Friday, April 24, 2015

Environmental denial in history - nope, nothing's gone wrong with passenger pigeons

Nice segment on Living on Earth on a book about the loss of passenger pigeons in eastern North America, from billions in 1860 to functionally extinct in 1900 and extinct extinct in 1914.

The denialist forefathers of our current friends were apparently out in force, some of them part of the passenger pigeon hunting industry. A few carrots:

*They said the pigeons were prolific, with multiple eggs and multiple clutches per season, when neither was true. Probably correllates to the claim that there's no reason to worry about acidification of ocean corals or polar bear habitat loss, based on their survival of past events fifty million and 300,000 years ago.

*A one-time, big flock event in 1882 showed the pigeons were fine. Nice correspondence to any time that we have a cold event.

*The birds just moved somewhere:  this is just making up stuff. See anything Tamino critiques as a correllate.

*When they were truly extinct:  a hunter calls it inexplicable. Probably similar to the mysterious coincidence we presently see as the world just happens to be warming for natural reasons in the way that climate science predicts greenhouse gases would make happen.

While evolution denial precedes this by a decade or two, it's the first environmental issue I'm aware of where denialism spewed forth. Would love to hear of earlier examples.

I didn't know the pigeons were still doing well in the 1860s, when much of their habitat destruction had already ocurred. I'm sure relatively minimal regulation could've kept this species abundant.

UPDATE:  thought I'd add two tangents. First, it's interesting to think of how things would've been different if the pigeon had been properly managed. There's good reason to think it would still be prolific. Hunting pigeons would be as common if not more common than fishing is today.

Second, passenger pigeons are mentioned as candidates for de-extinction through genetic engineering. I think that's a bad idea. The bird numbered in the billions when it had a full complement of diseases and parasites, all of which are now gone. Unless we bring those controls back, there's a serious risk from this species. Mammoths would be much easier to keep their populations in check.