A widely touted United Nations report predicting mass species extinction took a beating Wednesday at a House subcommittee hearing, with Republican-called witnesses blasting the claims as “highly exaggerated” and “authoritative propaganda.”
The executive summary released May 6 by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services concluded that “transformative change” was needed to save as many as 1 million species at risk of extinction.
“The evidence is unequivocal. Biodiversity, which is important in its own right and essential for human well-being, is being destroyed by human activities at a rate unprecedented in human history,” Robert Watson, former chairman of IPBES, told the Natural Resources subcommittee on water, oceans and wildlife.
Rep. Jared Huffman, the California Democrat who chairs the subcommittee, said Earth is “currently in what they call the sixth mass extinction, and species are disappearing 100 times faster than historic rates, mostly because of things that we are doing.”
Challenging that premise was Patrick Moore, a former Greenpeace leader, who argued that species extinction has declined in the past century thanks to international efforts. He insisted there was “zero evidence that any such event is occurring now or has even begun to occur.”
“As with the manufactured ‘climate crisis,’ they are using the specter of mass extinction as a fear tactic to scare the public into compliance,” Mr. Moore said in his prepared remarks. “The IPBES itself is an existential threat to sensible policy on biodiversity conservation.”
The result was a feisty hearing in which Mr. Huffman took aim at the credentials of the Republican witnesses and Republicans accused the subcommittee of holding a hearing based on a document that nobody had read.
The report was prepared by 145 authors over three years using 15,000 peer-reviewed publications and 15,000 comments, but the full document remains classified and has yet to be released. A summary was released two weeks ago at a plenary session in Paris.
“Right now, I feel like I’m part of a book club, and we’re going to give opinions on the book, except we’re all making it up because no one has actually read the book,” said Rep. Rob Bishop, Utah Republican. “If you’d actually waited until the report was released and people could look at it, maybe there would be a point at that point that this could be a legitimate hearing.”
The five factors driving the extinction threat are “land and sea use changes; exploitation of organisms; climate change; pollution; and invasive species,” Mr. Huffman said.
“All of these are things we can do something about, but we’re not on track to slow the extinction crisis,” Mr. Huffman said. “We need to do more.”
The “extinction crisis” claim met with skepticism from Rep. Tom McClintock, California Republican, who ticked off previous apocalyptic extinction predictions, including a 1970 warning by a Smithsonian official that 75% to 80% of all animals would be extinct by 1995.
He also challenged the report’s claim of an estimated 8 million animal and planet species, including insects, noting that the International Union for Conservation of Nature has cataloged only 1.8 million. About 800 are known to have gone extinct since 1500.
“You cannot call yourself a scientist if you pretend that there are 6.2 million species that have no names and have never been identified,” said Mr. Moore. “That is not science. That is fiction. Fairy tale stories. And that’s what we’re being told here.”
Climate Depot’s Marc Morano described the report as a politically driven document, “the latest U.N. appeal to give it more power, more scientific authority, more money and more regulatory control.”
“At best, the U.N. science panels represent nothing more than ‘authoritative bureaucracy,’ claiming they hype the problem and then come up with the solution that puts them in charge of ‘solving’ the issue in perpetuity,” Mr. Morano said in his prepared remarks. “A more accurate term for the U.N. than ‘authoritative science’ may be ‘authoritative propaganda.’”
Mr. Huffman fired back at the Republican witnesses by noting that Greenpeace has denied that Mr. Moore is a co-founder, despite a Greenpeace screenshot listing him as one of five founders, and referring to Mr. Morano as a troll.
“I don’t know what inspires someone to make a career out of trolling scientists or monetizing contrarian ideology on the YouTube and Ted Talk circuit, but it’s just a very different kind of conversation than the science-based conversation I think many of us would try to have,” Mr. Huffman said.
No House committee hearing this year would be complete without a climate change row. Republicans took aim at the Green New Deal, the Paris climate agreement and the 97% scientific “consensus,” while Democrats’ witnesses stressed the impact of global warming on species.
“As we’re already observing, climate change is radically changing our weather and moving species’ habitats,” said Defenders of Wildlife’s Jacob Malcom. “Climate change alone is a terrifying transformation of our planet. In combination with the other threats, the damage we have done and are doing is almost unimaginable.”
Mr. Moore argued that most animals that have gone extinct since 1500 were the victims of invasive species such as cats, rats and foxes brought by European colonialists.
“Today, it’s introduced species, especially on islands, where it’s a small area, and a rat can get on an island and eat all the bird’s eggs, and that’s the end of the bird,” Mr. Moore said. “That is the classical situation that has occurred lately.”
Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, the Arizona Democrat who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, lamented the Republicans’ approach to climate change. “There’s not so much climate denial going on in Congress anymore,” said Mr. Grijalva. “It’s climate avoidance — anything to avoid the topic and to avoid doing something serious about it.”