The latest casualty of climate change’s capacity to do anything provided it’s bad is the migratory monarch butterfly. This determined subspecies of a spectacular creature, which travels multi-generationally from Canada and the U.S. to Mexico annually, is apparently heading for the cemetery instead, as International Union for the Conservation of Nature “scientists estimate that populations of the insects have shrunk 22 percent to 72 percent over the past decade.” It’s a nice precise figure. And what exactly has happened in the past decade? Well, you know. The drastic alteration in the climate due to a global temperature change of no degrees at all. According to the best available satellite data, the temperature for June 2022 was 0.06°C above the average over the period from 1991 to 2020, whereas in June 2013 it was… 0°C. And hence the conflagration that consumed the MMBs. If anything did.
NBC declares that “Warmer temperatures, years of intense drought and severe wildfires – all elements that are exacerbated by climate change – are transforming the land and reducing the availability of plants that these monarchs need to breed and fuel their long migratory journeys.” That wildfires also have not increased is no concern for these ecological justice warriors. Although they do blurt out that “The insects are also affected by the overuse of pesticides and habitat loss from agriculture and urban development.” Yeah. That.
It also turns out that Western monarchs are in huge trouble. “Their numbers have fallen from as many as 10 million in the 1980s to less than 2,000 in 2021, the group [IUCN] said.” Perhaps because they “typically breed over the summer within a narrow corridor that includes California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state”. Whereas global warming doesn’t seem to have hit the Eastern variety hard, perhaps because they live on another planet. Or the journalists do.
The Associated Press, for instance, put the entire monarch species on the endangered list: “The monarch butterfly fluttered a step closer to extinction Thursday, as scientists put the iconic orange-and-black insect on the endangered list because of its fast dwindling numbers.” It did manage to recognize that IUCN had only listed the “migrating monarch butterfly” but then told its readers “The group estimates that the population of monarch butterflies in North America has declined between 22 per cent and 72 per cent over 10 years, depending on the measurement method.” Whereas in fact it only estimates that the population of migrating monarchs has done so. Though it is true that all Canadian monarchs are of the migratory type, something to do with our winters apparently. (To be fair the story later said “Nonmigratory monarch butterflies in Central and South America were not designated as endangered” and editors seem to have missed this contradiction too.)
We periodically draw attention to the credentials of journalists because when an author has a BA in English Literature from Stanford, you might expect purple prose about fluttering to the graveyard rather than, say, precision about the facts. For our part we have to suggest that, if a warming of 1.1°C since 1850 were sufficient to devastate a part of the natural environment, that part or perhaps the whole thing would have to be so fragile there was no saving it anyway.
Someone with statistical training, formal or informal, would also wonder whether the population of migrating monarchs is given to natural booms and busts. They are or were a familiar thing in nature and you’d have to be a bit clueless to adduce some special recent cause if a phenomenon has been going on for centuries. And might also take notice the IUCN said “The western population is at greatest risk of extinction, having declined by an estimated 99.9%, from as many as 10 million to 1,914 butterflies between the 1980s and 2021. The larger eastern population also shrunk by 84% from 1996 to 2014.”
As we’ve noted elsewhere, one disagreeable feature of climate alarmism is its slipperiness about the date when the impact kicked in. We say that if the western population started collapsing in the 1980s, then you can’t really locate the cause in the 2010s. Nor in our calendar app is “1996 to 2014” part of the last decade. But we’re old-fashioned enough to have the trial before the verdict, whereas alarmism finds something bad, blames it on climate and adjusts the evidence and logic to fit… or ignores both.
We should also note that IUCN gets into the climate game to some degree. It actually lists causes in the other order: “Legal and illegal logging and deforestation to make space for agriculture and urban development has already destroyed substantial areas of the butterflies’ winter shelter in Mexico and California, while pesticides and herbicides used in intensive agriculture across the range kill butterflies and milkweed, the host plant that the larvae of the monarch butterfly feed on.” But then “Climate change has significantly impacted the migratory monarch butterfly and is a fast-growing threat; drought limits the growth of milkweed and increases the frequency of catastrophic wildfires, temperature extremes trigger earlier migrations before milkweed is available, while severe weather has killed millions of butterflies.”
Again, we’d kind of like to know how hard the former causes had hit the Western portion of the subspecies (they are not genetically distinct) so we’d know how much was left for climate change to claim. As with the less absolute but still horrifying plunge in Eastern numbers. But that approach would never do because climate.
P.S. If the monarchs rebound, partly because of more sensible policies on habitat and pesticides, do not look for people to say oops on climate change wiping them out. Instead they’ll tell you it’s moved on to some other species, as they did when those dratted polar bears failed to vanish on cue.