“And what is there to life if a man cannot hear the lovely cry of the whippoorwill
or the arguments of the frogs around the pond at night?”
- Chief Seattle
Here's an actual whippoorwill song. Photographs in this lengthy essay (originating on this page) are of fruits and nuts of ancient lineage, from trees which have been determined to be endangered to one degree or the other, many to the brink of extinction. According to Flora & Fauna International, their report "...identifies 44 tree species in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan as globally threatened with extinction. Many of these species occur in the unique fruit and nut forests of Central Asia – an estimated 90% of which have been destroyed in the past 50 years."
"The Central Asian fruit and nut forests have been described as a biological Eden and have long held an important role in human culture. It is believed that many of the domesticated fruit and nut trees we use today originated from these wild varieties."
"Owing to the often fragmented, mountainous geography of the landscape, these wild apple, plum, cherry, apricot, walnut and other plant species display exceptionally high genetic diversity, which could prove vital in the development of new disease-resistant or climate-tolerant fruit varieties. This could be of huge importance to future food security as the global climate changes."
The Red List of Trees of Central Asia, published with Botanic Gardens Conseravation International, targets overgrazing, cutting for firewood, but also disease, insects, poor regeneration, intermittent fruiting, and overcollection of nuts and fruits.
Another linked organization is the Global Trees Campaign which states on its webpage:
|Another variety of cherry|
"Trees are the cornerstones of many ecosystems; the building blocks on which millions of other plants and animals rely. They stabilize soils, regulate water cycles, provide us with a wealth of products and, of course, store carbon. Trees are quite simply a fundamental part of life."
"Yet over 8,000 tree species, 10 per cent of the world's total, are threatened with extinction. 1,002 species are listed as critically endangered - likely to go extinct unless urgent action is taken now to save them."
|A particularly rare and genetically old variety of apple with amazing red flesh.|
"The Global Trees campaign, a joint initiative between FFI and BGCI is the only international campaign dedicated to conserving threatened trees. It exists to secure the future of the world's threatened tree species and their benefits for humans and the wider environment."
Along with the ability to jump between species, it is the way the disease spreads and how fast it kills that is frightening the forestry industry.
Other forests are undergoing similar work on their diseased trees, with the sudden demand creating a shortage of contractors and machinery. Many private landowners are having to get out there with a chainsaw to try to meet their legal requirements."
"'We have seen an influx of new pests and diseases in the past decade – the processionary moth is causing great problems in west London after being imported on an oak bought to screen a supermarket car park. But the ramorum is certainly the big one to date, and we are just holding our breath until we can carry out more surveys when this year's foliage emerges.'"
The "blame the fungus" harkens back to this article about the debate in California about the "root" cause for Sudden Oak Death. According to "Plant Doctor" Ralph Zingaro,
"Most declining trees don’t have Phytophthora. They are declining without it, because soil acidity, which leaches calcium and makes phosphorus unavailable to trees, is killing the roots."
He basically was harrassed for this viewpoint and left California for the East Coast. where according to this discussion, he discovered the problem had spread. I corresponded with him over two years ago and we disagree - he attributes tree death to acid rain, and although I think acid rain is a huge problem, it doesn't account for plants that are grown in enriched soil having the same symptoms. But we do agree, pollution underlies the susceptibility to naturally occurring pathogens.
"Zingaro found what initial lab tests show to be Phytophthora ramorum in trees in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire as well as in the tree in New York.
... 'The notion that the nurseries are spreading this is false,' said the outspoken Zingaro, who has clashed with forestry officials in the past. 'These infections have nothing to do with California. As I and others have been saying for over 10 years, the infection is opportunistic, secondary and everywhere.'"
For a little reprieve from the doomy gloomy, here is a suite of historic trees in England, with their descriptions, from the Guardian.
And now...back into the fray! A recently completed survey comparing 2009 to records from the past found "dramatic differences including loss of diversity and character - and that modern farming methods are to blame":
"...botanist Sally Keith retraced the steps of the pioneering ecologist Professor Ronald Good, who cycled the lanes of Dorset in the 1930s, recording in great detail the plants he found. Of the 1,500 woodland sites Good noted, Keith revisited almost 100, as close to the day and month of the original survey as possible.
Keith believes there are two key reasons for woodlands becoming less distinctive. First is the end of coppicing, in which wood was harvested from different parts of a forest in rotation, creating bright clearings and letting in light to favour less common plants, such as red bartsia. In her study, 117 species had vanished, while only 47 new plants had arrived. "Traditionally, woodlands had glades, meadows and ponds, giving many more habitats and so many different things to see, rather than wall-to-wall trees," said Hetherington.
The other key reason is the increased run-off of nitrogen from farms, due to increased fertiliser use and intensive livestock rearing. Some plants, such as holly, thrive on high nitrogen levels; others do not. "Many woodlands are now just fragments surrounded by farmland," said Keith, adding that this exacerbates the problem.
"It's both fascinating and disturbing," said Professor James Bullock at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Wallingford, Oxfordshire, who worked with Keith. "It's likely to be going on undetected elsewhere, but as we have Good's maps we can see it here. We are losing diversity on a large scale, with certain species driven out across the whole landscape. We can expect it to be happening across the country and Europe, as the same things are happening there."
I cannot help but wonder how much the nitrogen cycle disruption has to do with the dying trees, particularly as nitrogen-gobbling lichens continue to grow at abnormally fast rates on the bark of trees, on fences and even rocks. There must be some reason that University of Missouri researchers are trying to help farmers find ways to use less nitrogen, because the amount they use now - especially to grow corn for ethanol, a horrible practice - is mind-boggling:
"U.S. agricultural practices create 58 percent of nitrous oxide in the world, which is the third most prevalent greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Scientists believe nitrous oxide contributes to global warming about 300 times more than carbon dioxide."
“We’re finally going to get the bill for the Industrial Age. If the projections are right, it’s going to be a big one: the ecological collapse of the planet.
~Jeremy Rifkin, World Press Review, 30 Dec ‘89
It's time to return to the reports about animals dying all over the world. This has long been a prediction here at Wit's End, where I contend that plants are in drastic, catastrophic dieback - and that the accelerating collapse of the food chain will inevitably lead to mass animal deaths. Certainly, basic crop prices are skyrocketing. Someone has helpfully created an interactive map tracking mass animal deaths, which is being continuously updated here:, but I'm going to post links directly to a couple of the reports beneath it, just for fun. Are we having fun yet?
300 dead birds reported in Alabama, January 13.
Starlings, in Sullivan, MO
exotic birds in Taiwan (from local Chinese-language video)
Hundreds of dead fish found in a Manchester pond:
The USGS is also maintaining a mortality map for America, the most current version of which can be accessed here.
Interestingly, most events are colored purple which, according to the key, means the mass deaths reported are attributed to "other" - in other words, not toxin, viral, bacterial, parasitic or fungal.
For your convenience, I've gone through their list - which includes only the reports they receive and does not and can't possibly be anything like a comprehensive survey. But here are the species and their locations whose demise is specifically listed as due at least partly to emaciation, and remember that in many cases the deaths are "ongoing" - plus many causes are still "open." Obviously, malnourishment is going to make animals more vulnerable to every sort of disease. predator, and extreme weather or trauma that is found:
~150 Greater Shearwater in FL
< 5 Bald Eagle in LA, CA
~600 Western & Clark's Grebe in San Diego, CA
~450 Double Crested Cormorants in WI
< 10 Double crested Cormorants in York, ME
< 900 Turkey Vultures, broad winged hawk in FL
~2750 Northern Fulmar in Monterey area, CA
< 75 Mallard and Osprey in MD
< 25 Gulls in MD
< 10 American White Pelican in ND
~ 50 evening bats in VA
< 10 Purple Martin in MN
If it's all too much for you, this spoof about the unwashed homeless in LA - gutting and grilling fallen pigeons on Sunset Boulevard - is a diverting grim and grisly satire almost worthy of Jonathan Swift's Modest Proposal to, ahem, eat the poor...and actually was taken seriously by a number of earnest folks!
It appears that we have missed deadlines established to clear the haze from our national parks - and if it's that bad in remote wilderness, imagine how much worse it must be in more urban areas!
More than 30 years after Congress set a goal of clearing the pollution-caused haze that obscures scenic vistas at some of America's wildest and most famous natural places, progress is still slow in coming.
But as of Thursday, the agency hadn't approved any state plans — or come up with its own, as required.
"Here's a program intended to clean up skies of the nation's most pristine areas. It has been pushed aside for too long and must be made a top-tier priority," said Stephanie Kodish, attorney for the non-profit . The group plans next week to file a notice of intent to sue the EPA for missing the regulatory deadline.
Nearly three-quarters of states failed to meet an initial 2007 deadline to submit plans requiring decades-old facilities that contribute to haze at parks to update old equipment. So far, only 34 states have done so.
Until states file plans and the EPA approves them, companies aren't obligated to make changes under the haze rule. The EPA, however, says other clean air rules have provisions to protect parks and wilderness areas.
...The regional haze results from sulfates and nitrates from coal-fired power plants and industrial boilers, as well as automobiles, carbon from fires, soot and windblown dust. The high cost of controlling emissions, legal battles, the complexity of rules, industry resistance and competing clean air rules have slowed progress in clearing it.
Haze-causing pollution continues to obscure scenic vistas that draw millions of visitors to parks and wilderness areas throughout the country. In eastern parks, average visibility has dropped from 90 miles to between 15 and 25 miles, while visual range in the West has been reduced from 140 miles to between 35 and 90 miles."
There are a bunch of quotes from industry spokesman whining about the cost of technology to scrub emissions from smokestacks, never acknowledging the costs of not doing so, of course...and the following passages are laden with irony, for me, since there are complaints that people driving cars can't see the views!!
..."When you think of national parks, you think of clean and clear air," said John Bunyak, policy chief of the National Park Service air resources division. "If you load up the kids in the family van and drive thousands of miles to the Grand Canyon and can't see the bottom of the canyon, that to me is a problem."
...At Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, visitors can only see on average about 12 miles, or one-tenth what it should be under natural conditions.
"Historically, our claim to fame was to see the Washington Monument," located 80 miles away, from the park's Skyline Drive, said Jim Schaberl, park air quality manager. "It's a rare occasion, generally during the winter, when people can see the monument from the drive."
Evidence of the serious damage done to children even before they are born continues to mount. Separate studies that followed mothers in Manhattan and Boston both found that those with the most exposure to air pollution had children that tested significantly lower on IQ tests.
This brings us next, to a review of a book about China, When a Billion Chinese Jump. The author travels the country, and
"...everywhere he went, he discovered that the Chinese state had embarked on a massive program of ecological destruction. It has turned whole rivers poisonous to the touch, rendered entire areas cancer-ridden, transformed a fertile area almost twice the size of Britain into desert—and perhaps even triggered the worst earthquake in living memory.
The über-capitalist Communists now have the highest emissions of global-warming gases in the world (although the average Chinese person generates one-seventh the emissions the average American does). We are all trapped in a greenhouse together: Environmental destruction in China becomes environmental destruction where you live.
First, 700,000 people are dying every year in China as a result of the extreme pollution, according to the World Bank. They can't be compensated at some later date with a wind farm. Second, and even more crucially, the West "cleaned up" largely by exporting its pollution to poor countries like China.
Some 69.5 percent of China's energy needs in the first decade of the century have been fueled by the dirtiest and most planet-cooking fuel of all: coal. At the same time, the Chinese government is significantly increasing funding for renewable energy sources—but as an addition, not a replacement. This is a crucial distinction. If you ate a KFC bucket and a Weight Watchers meal for lunch, nobody would say you were on a diet. The Weight Watchers has to replace the KFC. In the same way, the renewables have to replace the coal, not just serve as an add-on. That's not happening today. Not at all: Coal burning is increasing in China."
“Fear not the path of truth for the lack of people walking on it.”
- Robert F. Kennedy
The rest is for the most stalwart proponents of the relentless Wit's End quest to shake the scientists out of their complacency.
High school science teacher and reluctant crusader Greg Craven has posted the transcript to a talk he gave at the American Geophysical Union meeting last month. He had lost the prepared notes he had intended to deliver, and so, inspired by some no doubt impassioned conversations, he delivered instead a heartfelt plea to the assembled scientists - to use their expertise to warn and inspire people about climate change and the very dangerous violent extreme weather it is already unleashing upon the environment and all those species who inhabit it.
Here are some excerpts...followed afterwards by yet another of my own plea to scientists, with their replies.
"This is not a talk. This is a primal scream. For help. For salvation. For the lives of my children. And I will not apologize. I will not yield. I will charge the stage and scream my message if I must. I am in the zone. I am over the edge. I am gone. I am enlightened. I am maniacal. I am insane. I am terrified at what I have just become. All of my life has been to serve this single moment. And you may need to forcibly remove me to the hospital, screaming like a madman. But you will not stop me. For I have revelation to bring.
I am a fanatic of science. I love you, and what you do. What I bring you is the loving but eviscerating criticism of the outsider looking in. So I'm going to give you the gift of brutal frankness. Because you have done an abhorrent job at communicating climate change to the public so far. Because what you've been giving them up to now, as a scientist, is information. And with the terrifying divergence between public opinion and scientific opinion in the last few years, with public opinion in the U.S. plummeting over the last several years, that strategy clearly is not working.
So it is time for a radical change in tactics
...You must begin communicating as citizens, as a father, as a mother, with whatever feelings are in your heart, with your fears, speak to them of your hopes, let them know about your befuddlement at the divergence. And tell them frankly, forthrightly, sincerely, about any terror that you are ignoring, with your head down, soldiering on, hoping that someone, somewhere, sometime will fix the problem.
Well I've got sober news for you. You, in this room, in this community of science—you are that someone. You are the ones we have been waiting for. You are the last battle reserves in civilization's last stand. And you damn well need to saddle up and come down off that hill as the cavalry, to turn the tide of battle when all hope seems lost. So sound your bugle call and come down into the bloody fray.
... Nothing we've done has worked. Giving information hasn't worked. Climate crusades haven't worked. Striving for social change hasn't worked. Pleading on behalf of future generations, and all the other species on the planet which are threatened by the next great extinction from us--on the magnitude of the Permian extinction, where over 90% of every organism on the world perished. Despite all our hopes, even finally getting an enlightened leader, who gets it, who gets the problem, and installs a perfect team of science advisors. Even that hasn't worked, and that seemed our last best hope. In fact we've gone backwards.
So . . . what hope do we have left? You. And the gravitas that your scientific authority brings you. It is an unbearable burden to you, I know. It is inconceivable to you. It is anathema.
But sometimes burdens that cannot be borne must be borne, because there is no remaining option. That moment is now."
There is lots more along the same lines - you can read the whole thing, and learn more about Greg Craven, by clicking on the link above.
Following is my latest exchange with scientists, and the editor of the New York Times (who will never acknowledge my letter!) The first reply says, in essence, activism is not my department because I'm not very good at it - I already posted the kitchen table comic which pretty well explains how I feel about that excuse; and the second is, to my mind, unjustifiably optimistic about the prospects of limiting the emissions that result in ozone production. But hey, at least they answered and understand the issue. Dr. Manning, who is really very knowledgeable about ozone, apparently has better things to do than share his expertise with the rabble.
Dear Editor and Professors,
I last wrote you in August of 2009 to inquire about the impacts of ozone on vegetation. Only Dr. Sharkey was kind enough to reply.
Since then, I wonder if any of you realize that we are in the midst of a mass extinction of perennial vegetation, as well as devastating reductions in annual crops, from ozone - and simply decline to inform the general public?
Or, have you actually not noticed the rapidly accelerating death of trees, perennial shrubs and plants (including ocean phytoplankton), and extremely diminished production of agricultural products from rice to wheat, due to exposure to ozone?
Don't you, as experts and persons of influence, feel some responsibility to inform the citizenry and policy makers that if we don't cease burning massive amounts of fuel, on an emergency basis...to conserve and ration, and switch as rapidly as possible to clean sources of energy...we will most certainly starve - because the inexorably rising levels of tropospheric ozone are interfering with the essential ability of vegetation (the base of the food chain) to photosynthesize?
I would very much appreciate any response. For your information, I have been collecting links to research and documenting the decline here.
Please understand that if you choose to not even acknowledge this specific correspondence, I will do my utmost to the extent possible to make sure that it is widely recognized that you have the knowledge and have chosen to refudiate (oh no oops, that's Sarah Palin!) repudiate any responsibility for disseminating information which is essential for the survival of the human race, among countless other species. [note: in response to a draft preview, RPauli mischievously recommended I amend this paragraph as follows: ]
I welcome any comments or suggestions.
First reply, from John Reilly
Second reply, from Peter Cox:
I agree with these comments from John, but I would also like to add a positive note concerning the link between the mitigation of and the mitigation of ground-level ozone...
Increases in ozone are known to have an impact on climate as ozone is a . Also, as pointed out by "Wit's End" and John, near-surface ozone has a detrimental impact on , and on the net primary productivity and carbon content of . This means that ground-level ozone also has an indirect impact on climate by reducing the amount of CO2 that can be taken-up by the land biosphere. This may double the effect of tropospheric O3 as a climate forcing factor (Sitch et al., Nature, 2007).
If we were to take a pessimistic view, we might say that this means that increases in tropospheric ozone are really bad news for both climate and food availability.
On the other (more optimistic..;-) hand, you could conclude that reversing the increase in tropospheric ozone is a major opportunity to partially tackle two of the biggest 21st century problems. As John suggests, pollution controls (particularly regarding NOx) have the potential to reverse the rise in O3, particularly if they are coupled to reductions in anthropogenic emissions of CH4. I attach a brief paper (by myself and Hazel Jeffery) that discusses the latter point (building on previous studies from John's group at MIT).
So I agree that potential increases in tropospheric O3 are more important than most climate scientists realize (even for climate), but I don't see this as reason for despair because we can do something about it, and (unlike CO2 emissions reductions) it looks like we will....
Happy New Year
Prof Peter Cox
Professor of Climate System Dynamics
College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences
University of Exeter
I certainly don't want to convey anything other than moral revulsion towards the assassin and those who encouraged him - and sympathy for the victims in Arizona...the ones that were shot and the friends and family who love them. But I cannot help but observe that this memorial looks like a trash heap. What is wrong with Americans? Why can't they commemorate this tragedy with natural flowers? Why do they feel a compulsion to litter it with plastic balloons???