Credit Ian Bell/Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection
Melomys Rubicola has been declared extinct. Had it been something like a fuzzy koala or panda instead of a rat, the world might have taken more notice, but maybe not. A Google search on the topic goes over 20 pages deep. This seems to have struck a nerve.
It's possible that an undiscovered genetically identical population exists somewhere else. It's not unheard of for a species declared extinct to show up again. But if it has been on that tiny island off the coast of Papua New Guinea long enough for speciation to occur, then it is extinct because to repopulate someplace else a pregnant female would have needed to leave the island and establish itself elsewhere, and that is extremely unlikely.
There have been some dubious claims of extinctions caused by climate change, as one would expect, and I'm sure there will be many more. But little by little, the real extinctions will arrive.
I poked around on the internet for critiques of this announcement and found three, two of which were not worth bothering with (one confused the ozone problem with climate change) so I settled on the one at Energy Matters, which is an excellent blog and on my regular reading list. The analysis provided on this particular topic is characteristically thorough but not thorough enough to convince me.
Roger Andrews found that there has not been an increase in the number or intensity of cyclones in that area since 1969. He also looked up the tide gauge records for the area since 2000 and created a crude best fit line through it to determine that the ocean level in that part of the world may have only risen maybe 2.5 inches since 2000. His conclusion was that because the highest point on this island is about nine feet (even with the seasonal fifteen inch increase in sea level rise during cyclone season) sea level rise since 2000 would not have made much difference. And according to the authors' explanation, he's right. Temperature changes are likely the main driver, not sea level rise.
So there you have it. The demise of Melomys rubicola had nothing to do with temperature, rainfall or sea level rise. The animal was a victim of storm surges that progressively destroyed its habitat.
This is where Andrew lost me. The researchers are the ones who stated that Melomys rubicola was the victim of repeated storm surges over the last decade that progressively destroyed its habitat. Given time, this is how it will end for other island species.
No evidence – not even a climate model – is presented to support the claim that these storm surges had anything to do with increasing atmospheric CO2.
But the report does present evidence. Keeping in mind that CO2 levels not seen for 800,000 years have led to warmer temperatures which have in turn led to rates of ocean level increase not seen in millennia (all three of which are measured, not modeled) and contrary to the tidal and cyclone data presented by Andrew, the repeated storm surges at that island over the last decade were obviously severe enough to eventually wipe them out after having been there for at least 1.7 centuries.