaller fish like anchovies, etc. until the lowest & most fundamental layer is reached, which consists of microscopic plankton (autotrophs) & is effected in a profound way.

Along this line, I recently read a paper published in Nature by Daniel Boyce of Dalhousie University in which the author utilized hundreds of thousands of historical records to show that the clarity of most of our oceans has been greatly increasing in the past few years. This is an indirect but powerful method, showing that plankton populations are decreasing rapidly. Because plankton are the base prey in our oceans, their scarcity would adversely effect all fish populations & since they are the ultimate autotrophs (think of what would happen if their dry land equivalent, grasses, were to decrease considerably) tend to increase CO2. Such a profound worldwide change undoubtedly has more than one cause, but the disruption of world fisheries through the loss of top predators is probably a contributing factor.

It is easy to overlook the effects of some predators, either because they are not charismatic megafauna, like “lions & tigers & bears oh my!” or are out of sight much of the time. For instance, who would even thought of sea stars as predators? I know that I had not until recently despite my background in Zoology.  Yet it has been shown that their loss can have profound effects on shellfish.  And those cute little sea otters. Who would have thought that they have an important effect on kelp beds? The film, “Jaws,” which came out in 1975, gave sharks a bad name that they have yet to overcome. That, together with the insatiable appetite of Chinese & other Orientals for shark fin soup (Talk about waste. They cut off the fins & throw the shark carcass away) & the dislike of commercial fishermen for sharks, who they view as competitors, in the same way that many elk hunters view wolves, has led to their wholesale destruction. No thought was given to the sharks’ role as the ultimate apex predator in the sea & the  effect their demise is having on other fish lower in the TC pyramid. It is quite possible, even probable, that the loss of many commercial fish species is linked not only to overfishing but also to the destruction of sharks, which has upset the ecological balance in oceans. In this connection, commercial fishermen may be doubly responsible for the serious depletion of fisheries worldwide, through their overfishing & destruction of apex predators.

My own studies on wolves and as an advocate for them has given me a fresh perspective on their importance in maintaining healthy forests. In this respect, the authors’ citing of studies showing that the eradication of wolves changed the flora of Anticosti Island in the St. Lawrence estuary & deforested the Scottish island of Rum, is instructive & worrying.

We do not however, need to go to the ends of the earth to find examples of TDG. In my own little part of northern Idaho, we have seen the results of overfishing in Lake Penderay, invasive species like spotted knapweed & the infamous zebra mussels, and loss of biodiversity caused by overpopulation of elk in the Clearwater NF. There are a substantial number of elk hunters in the state of Idaho, whose idea of heaven seems to be forests containing only elk & hunters. One of their leaders recently stated that he would only be satisfied when hunters success rates reached 90% Success rates throughout the Northwest have been historically at around 18 -20% (Spokesman Review 2/22/08). Idaho already contains over 100,000 elk. He apparently wants to turn Idaho into an elk farm, where hunters do not even have to get off their ATVs to kill elk. I doubt that many other Idahoans would agree with that vision. These hunters & the politicians who support them are responsible for the present vendetta against wolves, which in the last year has resulted in the killing of around 429 out of only 760 wolves in this state & the extension of the wolf hunt to year around, a hitherto unheard of strategy for “managing” wildlife.

I hope that this publication on the importance of top predators, like wolves, will be brought to the attention of state wildlife organizations like IDF&G and will result in a change of their policy toward a greater respect for these animals. For those of you who are interested in finding out more about this fascinating & important subject of how the loss of top predators is effecting the earth, I recommend the following books:

Monster of God – by David Quammen A very readable account of how our fear & killing of predators is changing the world.

Where The Wild Things Were – by William Stolzenberg A journalist writes about the research that been revealing the key role that predators play in ecosystems.

Song of the Dodo – by David Quammen One of our best scientific & nature writers chronicles the researchers & their studies who have created the new field of Conservation Biology.

Of Wolves and Men – by Barry Lopez A brilliant examination of wolf biology & the often-searing history of mankind’s relationship to these fascinating & badly misunderstood animals.

Wolf Country – by John B. Theberge. The results and conclusions of wolf biologist from an eleven year study of wolves in Algonquin Park, Canada. This book includes a lot of valuable information, written in a readable and popular format.

Summary of Intergovernmental Panel Report On Climate Change








By Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

            Some of you are old enough to remember those 1950s science fiction movies. You know, the ones that begin with astronomers finding a giant asteroid, heading straight for the Earth, sure to blow us to smithereens.

A crisis meeting is called of all the earth’s leaders, at which anxious little men in white coats lay out the Doomsday scenario. They warn us that if we do not come together and take emergency steps, our planet will surely be destroyed.

Of course, after a lot of bickering, our leaders do come to their senses. We all cooperate in a sort of Manhattan Project. Mankind’s ingenuity finds a way to destroy the intruding asteroid, and our annihilation is avoided. Whew! Close call!

Well, I kind of felt like those theater audiences when I first read the 1oo page Summary of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – that’s a mouthful) 2007 4th Assessment on Climate Change.

I read and reread it. I went back to the voluminous original Report and read that. You may well wonder why I went to so much trouble. Well, you see, I was sure that I had misread or misinterpreted the Report.  Perhaps I had misplaced some decimal points or made mistakes in transposing from degrees Centigrade (which all scientists use) to Fahrenheit (which almost all Americans use) and/or from Meters to Feet (ditto).

Alas, I could not find any big errors. In thirty years as a scientific researcher I had never read a document as sobering as this one.  The little men in white coats were standing there again, telling us that we are doomed unless we take immediate, concerted action.

However, this is not a movie, not even a Grade B one. This is real life, and not enough people are listening. In fact, many people, mostly Americans, are desperately trying to ignore this danger. An entire multibillion-dollar industry of Climate Denial has sprouted, fueled by deep-pocketed energy corporations, who have much to lose if we slow CO2 emissions, and supported by people who do not want to face having to change their life styles.

In the ensuing four years since this report came out, the news has only gotten worse and the deniers more stubborn in their desperate need to ignore reality.

Next year another IPCC Report is due. I can tell you now, based on many publications I have read in the interim, that the news will be worse, showing that many of the predicted changes have already begun, and are proceeding at a rate faster than anticipated by our scientists.

Our leading climate scientist, James Hansen has written an eye opening book, summarized elsewhere on this web site, explaining the physics, biology, and politics of Climate Change.

CO2 emissions are continuing to climb, ice sheets are breaking off, methane is escaping from melting permafrost, heat wave records are tumbling all over the earth, our forests and plains are burning, and droughts are getting worse and more widespread. Did I leave anything out?  Sure I did, out of a concern not to overwhelm you – too much.

Are there any adults out there, who learned from their parents and elders that the only way to overcome adversity is to face it and surmount it? If you are among these few grownups, I urge you to read my ten-page summary of the last IPCC Assessment, and then if the spirit moves you and if you care about what happens to your children and grandchildren, take action. What will happen will not be pretty unless we get our act together fast. The sands of time are running out. A good place to start would be the website.



         SYNTHESIS REPORT – November 16, 2007

[Summary by K. Fischman, Ph.D., Jan 21. 2008)]

(For treatment of Uncertainty & other notes, see Addendum on last page)

A. Observed Changes:

1.  Warming of climate – unequivocal – now seen in increase of air & ocean temperatures, melting of snow & ice, sea level rise.

2.  Northern Hemisphere temperatures – very likely higher than in last 500 yrs., & likely higher than in past 1,300 yrs.

3.  Many natural systems are being affected, particularly by temperature increases.

4.  Changes in Arctic & Antarctic systems – high confidence.

5.  Increased runoff & earlier Spring runoff – high confidence.

6.  Timing of Spring events is changing, & there is poleward & higher elevation shift in Plant & Animal ranges – very high confidence.

B.  Causes of Changes:

1.  Global Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions are due to human activities, & have increased since pre-industrial times. They have increased 70% since 1970.

2.  Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide ( CO2 ), methane ( CH4), & nitrous oxide (N2O) have increased markedly since 1750 as a result of  human activities.  They far exceed pre-industrial values & earlier ones. This was determined by analysis of ice cores, spanning 650,000 yrs.  The increase is primarily caused by fossil fuel use.

(a) CH4 has increased through agriculture & fossil fuel use.

(b) N2O has increased through agriculture.

3.  Increase in global temperature – very likely caused by anthropogenic (human-caused) activities (otherwise, solar & volcanic activities would actually have cooled the planet over the past 50 yrs.)

4.  Discernable human activities have resulted in other climate changes.

(a) Sea level rise – very likely.

(b) Wind patterns, storm tracks, hot nights & days, heat waves, droughts, & heavy precipitation.

5.  Significant warming has been global  (It is very unlikely that it is caused by natural variability).

C.  Projected Climate Change & its Impacts:

1.  There is high agreement & much evidence that with current climate change mitigation policies, Global GHG emissions will continue to increase over the next few decades.                           

2.  Predicted global GHG emissions will grow by 25 -90% CO2-eq (CO2 equivalents) between  2000 – 2030 (23 yrs from now).

3.  Climate changes in the 21st century (next 93 yrs.) are very likely to be larger than during the 20th century.

4.  Global temperature will increase 0.8°F in the next 2 decades [almost a  1°F increase!].

D.  Scenarios for GHG Emissions from 2000 – 2100 (in absence of enactment of climate policies)

1. Projected increased global surface warming & sea level rise in next 100 yrs:

(a) Best case –  3.8 °F increase & 6.9 – 14.6 ft. rise.

(b) Worst case –   5.9 °F increase & 10.0 – 22.ft. rise

[this does not include the full effects of Greenland & Antarctic ice sheet flow, which has increased dramatically in the last 4 yrs.)

(c) Worst case 13.6 °F (highest possible temperature)

[Would such a temperature be incompatible with most life?]

E.  Regional Scale Changes:

1.  Warming will be greatest over land & at most northern latitudes.  This will result in contraction of snow cover, increase in thaw depth, & decrease in sea ice (It could disappear entirely in late summer).

2.  There will be hot extremes, e.g. heat waves , heavy precipitation – very likely.

3.  Tropical cyclone (Hurricane) intensity will increase.  (There is less confidence that the #s of such events will increase).

4.  There will be a poleward shift of extra-tropical storm tracks, with changes in wind, precipitation, & temperature patterns.

5.  Precipitation:

(a) increase in high northern latitudes –  very likely

(b) decrease in most subtropical lands  –  likely

6.  River runoff & water availability will increase in the higher latitudes, & will decrease in some dry regions of mid-latitudes & tropics.  Many semiarid regions (e.g. Mediterranean, Western USA, southern Africa, & NE Brazil) will suffer decreases in water resources – high confidence.

F.  Timing & Magnitude of Impacts (as well as amounts & rates of climate change):

1. (a) 30 % of species are at risk of extinction         (best case)

(b) Significant worldwide extinctions (worst case)

2. Many other serious consequences associated with global temperature change –  e.g.

•  cereal productivity in low latitudes will decrease.

•  coastal flooding

•  malnutrition

(high confidence for all of these)

G.  Projected Regional Impacts (with very high confidence or high confidence):

1.  Africa – 50 % decrease in rain-fed agriculture, & 5 – 8% increase of arid land.

2.  Asia – decrease in freshwater availability, & flooding in mega delta regions. [e.g. Bangladesh]

3.  Australia – significant biodiversity loss in the Great Barrier Reef & the Queensland Wet Tropics. Sea level rise will exacerbate the effects of coastal development & population growth. Agriculture & forestry are expected to decline.

4.  Europe – increased risk of flash floods, coastal flooding, & erosion.  Mountains – extensive species losses (up to 60%), glacier retreat, & reduced snow cover (Winter tourism will decrease).  South Europe – is expected to experience high temperatures, drought, & decrease in crop production, as well as heat waves & wildfires.

5.  Latin America – replacement of: tropical forest by savanna in eastern Amazonia, & semiarid vegetation by arid-land vegetation.  There is risk of significant biodiversity loss & species extinction. Crops & livestock are projected to decrease in productivity, hunger increase, & water availability decrease.

6.  North America – Western mountain regions expected to experience decrease in snow pack, increase in winter flooding, & reduced summer flows. Rain-fed yields in agriculture will increase 5 – 20%.  Cities in some areas would have increases in #, intensity, & duration of heat waves..  Coastal communities & habitats would be stressed.

7.  Polar Regions – Glaciers, ice sheets, & sea ice will decrease in thickness & extent. Detrimental stresses on migratory birds, mammals, & predators.  Detrimental impacts on traditional indigenous life. Decrease in climate barriers, resulting in increase of invasive species.

8.  Small Islands – Their existence threatened by: inundation, storm surge, & erosion. Coral bleaching. Water resources decrease, & invasion of non- native species increase.

H.  Likely Effected By Climate Change:

1.  Ecosystems

(a) Tundra, boreal forests, & mountains.

(b) Mediterranean region – rainfall decrease, resulting in decrease of tropical rain forests.

(c) Coastal regions – Mangroves & salt marshes impacted.

(d) Coral Reefs – at high risk.

2.  Water resources – dry regions in mid-latitudes, dry tropics, & areas that are dependant on snow & ice melt.

3.  Low-latitude agriculture – decrease in water availability.

4.  Low-lying coastal regions impacted by rise in sea level & extreme weather.

5.  Human health – populations with low adaptive capacity impacted.

6.  Regions:

(a) Arctic – projected high rates of warming.

(b) Africa – low adaptive capacity.

(c) Small islands – sea rise & warming.

(d) Asian & African mega delta regions – sea levels, storm surges, & river flooding [what will happen to New Orleans, Miami, etc. in North America?]

I.  Ocean Acidification:

1. Anthropogenic CO2 uptake – since 1750 [start of industrial age] has led to oceans becoming more acidic.

2. Projections – Decrease in global ocean pH of between 0.14 – 0.35 by the 21st century. [This is a large change because pH is a log, not an arithmetic function]

3. Already observed – Damage to marine, shell-forming organisms, including coral.

J.  Frequencies & Intensities of Extreme Weather & Sea Level [Rise] Projected to Increase:

1.  Temperature rise is virtually certain:

(a) Agriculture – Increased yields in colder environments, decreased yields in warmer ones, & insect outbreaks.

(b) Water sources – detrimental to those regions which rely on snow melt for water supply.

(c) Reduced human mortality due to decreased cold exposure.

(d) Reduced demand for heating, but increased demand for cooling. Decrease in air quality in cities, but reduced disruption of traffic in the winter.

2.  Very Likely Outcomes:

(a) Warm spells & heat waves.

(b) Reduced agricultural yield in warmer regions, & increase in wildfires.

(c) Water quality – water demands increase, & quality decreases, more algal blooms.

(d) Heat-related mortality –especially in the young, aged, chronically sick, & the socially isolated.

(e) Quality of life –decrease in warm regions, especially among the very elderly, very young, & the poor.

3.  Very Likely Outcomes – In areas where heavy precipitation occurs, results in:

(a) Agriculture – crop damage, soil erosion, & water logging of soils.

(b) Water resources – contamination, but water scarcity may be relieved.

(c) Human health – deaths, injuries, & diseases increase.

(d) Society – Disruption of settlements, commerce, infrastructure, & loss of property.

4. Drought increases:

(a) Agriculture – degradation, decreased yields, livestock deaths, & increased wildfires.

(b) Water – stress.

(c) Health – Food & water shortages, also water – & food-borne diseases.

(d) Society – Reduced hydroelectric power & increased population migrations.

5. Tropical Cyclone Activity Increases:

(a) Agriculture – crop & coral reef damage

(b) Water – power outages, causing public water supply disruption.

(c) Health – deaths, injuries, disease, & post-traumatic stress disorder.

(d) Society – more pressure for population migrations.

6. High sea level:

(a) Agriculture – damaged by salinization.

(b) Decreased fresh water availability.

(c) Health – deaths & injuries increase.

(d) Social – infrastructure damage & increased pressure for population migration & infrastructure relocation.

K. Anthropogenic (human-caused) warming & sea level rise would continue for centuries, even if GHG concentrations were to be stabilized.

L. Consequences of multi-century warming:

1. Contraction of the Greenland Ice Sheet, & perhaps its total elimination, is projected to result in a sea rise of 7 Meters (22+ ft.) within several thousand yrs.

M. Anthropogenic warming:

1. It could lead to abrupt & irreversible impacts, depending on the rate & magnitude of climate change:

(a) There could be meters of sea level rise, major changes in coastlines, & inundations of low-lying areas, such as deltas & islands, over several thousand years.

(b) However, more rapid changes in sea levels within the time frame of centuries cannot be excluded.

2. Extinctions (medium confidence):

(a) If warming exceeds 2.7 – 4.5 °F, 30% of species are likely to  be at risk of extinction.

(b) If warming exceeds 6.3 °F, projections suggest there would be a significant # of extinctions (40 – 70% of species around the globe).

3. Meridianal Overturning Circulation (MOC) – (This is density-driven global circulation of oceans). It is very unlikely to undergo a large, abrupt transition during the 21st century.  However, changes in it will likely have long-term effects on marine ecosystem productivity, fisheries, & oceanic oxygen concentrations.

4. Oceanic Uptake of CO2 – This would lower the pH, & in turn, it may feedback on the climate system.

N. Adaptation & Mitigation Options:

1. More extensive adaptation than is currently occurring is required to reduce vulnerability to climate change.

2. There is high confidence that there are viable adaptation options.

3. Adaptive capacity is connected to social & economic development, but is currently unevenly distributed.

4. There is high agreement & much evidence of substantial economic potential [benefit] for mitigation of GHG emissions.  This could offset projected emissions or [even] reduce emissions below current levels.

N(1). Examples of planned adaptation:

1. Water

(a) Rainwater harvesting & water storage.

(b) Adjustment of planting dates, change in crop variety, crop relocation, & tree planting.

2. Protection [& strengthening] of existing natural barriers [e.g. New Orleans marshlands].

3. Shifting ski slopes to higher elevations.

4. Redesign & relocation of rails, roads, & other infrastructure, & change of emphasis [toward more efficient transportation].

5. Increase in energy efficiency & switching to renewable sources, thus reducing our dependency on a single source.

6. Examples of planned mitigation:

(a) CO2 capture & storage (sequestration).

(b) Reduction of fossil fuel subsidies.

(c) Subsidies for renewable energy.

(d) Production & increasing use of fuel-efficient vehicles, mandatory fuel economy.

(e) Reduction in CO2 & N2O emissions.

(f) Reducing deforestation

(g) Use of forestry products for bioenergy [renewable].

O. Future Energy Infrastructure – The cost expected to exceed 20 trillion US dollars, between 2005 – 2030 [25 yrs.].

P. There are a wide variety of policies & instruments available to create incentives for mitigation activities.

Q. There is high agreement & much evidence that there are near-term co-benefits to offset a substantial fraction of mitigation costs.

R. There is high agreement & medium evidence that lifestyle & behavioral changes can contribute to climate mitigation.

S. There is high agreement & much evidence that international cooperation can reduce GHG emissions, e.g. Carbon markets.

T. It is very likely that climate change can slow progress toward sustainable development.

U. Science can provide criteria to judge ”dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

V. There are 5 reasons for concern.  These risks are identified with higher confidence than in the previous TAR (Third Assessment Report of the IPCC, 2001):

1. There are threats to unique & vulnerable systems. e.g. polar, mountains, & coral reefs.

2. There are risks of extreme weather. e.g. droughts, heat waves, & floods.

3. Distribution of impacts & vulnerabilities –uneven. e.g. poor, elderly, low latitude, less developed, dry areas, mega deltas.

4. Aggregate impacts – e.g. net costs are projected to increase with amount of warming & time.

5. Risks of large-scale singularities:

e.g. There is high confidence that sea level rise would be much greater than in the 20th century, due largely to the contributions of the Greenland & Antarctic ice sheets, & that this could occur in century time scales.

(Recent observations, not accounted for in this report, could raise the rate of ice loss).

W. There is high confidence that neither adaptation nor mitigation can avoid all climate change impacts, but they can significantly reduce them.

X. If climate change is not mitigated, it is likely to exceed the capacity of natural & human-managed systems to adapt to it.

Y. Many impacts can be reduced, delayed, or avoided by mitigation over the next 2 – 3 decades to achieve lower stabilization levels.

Z. Delayed GHG emission reductions significantly constrain opportunities to achieve lower stabilization levels, & increase the risk of more severe climate change impacts.

AA. In order to achieve the lowest mitigation scenario, emissions would need to peak no later than 2015 (7 yrs from now).

BB. Sea level rise, caused by warming, is inevitable:

(1) Even if GHGs were stabilized, thermal expansion (of oceans) would continue for several hundred yrs., causing an eventual sea level rise of several meters.  This would be much greater than projected for the 21st century.

(2) The Greenland Ice Sheet could contribute several meters more to sea rise in addition to that produced by thermal expansion.  This would occur if temperatures > 3.4 – 8.3 °F above the pre-industrial level are sustained over several centuries.

(3) Stabilization of GHG concentrations at, or above present levels would not stabilize sea levels for many centuries.

CC. Stabilization Scenarios & Their Effects On Temperature & Sea Level (Table SPM.6)


Scenario                  CO2 eq.(ppm)                  Temperature(°F)                  Sea Level(ft.)



Best (I)                  350 – 400                                 3.6 – 4.3                          1.3 – 4.5

Worst (VI)           660 – 790                                 8.8 – 11.0                       1.8 – 11.8

(double pres. level)



• The table above shows effects from thermal expansion only. It does not take into account the additional contributions of ice sheets, glaciers, & ice caps to sea level & temperature. [It appears that temperatures in the Worst Case scenario could result in extinction of much life on Earth]

DD. There is high agreement & much evidence that emission stabilization levels can be achieved by deployment of technologies that are currently or soon to be available.

EE. Cost of Climate Change:

1. The impacts of climate change will very likely increase costs over time as the temperature rises.

2. There will be significant differences in costs among regions, populations, & sectors.  Estimates of damage are very likely underestimates, due to inability to measure all of them. [e.g. social costs]



Qualitative: (theory, observation, models)

1. high agreement, much evidence

2. high agreement, medium evidence

3. medium agreement, medium evidence

Quantitative: (expert judgment, statistics, probability of occurrence).

1. very high confidence (9 out of 10)

2. high confidence (8 out of 10)

3. medium confidence (5 out of 10)

Specific Outcomes: (expert judgment, statistics)

1. virtually certain (> 99%)

2. extremely likely (> 95%)

3. very likely (> 90%)

4. likely ( > 66%)

5. unlikely (< 33%)

6. very unlikely (< 10%)

7. extremely unlikely (< 5%)

8. exceptionally unlikely (< 1%)


Notes:      1. Treatment of uncertainty is highlighted in red

2. K. F.’s emphasis is indicated by bolding

3. Opinion is enclosed in square brackets [  ]

4. Numerical ranges are also in square brackets e.g. [1.8 – 6.3]

They indicate 90% uncertainty intervals:

(1) 5% likelihood – above range in brackets

(2) 5% likelihood – below range in brackets

Original Documents:

1. IPCC 4th Assessment Report – Summary for Policy Makers




The End Of Oil


THE END OF OIL, AND THE RISE OF DENIAL (6/3/06, rev. 9/10/11)

Ken Fischman,Ph.D.,  Lanie Johnson, M.A.,  and the Ancient Pathways Players

Climbing Hubbert’s Peak

Back in 1956, an oil geologist, by the name of L. King Hubbert, published an article in which he predicted that oil production in the U.S would reach its peak between 1970 and 1972, and from then on would decrease every year.
Despite the fact that Hubbert was a respected scientist and that he presented solid evidence for his conclusions, he was derided, laughed at, or ignored by almost everyone in the oil industry.
In 1972, oil production in the U.S. peaked, and since then it has declined every year. That, and not oil industry greed, China’s new energy appetite, or rebellions in Libya, is the main reason why you are paying over $3.00/gallon for gasoline and our country is dependent on foreign oil.
By the way, my bill for heating and cooking with Propane went up 28% last winter. Did you know that natural gas production in the U.S. peaked way back in 1956, and has gone down every year since then?
Other scientists have improved L. King Hubbert’s fact gathering, formulas, and calculations, and have extended the methodology he successfully used to predict Peak Oil in the U.S. to computer simulations of world oil production.

They have concluded that world oil production will peak within a few years, or has already peaked. Kenneth Deffeyes is a Geologist from Princeton University, and is one of the leaders of the Peak Oil movement. He has calculated that world oil production reached its highest level in November, 2005. It is in the nature of the oil industry that we only learn about such events after they have happened.
Deffeyes, Colin Campbell, who is a Scottish geophysicist, energy investment banker Matthew Simmons, along with Roscoe Bartlett, who is a former engineer, and presently a Republican Congressman from Maryland, have been sounding the alarm. They have been derided, laughed at, or just plain ignored. It is only now, with the price of energy sky-rocketing, that they are getting any public attention at all.
If you remember your history, the Greek seer, Cassandra, made dire predictions about the fate of Greece. She was laughed at too. But, she had the last laugh. Classical Greece is gone. You can visit the ruins of the Acropolis in Athens, if you buy your airline tickets now while you can still afford them.

The End of Cheap Oil

Now, you may wonder, why am I talking about oil at a workshop on ancient skills and beliefs? It is because the impending loss of cheap oil is going to profoundly affect the way we and our children lead our lives.

[enter stage L -- a fairy, dressed in pink tutu, with a diamond tiara, and a wand with a star at its end – “she” is flippant and bubbly, and speaks in falsetto, kind of like Glenda the Good, from Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz]

“Hi, I’m the Tooth Fairy (TF) and I’ve come to tell you that there’s nothing to worry about. There’s plenty of oil left. All you have to do is look for it under your pillow!”

[KF] Hey, wait a minute! You’re interrupting a serious discussion. And you look ridiculous in that tutu. These people are here to learn important things that will affect their lives. Please do not interrupt us. [TF glares at K, petulantly, hands on hips ]

[KF] Now, where was I? Oh yes, even the phrase “oil production,” is misleading. Human beings have never produced even one drop of oil. It was all produced by Nature some 600 million years ago. More properly, we ought to call it “oil extraction.” The amount of oil available is, for all intents and purposes, finite (unless you want to wait around another 600 million years.) When it’s gone, it’s gone, and all the wishful thinking in the world won’t bring back a drop of it.
The fact is, that the world is rapidly running out of conventional oil, and this fact is absolutely critical because our contemporary, technological civilization is organized around and totally dependant on cheap oil. This situation is being compounded because every year America’s appetite for oil is increasing. China and India’s economies are growing at 10%/year and are they running around the world, trying to lock up all the existing and potential oil and natural gas sources they can get their hands on. When demand increases and supply goes down, the law of economics tells us that the price will increase. My truck camper makes about 9 miles/gal of gas. I ‘m thinking of trading it in for a Prius.

[TF] Oh, yoo–hoo! I have an easy solution. You know, when children lose a tooth, all they have to do is put it under the pillow, and the tooth fairy (that’s me!) will come in the middle of the night and replace it with a dollar bill. Now, all you have to do is place your empty gas tank under your pillow and the Tooth Fairy will fill it up with oil made from Canadian tar sands, or Pennsylvania coal, or Ethanol from corn – better yet, we can fill it with Abiotic oils from the bottom of the sea of which there’s an endless supply! Of (course) no one’s ever seen it, but I am sure it’s there because we need it!

[KF] Now look here, you demented elf! You are interrupting a serious discourse and making a farce out of this. Leave this room right now, or I’ll Canadian tar-sand and feather you! [TF exits in a huff, stage Rt.]

Say Goodbye To Cheap Oil

Thank goodness were rid of that ridiculous person. Magical thinking will not help us. This is a rational society. Only a few years ago, the price of oil was 35$ per gallon. Now it is over $80. I predict that the price of oil next summer will be over $100 per gallon, and that the price will go up every year from now on.
The high price of energy will profoundly change our lifestyles. The Global Economy, which is based on the ability to cheaply transport goods from one part of the world to another, will inevitably collapse. Economies will, of necessity, become localized, and we will have to depend on local food supplies.
Everyone knows. . .

[Oil Fairy] Hi there. I’m the Oil Fairy and I’ve come to tell you that there’s plenty of oil around the Caspian Sea. And, we know there’s lots of oil under the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge without having even drilled test wells there, or ……

[KF] Great! Another idiot! Look here! If they started exploring ANWAR tomorrow and found oil, which is not certain, it would take at least 10 years to locate, drill, and build a pipeline to carry the oil down to us. Furthermore, even the most optimistic estimate of how much oil there is under those herds of Caribou, would supply U.S. needs for only 3 to 6 months. But, it sure would make a lot of money for Exxon, BP, etc. And maybe they can get Halliburton to build the pipeline.

[OF] But all I have to do is wave my magic wand and. . .

[KF] There is no such thing as magic! You can’t make something from nothing. Why don’t you go away and stop bothering us with your wishful thinking? [TF stands petulantly, hands on hips, & glares at KF]
They have looked everywhere, and there are no hidden sources of oil. Not only that, but there is no adequate substitute for oil. You can’t stick a nuclear energy plant in your car and make it run, or put one in a Boeing 747 and make it fly either. Too heavy. You can convert coal to gas, but the more coal you dig, the more expensive it will be to get to, and how are you going to transport that heavy stuff from Pennsylvania to Florida? And up and up will go the costs.
As for corn-derived Ethanol, it is the latest fad of the technofixers. At least two studies have shown that more energy has to be put into the process than can be gotten out of it. Corn is a very energy- demanding crop. It will make a lot of money for agribusiness, but it is not the answer to our energy problems. Not only that, but every acre put into production of corn for Ethanol, is an acre taken out of the production of food in a country where the number of food-producing farms is shrinking every year. If our government is so worried out our dependency on foreign oil, how vulnerable will we feel when we become dependant on foreign-grown food?

What Is Oil Good For?

The first thing people think about when you mention oil is fuel – energy – energy to drive your car to work, to fly by plane to the West Coast in order to spend Thanksgiving with your far-flung family, energy to push that diesel locomotive up the track, bringing cheap stuff to Wal-Mart.
But energy needs are just the tip of the iceberg. Where do you think your anti-allergy pills come from? Your antibiotics? Most medications are synthesized from oil. By the way, what do you think is the most expensive kind of building to construct and maintain? (pause) Anyone?  No, it’s not the Pentagon. It’s your local hospital. By the square foot, by the little white pill, by the 2 million dollar MRI they just installed. A single Cancer treatment costs almost 10 thousand dollars. . . . . It is by far the most expensive structure around. What do you think will happen to your medical bills when oil hits $100/barrel? $200/barrel?

By the way, what do you think plastic is made from? Take a wild guess. …. Hey, Oil Fairy, do you know how much plastic there is in your house? your refrigerator? your automobile? I’ll bet even your magic wand is plastic.
Another question for you fairy! Do you like bananas in your cereal for breakfast? Now, don’t tell me you just wave your wand and make them appear! Do you know
where that banana came from?

[OF] Timorously – Ecuador?

[KF] How many bananas are you going to eat when the cost of transporting them from Ecuador doubles? triples? How much of the food that you buy in Safeway is grown within 100 miles of here? Very little, but food distribution patterns are going to have to change or we will not be able to feed over 320 million Americans. Bioregionalism anyone?

[OF} I think I’ll leave . The batteries in my magic wand seem to have run down. I wonder what batteries are made of? Goodbye.

[KF]  Good riddance! Whew! We are finally rid of her! Now, where was I? Oh yes,
Let’s talk more about food. After all, it is your ultimate energy supply. Is your food cheap? plentiful?. . . What is the fertilizer that makes that food grow made from? Anyone?….  How about the pesticides and herbicides that they use on farms? What are they made from? …. How much oil did they expend to manufacture that tractor, and the other mechanized equipment found on most farms today? And, how much energy is used to run them? How much fuel was expended to transport food from Imperial Valley, California to your dining room table last night?
How much plastic is there in your computer? And how much oil did they use to dig up, refine, and transport all those rare materials that give your hard disk that prodigious amount of memory the computer companies boast of?

The Technofixers

And that’s just the beginning. What about – - – - – - – - – - -

[Big rumpus –Technology Fairy enters – stage L]

[TF] Hi – I’m the Technology Fairy, and I’ve come to save you! Not to worry! I’ve got a technological fix for everything! Just look under your pillow!

(someone in audience shouts – “Hey “Techy,” you’re cute”)

[TF] I’m not only cute, I’m clever. Hey, do you know what we can do to squeeze more out of an oil field? I can drill on a slant to get oil from under nearby mountains or drill down a mile with offshore drilling rigs that are already a mile below the ocean surface.

[KF] (exasperatedly) It’s already been done, and you know what happened. Remember BP and the Gulf oil spill?

[TF] Oh – well, I can pump water into the wells to push up more oil.

[KF] Been there – done that. Do you wonder why the Saudis are doing it now? Can it be that their oil fields are drying up? It adds to the cost, and eventually it messes up the entire oil field.

[TF] Oh – well, I can explore other parts of the world, using high-tech equipment, and find loads of oil.

[KF] Until 2006 oil companies had been spending less money every year on oil exploration. Only now, with the price of oil soaring, has it become worthwhile for them to put money into exploration. The reason for that is that they have almost certainly already found all the great oil fields on Earth. There is no other place to look for large amounts of oil except the Arctic Ocean and the South China Sea, and that’s why China, Japan, Taiwan, and Vietnam have recently been threatening each other over that area. I don’t think that superpowers fighting an oil war is going to help lower the cost of oil.

[TF, getting surly] Yeah, well how about all those hydrogen-driven cars? – clean, no pollution, free energy. yippee!

[KF] You know, it’s a funny thing. Nobody talks about where they’re going to get all those H2 atoms. You see, they’re going to pull them off of – guess what? ….  oil and natural gas. That’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul. You see, H2 cars are not energy sources. They are really just big batteries, and where is all that infrastructure to transport the H2 atoms to where they can be pumped into cars? It’s non-existent.

[TF] Boy, what a spoil-sport you are! Hey – they can get the H2s from water. Any school kid knows that! We’ve got plenty of water. All you have to do is stick a positive electrode in one end of a water tank and a negative one at the other – voila – (that’s a French word, you know!) you’ve got all the H2 atoms you want – just like we did in high school science class!

[KF] You forgot one little thing – the electric current to do the job. You will use more energy to liberate those H2 atoms than they will generate. That’s a good way to go broke -– energy-wise.

[TF] Well, what about all that Liquefied Natural Gas from Africa?

[KF] Listen, speaking of energy, you re wasting ours. What’s next? Are you going to invent a perpetual-motion machine? Get lost, will you! – First, they must transport the LNG at -260° F in tankers. Then, what do you do with it? They will need to build special ports to receive LNG, and special facilities to store and transport it throughout the United States. They will have to build an entirely new infrastructure throughout the country, and where will the trillions of dollars come from to build this in a country that is already in over $3 Trillion in debt? Do me a favor Technology Fairy. Get lost! Put an egg in your shoe and beat it!

[TF] Well, if that’s the way you feel about it, go drown in your misery. What a grouch! I have a million ideas of how to get more oil. What about all those Tar Sands in Canada? Maybe there’s some on Mars. There’ll always be a technological fix right around the corner. Off I go to find one. Don’t worry – be happy. La De Dah De Dah – – – – – – – – [exit stage R]

[KF] Well, I sure hope we’ve seen the last Fairy.

[voice from audience –“Don’t you bet on it”!]

[KF] The end of cheap oil will obviously have profound effects on our lives, both upon our economy and our social structure.

The Great Denial

There are two other things I would like you to think about coming out of this discussion – myths and psychology.
Most people do not think that our modern, technological, rational culture has any myths. Myths are for ancient Greeks with their Olympian Gods and for African witch doctors, and Siberian Shamans.
How many of you think that our culture has any myths? – – – – -
Good. We just talked extensively about two of them. Can you name them for me?
…. 1. The resources of the Universe are inexhaustible. i.e. the Horn of Plenty myth
2. There is a Technological Fix for everything.