Well, he's quoting Peter Raven – director of the Missouri Botanical Garden and Engelmann Professor of Botany at Washington University in St Louis – who was
delivering the Darwin lecture in London on Wednesday, the eve of the UN-designated International Biodiversity Day. His lecture was entitled 'Our Choice: How Many Species Will Survive The 21st Century?'
So how many species are going, Peter?
According to Kirby's report, Raven says
the rich world in particular is not confronting the extinction crisis.
(Huh! That rich world again!) And
He believes we know scarcely 15% of animal and plant species alive today.
most of those we are driving to extinction will vanish without us ever having known they were here.
But obviously Peter must know they're here, because he knows we're driving them to extinction. How many species, Peter?
... perhaps 10 million species alive today, of which only 1.5 million had been recognised and named scientifically.
... In the tropical rainforests, only one species in 20 had so far been catalogued, scientists estimated.
... We are likely never to have seen or to be aware of the existence of most of the species we are driving to extinction.
So all of this reinforces the hugeness of the difficulty of knowing how many species are vanishing. And, indeed, whether any particular species actually has disappeared. (If it stops showing up in place A, how are we to know it isn't present in place B, hidden among all those uncatalogued species?) So – how many species?
In fact you can read the whole piece and not find out how many.
Perhaps Raven's lecture gave some well supported figures for numbers of extinctions. After all, it was the very theme of his talk, according to its title. My point here is that the BBC's correspondent thought it was his professional duty to retail the tale of woe, yet had no problem with leaving out the central claim that supported it. That was dispensable. 'Everybody knows' that species are being wiped out en masse – don't bore people with the numbers, which might be a bit too equivocal.
UK scientists have issued a clarion call to the world to recognise the galloping rate of species extinction
... The group which produced the Royal Society report was chaired by Professor Peter Crane, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
He said: "The living world is disappearing before our eyes. Around one in 10 of all the world's bird species and a quarter of its mammals are officially listed as threatened with extinction, while up to two-thirds of other animal species are also endangered.
'Threatened'? 'Endangered'? What do these weasel words mean? The very next paragraph begins:
These losses have accelerated over the last 200 years …
So threats and endangerments in one paragraph turn into losses in the next.
But how many species have gone?
Answer comes there none – in Kirby's report. But the impression conveyed by the above is that somehow a quarter of all mammals – and a tenth of all birds, and then even two-thirds of all animals – might disappear before our eyes. Of course, that's not what Crane said - but he didn't actually say anything in this report of a press release about a report.
Thus our priesthood piles on its prophecies of doom, and prepares the minds of the faithful for the sacrifices that are going to be needed. Back to Kirby's report of Raven's Darwin Lecture:
His prescription was simple and demanding: a stable population, a globally sustainable consumption level, and acceptance of social justice as the norm for development.