James Delingpole

Delingpole: Here's what I learnt from the extinction of the golden toad — ecologists have sold out to the religion of global warming

Why did the Costa Rican amphibian disappear? You'll find a lot of waffle in highly-respective science journals attributing this to 'climate change'

7 December 2013

9:00 AM

7 December 2013

9:00 AM

When I was a child — in the days before it became illegal under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) and Schedule 2 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations (2010) — I was an unlicensed handler of great crested newts.

I loved them for the same reasons, I imagine, Ken Livingstone does: the gorgeous contrast between their rough, matt black bodies and their flame-orange and black-speckled bellies; the way they float in mid-pond as if in suspended animation; watching them develop from their larval stage into efts and then adults; Beatrix Potter’s Sir Isaac Newton…

But this was back in the near vanished age when the natural world was something to be studied and enjoyed for its own sake, rather than viewed through a prism of guilt and self-hatred. In those days, you didn’t need fancy scientific qualifications or government permission to justify your interactions with the animal kingdom. It was simply the mark of a civilised, rounded human being.

So I’ve always been somewhat mystified by this caricature James Delingpole I read about in the bile-spattered comments section of the Guardian’s Environment pages, and on green activist websites and in eco trolls’ tweets. Loathsome, cigar-chomping, Big-Oil-funded arch-capitalist I may be but this is not the fons et origo of my contempt for the environmental movement. No, it’s rooted in something much deeper than that, in two things I gleaned from early childhood: first, an abiding love of nature; second, a belief that if you don’t tell the truth at all times, regardless of how unpopular it makes you, then the bogeyman under your bed will come and eat you.

Consider, in this light, the tragic case of Costa Rica’s golden toad, one of the first species, as you’re probably aware, to have gone extinct because of climate change. You’ll know this not because it’s true (not the second part anyway) but because it’s a meme which has become widely accepted fact thanks to some influential, peer-reviewed studies in Nature by one J. Alan Pounds.

Pounds’s studies sought to explain a terrifying wave of amphibian extinctions from the 1980s onwards. Given the fashionable scientific anxieties of the time, it seemed not unreasonable to blame it, as Pounds and his co-authors did, on global warming.

‘We conclude with “very high confidence” (>99%, following the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC) that large-scale warming is a key factor in the disappearances,’ one of his studies declared.

There was, however, at least one major flaw in this hypothesis. Yes, frog and toad populations were dwindling — but at higher elevations with cooler temperatures, not warmer lower elevations, and in winter but not summer. If global warming were to blame, then surely the opposite would have been true?

This prompted William Laurance from the National Institute for Research in the Amazon (and his colleagues in Australia) to posit a rival theory that amphibians were under attack from a rapidly spreading, exotic disease dependent on cool, wet conditions.

In 1998 they found the culprit: not a virus, as they had first suspected, but a chytrid fungus — Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (‘Bd’ for short) — which was virulent at lower temperatures but which was killed off at temperatures over 86°F. The carriers for the disease were African clawed frogs, imported around the world for embryological research and pregnancy testing. And the agents for its spread were either pet-shop owners (releasing infected specimens into the wild) or naturalists, researchers and tourists carrying the fungus on their boots.

Mystery solved, then. Except this is the point where it gets both interesting and sinister, as Jim Steele recounts in his book Landscapes and Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Scepticism. Steele, director of San Francisco State University’s Sierra Nevada Field Campus, has drawn a similar conclusion to me: that ecology — like so many scientific fields — has sold its soul to the global warming religion.

The problem goes right to the top — from the seats of learning and the scientific academies to highly respected journals such as Science and Nature. Both of the latter have run a series of articles downplaying the role of fungus in the great amphibian die-off. ‘Species’ extinctions have already been linked to recent climate change; the golden toad is iconic,’ claimed one weaselishly phrased article in Nature as recently as 2011.

Visit the golden toad’s Wikipedia page and you’ll encounter the same obfuscations, the toad’s disappearance being ascribed not only to the fungus (true) but also to climate change and habitat loss (both almost certainly complete nonsense).

All right, fair enough: I’m guessing that few of you are quite so enthralled by amphibians as I am and that the more cynical among you (well done for persevering this far, though!) are even wondering why you should give the remotest smidgen of a toss about what it was or wasn’t that caused this beautiful orange toad to vanish from the face of the earth.

But sometimes, by focusing on a very specific, deeply obscure and apparently trivial case it’s possible to extrapolate a more general truth which has vital significance for us all. When scientists forsake the rigour and integrity of the scientific method — even if it’s in the noble cause of saving the world from the greatest threat it has ever known — they cease to be worthy of the name.

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  • Angus2100

    James Delingpole doesn’t need to study a subject or be accountable for his claims, as he’s right about everything

    • Lloyd Snauwaert

      So what do you factually dispute..?..

      • dalai guevara

        All the irrelevances he is right about? Let’s start there…

  • bufo75

    It would be a major feather in the eco-fascists cap if they COULD link ‘bio-diversity loss’ to ‘man-made global warming’.
    There is still a snail on Aldabra which ‘disappeared’ one dry summer and may or may not have been seen since. Unfortunately for the green brigade, snails are even lower down the pecking order as poster-boys than us toads, and no-one is prepared to send David Attenborough to find it !
    The Guardian has this cycle of events that must be attributed to CAGW, this just one of them. As night follows day we shall be given ‘proof’ of Ocean Acidification, Climate Change, Extreme Weather Events and 101 other things until Bio-diversity Loss comes round again.

  • bengeo

    The science seems to be indisputable. So if you wan’t to avoid spending your hard earned money on tax to sort it out, why not just say so? Instead of embarrassing yourself trying to attack a position held by almost all of the world? At least the other side would respect your honesty.

    • The position held by most the world? has nothing to do with the specific events Delingple describes. In fact the overwhelming majority of scientists who investigated the causes of amphibian extinctions conclude it was the introduction of a novel disease that has killed amphibians worldwide, and ther is no evidence to support the climate theory. Yet that is what the Co2 believers still think was the cause. I have detailed the peer reviewed literature investigation the extinctions in the essay adapted from my book “Contrasting Good and Bad Science: Disease, Climate Change and the Case of the Golden Toad ” http://landscapesandcycles.net/contrasting-good-and-bad-science–disease–climate.html Yet despite the overwhelming evidence against the climate change propaganda, the myth persists and that is the basis of a irrational religious belief.

    • global city


    • yaosxx

      bengeo – “Seems”…? Oh dear – not very scientific! You’re the one embarassing yourself!

  • Bel Rick

    IPCC: There has been no global change in temperature in 15 years despite the predictions.

    Global warming scam victims: Toads were killed off by the global warming that didn’t take place *facepalm*

    Science is clear, to be a hypothesis it must make predictions, if the predictions not match imperical data then the hypothesis is WRONG. Global warming is WRONG, 3 different climate models all predicted rising temperatures should Co2 levels rise.

    Well the C02 levels did rise but since the temperatures failed to then the models are wrong and therefor climate change hypothesis is WRONG.

    That is a fact.

  • Uncle Brian

    Angus and Bengeo
    A question for you both, please. Are you referring to the Costa Rican toad? If so, can you please quote sources to disprove Delingpole’s assertion?

    • Tom M

      Their reply willl probably start by saying “97% of scientists state that……”

      • Rob

        Yes and that will be several people who have spent their lifetime researching an issue and as such are probably better informed than you

        • Uncle Brian

          Rob, I’ll ask you the same questiion. What, if anything, do you have to inform us about the Costa Rican toad? Sources, please?

        • yaosxx

          I woudn’t bet on it!

        • Tom M

          Name them.

  • brossen99
  • brossen99
  • Guest

    Does James Delingpole just sit down and try and work out how to best wind people up- firstly James sorry it’s a peer reviewed scientific article, that means ACTUAL SCIENTISTS not journalists with agendas as transparent as yours have actually looked at it. Secondly, you talk about average temperatures in the areas the golden toad lived in rising which would kill off the fungus- The study suggests that temperature extremes may have previously helped keep the deadly disease in check. But new climate cycles may now be moderating those annual temperature swings. As you try so well to ignore and scientists who actually understand this, and haven’t just read a Michael Crichton book or two, suspect (with a high probability- we’re scientists so don’t state things in certainties) is that global warming affects local weather patterns as well. Stick to English Literature and learn to evaluate science before you write ill informed articles like this.

    • Guest, Obviously you have never read the literature pertaining to this issue and you post is more about attacking James than any knowledge of the science. It is you who reveals your unsupported agenda. The overwhelming consensus by Actual scientists is climate had absolutely nothing to do with the spread of the deadly amphibian disease and the minority who blamed CO2 flipped flopped on their reasoning as new data emerged. Again read Contrasting Good and Bad Science: Disease, Climate Change and the Case of the Golden Toad to see how global warming advocates actually hindered efforts to save the frogs. http://landscapesandcycles.net/contrasting-good-and-bad-science–disease–climate.html

    • yaosxx

      “new climate cycles MAY now…”
      Less “science” but more “voodoo” science!

  • Homple

    (Insert Gussie Fink-Nottle reference here.)

  • Rathnakumar

    Excellent article, James!

  • jon_2000

    Which English Literature grad once said this? “I feel a bit of an imposter talking about the science. I’m not a scientist, you may be aware. I read English Literature.”
    Clue: it’s the one who feels qualified to question the sanity of 97% of the qualified climate science community.
    And as such these facts render this article immediately redundant.

  • William Haldane

    I always enjoy Delingpole’s aritcles. He’s always able to nail the ecological poseurs and sham scientists.

  • Mnestheus