News stories wail that “Climate change wiping out billions of sea stars: study”. Except they then change gears: “Sea stars in the waters off British Columbia that died off in the billions about a decade ago are not recovering as expected, an expert says.” So they’re dying off due to climate change, or they already died off due to something else and they’re just not coming back on schedule? And if it was climate change, who saw it coming? Because we keep waiting for someone to predict something beforehand instead of pointing afterwards to an event that already happened and claiming they knew it all along. Especially when it didn’t even happen the way they say.
For starters we emphasize that the essence of science is making a prediction, ideally of something unexpected, and then trying to falsify it. And in case there’s any doubt, one online explanation of “prediction”, from the Cambridge Dictionary, is “a statement about what you think will happen in the future”. Future. Gotta have that. Rationalizing the past isn’t a useless activity, but the acid test for whether you have a valid theory is whether you can deduce what will happen next.
We shouldn’t also have to explain what “decade” means. But another annoying thing about this story is that it cites a PhD student from Oregon State University “and lead author of the study” to the effect that “These ‘charismatic creatures’ have been wasting away since 2013, she said, and studies have shown this could be due to bacteria or a virus that thrives in warm waters.” Got that? A decade ago was 2013. Math am hard indeed. Moreover the wasting away “could be” due to a bacteria or a virus that likes warm waters. Not sure which, if either. So not exactly a solid explanation.
Oh, and how much had the waters warmed by 2013? And over what baseline period, since the sea stars were apparently fine in 2003? And what’s the normal variability of sea start populations over multiple decades? If some sea creature can’t take a fraction of a degree increase, well, it’s not the fittest and won’t make it, right? Not even through the Roman Warm Period which these guys did. And then some.
In fact sea stars or starfish are very fit marine invertebrates prone to surviving all sorts of stuff. Something like 1,900 species, Wikipedia says, “occur on the seabed in all the world's oceans, from the tropics to frigid polar waters. They are found from the intertidal zone down to abyssal depths, 6,000 m (20,000 ft) below the surface.” So obviously a quarter degree of temperature change and they’re toast, right? Even though, Wikipedia also says, “The fossil record for starfish is ancient, dating back to the Ordovician around 450 million years ago, but it is rather sparse, as starfish tend to disintegrate after death.”
So sea stars have been all over the shop for nearly half a billion years, through two major ice ages before our own and also the much warmer climate that existed most of the time, from the age of the dinosaurs through the Eocene when it was 8C warmer than today, and even the Pliocene when it was on average, perhaps 3C warmer. And in warm waters and cold. But now a tiny uptick in local sea temperature, if there even was one, and “Climate change wiping out billions of sea stars: study”.
This issue of exactly how much of a temperature increase is thought to have happened since everything was peachy is not trivial in that branch of climate alarmism that insists the apocalypse is upon us. For instance, just as a meticulous examination of old and new data shows absolutely no warming in the waters off the Great Barrier Reef since 1871, Paul Homewood shows daily temperature values in central England going back decades and in some cases to 1772 and there is… no sign of warming at all, while parts of Europe are facing early snowfall. So anyone blaming the demise of songbirds or coral on a temperature increase that didn’t happen is not a climate scientist. And in this case, exactly how much are these West Coast waters thought to have warmed and wiped out a species that was doing just fine up to that point?
Now back to that prediction business. Or lack of it. To be fair, one news story two years ago said “West Coast Sea Stars All But Wiped Out by Climate Change”. And it concerned the same “sunflower sea stars” the new study also examines. (Which may be cute but, be warned, “The sunflower sea star is a predator, using its 16-24 arms with powerful suckers to feed on sea urchins, clams and snails and other small invertebrates in the nearshore environment. It is also the size of a manhole cover and has an appetite to match, moving around on the seafloor while vacuuming up copious amounts of prey.”) But that story, too, is working backward not forward, and in a tendentious way.
It also blared “The sunflower sea star, one of the largest and most colorfully arrayed of its kind in the world, has vanished from the California coast – yet another victim of climate change” before conceding that a new study “concluded the sea creatures have been ravaged by a combination of disease and warming ocean temperatures.” And then drew the tenuous connection between a supposed “heat wave in the oceans” and the spread of this disease, which actually isn’t a disease but a syndrome, meaning it’s known by its symptoms rather than by a specific pathology and which was first observed in a major way in 1972, and again in 1978, before a massive surge in sea star numbers off the American east coast was followed by a population bust.
Even when their predictions fail climate alarmists often claim vindication. Hurricanes, for instance, are supposed to be getting worse. But when the ferocious Tropical Storm Henri failed to make landfall as a hurricane in New England, nobody went “Oh yeah, not such a big deal.” Instead the New York Times made it a climate crisis anyway: “It is a new, foreboding normal in low-lying cities coming to grips with climate change: As Tropical Storm Henri approached the New England coast, crews of workers in Boston installed metal posts and aluminum planks around the entrance of the Aquarium subway station to keep floodwaters from cascading down from street level…. A study published this month in the journal Transportation Research called climate change an “existential threat” to public transit in Boston: Given the expected rate of rising sea waters, an extremely strong storm — one with a 1 percent chance of occurring in a given year — would completely inundate the Blue Line and much of the Red and Orange Line.” OK. That’s a prediction. But not testable and the researchers certainly didn’t “find” it, they just guessed.
So here’s the thing with the sea stars. Nobody saw this one coming. Only after the fact did they hypothesize that some process no one understands, that has happened repeatedly in the past, must this time be due to climate change because everything bad is. And in response we make a fearless prediction: When the sunflower sea star rebounds off the west coast of the United States and Canada, as starfish seem generally to have done on the east coast after a similar 2013 collapse, nobody will remember that climate change was blamed for killing it off; instead its rebound will be blamed on climate change and declared a catastrophe for the cute creatures it preys upon. Experts say.