Thursday, January 12, 2012

Overshot

It would appear that an intrinsic property of the process of overshoot - the insidious progression that culminates in achieving and then surpassing the point of no return, that place where there's no way to backtrack or even plateau, no where to go but down, and fast - is that the only vantage from whence that peak will generally be recognized is after it has been passed.
B. Katz
This concept was defined in a computer model for the book "Limits to Growth", which was published in 1972, coincidentally the year I graduated from high school.  I never read it - I guess I was preoccupied with a world of possibilities, love, and various other distractions - maybe I didn't pay any attention then, or later really, even though it caused quite an outcry,  because it just has always seemed so obvious to me that we live on a finite planet and can't possible continue to grow forever...well, duh!  Does that even need articulation in a computer model?  Apparently so, because the book that made such limits explicit provoked hysterical denial that continues to this day.  In fact I might go so far as to say that the mere notion of limits led the endless-growth, Randian disciples to frantically double down and squander resources as fast as they possibly could, in sheer defiance.  How else to explain Reagan and the consumer frenzy?
B. Katz, 2009
New Scientist published an update so I'll copy that below, but first, a reflection from the principle author, Donella Meadows, which she had written in 1988.  She taught at Dartmouth for many years, founded the Sustainability Institute, won all sorts of awards...and died in 2001.  It's incredibly sad to read her words and know that she lived for decades with the knowledge that we are heading for catastrophe in spite of her hopes for progress and enlightenment - and now we are only further along on that path of self-inflicted destruction than when she first admonished us.  Take for example this story, "Hong Kong Air Pollution at Worst Levels Ever" or this one, about tens of thousands of people living there in stacked wire cages, a travesty that began well before the transfer to China.  I don't know what is more shocking - the horrific photographs or the viciously callous comments from readers.

As illustrated in the graph above, the pollution overshoot doesn't peak until 2040 - however, it would seem they couldn't input the effects from what is now known as the Nitrogen "Cascade" - which refers to the amplification of overfertilization throughout the ecosystem.  Thus it seems  quite possible that the pollution overshoot could occur much sooner, especially if the condition of trees damaged by ozone and acidic deposits are any indication.  As usual there will be more about that depressing topic, but here's the fun part - while I was looking for pictures of the trees destined for the World Trade Center Memorial, I came across the work of a wonderful photographer, B. Katz, who often bicycled during his commute to work in New Jersey.  The photos that follow are from his flickr account, which has the amazing virtue of including GPS locations.
2006
So, Tuesday I trekked to Monmouth County, and was able to find some of the exact same trees - and a few other interesting sights as well.  I had never explored this part of New Jersey before, which had, in addition to the expected plantations of oversized McMansions, surprisingly extensive horse farms, huge landscape nurseries, vast orchards, agricultural fields, untouched woods, parklands...and a very large number of extremely dilapidated pre-revolutionary war homes.  Some of the images are illustrative of the topic of this blog - trees dying from air pollution - and others I just like.  First, a comparative study of one particular tree that B. Katz had photographed countless times.  I got a little lost, but finally I found it:
This one I took on Tuesday, January 10, 2012
It's quite amazing how hard it is to find the exact same perspective of angle and distance.
The tree is situated on a long drive, that leads to this old farm.
I was not surprised, but still saddened to see that the enormous trees over the house have broken crowns.
It's true for the barns even further back on the property, as well...and the pines are thin.
2007
As I expected, the tree is diminished.  The photo above, taken in 2007 by B. Katz, has many more fine, healthy tips on the branches (known as terminal growth) from whence leaves would emerge in the spring.  If you compare exact sections, the 2007 is definitely more dense.
 Large branches have also been lost over the time which is evident in the crops below.  Look for the loss of several horizontal branches crossing the triangular space.  This decline is a trend which is universal.
2007 
2012 - there is empty space where large branches used to be
Above is a closer view of the broken interior of the crown visible Tuesday.
What's even worse is the state of the old trees in the hedgerow dividing the fields.
One after the other, in a consistent row, the trees look awful.
Every single one has horrid broken branches, holes, and is losing bark.
These symptoms are evident among all species, and all ages.
The tree below has lost its entire crown and has sent out suckers.  Trees pull from stores of energy to continue living, until they are exhausted.
Below is another picture from Katz of The Tree with its smaller companion.
2007
I traipsed around the field and couldn't figure out how on earth what angle he came from to capture the two trees without the house and phone pole that are in the photo I took, below.  Well, he photoshops out the power lines, so perhaps he removed them.  I don't have that program, so I can't manage those aesthetics.  But while there I wanted to check on the health of the younger tree, even though the original is picture is too distant to make any meaningful comparison.
I crept up warily (trespassing!) and found, as I suspected, it is some sort of flowering fruit tree, maybe a crabapple, and there is an large hole at the base where the trunk meets the ground.
The bark is corroded, shriveling off the trunk and peeling off branches.  It's nigh impossible to find a tree anywhere that doesn't have the same sort of damage.

Next stop was a huge orchard.  I never would have guessed that this area of New Jersey would have such enormous acreage devoted to fruit trees.
Orchard across from Monmouth Battlefield, 2010
Okay, I know I'm being overly dramatic, because pruning is what is always done in orchards - it encourages growth, and fruit.  But hey this is what I saw!
There were mountains of dead limbs.
Some of them had been uprooted completely.
There were many stumps, not just pruned branches.
The next location I traced was the Yellow Meeting House, which is a charming, historic building circa 1727.
Yellow Meeting House 2007
Above is my photo from Tuesday.  Again I couldn't get the exact angle with the iron gate and the rail fence - I think B. Katz must be considerably taller than me!  It is a lesson in perspective.

The sycamore just to the left of the building is in poor shape, but the light was fading and I was in a hurry to get to the last location, so I just took a quick closeup of the sad old beech, which has lost its top and is full of holes.

Much of this area is preserved because of its historic association with the Revolutionary War.  Because it was settled so long ago, there are many more very old trees than I anticipated.
Monmouth Battlefield 2007
This old farm has been boarded up for some time.  I can't imagine why such a treasure is allowed to decay...why someone can't be allowed to restore it and live there.
Monmouth Battlefield 2012
The sun was low when I arrived, and it lit up the building and the large tree next to it.
It's was still possible to see that the tree has lost a substantial branch, top right and on the lower left,  there is a long crack - those two are about to split apart.

This sort of white streaking on bark has developed over the past several years, a stain from oozing out of holes.
Following is the essay by Donella Meadows, from 1988, with some more photographs from B. Katz...of beautiful scenes that we will never see again.  They are all from New Jersey except these first three, which he took in Florida.
Florida 2008
These are included just because I like their look of abandonment and decay.
Florida 2008
When I went to Florida a few years ago, I was at first delighted at the copious veils of spectral Spanish Moss draping the trees, until I found out to my dismay that it is actually an invasive species, which kills them.  Here is the essay from Dr. Meadows:

Florida 2007
"In 1972 I co-authored a book called The Limits to Growth, which raised what was to me a surprising ruckus. The book was based on a computer model of global population and economic growth. It said, in essence, that the kinds and rates of growth we're accustomed to cannot go on forever, or even very much longer."
11/14/2007
"Politicians, economists, corporations did not like that message. We were attacked from the left and the right. The book was banned in the Soviet Union and denounced by President Nixon's staff. The Mobil Corporation ran ads saying "growth is not a four-letter word." Disciples of Lyndon LaRouche picketed our public appearances. Somewhere in my attic I have a six-foot pile of book reviews, many of them scathing."
2006
"Now, 16 years later, there are headlines about the ozone hole, garbage barges, polluted beaches, drought, the greenhouse effect. People are asking me, 'Were your predictions right? Are we running into limits to growth?'"
2007
"The first question is hard to answer, because we didn't make predictions -- we don't even believe in them. The future is not cast in concrete, to be foreseen, it is full of potential, to be chosen. The Limits to Growth was not about doom, it was about choice."
Jerseyville Cemetery 2008
"But it was about choice constrained by physical laws, and the book did say that some choices are simply impossible. Eternal growth is one of them. If we try to put ever more people, factories, croplands, vehicles, mines, and dumps on this finite planet, we will run into environmental limits. No one knows precisely where those limits are. But The Limits to Growth made several points about how they work. It said:"
Colt's Neck 2007
"- We may overcome one limit by conservation, substitution, technical advance, or social regulation, but if growth continues, another limit will be encountered -- or the same one re-encountered. (Cutting pollution per tailpipe in half but doubling the number of tailpipes is no way to make progress on air quality.)"
11/20/2007

"- If problems are solved by sweeping them under the rug, into the water or soil or atmosphere, over to the poor, or off to the future, those problems will come up again, later, harder, often all at once. (High smokestacks transform local pollution into distant acid rain. Landfills change surface water pollution into groundwater pollution. Sludge that's barged farther out to sea just takes longer to wash back to shore.)"
Sandy Hook 2009

"- An economy that lives on nonrenewable resources like fossil fuels, and that degrades renewable resources like soils and forests, is LOWERING its limits."
11/14/2007
"- There are no clear signals telling us where we stand relative to global or local limits. The signals are complex, noisy, and delayed. (This drought could be greenhouse warming; it could also be just a dry year. We'll know ten or twenty years from now.)"
Puddle reflection 10/30/08
"- Even if there were clear signals, we could not act on them quickly. (It took 16 years from the first warning of atmospheric ozone depletion to the first global agreement to curtail ozone-depleting pollutants. It will take 10 more years to implement the agreement and 15 years after that to see the effect in the upper atmosphere. At that point we will know whether we curtailed enough.)
In short, we are driving toward a set of barriers an unknown distance ahead, not able to see clearly, and not able to brake quickly. Our policy is to accelerate. Better policies, said The Limits to Growth, would be to look farther ahead, to speed up reaction times, to extend limits by conserving and enhancing resources, and, above all, to slow down."
Puddle reflection 10/30/08
"That message was valid then and is valid now. The Limits to Growth was written not to predict doom but to challenge people to find ways of living that are consistent with the laws of the planet. I believe that a sustainable society need not be desperate, dull, unjust, technically stagnant or tyrannical. I think it could be more satisfying than a society that mistakes mindless swelling for progress. If there is any change I would make in the book, it would be to say more about what a sustainable society could be like. A lot has been learned about that in the past 16 years."
March 2009
"Tens of thousands of farmers now get high yields without pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Appliances, lights, and motors can produce the same services with much less energy. In some places recycling municipal waste is becoming a fine art. Industries are learning to use hazardous chemicals they once threw out."
10/24/10 - flooded forest for reservoir
"In many countries, most spectacularly China, people are controlling the growth of their numbers. And some individuals -- not whole nations, but people in many nations -- are defining how much wealth is enough and finding purposes for life more fulfilling than endless material accumulation."
Manasquan Reservoir
"Those are good trends, but they are not dominant ones. In the 16 years since The Limits to Growth was published, the world population has risen from 3.6 billion to over 5 billion. The rate of fossil fuel burning has gone up by 50 percent. About 400 million acres of tropical forest have been lost and 200 million acres of desert have been created. No one is sure how much soil has eroded, how much hazardous waste has been dumped, how much groundwater has been polluted."
abandoned chicken coop 2009
"Are we running into the limits to growth? I don't know. We are surely closer than we used to be, and we're still accelerating. This summer's drought, dying trees, and polluted waters may be a small hint of what planetary limits are like -- enough of a hint, I hope, to get us to ask some hard questions about growth. Growth of what? For whom? For how long? At what cost? Paid by whom? Paid when?"
February 2010
While I was following the footsteps of B. Katz, although I should say bicycle tracks, I took some detours along the way.  The rest of the pictures are mine.
This grand estate is now a museum of sorts, surrounded by very old, large, dying trees.  Below, the infamous lichen is ominously colonizing even young trees.

Following is the update from New Scientist Magazine:

Forty years ago, a highly controversial study warned that we had to curb growth or risk global meltdown. Was it right?
Larch, with deep holes in the trunk
"AT THE beginning of the 1970s, a group of young scientists set out to explore our future. Their findings shook a generation and may be even more relevant than ever today."
Transparent pines, and a huge yew turning brown
"The question the group set out to answer was: what would happen if the world's population and industry continued to grow rapidly? Could growth continue indefinitely or would we start to hit limits at some point? In those days, few believed that there were any limits to growth - some economists still don't. Even those who accepted that on a finite planet there must be some limits usually assumed that growth would merely level off as we approached them."
A long drive leading to an old homestead, now park offices
"See graphic: Boom and bust
These notions, however, were based on little more than speculation and ideology. The young scientists tried to take a more rigorous approach: using a computer model to explore possible futures. What was shocking was that their simulations, far from showing growth continuing forever, or even leveling out, suggested that it was most likely that boom would be followed by bust: a sharp decline in industrial output, food production and population. In other words, the collapse of global civilisation."
Without exception, the trees are severely injured
"These explosive conclusions were published in 1972 in a slim paperback called The Limits to Growth. It became a bestseller - and provoked a furious backlash that has obscured what it actually said. For instance, it is widely believed that Limits predicted collapse by 2000, yet in fact it made no such claim. So what did it say? And 40 years on, how do its projections compare with reality so far?"
"The first thing you might ask is, why look back at a model devised in the days when computers were bigger than your fridge but less powerful than your phone? Surely we now have far more advanced models? In fact, in many ways we have yet to improve on World3, the relatively simple model on which Limits was based. 'When you think of the change in both scientific and computational capabilities since 1972, it is astounding there has been so little effort to improve upon their work,' says Yaneer Bar-Yam, head of the New England Complex Systems Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts."

"It hasn't happened in part because of the storm of controversy the book provoked. 'Researchers lost their appetite for global modelling,' says Robert Hoffman of company WhatIf Technologies in Ottawa, Canada, which models resources for companies and governments. 'Now, with peak oil, climate change and the failure of conventional economics, there is a renewed interest.'"
"The other problem is that as models get bigger, it becomes harder to see why they produce certain outcomes and whether they are too sensitive to particular inputs, especially with complex systems. Thomas Homer-Dixon of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, who studies global systems and has used World3, thinks it may have been the best possible compromise between over-simplification and unmanageable complexity. But Hoffman and Bar-Yam's groups are now trying to do better."
It's quite impressive to see this sort of open space in New Jersey!
"World3 was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The team took what was known about the global population, industry and resources from 1900 to 1972 and used it to develop a set of equations describing how these parameters affected each other. Based on various adjustable assumptions, such as the amount of non-renewable resources, the model projected what would happen over the next century."
Close-ups follow -  the sycamore in the foreground has cankers
"The team compares their work to exploring what happens to a ball thrown upwards. World3 was meant to reveal the general behaviour that results - in the case of a ball, going up and then falling down - not to make precise predictions, such as exactly how high the ball would go, or where and when it would fall. "None of these computer outputs is a prediction," the book warned repeatedly."

"Assuming that business continued as usual, World3 projected that population and industry would grow exponentially at first. Eventually, however, growth would begin to slow and would soon stop altogether as resources grew scarce, pollution soared and food became limited. 'The Limits to Growth said that the human ecological footprint cannot continue to grow indefinitely, because planet Earth is physically limited,' says Jørgen Randers of the Norwegian School of Management in Oslo, one of the book's original authors."
A large canker on the left; a split on the right
"What's more, instead of stabilising at the peak levels, or oscillating around them, in almost all model runs population and industry go into a sharp decline once they peak. "If present growth trends in world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next 100 years. The most probable result will be a sudden and rather uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity," the book warned."
[About two dozen young sycamores have recently been planted, parallel to the drive, to replace the older trees that are not long for this world.  They, too, however are dying, even though they are probably not even much more than ten years old.]
[Each one of them has bark falling off.]
"This was unexpected and shocking. Why should the world's economy collapse rather than stabilise? In World3, it happened because of the complex feedbacks between different global subsystems such as industry, health and agriculture. More industrial output meant more money to spend on agriculture and healthcare, but also more pollution, which could damage health and food production."
I spotted another abandoned farm and couldn't resist stopping.
"And most importantly, says Randers, in the real world there are delays before limits are understood, institutions act or remedies take effect. These delayed responses were programmed into World3. The model crashed because its hypothetical people did not respond to the mounting problems before underlying support systems, such as farmland and ecosystems, had been damaged."
The fields between the road and the house had burnt black - the smell was overpowering and acrid.
"Instead, they carried on consuming and polluting past the point the model world could sustain. The result was what economists call a bubble and Limits called overshoot. The impact of these response delays was "the fundamental scientific message" of the study, says Randers. Critics, and even fans of the study, he says, didn't get this point."
On the right, a pine with no needles, on the left, a beech with gaping holes up high.
"The other message missed was that Limits was about how catastrophe could be averted. It did not say that humanity was doomed. In model runs where growth of population and industry were constrained, growth did level out rather than collapse - the stabilised scenario (see graph)."
There are many huge trees like this oak, all with broken branches.
"Yet few saw it this way. Instead, the book came under fire from all sides. Scientists didn't like Limits because the authors, anxious to publicise their findings, put it out before it was peer reviewed. The political right rejected its warning about the dangers of growth. The left rejected it for betraying the aspirations of workers. The Catholic church rejected its plea for birth control."
I love poking around forgotten old houses like this!
"Critical points
The most strident criticisms came from economists, who claimed Limits underestimated the power of the technological fixes humans would surely invent. As resources ran low, for instance, we would discover more or develop alternatives."
This was some sort of silo beyond the woods that have probably sprung up since the farm was left.
"Yet the Limits team had tested this. In some runs, they gave World3 unlimited, non-polluting nuclear energy - which allowed extensive substitution and recycling of limited materials - and a doubling in the reserves of nonrenewables that could be economically exploited. All the same, the population crashed when industrial pollution soared. Then fourfold pollution reductions were added as well: this time, the crash came when there was no more farmland."
Many trees had already fallen over; the younger one in the center has a huge canker.
"Adding in higher farm yields and better birth control helped in this case. But then soil erosion and pollution struck, driven by the continuing rise of industry. Whatever the researchers did to eke out resources or stave off pollution, exponential growth was simply prolonged, until it eventually swamped the remedies. Only when the growth of population and industry were constrained, and all the technological fixes applied, did it stabilise in relative prosperity."
Cankers result from a fungus, and like a cancerous tumor, are ultimately fatal.
"The crucial point is that overshoot and collapse usually happened sooner or later in World3 even if very optimistic assumptions were made about, say, oil reserves. 'The general behaviour of overshoot and collapse persists, even when large changes to numerous parameters are made,' says Graham Turner of the CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences lab in Crace, Australia."
This big oak beyond the barn has many cankers sprouting up and down the trunk.
"This did not convince those who thought technology could fix every problem. And with so much criticism, the idea took hold that Limits had been disproved. That mantra has been repeated so often that it became the received wisdom, says Ugo Bardi of the University of Florence in Italy, author of a recent book about Limits. 'The common perception is that the work was discredited scientifically. I heard it again at a meeting last April,' says Homer-Dixon. 'It wasn't.'"

"It wasn't just confusion. 'Misunderstanding was enhanced by a media campaign very similar to the one that has been recently directed against climate science,' says Bardi."

"One of the most common myths is that Limits predicted collapse by 2000. Yet as a brief glance at the 'standard run' shows, it didn't (see graph). The book does mention a 1970 estimate by the US Bureau of Mines that the world had 31 years of oil left. The bureau calculated this by dividing known reserves by the current rate of consumption. Rates of consumption, however, were increasing exponentially, so Limits pointed out that in fact oil had only 20 years left if nothing changed. But this calculation was made to illustrate the effects of exponential growth, not to predict that there were only 20 years of oil left."
This was once a copse of evergreens, now bare and covered with vines.
"When Matthew Simmons, a leading oil-industry banker, finally read Limits in the 1990s, he was surprised to find none of the false predictions he had heard about. On the contrary, he concluded, population and energy growth largely matched the basic simulation. He felt Limits got so much attention, then lost it, partly because the oil shock of 1973 focused minds on resource shortages that were then largely resolved."
"There have been other recent re-appraisals of the book. In 2008, for instance, Turner did a detailed statistical analysis of how real growth compares to the scenarios in Limits. He concluded that reality so far closely matches the standard run of World3."

"Does that mean we face industrial collapse and widespread death? Not necessarily. A glance at Turner's curves shows we haven't yet reached the stage of the standard run, later this century, when such events are predicted."
"In the model, overshoot and collapse are preceded by exponential growth. Exponential growth starts out looking just like linear growth, says Bar-Yam: only later does the exponential curve start heading skywards. After only 40 years, we can't yet say whether growth is linear or exponential."
This is what collapse looks like.  This was a stand of trees, they have all fallen to the ground, replaced by a tangle of vines.
"We already know the future will be different from the standard run in one respect, says Bar-Yam. Although the actual world population up to 2000 has been similar, in the scenario the rate of population growth increases with time - one of the exponential drivers of collapse. Although Limits took account of the fact that birth rates fall as prosperity rises, in reality they have fallen much faster than was expected when the book was written. 'It is reasonable to be concerned about resource limitations in fifty years,' Bar-Yam says, 'but the population is not even close to growing [the way Limits projected in 1972].'"
See that neglected boxwood?  THAT is how big they should get.  New boxwoods are turning yellow and dying.
"The book itself may be partly responsible. Bar-Yam thinks some of the efforts in the 1970s to cut population growth were at least partly due to Limits. 'If it helped do that, it bought us more time, and it's a very important work in the history of humanity,' he says."
On the far left, a pine with no needles - that center tree is one of the biggest cherries I have ever seen.  Most don't last that long anymore.  There is a very little tree on the right, snapped.
 "Yet World3 still suggests we'll hit the buffers eventually. The original Limits team put out an updated study using World3 in 2005, which included faster-falling birth rates. Except in the stabilising scenario, World3 still collapsed."

"Otherwise, the team didn't analyse the correspondence between the real world and their 1972 scenarios in detail - noting only that they generally match. 'Does this correspondence with history prove our model was true? No, of course not,' they wrote. 'But it does indicate that [our] assumptions and conclusions still warrant consideration today.'"


"Instead of declaring we are doomed, or proclaiming that technology will save us, we should explore the future more rigorously, says Bar-Yam. We need better models. 'If you think the scientific basis of those conclusions can be challenged, then the answer is more science,' he says. "We need a much better understanding of global dynamics."
A rather luxurious brick outhouse, surrounded by pines with no needles - so much for privacy and discretion.
"This remains the case. Forty years on from its publication, it is still not clear whether Limits was right, but it hasn't been proved wrong either. And while the model was too pessimistic about birth and death rates, it was too optimistic about the future impact of pollution. We now know that overshoot - the delayed response to problems that makes the effects so much worse - will eventually be especially catastrophic for climate change, because the full effects of greenhouse gases will not be apparent for centuries."
"There will be no more sequels based on World3, though. The model can no longer serve its purpose, which was to show us how to avoid collapse. Starting from the current conditions, no plausible assumptions produce any result but overshoot. 'There is no sense in only describing a series of collapse scenarios,' says Dennis Meadows, another of the original authors of  Limits."
The foundation of a collapsed shed.  Such scenes fascinate me!
"Randers, meanwhile, is editing a book called The Next Forty Years, about what we can do when limits start to bite. 'I don't like the resulting future, but it should be described, particularly because it would have been so easy to make a much better future,' he says.
"The only hope is that we can invent our way out of trouble. Our ingenuity has allowed us to overcome many limits, says Homer-Dixon, and we can't predict what revolutionary technological innovations humanity might come up with. Yet he is pessimistic: 'The question is, can we deliver ingenuity at an increasing rate indefinitely.' Because that is what we'll need to do if growth continues."
Trees across the main road from the farm - a staggering lack of new growth on the ends of the branches.
"We need to apply that knowledge, too. The most important message of Limits was that the longer we ignore the problems caused by growth, the harder they are to overcome. As we pump out more CO2, it is clear this is a lesson we have yet to learn."

The next portion of this post features pictures, like the one above, from a photographer in Montana, whose website says:


"I am privileged to live in western Montana, close to the wilderness and roadless areas that I love so much, and I’m thankful that I am still able to venture up into them and spend much of my time there.


Most of the photos that I post are of scenes that cannot be seen from from roads or highways. There is a very beautiful world out there in the wild country and it is my wish to make it visible, by words and photographs, to those who are interested in enjoying it."
"It seems that many folks have all but forgotten that we are part of that natural world and that ultimately it sustains us in both body and spirit. My hope is that we will have the wisdom and the discipline to preserve it for future generations, for once the wilderness has vanished, mankind will soon vanish as well."
It seems very incontrovertible to me, from observing the dramatically rapid increase in symptoms of fatal  disease and insect attacks to trees in just the past few years, that we are at a tipping point, poised for collapse.  But it's amazing how resistent even supposedly aware people can be.  I was reading the Archdruid Report blog and eventually was disinvited from the further participation by the grand Wizard - I suppose because I am convinced we are headed irretrievably towards a crash, not just in forests but in the oceans, soon and hard...and I gather he would prefer to envision a more gradual transition from industrial civilization to whatever kind of survival he imagines will be tenable.
I guess most of his followers are peak-oilers, and although they recognize pollution and climate change as being bad, it's kind of analogous to smokers who are all like, yeah, I know smoking is risky...as opposed to someone who has already been diagnosed with lung cancer.  An ornithologist named Bill insisted that air pollution has improved (oh, and many bird populations have rebounded!), and that because we must stop burning oil - since we're going to run out of it - existing pollution will quickly clear away and the earth will recover.  Apparently he does not choose to understand:  1)  by the time we do run out of oil (not just pass peak where it will get more and more expensive), it will be too late and probably is already; and 2)  there is a hell of a lot more coal still in the ground.  My comment along these lines never made it out of moderation, which is okay, it's not my blog...so here it is instead, the only place it is to be found!
Bill, you're just plain wrong. In about 20 seconds, you can google "background levels of tropospheric ozone rising" and find any number of sources, here's a random one, [from the Swedish Secretariat]:


"In plants, it has been found that damage can occur at concentrations only slightly higher than current background levels. This has a significance on yields from agriculture and forestry, as well as affecting natural ecosystems."
"Measurements that have been in progress since the 1950s show that the levels of ozone in the air over Europe have risen by an average of 2 per cent a year, and that the background level today is two to four times as high as it was in the 1950s."


"As with acidification and eutrophication, attempts have been made to estimate nature’s “tolerance level” to ozone exposure. In the case of gaseous substances these tolerance limits are expressed as critical levels."
"The critical levels, which were presumably only exceeded occasionally at the start of the last century, are now exceeded regularly over almost all of Europe."

With regard to climate change, the level of CO2 has NEVER increased as rapidly as it has since the industrial revolution began, and this original "forcing" has ALREADY initiated amplifying feedbacks which are far more powerful than any negative feedbacks such as aerosols could counter. So the point is that even if we stopped all emissions today, the CO2 we have already added to the atmosphere will remain and continue heating for at least 100 years and according to Susan Solomon of NOAA, for 1000. That and the albedo effect and the permafrost that has begun unstoppable melting will continue to create the insane weather that really kicked in last year, and it will accelerate warming far faster than species can adapt and so the mass extinctions that as you pointed out have begun will also accelerate.
I really recommend Dr. Fuller's essay which explains all of this far better than I could, also Fred Pearce's book about paleoclimatic change "With Speed and Violence".
I didn't include this part from the Swedish link in my comment, but it's got a terrific description of the critical role of nitrogen in the process of ozone formation, so here it is:

"Ozone is formed by various chemical processes whose sequence is complicated but relatively well known. A simplified description might look as follows:"
"It is a prerequisite for ozone formation in the troposphere that sunlight breaks down nitrogen dioxide. This results in the formation of nitrogen monoxide and a highly reactive oxygen atom:
(A) NO2 + sunlight NO + O•

The free oxygen atom can then react with oxygen gas to form ozone:
(B) O• + O2 O3

If there are no volatile organic compounds in the air, the ozone reacts again with the nitrogen monoxide to reform nitrogen dioxide:
(C) NO + O3 NO2 + O2"
"This process does not lead to the formation of high levels of ozone. It is formed and used up at roughly the same rates. In order for larger quantities of ozone to be formed, other substances must intervene and convert nitrogen monoxide into nitrogen dioxide, so that breakdown of the ozone molecules in reaction
(C) is reduced or ceases altogether. This process is fuelled by certain so-called radicals, which are formed when volatile organic compounds are broken down by sunlight."
"The nitrogen dioxide that is formed when volatile organic compounds are involved in the reaction process can be reused for further ozone formation in accordance with reactions (A) and (B). High levels of ozone can therefore build up when volatile organic compounds, nitrogen dioxide and sunlight are all present at the same time."
"It may seem surprising that the level of ozone is often lower in an urban environment and close to major roads than in the background air.  The explanation for this is that car exhaust fumes, when they are released, contain a large amount of nitrogen monoxide and only a small amount of nitrogen dioxide. As shown by reaction (C), nitrogen monoxide is able to 'soak up' ozone, and can therefore reduce the ozone levels locally.

When the ozone is used up, nitrogen dioxide is formed instead, and this can then take part in reactions that form many new ozone molecules.  High ozone levels can therefore build up at several tens of
kilometres distance from the source of the emissions."

Luckily, I was in the conversation at the Archruid long enough to provoke the following two gratifying (if I can use that description) comments, the second one of which turns out to be especially pertinent:

comment from sgage:

"Here in New England, the forests are changing drastically. I don't know about "collapsing" - they are still recognizably forests - but they are becoming much less species-diverse, much younger, and more fragmented, and wildlife populations follow predictably. The baseline is constantly being lowered, but I remember. I've been keeping records here on my place for 2 decades, as well as simply paying attention, and I'm here to tell you that things are very broken. I remember going out on a May morning and being practically deafened by the massive thrush concert (wood thrushes, hermit thrushes, veeries, and assorted warblers for counterpoint). No more - now it's "cool, I heard a hermit thrush!". Same thing with frogs. And of course, the bats are destroyed by the white-nose fungus. I saw 1 (one) bat this past summer. Just a few years ago, the summer sky was full of bats - how I loved them! I could go on, but I'm depressed enough already."
"Back to trees: We have lost the chestnut to the blight, of course. The elm sort of sputters along, but more as an understory tree, until it gets nailed by the dutch elm disease. The butternut is just about completely gone from a fungus very similar to the chestnut blight. The beech, a very important wildlife species, is suffering from a scale insect/nectria fungus assault. The hemlock is being hammered by the wooly adelgid - it's been extirpated in southern NE, and heaven help us if it moves north. Global warming, anyone? The ash is being hammered by who-knows-what? Some bizarre syndrome of mycoplasm, fungus, virus? "Ash Yellows", some call it. I can tell you they're dropping like flies all over. I'd say at least 50% of the ash component of the forest around here has gone away in the last 20 years. What's next? If the oaks get taken out, things really unravel. We have maple decline already. Birches seem to be hanging in there, but they are an earlier successional species around here."
"I'm talking here about wild forests, not stressed city parks. And these are not simply successional changes as some have suggested (beech, hemlock? Give me a break!) I've been watching this thing unfold since the 70's (indeed, it's partly why I became a forest ecologist). 

So maybe you don't want to call it collapse, but something really terrible is going on. 
Some people notice, some don't. You know, the old 'boil the frog' thing. And the baseline continues to be lowered."
comment from ozark-chinquapin:
"I have noticed very stressed forests in many places too, particularly the Appalachians. Dying and dead trees are of course a normal part of the ecosystem, but when I see places where the majority of trees are unhealthy, of many different species and ages, that seems to indicate there's a problem going on. Where I've noticed this the most is in the Appalachians. I have lived briefly in Vermont and also in the NC Mountains. It's not nearly as bad in Missouri, although we have our own issues out here such as black oak decline, I don't see many forests where the majority of the trees of many different species are clearly unhealthy."
"Often, the invasive species move in when the natives are already unhealthy, and then they take all the blame. There are certain invasives that I've seen taking hold in what seems to be pretty healthy forests, a notable one being oriental bittersweet, but even there I wonder how much of that is due to shifting baselines of what we consider healthy. Even when there's no invasive involved, one or a couple natives that are better adapted to the changed conditions will take over what used to be more diverse woods."
"When in NC, I repeatedly saw areas where mountain laurel and rhododendron were the only species that were healthy, with the trees above in decline and no seedlings or wildflowers under the dense evergreen thicket. If the current trends continue, the trees above will die and leave a monoculture, which was already happening in some places. Mountain laurel and rhododendron are acid lovers, so I think the acid rain that's hit the Appalachians hard favors these monocultures.

I've heard that many experiments have shown that adding nitrogen to an ecosystem decreases diversity, as the weedier species that can take advantage of it choke out the others. Air pollution adds extra nitrogen to the system, and we also happen to be seeing a decline in diversity and increase in weedy species in many places. Of course there's other factors involved, but I think nitrogen is one that few know about."
"The book 'The Dying of the Trees' by Charles E. Little investigates these trends all across America. When I read it a few years ago (at the same time I was living in NC and the same trends were staring me in the face) it was the first time I had found anyone who noticed the same thing I had, and more. One of the things he reports on is that the hemlock adelgid epidemic might have been caused or at least greatly exacerbated by nitrogen pollution, as experiments show that giving hemlock trees extra nitrogen causes them to concentrate more of it in their needles, which in turn greatly increases the growth rate of adelgid populations. The adelgid was first found in Virginia in the 1950 and considered a minor pest, then three decades later started spreading like wildfire and killing so many trees."
"While ozone and nitrogen pollution will decline along with the descent of industrial civilization, I am still quite concerned about all the more persistent pollutants that abound, and many will get worse before they get better because there is a lot that is locked away right now but may leak into the environment during the decline.

One thing I'm not sure about is how long the effects of acid rain would last in vulnerable environments, as they are to some degree cumulative. The acidic rain depletes alkaline minerals such as calcium, and even if the rain somehow returned to normal immediately, the effects in the soil would linger, but for how long I don't know?"
Naturally, after reading that comment, as soon as I had a chance I googled adelgid and nitrogen and lo and behold, immediately up popped a bunch of links, including a pdf of research from 1991, titled "Nitrogen Fertilization of Hemlock Increases Susceptibility to Hemlock Woolly Adelgid"! who'd a thunk it!

"Abstract. Fertilizing eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) with nitrogen stimulated population growth of the hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae) in a forest plantation in Connecticut. Percent survival of nymphs and the number of eggs produced per adult of this adelgid were more than twice as high on fertilized hemlocks than on unfertilized ones. Fertilized hemlocks had five times more adelgids, had inferior color, and produced 25% less new growth than unfertilized trees after a single adelgid generation. These trends did not differ between hemlocks which had been fertilized 6 months prior to infestation by A. tsugae and those which were fertilized at the same time that trees were infested. Therefore nitrogen fertilization of hemlock neither increased host resistance to the adelgid nor repressed adelgid population growth following establishment. These results may be generally applicable to piercing and sucking insects which feed on trees and shrubs."
There are many other reports along these lines, such as a warning from the Audubon Society which is of course concerned about the loss of habitat for birds:  "Do not fertilize infested hemlock trees with nitrogen. Researchers have found five times as many woolly adelgids on nitrogen-fertilized trees 
than unfertilized trees." 

This is quite telling, because the hemlock is the only tree decline that Dr. Steven Wofsy of Harvard Forest will admit is occurring!  He replied to me in December, after I had written him following a talk in which he presented his findings that trees are thriving - indeed, buffering climate change!  I had sent this, about the lichens proliferating in Harvard Forest, visible on their own webcam:
The most recent publication of Issues in Ecology is devoted to the nitrogen cascade and says:

"Biodiversity of plant communities is sensitive to N added by air pollution. Nitrogen-loving species are often favored and increase in prominence as ecosystem nitrogen availability increases. Forests and
woodlands in many regions of the world show large changes in epiphytic lichen communities in response to chronic atmospheric nitrogen deposition. These lichen community impacts occur at nitrogen pollution thresholds as low as 3-6 kg/ha/yr."
To which he responded:

"Prof. Pfister says that this lichen is normal in NE canopies; declining canopies get more lichen, but the lichen is not the source of decline.  Based on our measurements broadleaf trees in Harvard Forest are not declining, they have been thriving. Hemlocks are in decline due to infestation with Asian woolly adelgid, they will mostly disappear in 10 - 15 yrs."

How is it that we come full circle from nitrogen to lichens to wooly adelgid and back to nitrogen again, without the good professors noticing some connection?  I guess that means that with so much lichen, the trees are in fact declining?  Check out B. Katz's picture from 2008 and then the same scene last October 2011:
Sweetman's Lane Millstone, October 29, 2008
Sweetman's Lane 2011
It's astonishing how fast the lichen is spreading, since for one thing they are supposed to grow very slowly.  It's even more astonishing how soon thereafter the tree is dead!  At the very bitter end of this post will be photos of those exact trees promenading down Sweetman's Lane (rumored to belong to Bruce Springsteen!), which I took last Tuesday - but first, I am going to indulge in an extended digression about lichens and nitrogen.  Here is the picture I sent to Dr. Wofsy, who shared it with another Harvard professor:
A sycamore in Basking Ridge, NJ
About the lichen, Dr. Pfister wrote:  "This is probably a Physcia species or a Parmelia."

I'm pretty sure it's Flavoparmelia caperata, colloquially known as greenshield lichen, but in any event, according to this research, parmelia thrives in higher levels of NO2:

"Conclusions:

Our hypotheses that algal layer ratios would increase with higher [NO2] and an increase in canopy height  were supported.

• The positive relationship between algal layer ratios and [NO2] may imply that NO2 has a fertilizing affect on the algae in P. sulcata.  Parmelia sulcata has been characterized as a pollution-tolerant lichen.

Since P. sulcata is capable of withstanding the harmful effects of other pollutants present in many urban areas (SO2, O3, CO), it may be one of the few species able to capitalize on the fertilizing benefits
of excess NO2."
Nitrous Oxide
By the way, the following gorgeous lichens represent the exquisite, enormous diversity that is present when the air isn't poisoned with too much nitrogen.  The Forest Service even has a page titled, National Lichens & Air Quality Database and Clearinghouse, how handy is that?
2007
Also, the Forest Service maintains an ozone webpage under their heading Forest Threats, which is well worth reading carefully, because it's impossible to escape the existential threat they are describing.  This one paragraph really encompasses exactly what isn't being dealt with, at all.  Interestingly, on the main page they have subheadings for six threats (such as climate change, wildfire etc) but the only way I've been able to find the ozone page is to type it into their search window.  Then it comes up, and these are the damning words:

"Ground level ozone is considered the most pervasive air pollutant world-wide, and a serious threat to the conservation and sustainability of world forests."
Magic Bird
"Keywords: O3, ground level ozone, nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOC's), growing season

Threat Description

Ozone in the lower atmosphere is formed from the reactions of precursor pollutants, primarily nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), in the presence of sunlight. Automobile engines and industrial processes produce most of the compounds that result in ozone (O3) pollution. Ground level O3 is a major component of urban smog and part of the mix of greenhouse gases contributing to global warming. The airborne transport of O3 to remote forested areas has led to increasing concern about how this pollutant is influencing the health of individual trees and forest ecosystems. In the U.S., periods of high ozone concentration coincide with the growing season when plants are most vulnerable to injury. Possible impacts of ozone on forest species include reduced growth and vigor, reduced seed production, and increased susceptibility to insects and disease. Long-term ozone stress may lead to changes in species composition, reduced species diversity, and simplification of ecosystem structure and function."
2007
I don't get it!  If "ground-level ozone is a serious threat to the conservation and sustainability of world forests" how come every "expert" I write to tells me it's not???  The main Forest Threat page does feature acid rain, which is sort of the same issue, so I have no idea why it is presented separately, except to diffuse the seriousness and urgency of the interconnected assaults on forests:



"Acid Deposition


Air pollution has been a serious problem for the forests of the Northeast (especially those at high altitudes), which are downwind of the industrial heartland. The chief agent of environmental damage is acid deposition, or acid rain as it is commonly known."
2009 Finland

"What is acid deposition? This phenomenon occurs when emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) react in the atmosphere with water, oxygen, and oxidants to form various acidic compounds. These compounds then fall to the earth in either dry form (such as gas and particles) or wet form (such as rain, snow, and fog)."
Kingfisher
"Why is acid deposition a concern? Polluted air can damage trees directly in the dry form or indirectly through its effects on the chemistry of water and soils and by making trees more vulnerable to other biological and environmental stressors. More specifically, acid rain weaken trees by damaging their leaves, limiting the nutrients available to them, or exposing them to toxic substances slowly released from the soil. Acid rain that flows into streams, lakes, and marshes also has serious ecological effects. In watersheds where soils do not have a buffering capacity, acid rain releases aluminum--which is highly toxic to many species of aquatic organisms--from soils into lakes and streams."
2009
We were warned in 2010:  Nitrogen Fingered As Latest Ecosystem Evildoer


"While nitrogen is an element that is essential to life, it is an environmental scourge at high levels.
Humans are overloading ecosystems with nitrogen through the burning of fossil fuels and an increase in nitrogen-producing industrial and agricultural activities, according to a new study. Excess nitrogen from human activities pollutes fresh waters and coastal zones, and may contribute to climate change, according to the study. Nevertheless, such ecological damage could be reduced by the adoption of time-honored sustainable practices."
2009
"The nitrogen cycle — which has existed for billions of years — transforms non-biologically useful forms of nitrogen found in the atmosphere into various biologically useful forms that are needed by living things to create proteins, DNA and RNA, and by plants to grow and photosynthesize. This transformation is known as nitrogen fixation."
2009
"Mostly mediated by bacteria that live in legume plant roots and soils, nitrogen fixation and other components of the nitrogen cycle send nitrogen (in all its forms) weaving and winding through the atmosphere, plants, subsurface plant roots and soils. Since pre-biotic times, the nitrogen cycle has gone through several major phases. The cycle was initially controlled by slow volcanic processes and lightning and then by anaerobic organisms, which can live without oxygen, as biological activity started. By about 2.5 billion years ago, as molecular oxygen appeared on Earth, a linked suite of microbial processes evolved to form the modern nitrogen cycle."
Lichen on Hawthorne, 2009
"The human element

But by the start of the 20th century, human contributions to the nitrogen cycle began skyrocketing. 'In fact, no phenomenon has probably impacted the nitrogen cycle more than human inputs of nitrogen into the cycle in the last 2.5 billion years,' said study team member Paul Falkowski of Rutgers University in New Jersey.

'Altogether, human activities currently contribute twice as much terrestrial nitrogen fixation as natural sources, and provide around 45 percent of the total biological useful nitrogen produced annually on Earth,' Falkowski said. Much of the human contributions of nitrogen into ecosystems come from an 800-percent increase in the use of nitrogen fertilizers from 1960 to 2000."
2009
"Another problem: Much of the nitrogen fertilizer that is used worldwide is applied inefficiently. As a result, about 60 percent of the nitrogen contained in applied fertilizers is never incorporated into plants and so is free to wash out of root zones, and then pollute rivers, lakes, aquifers and coastal areas through eutrophication, the researchers say. (Eutrophication is a process caused by excess nutrients that depletes oxygen in water bodies and ultimately leads to the death of animal life.)

In addition, some reactions involving nitrogen release nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere. Nitrogen oxide is a greenhouse gas that has 300 times (per molecule) the warming potential of carbon dioxide. In addition, nitrogen oxide destroys stratospheric ozone, which protects the Earth's surface and life from harmful ultraviolet (UV-B) radiation.

Nitrogen unloading

Mother Nature could right herself, at some point.
'Natural feedbacks driven by microorganisms will likely produce a new steady-state over time scales of many decades,' Falkowski said. 'Through this steady state, excess nitrogen added from human sources will be removed at rates equivalent to rates of addition, without accumulating.'"
2007
"But meanwhile, the Earth's population is approaching 7 billion people, and so ongoing pressures for food production are continuing to increase. [Read 'Can Earth Survive?']"

"'There is no way to feed people without fixing huge amounts of nitrogen from the atmosphere, and that nitrogen is presently applied to crop plants very ineffectively,' Falkowski said."
2009
"So unless promising interventions are taken, the damage done by humans to the Earth's nitrogen cycle will persist for decades or centuries, the researchers said. These promising interventions, which would be designed to reduce the need to use fertilizers that add nitrogen to ecological systems, could include:"
2007
"Using systematic crop rotations that would supply nitrogen that would otherwise be provided by fertilizers;

Optimizing the timing and amounts of fertilizer applications, adopting selected breeding techniques or developing genetically engineered varieties of plants that would increase the efficiency of nitrogen use;

Using traditional breeding techniques to boost the ability of economically important varieties of wheat, barley and rye to interact favorably with the microbial communities associated with plant root systems and do so in ways that enhance the efficiency of nitrogen use."
2008
"'While the processes of eutrophication have been recognized for many years, only recently have scientists been able to begin placing the anthropogenic processes in the context of an understanding of the broader biogeochemical cycles of the planet,' said Robert Burnap, an NSF program director.

"In addition, nitrogen oxide destroys stratospheric ozone, which protects the Earth's surface and life from harmful ultraviolet (UV-B) radiation."
Again, just last month:  Researchers assess effects of a world awash in nitrogen

"Humans are having an effect on Earth’s ecosystems but it’s not just the depletion of resources and the warming of the planet we are causing. Now you can add an over-abundance of nitrogen as another “footprint” humans are leaving behind. The only question is how large of an impact will be felt."

"In a Perspectives piece in the current issue of Science (Dec. 16, 2011), Arizona State University researcher James Elser outlines some recent findings on the increasing abundance of available nitrogen on Earth. In 'A World Awash in Nitrogen,' Elser, a limnologist, comments on a new study showing that disruption to Earth’s nitrogen balance began at the dawn of the industrial era and was further amplified by the development of the Haber-Bosch process to produce nitrogen rich fertilizers."
2009
"Until that time nitrogen, an essential building block to life on Earth and a major but inert component of its atmosphere, had cycled at low but balanced levels over millennia. That balance ended around 1895.
'Humans have more than doubled the rate of nitrogen inputs into global ecosystems, relative to pre-industrial periods, and have changed the amounts of circulating phosphorus (like nitrogen, a key limiting ingredient for crops and other plants) by about 400 percent due to mining to produce fertilizers,' Elser said."

"The result has been immediate and widespread, he added. Commenting on a major new finding in Science by G.W. Holtgrieve and colleagues, Elser said that signs of the 'new N' appeared in all regions of the Northern Hemisphere in a remarkably coherent manner beginning around 1895, in concert with when fossil fuel combustion and large scale biomass burning accelerated across the globe. Another significant increase came around 1970 coincident with massive increases in industrial nitrogen fixation for fertilizer production, just as the 'Green Revolution' got started."
2005
"The effects of the high nitrogen inputs “were immediate, and no place in the Northern Hemisphere – not even the highest reaches of the Arctic – was safe,” Elser stated.

One effect from the increased nitrogen inputs can be seen in our inland water features like lakes, reservoirs and rivers.

'Nitrogen deposition to lakes leads to phytoplankton (at the base of food chain) with low content of the important nutrient phosphorus,' Elser said. 'This is kind of like ‘junk food,’ for animals that eat the phytoplankton. Such effects are likely to ripple upward in the food chain.'”
2008
“Overall, changes in nutrient regimes (due to human acceleration of the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles) cause various problems, but especially reduction in water quality, in water supplies and deterioration of coastal marine fisheries (‘dead zones’),” Elser added. “In the U.S., conservative estimates indicate that nutrient over-enrichment of inland waters results in about $2.7 billion of annual economic costs annually, due to negative impacts on recreational water usage, waterfront real estate values, the cost of recovery of threatened and endangered species and drinking water provisions.”
All the following splendid pictures are by a photographer in Montana
"On a grander timeline the effects could be more telling of humans themselves,' Elser said.
'Whether such signals are an ephemeral blip in the stratigraphic record or a sustained shift lasting millennia may, in due time, be seen as an indicator of humanity’s success, or failure, in achieving planetary sustainability,' he added."
Finally, let me end back with the concept of a limit to growth with an excerpt from a guest post at the Nature Bats Last blog, by Gary Peters, followed by one of the comments which, I'm afraid, is all too true:
"It may not be possible to predict the future, but we are going to get nowhere until most Americans realize that there are threats out there that we are not only not preparing for but our leaders are trying to keep us as ignorant as possible of. One of these is global warming, which is guaranteed to affect virtually all of us, not just in the United States but virtually everywhere. Even as many of our leaders, especially Republicans, remain in denial and assure us that all will be fine, scientists keep finding more supportive data all the time. Earth’s atmosphere is warming and humans are responsible, so we need to begin to think seriously about what we can do to slow the process and how we can adapt to changes that are coming our way. The ostrich approach that our nation has taken so far has not worked and will not work in the future."
"'... As Kenneth Boulding wrote long ago, 'Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.'”


"Unfortunately, there are far too many of both in the world today, arguing even now that the answer to unemployment problems in the U.S. and elsewhere in the struggling world economy is economic growth. Old paradigms don’t die easily."
"In an excellent recent post on her blog, Gail Tverberg wrote:
The problem we have is that the world’s population has grown to 7 billion people. If we substantially cut back on oil (or on fossil fuels in general), there is a question as to whether w will have enough food and water to support the 7 billion people alive today. If we had very many fewer people, we would have much less of a problem."
 
"I could not agree more. As we continue to add more than 200,000 people to the planet each day, I cannot think of a single problem that adding more people will help solve. To a considerable degree we’ve burned through precious fossil fuels as rapidly as possible to enrich a few and make life at least possible for billions more; the bottom billion or two are poor beyond anything most people could believe. Historians may look back on the twentieth century as the most wasteful in human history. Warnings were abundant—economic growth was eating up Earth’s resources at an accelerating rate and taking a horrendous toll on our only planetary home. The trends illustrated above, collectively, cannot continue without damaging our planet’s ability to support human life."
"...In the introduction to A Short History of Nearly Everything Bill Bryson wrote that “Survival on Earth is a surprisingly tricky business…we come from a planet that is very good at promoting life but even better at extinguishing it.” Most Americans shrug off such warnings and instead embrace our prevailing cultural myths, especially those of progress and exceptionalism."
Kathy C Says: 
"YouTube regularly suggests clips to me based on past viewings. This morning they offered up a clip of the tsunami in Japan. Old news.  I watched it anyway. It struck me that at that moment as the tsunami moves up the river and then overtakes the flood walls, there is nothing more to do. This is not the time to encourage higher flood walls, better protected nuclear plants, longer backup for loss of electricity. This is not the time to write letters to congressmen. At this time there is but one thing to do – try to get to higher ground."
"I would suggest that as far as peak oil and global warming we are at such a moment. This is the time to get to high ground – ie work on any plans for extending your survival post collapse. It is not the time to put energy into convincing bought out senators and representatives to do something about climate change and CO2. It is not the time to change our finance system. It is not the time to make our country more resilient and sustainable. The time for that was 40 years ago when Limits to Growth came out. The tsunami is coming and will leave devastation in its wake. It will also hopefully leave a bit of salvation in its wake – if the economy collapses soon enough."
The rest of this post is only for gluttons for irony.  As promised, there are the pictures from Tuesday, the now unglorious country lane so carefully and lovingly documented by the intrepid bicyclist, B. Katz.  The first passages are taken from Dr. Steven Wofsy's webpage, and the rest from that of his colleague at Harvard, William Munger (to whom I wrote in October about trees dying from pollution, but never received a response).  As I read what they are studying, I have to wonder...HOW can they not get it?

From the Wofsy webpage:

"Human beings have enormous impact on the chemical composition of the atmosphere, both regionally and globally. Combustion of fossil fuel, clearing of forests, agriculture, and chemical industry have caused concentrations of key atmospheric trace gases (CO2, CH4, N2O) to increase over the past 200 years, with accelerating change in the last 50 years. Emissions of industrial halocarbons (CFCs, such as CF2Cl2, "CFC-12") have caused stratospheric ozone to decrease. These changes may have serious impacts, such as climatic warming, regional and urban air pollution, and increased exposure to solar ultraviolet light."
"Professor Wofsy's work is motivated by the need for scientific information and analysis to make wise decisions on the future development of the world's resources. We need quantitative information defining the sources and sinks for important atmospheric gases, and deeper understanding of underlying processes and of the rates for chemical transformations and transport in the atmosphere. We need to understand the interactions between the gases in the atmosphere and the vegetation, soils, and oceans at the earth's surface. We must learn how ecosystems respond to climate change, and learn how to manage biotic resources better."
"Prof. Wofsy and colleagues study CO2, CH4, CO, and other important atmospheric gases at long-term measurement stations, located from the subarctic to the equator, and in atmospheric measurement campaigns using aircraft such as the University of North Dakota Citation II, University of Wyoming King Air, and NASA's ER-2 and WB-57F."
"The group projects include developing new airborne sensors to make accurate measurements of CO2, CH4, CO, and N2O, and devising new analysis and modelling procedures to extract quantitative information about sources, sinks, transformations, and transport of atmospheric trace gases. The long-term goal of these efforts is to understand the factors that regulate atmospheric composition and to help design programs to mitigate undesirable change."
From Dr. Munger's links:

"Nitrogen Deposition

In North America, anthropogenic activities such as fossil fuel combustion and high-intensity agriculture have increased the inputs of nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere far above natural, biogenic inputs. The effect of this excess N depends on how it is distributed through the environment. If fixed N is deposited as nitrate in forests, it may act as a "fertilizer", stimulating growth and thus enhancing carbon sequestration. But when accumulated deposition exceeds the nutritional needs of the ecosystem, nitrogen saturation may result. Soil fertility declines due to leaching of cations and thus, carbon uptake diminishes. The balance between fertilization and saturation depends on the spatial and temporal extent of nitrogen deposition."
"Measurements of nitrogen oxide concentrations and fluxes made at Harvard Forest are intended to quantify the deposition of nitrogen oxides and to examine the rates for oxidation and deposition of reactive nitrogen that are critical in controlling how far the influence of nitrogen oxide emission sources extends. Measurements made to date indicate that dry deposition of NOy to the Harvard Forest canopy is controlled by advection from source regions, vertical mixing, and chemical reaction. The input is about equally divided between wet and dry deposition depending on the amount of precipitation.  Southwesterly winds bring air from the major urban areas along the mid-Atlantic coast, whereas northwesterly wind bring air from less populated regions of northern New England and Canada."
"As a result, southwesterly winds transport higher concentrations and fluxes of NOx and NOy than northwesterly winds. In the summer, aerodynamically rough forests intercept NOx and emit reactive hydrocarbons that accelerate the oxidation of NOx to rapidly depositing species. As a result, much of the NOx emitted by North America is retained by the region in the summer. This deposition leads to a summertime decrease in reactive nitrogen concentrations and fluxes relative to spring levels. Such results have been reported in Munger et al. 1996, and Munger et al. 1998.

In addition to their role as a plant nutrient, nitrogen oxides are a major precursor for photochemical production of tropospheric ozone, a pollutant and greenhouse gas. Measurements at Harvard Forest are used to examine the interannual variability and trends in ozone production and background ozone concentrations."
"The family of nitrogen oxide species is partitioned between active radicals (NOx, NO3), reservoir species (e.g., peroxyacetylnitrate PAN) which can convert back into NO2 and terminal species (HNO3, organic nitrates), which no longer contribute to photochemistry and are efficiently deposited. At low wintertime temperatures, PAN is stable and can be transported to the upper troposphere and remote regions. In the summer, however, the lifetime of PAN is short (few hours) so concentrations may remain low despite abundant photochemical radicals that promote PAN formation. Thus, temperature directly affects the partitioning of nitrogen oxides, which will in turn affect deposition."
Over the past 3 years or so, many maple trees have turned black.
"Further measurements resolving key species are needed to distinguish the contributions due to direct NO2 deposition, HNO3 deposition and organic nitrate deposition. A dual Tunable Diode Laser Absorption Spectrometer (TDLAS) for eddy covariance flux measurements of NO2 and concentrations of HNO3 and NO2 has been operational since 1999 and a new CG/ECD for continuous measurement of PAN was installed in the spring of 2000. The combination of HNO3 and NO2 concentrations with existing measurements of O3, NOy, NO, PAN, hydrocarbons, tracers of anthropogenic emissions, and meteorological parameters at the site, will provide important new data on the speciation and removal mechanisms for reactive nitrogen in the troposphere and subsequently the photochemistry of ozone in both urban and rural air masses. Simultaneous NOy, NOx, PAN and CO data will allow us to distinguish PAN deposition (loss on NOy) from PAN decomposition (leads to NOx increase, no change in NOy). Because seasonal cycles of PAN loss and formation remain a major uncertainty in understanding atmospheric transport and N deposition, we plan to continue measurements of NOy speciation over several seasonal cycles and climactic variation. The addition of PAN and HNO3 measurements provides a comprehensive analysis of the reactive nitrogen at this site, allowing us to examine the diel and seasonal trends in concentrations to determine their production, deposition, and loss rates."
The sign says it is called "Maple Lane Farm" - but the maples look like they've been poisoned.  Did someone mention PAN?

7 comments:

  1. Whew! Great post!

    Full of fantastic photos, pontifical facts--almost like being in graduate school for climate hawks. You should maybe charge tuition?

    (I too love exploring man's old, abandoned properties!)

    More power to you, Gail.
    Warm regards,
    Mossy and Pa

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  2. Wow guys I'm in shock anybody made it through that turgid mess far enough to the end to comment. Thanks!

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  3. I think this blog post qualifies for the title "epic". At least you didn't find B.Katz tree lying on it's side like so many other trees in that area. Sadly it's only a matter of time for it too...

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  4. B. Katz, Good job! I see much of the same type of crown and canopy die-back, leaf necrosis, bark peeling, dead-fall, etc. on many trees throughout coastal Santa Barbara where everything is layered with black soot. City and County officials seem unable to acknowledge it, or take investigate it.
    My heaviest burden is the daily amount of new foliage destruction I photograph, film w/ video, take samples. I send samples to botanists, arborists, and others. I get little response.
    I live in a town that bills itself as "Paradise" but is in serious denial.
    I will post more on WindSpirit. Facebook has posts.
    Thanks Gail-WitsEnd.
    Thanks
    Ps WindSpirit's leaf pic photo is of a burnt looking leaf that was among many in a City park...only the background was changed for effect.

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  5. Lots and lots of misinformation here. E.G. the young sycamore are fine- exfoliating bark is normal. Also not every feature on the bark of a tree is a "canker".

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  6. Chris Ward, I don't know who you are or how you came to Wit's End, but I am always pleased to hear from a denier. It's better than being ignored. So I mean this sincerely - thanks for your ignorant comment.

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