Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Synergy of 80,000

Yesterday the crown fell off my tooth (yikes!) so I had to visit the dentist. I don't often go in the direction of his office, but when I do, I have a choice of routes. I can go fast on the main roads, or I can take a more direct, but slower path, through pastoral areas. I chose to go through Harding Township, which is a very pretty enclave you would never go to unless you already are friends with someone living in one of Forbes' 25 richest zipcodes in America. Here is a rather modest cottage by Harding Township standards,
which has a charming view of the horse pasture and run-in shed.
At the center of the village is this classic white clapboard church.
Looking at the trunks of the trees surrounding it, the trend for bark to be falling off would appear to be accelerating.
It makes for interesting patterns. I have no idea if it is a result of warmer winters where sap continues to run and then freeze during cold snaps, basically exploding inside the trees, but it's a plausible theory.
On the other hand I'm certain that the holly leaves, from the pair in front of the church, have the distinctive symptoms of toxicity from ozone exposure.
The stomata are so damaged that they have made holes.
And many leaves are tumbling to the ground.
Also not exactly a sign of health!
This tall oak to the right of the church is a perfect example of the strange apparitions that are appearing with increasing frequency on tree trunks.
There are areas that look ravaged by rot, and other places with strangely twisted growths, like tumors.
From this angle the entire tree appears to be contorted.
Here the bark is falling off as well. The lighter brown areas have been recently exposed.
The grey is weathered.
This particular tree has the oddest formations.
There are holes in the trunk and what looks like a smooth black resin is protruding.
I almost wonder if somebody poured some substance in there, to hold the tree together. It feels solid as a rock.
In any event, it won't work. This tree is dying fast, and so is the pine across the street, which should be a dense green pyramid, but instead is a ghost of its former self.
In spite of my troublesome tooth, I was glad have the opportunity to go by this rare tree. I've noticed it before but never taken the time to pull off the road, climb over the split rail fence and visit it personally. I have been wanting the chance ever since I realized that it, and all the others, are being rapidly killed by poisonous greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
It's almost impossible to depict in a photograph how magnificent this specimen is. It has a plaque on it, which I had assumed designated it a state Champion tree, but it turns out not to be so. I placed my green shoe on top of the plaque, in an attempt to show some sense of how huge this trunk is.
It is instead a dedication to one Warren Kinney, an internet search for whom led me to this wonderful French website, ArbresVenerables where I learned to my delight that this White Oak is almost 500 years old. This is why I get infuriated when ignorant disingenuous foresters pretend that trees are dying because they are too old. Ridiculous! They can live for centuries, and here is living proof.
And here is my shoe again, on the ground, to the right of the tree. Let's call it, The Tree. A click on the picture might give a sense of the reverence I felt in its presence, cold foot and achy tooth irrelevant. It is so old to be alive, standing in mute nobility. I felt in awe, the way I expect a snorkeler would feel touching the hulking immensity of a whale. I am so glad I was able to get so close to it before it is gone forever. Imagine, what the great forests must have been like here, before the Europeans clearcut trees like this one. There was a law that any board over 48" wide had to be sent to England, meaning, everything under 4 feet was deemed leftover junk! Alas, bits of blackened, rotting bark are all around underneath The Tree.
A sure sign of decline, as are the lichen, and the fallen branches.
This branch has two opportunistic growths.
The Tree was recently trimmed but it is evident that the interior is rotting.

Of course, it is old but that can't explain why younger trees are dying as well. Here in front of the pond, remain the stumps of two substantial trees that have been removed.
Younger neighboring trees have severe damage.
Even this little dogwood is being consumed by fungus.
These things move in when a tree has a compromised immune system, weakened by an inability to photosynthesize and produce chlorophyll.
One last look at this remarkable, venerable organism!
Why are we letting the heritage of our trees die away in front of our eyes?

Very powerful entities in the pocket of international corporations downplay the risks of our pattern of consumption. The corporations have no soul, they exist solely to maximize profits. They don't have children; the future does not exist for them. And so they are going to squeeze whatever they can from ordinary people, by paying pundits, thinktanks, politicians, and advertising agencies to pander to the public's greed and fear.

Just as the US Dept. of Agriculture downplays the losses to crops, and the EPA turns a blind eye to the vast numbers of toxins we are exposed to in our food, air, and water, the IEA has been systematically lying about the looming oil crunch. They are all in league with corporations to conceal the damage being done and the multiple looming crises that will, together, end the celebration that began when humans started burning coal and built the internal combustion engine. We are leaving future generations with the hang-over of living in an uninhabitable climate and degraded environment.

Every day I wonder why the hell people don't make the least effort to conserve energy, if only to put off that day of reckoning when the lights don't turn on just as you flip the switch, or you find yourself sitting in long lines to get a little bit of very expensive gas.

Maybe I can predict this because when I moved to California when I was 18, we had the gasoline shortage and people WERE waiting in long lines for their allotment, and around the same time we had a water shortage and you were only supposed to turn on the shower to rinse off. Everyone now seems to take for granted that we will have unlimited supplies of everything forever. Once you realize this is fundamentally unsustainable, a lot of very uncomfortable conclusions inevitably follow.

The only questions I have are when will the frenzy of overconsumption end, and will it come incrementally, or slam to a standstill in a screeching halt?

I have discovered an informative website, the International Cooperative Programme on Effects of Air Pollution on Natural Vegetation and Crops. This program was initiated by the UN, but has mostly a European perspective - a list of their participants reveals Germany has 11, Italy 18, as does the UK - while the US has 3 clowns from the useless and mendacious Dept. of Agriculture - one more participant than Uzbekistan!

Here are a few of my favorites from their page on major results of ozone research:

There is evidence of widespread ozone damage to vegetation in Europe. Ambient levels of ozone cause visible leaf damage, reduce crop yield, affect crop quality and reduce the biomass of sensitive plant species.

Ozone critical levels for vegetation are regularly exceeded across Europe.

Ozone-induced yield losses for 23 crops (mainly arable) in 47 countries in Europe were estimated to be
€6.7 billion per year for year 2000 ozone concentrations.

Evidence suggests that ozone and nitrogen can have both synergistic and antagonistic effects on species and ecosystem processes; they may interact in unpredictable ways to affect plant communities.

I actually came across ICP because I have read a number of very disturbing stories about mercury. ICP not only investigates the effects of ozone but also nitrogen and heavy metal contamination. Here is their report about how nitrogen deposition kills vegetation, which as we all know, is being used in massive quantities as a fertilizer to grow corn for ethanol, as well as being released as a toxic byproduct from burning fuel.

And for that matter, I am very curious about the potential for atrazine, a herbicide used widely in agriculture, to kill vegetation over a wider area. Here and here are links to research indicating that atrazine is linked to clusters of birth defects for babies conceived during the spring months when it is being sprayed. Now if it can stray far enough to affect so many pregnant women, it seems likely it can affect plants too. Here's yet another cluster, from Tennessee! Is this being reported or investigated by government agencies whose mandate is to protect citizens from dangerous chemicals? NO, these findings originate from concerned pediatricians!

But I digress! Back to mercury.

This is actually a science fair entry by a student seeking to discover if inoculation can help protect plants from mercury contamination and states: "it can be inferred that mercury inhibits the production of chlorophyll, responsible for photosynthesis in plants, which results in bean plants with smaller biomasses."

I'm having a difficult time finding out how much of a problem mercury might be for trees, but as this article makes clear, contamination is widespread enough to create measureable neurological impairment in kids exposed to it. It's incredible how much mercury goes into the atmosphere from burning coal, 108 tons per year in the US.

Just as clearly, the trees must absorb some of it, since when they burn, they emit it! Absorption is also indicated in this passage:

Thus, the foliar Hg concentrations in vegetation at the contaminated site were up to 3 times more (for Acer sp.), 8 times more (for Rubus sp.), and 17 time more (for fern) than those in plants at the uncontaminated site.

from this paper, which happens to be mostly about soil, not trees.

And this research investigates the link between rising levels of CO2 and mercury retention by soils, and absorption by trees.

With all of these by-products of industrialized society pouring into our air and water, who knows what synergistic effects are playing havoc with the natural world?

This quote, from the link above to mercury and cognitive development, is enough to induce outrage:

"The Ohio Valley has attracted lots of large industrial facilities that put huge levels of toxic and other pollutants out that are known to impact development," Blair said.

Foremost among those is mercury, a powerful neurotoxin and one of the most-studied and best understood of the 80,000 industrial chemicals the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows into the air, water and land every day."
Of which only about 200 have been required to be tested.

Go, Environmental Prostitution Agency!


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