Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Grasping at Straws

Woodblock illustrations from the 1516 edition of Utopia,
by Sir Thomas Moore

As the real news (not the phony news from corporate-controlled media) lurches from dire to cataclysmic - from the unprecedented shattering of Arctic Ice to the stupifying reduction of monarch butterflies - the portent of some terrifically amusing end-time cults can already be discerned in our near future.  Facing the prospect of extinction, few have enough fortitude to accept the implications, which tend to render the entire notion of an immortal "soul" lamentably meaningless...and so simply demur.  The human mind is so arrogant that it cannot admit there can be a world without us - a place where we have done our wretched utmost to wear out our welcome.  We, and so much that we have deplorably trashed, are about to be summarily and mercilessly evicted.  In response, even educated, formerly rational people - even atheists! - will dig down deeper into whatever faith they can summon, if not in a religion then in a belief in tribal wisdom and cooperation, or in technology, or some sort of cosmic spiritual fantasy of shared consciousness, to ward off that forlorn foreknowledge of nothingness - and their illogical gyrations will become ever more outlandishly improbable and fabulist.  It promises to be quite a show.

The latest example comes from Paul Gilding, Australian "sustainability advisor" who chose a title for his most recent essay so explicit that its absurdity needs no elucidation from me:  "Victory at Hand for the Climate Movement?"  He prudently allowed himself a bit of an out by adding the question mark, but even so the greater bulk of fatuously irrational optimism has been endorsed as having "the ring of truth" by mainstream activists like Ted Glick, who described its premise as "insightful" in Grist - where he also invokes the work of Mark Jacobson of Stanford, who has declared with profound solemnity:  "It’s absolutely not true that we need natural gas, coal or oil—we think it’s a myth".
And so we have a double and contradictory conceit, a habit that wouldn't suprise the Ancient Greeks who knew a thing or two about hubris that we seem to have forgotten.  One reassures us that we are NOT so masterful and clever that we could conceivably usurp the rightful powers of god to engineer our own demise and that of his creations...and, Two - we are SO masterful and clever that we can invent technology to replace the energy of millions of years of the stored sunlight in fossil fuels AND harness it in time to prop up the stumbling edifice of civilization.  Oh, and while we're at it, we can ressurect species which we have already driven to extinction...and rebuild broken ecosystems that took millions of years to evolve.

Desperate people grasp at straws, especially those who will not relinquish the modern luxuries of life.  Modern man will drown with eyes bulging at a screaming mangled metal wreck in a televised Nascar race, frantically clutching the remote, just as described in A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation by Sir Thomas Moore, in 1534:
"He that in tribulation turneth himself unto worldly vanities, to get help and comfort by them, fareth like a man that in peril of drowning catcheth whatsoever cometh next to hand, and that holdeth he fast, be it never so simple a stick; but then that helpeth him not, for that stick he draweth down under the water with him, and there lie they drowned both together."

But the main topic at Wit's End is more specifically about that monstrously repugnant, if inadvertent, consequence special to industrialism, which is the production of tropospheric ozone, an invisible but highly toxic gas that derives from the emissions of burning fuel.  There is never any lack of new information from the scientific community, which assiduously monitors the effects on the ecosystem - but never, ever tells us that it is collapsing all around us, from the poison.  Trees and other vegetation are dying and so are the animals that eat plants - moose and raccoons, for instance, both of which are described as emaciated with lower-than-normal body fat.  Many other animals are dying off, such as beavers, with no clear cause...and aquatic life is under siege from the disrupted nitrogen cycle creating dead zone in lakes, at the mouths of rivers and along coastlines.  It's only to be expected that any sort of disease or predator will take advantage of animals with compromised immunity who are weakened from lack of nutrition, and yet scientists hasten to assign blame to pathogens or natural causes whether they exist or not.

Following are links about ozone I have only recently come across, punctuated with some wonderful portraits from a project based on Norwegian folklore, Eyes as Big as Plates by photographers Riittai Konen and Karoline Hjorth, which I initially saw on the blog called "Sad and Useless" - Old People Wearing Vegetation.  Because.  Everything else that follows is most deplorable and depressing and if we cannot laugh there is nothing left for us but to go insane.

Let's start with two papers about forests written by Diane Styers, who is currently an assistant professor at Western Carolina University.  She wrote both a Master's thesis (2005) and a PhD dissertation (2008), the former while at Georgia State and the latter at Auburn University.  Both were completed with the aid - and in the case of her PhD under the direction of - Professor Arthur Chappelka.  Even considering that they were written several years before satellite confirmation of widespread dieback of eastern woodlands, her first paper presents a much more comprehensive problem than Chappelka would admit to when I wrote him and a number of his colleagues in 2009.  Despite the fact that I pointed out that trees are dying everywhere, he dismissed it as New Jersey weather.
But here are passages (citations removed, emphasis added) he approved in his student's Master's thesis:

"The purpose of this study was to examine air pollution damage to vegetation using a foliar-injury survey on Stone Mountain. The objectives of this project included 1) establishing that pollution transport from Atlanta to Stone Mountain occurs, 2) determining the magnitude of ozone concentrations near Stone Mountain and 3) assessing sensitive plant species on Stone Mountain for foliar injury."

p. 1
"Tropospheric ozone has been recognized as the most widespread phytotoxic air pollutant in  eastern North America. The prevalence of high ozone concentrations was once thought to be a problem only in urban areas, due to industrial and vehicle emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOX), a precursor compound in ozone formation. Studies on the role of atmospheric transport of ozone and its precursors have indicated that rural and forested areas located downwind from metropolitan regions are also susceptible to above-average concentrations of ozone.
p. 5
"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers ozone a major air pollutant as it involves the welfare of both humans and vegetation. Low levels of ozone have been shown to disturb human health causing skin and eye irritation, shortness of breath, chest pain and decreased lung function to sensitive individuals; high levels of ozone can cause symptoms in anyone of the general population. It is for this reason that most ozone studies in the U.S. are conducted. However, ozone is equally detrimental to the health of vegetation and research has proven this much more solidly. Trees that have been adversely affected by ozone commonly exhibit reduced photosynthesis rates, reduced height and/or diameter growth, biomass loss and/or foliar injury. If damage is great enough an entire forest ecosystem can be significantly altered."
p. 6
"Effects on Plant Physiology 
Ozone can damage plant leaf tissue when a sufficient amount of ozone molecules are able to pass through a series of permeable layers in the leaf to reach the mesophyll, a spongy tissue critical to photosynthesis. If met by antioxidants such as ascorbic acid at any point a long this pathway, ozone molecules may be scavenged prior to reacting with vulnerable plant cell tissues. An ozone molecule first diffuses into a plant leaf through one of its many stomata (leaf pores), which regulate gas exchange by allowing for sufficient carbon dioxide uptake while limiting water loss through evapotranspiration. The stomata open to a cavity where the ozone molecule can then dissolve in an aqueous layer lining this inner air space of the leaf then proceed to penetrate the cell well. Once inside the plant’s cellular membrane it can react with polyunsaturated fatty acids and begin its destructive oxidation processes. Through the oxidation of plant tissue, ozone can interfere with any of the various processes of photosynthesis."
"Photosynthesis is the process by which plants use CO2 and energy from sunlight to make food. Ozone disrupts photosynthetic processes in sensitive and tolerant plants and can have any number of consequences on the plant, many of which have yet to be documented.  In addition to the effects on growth, biomass and foliar injury, reduced photosynthetic rates can also result in water stress, nutrient deficiency and variations in carbon allocation. Tree age, differential sensitivity among species and site-specific environmental and climatic variables should also be considered as these factors often modify individual study results."

"The most common visible sign of ozone-induced damage to plants is foliar injury. This is generally an indication that antioxidants have attempted to shield vulnerable leaf tissues from the 
oxidation processes of ozone. Proven indicators of ozone induced foliar injury include bleaching, bronzing, flecking, stippling, mottling, chlorosis, necrosis, tip burn and premature senescence.  These visual symptoms of ozone injury are seen in acute to chronic exposure situations and can affect sensitive as well as tolerant species. As such, foliar injury is a good indicator of disruption of photosynthetic processes. However, ozone-induced damage to plant species can occur with or without foliar injury."

"Ozone has been shown to alter both tree growth and biomass production by interfering with 
stomatal conductance, respiration and photosynthesis, as well as reducing CO2 uptake, 
assimilation and fixation.  Plant growth, biomass production and other physiological processes are generally interrelated due to their dependence on optimum photosynthesis; yet damage to one component may not necessarily disturb another. For example, ozone may disrupt a plant’s photosynthetic processes by decreasing stomatal conductance and reducing CO2 uptake. The plant may exhibit signs of foliar injury, but not symptoms of reduced growth, or vice versa. However, when this same plant is grown in a much less predictable competitive environment, height and diameter growth and biomass production may decrease while exhibiting no signs of visible injury. It is therefore, important to note that while ozone-induced damage may take a variety of forms, interactions within and between plant species are highly complex and their countless responses to ozone exposure are not fully understood."

"Impacts to Forest Ecosystems
Estimating ozone risk to forests based on the responses of tree species contained therein is a difficult task. There have been many attempts to do so using techniques such as statistical and simulation modeling, interpolation of surfaces and extrapolation from tree to stand conditions. However difficult to estimate, species-specific responses to ozone can influence forest ecosystem stability by modifying overall forest productivity. Coulston et al. (2003) describe that by directly impacting tree growth, ozone can transform “forest succession, forest composition… and forest dependent wildlife, insects and pathogens.”

"If species are dominant in areas where they are predicted to be at risk, their ecological and economical importance to these areas could be threatened.  For example, Coulston et al. (2003) explain that loblolly pine and sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) are fundamental species that co-exist throughout the Southeast. Loblolly pine is an important commercial product as well as an indicator species in pine and pine-hardwoods stands in the area, which provide habitat for many game and nongame species. Sweetgum contributes to the local foodweb by providing its seeds as a food source to birds, squirrels and chipmunks. Damage to these species by ozone could therefore, affect the biodiversity of southern pine and pine-hardwood habitats as well as world-wide timber industries.  Ecological impacts to forest ecosystems can indirectly influence the economic benefits of that system. Ozone changes to single tree physiology have been noted; height and diameter growth can be reduced, biomass can be lost and photosynthetic processes altered resulting in foliar injury, water stress and nutrient deficiency. Changes to key sensitive species within a community can slowly but eventually alter genetic traits. As this species or even certain genotypes of this species is weakened, more tolerant competitive species may succeed within the forest community possibly eradicating the weaker sensitive species and altering the composition of the community.  Should this happen within an economically important forest ecosystem such as loblolly pine, the timber industry would be greatly affected and much capital would stand to be lost. Similarly, if key forests and their unique habitats decline, revenue generated from recreational activities such as hunting, fishing, hiking and camping would be reduced."
p. 22
"Because loblolly pine is an important commercial timber crop, especially in the Southeast, 
there has been ample research on ozone affects on biomass production. Flagler and Chappelka 
(1995) reviewed and summarized data collected through the Southern Commercial Forest 
Research Cooperative (SCFRC) and compared it to other studies on various southern pine 
species. In the studies reviewed, ozone was found to cause adverse modifications on loblolly 
(and other) pine species, even at current ambient levels. Observed signs throughout the studies 
included decreased height and diameter growth, decreased biomass, especially in foliage and 
decreased photosynthesis and other biochemical functions. The authors noted that the most 
significant finding was that decreased rates of carbon gain in foliage combined with premature 
senescence of needles was responsible for much of the decreased growth observed in these 
studies. Lost productivity resulting from ozone damage can greatly reduce tree longevity and thus, represents a substantial concern to the commercial timber industry in the Southeast

p. 49
"AOT40, or “accumulated exposure over a threshold of 40 ppb”, is a European standard that 
indicates the sum of the differences between hourly ozone concentration and 40 ppb for each 
daylight hour (8:00 – 20:00) when the concentration exceeds 40 ppb (European Environment 
Agency 2004c.). This index was developed to assess ozone exposure potential to vegetation 
across Europe (European Environment Agency 2004d.). In fact, ozone exceedance limitations 
protecting vegetation are nearly half that of those enacted to protect human health (European 
Environment Agency 2004a. & b.)."

Following are images she used in her thesis:  First, badly injured blackberry:
This is described as severely ozone-injured sumac:
Below, "moderately" injured cherry:
Inexplicably, this is designated a "healthy" cherry tree.
Just as oddly, the dead prior-year's needles on this loblolly pine are not seen as evidence of ozone, despite the known evidence that ozone causes premature senescence.  A lack of chlorotic mottling is noted as the reason, although from what I've seen, it depends on the time of year.  The tips turn yellow in fall, and progress through the winter, and then the needles fall off, leaving conifers transparent with tufted branches retaining only the most recent growth.
It's interesting that her early work, like that of another young scholar, Victoria Wittig, draws the starkest conclusions I have seen in any academic papers about long-term impacts by ozone on forest health, and to my knowledge, neither of them ever followed up.

Despite the title of Styers' PhD dissertation - "Urban Sprawl and Atmospheric Pollution Effects on Forests in the Georgia Piedmont" - it contains only 16 references to ozone in over 230 pages, sort of astonishing considering the first sentence in the introduction to her master's thesis which read (remember?) "Tropospheric ozone has been recognized as the most widespread phytotoxic air pollutant in eastern North America"(!)  Only four of those mentions were in the body of the text (one of which merely existed to say "...the data were not regionally distinct enough to be included in these analyses...") while all the others were just parts of definitions or found in the bibliography.  Ozone doesn't even appear in the Abstract, although she ended her Master's with this strongly worded caution:

"The protection of our natural environment is vital to the health of ourselves and many generations of humans to come. Vegetation responses indicative of pollution injury should be a warning sign that the air we breathe is just not healthy. Loblolly pines on Stone Mountain may be tolerant of ozone, but loblolly pines elsewhere and many other species may not. And just because high ozone levels may not be produced in many rural and forested locations outside the city, does not mean that it cannot be transported long distances to get there. Atlanta’s ozone is partially responsible for making the Great Smoky Mountains the most polluted National Park in America. If Atlanta’s ozone can impact forests 250 kilometers away, the ones existing within its bounds will not likely fair any better."

Victoria Wittig in 2008 went so far as to make explicit the connection to a loss of CO2 sink leading to more rapid climate change because of ozone stunting trees, which has to this day not been incorporated in any climate modeling of future temperature rise (that I know of!):

"Ozone is the third strongest greenhouse gas, directly contributing to global warming, and is the air pollutant considered to be the most damaging to plants. But more importantly, it has the potential to leave more carbon dioxide, ranked as the first strongest greenhouse gas, in the atmosphere by decreasing carbon assimilation in trees. Ozone pollution occurs when nitrogen oxides have a photochemical reaction with volatile organic compounds. 'This research quantifies the mean response of trees to ozone pollution measured in terms of total tree biomass, and all component parts such as leaf, root and shoot, lost due to ozone pollution,' said Dr. Victoria Wittig, lead author of the study. 'Looking at how ozone pollution affects trees is important because of the indirect impact on carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere which will further enhance global warming, in addition to ozone's already potent direct impact.' In addition to ozone pollution reducing the strength of trees to hold carbon in the northern temperate mid-latitudes by reducing tree growth, the research also indicates that broad-leaf trees, such as poplars, are more sensitive to ozone pollution than conifers, such as pines, and that root growth is suppressed more than aboveground growth."
Meanwhile, work goes on according to Art Chepulka's home page:

"Nutritive quality of selected plant communities exposed to ground-level ozone
Work by our group (scientists in the School of Forestry & Wildlfie Sciences and Department of Animal Science) has revealed changes in species performance, canopy structure, species richness, diversity index and evenness of an ozone-exposed, early successional plant community containing numerous native species, implying that ambient air in the southeastern US may be having a significant ecological impact on these systems. Given their complexity, economic and non-monetary losses in native plant ecosystems resulting from chronic exposure to ground-level ozone may likely exceed losses to production agriculture. Utilizing various field and laboratory methodologies from the disciplines of ecophysiology, quantitative plant community ecology and herbivore nutrition, our interdisciplinary research team (Drs. Art Chappelka, Stephen Ditchkoff and Russ Muntifering) collected data pertaining to nutritive quality and competitive dynamics of select vegetation of selected native plant communities exposed to potentially phytotoxic levels of ozone. Data collected will allow for assessment of relative ozone impacts on native vegetation in Alabama by various agencies including the US EPA.  Our global hypothesis is that ozone exposure modifies resource acquisition and allocation of dominant native grass species in such a way that interspecific plant relationships, florisitic composition, plant-herbivore interactions, and decomposition and nutrient cycling dynamics of the system are impacted, and that these modifications are further altered by management, thus impacting system productivity. Various field and laboratory methodologies from ecophysiology, quantitative plant community ecology and herbivore nutrition were utilized to specifically: (i) characterize alterations in chemical composition and nutritive quality of ozone-exposed native grasses for herbivores: and (ii) determine whether early-season stress by interspecific plant competition modifies nutritive quality response to O3 in simulated native-grass mixtures. Our  results indicate that ozone is affecting the nutritive quality of selected vegetation and may impact its nutritive value to selected mammalian herbivores. The project was completed in 2006."
"Use of ethylenediurea (EDU) in assessing ozone effects to vegetation
Ground-level (tropospheric) ozone (O3) is the most significant phytotoxic gaseous pollutant in the eastern United States. Plants are subjected to acute and chronic exposures of tropospheric O3 that can cause foliar injury on sensitive plants as well as negative effects on a number of plant processes, including photosynthesis, rate of senescence, water use efficiency, dry matter production, pollen tube extension, flowering and yield. Most of our knowledge about the effects of O3 on natural vegetation has come from studies conducted in controlled field experiments with open top chambers although this method has inherent technical problems and limitations that affect the applicability of results to ambient conditions. An alternative method is the use of protective chemicals such as ethylenediurea N-[-2-(2-oxo-1-imidizolidinyl) ethyl]-N’-phenylurea (EDU). EDU has been widely used to suppress acute and chronic O3 injury on agricultural crops and has been used to detect plant injuries, but comparatively little research has been conducted on native vegetation."

So, what I would like to know is HOW MANY TREES HAVE TO DIE and HOW MUCH RESEARCH DO THEY NEED TO DO before these scientists figure out that the inexorably rising persistent background level of the toxic gas they study is causing the ecosystem to collapse?  Will it not be until the entire world is acidified and colonized by fungus?  oh, wait...
A highly technical paper (in other words, 90% of it is indecipherable to me) from January 2012, investigating ozone sinks in orange orchards in California, gives an indication of how damaging air pollution is to agricultural crops:

Ozone deposition to an orange orchard: Partitioning between stomatal and non-stomatal sinks

1. Introduction
"Ozone is a principal component of photochemical smog and is also a greenhouse gas. In the polluted lower atmosphere it is formed in the presence of sunlight through photochemical reactions of volatile organic compounds (VOC) with oxides of nitrogen (NOx = NO + NO2), which have both biogenic (e.g. foliar and soil emissions) and anthropogenic (e.g. evaporative emissions and combustion processes) sources. Due to increasing emissions of anthropogenic air pollutants, background atmospheric ozone concentration in northern mid-latitudes increased substantially in the past few decades. Exposure to elevated ozone concentrations produces biochemical and physiological changes in plants, with inhibition of carbon assimilation by photosynthesis and decreased plant growth being common effects often associated with visible injuries. These negative effects result in yield losses that are also transformed into economic losses for crops exposed to high levels of tropospheric ozone. A recent global impact assessment for major agriculture crops estimated annual production losses of $US 14 - 74 billion under present air quality legislation."
"Plants are natural sinks for ozone and have therefore been argued to phytoremediate the atmosphere.  The uptake of ozone by ecosystems is attributed to both stomatal and non-stomatal sinks. At the leaf level, stomatal absorption was found to be the major contributor to the total uptake of ozone and considered to be the main uptake pathway responsible for plant injuries, with stomatal opening mainly influenced by environmental variables such as light, temperature and water availability in the plant-soil system."

"Non-stomatal ozone uptake processes include physical deposition to soil, stems, cuticles or any other external surface. Deposition on the cuticles can be limited under dry conditions, but on wet canopies this process may represent a major sink for ozone. Non-stomatal ozone uptake processes also include chemical destruction resulting from gasphase reactions between ozone and biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOC) and nitric oxide (NO) emitted from the ecosystem (e.g. plants or soils). Previous work has reported significant non-stomatal ozone fluxes from forest species owing to reaction with BVOC."
"Citrus species, in particular orange (Citrus sinensis) and mandarin (Citrus reticulata), are among the most cultivated tree crops in the Central Valley of California; they accounted for more than 75,000 ha in 2008. Citrus is also widely cultivated in other countries with Mediterranean climates, such as Italy, Spain, Morocco, and Israel, and citrus orchards are often close to densely populated areas. The warm climates, along with high insolation required for citrus cultivation, are associated with the formation of high ozone levels when anthropogenic air pollution is also present. In particular, hourly ozone concentrations in the San Joaquin Valley (the southern half of California’s Central Valley) often exceed 100 ppb on hot afternoons which is well above the 40ppb phytotoxic threshold generally identified for vegetation. Significant emissions of ozone precursors and the topography, heat, and sunshine in the agriculturally rich valleys of California routinely lead to high concentrations of ozone."

"Previously we have reported on experiments using branch enclosures in greenhouses demonstrating the role of Citrus leaves in removing ozone via stomatal and non-stomatal processes. For the study reported here, we measured ozone concentration and ecosystem level flux over a complete year for a commercial orange orchard in a region with high concentrations of tropospheric ozone, we partitioned the total ozone flux between stomatal and non-stomatal ozone sinks, and investigated the mechanisms controlling each of these sinks."

"Ozone flux to ground was estimated using the sum of in-canopy and ground resistances modeled with standard dry deposition algorithms. These calculations suggest that the ground compartment is a very important ozone sink, responsible for up to 35% of total ozone flux at midday. Ground deposition in our calculation was maximized at midday due to the diurnal concentration of ozone concentration peaking simultaneously with in-canopy resistances reaching their minimum (<400 s m1) due to the higher levels of turbulence which promoted vertical mixing. High deposition rates to ground were expected at our field site, where there was significant open space between trees where the ground was exposed including soil particles, microorganisms, litter, and standing water."
After much measuring the authors arrive at this conclusion:

"We found that the citrus trees removed a considerable amount of tropospheric ozone over the year, similar in amount to that measured in a pine forest, thus suggesting that citrus orchards are
ozone scavengers comparable in magnitude to forest ecosystems.  Further work is necessary though to determine the net impact of orange orchards on regional ozone sources and sinks since this work did not assess the formation of ozone from BVOC emitted by the orchard."

This perplexed my feeble brain.  It was nice to see corroboration for this:   "...the 40ppb phytotoxic threshold generally identified for vegetation" since that is WELL BELOW levels permitted by current EPA regulation (75 ppb!).  And I gathered what they were investigating isn't what happens to orange trees when they absorb ozone so much as trying to determine how much ozone is absorbed by the various sinks, including soil, and trees - because since plants are "natural sinks" for ozone, they are considered to - and I love this new concept - phytoremediate the atmosphere.  Perhaps they are trying to establish a value for orchards beyond producing fruit, comparable to forests.

Following is how one of the researchers kindly wrote back to explain it to me:

"In order to effectively regulate air pollution it is necessary to understand what controls its concentration in the atmosphere. The concentration of ozone in the atmosphere is a balance between photochemical production, photochemical loss, and deposition (removal) at earth's surface. The most practical application of our study is understanding the rate of deposition to earth's surface, whether that deposition is to the plant surfaces, soil, or chemical reactions in the air around the trees, and what controls those rates of ozone removal. Ozone uptake by plants also causes damage to the plants, thus it is important to understand the rate of uptake by the plants themselves."

It was also nice to see in the paper this accurate comment - even if it displayed a slightly imperfect clinical detachment, "Anecdotal evidence for much larger BVOC emissions during this period is also available in the strong and beautiful aroma of the blossoming orange trees."  Though a sorry effect of ozone is to suppress the scent of flowers as well as the ability of pollinators to smell them, I am so looking forward to the peach orchards in Oldwick blossoming soon, and it brought to mind this part of Edna St. Vincent Millay's Renascence, when she is revived from romantically existential doldrums...

I know not how such things can be;

I only know there came to me

A fragrance such as never clings

To aught save happy living things;
A sound as of some joyous elf

Singing sweet songs to please himself,

And, through and over everything,

A sense of glad awakening.

The grass, a-tiptoe at my ear,
Whispering to me I could hear;

I felt the rain’s cool finger-tips

Brushed tenderly across my lips,

Laid gently on my sealèd sight,

And all at once the heavy night
Fell from my eyes and I could see,—

A drenched and dripping apple-tree,

A last long line of silver rain,

A sky grown clear and blue again.

And as I looked a quickening gust
Of wind blew up to me and thrust

Into my face a miracle

Of orchard-breath, and with the smell,—

I know not how such things can be!—

I breathed my soul back into me.
Ah! Up then from the ground sprang I

And hailed the earth with such a cry

As is not heard save from a man

Who has been dead, and lives again.

About the trees my arms I wound;
Like one gone mad I hugged the ground;

I raised my quivering arms on high;

I laughed and laughed into the sky...

Grape growers in Wisconsin have noticed damage from ozone in previous years, and observed that last summer, ozone levels were high.  This photograph accompanied the article.
Ozone Damage to Grape Leaves
October 18, 2012 by Dr. Dean Volenberg
This article is by Dr. Dean Volenberg of the University of Wisconsin’s Door County Extension. It was first published in the Wisconsin Grape Growers Association’s (WGGA) 30th July 2012 Vineyard IPM Scouting Report.

"Ozone contains three oxygen atoms and this makes the compound very reactive to materials that it contacts. In plants, ozone enters through the stomates during gas exchange and then ozone can begin attacking plant cells. In grapes this often results in grape leaves displaying stipples (small darkly pigmented areas). The stippling on grape leaves is confined to the upper leaf surface and the symptoms typically appear on older basal leaves that are located on the exterior of the grape canopy."

"In northeast Wisconsin, ozone damage on grape leaves has been observed for a number of years. Typically symptoms of ozone damage appear latter in the growing season. In Door County, ozone symptoms often appear in late August or early September.  During this time, there is abundant sunshine, and high temperatures which can lead to ozone formation. It is during these so called “Dog Days of Summer” of bright sunshine, high temperatures, and still air that can result in ozone injury."

"Severe ozone injury to grape leaves can result in leaves senescing and dropping from the vine. As of yet, I have never observed severe ozone injury where leaves have dropped from the grape plant. However, this summer, we experienced a number of very sunny days with extremely above normal temperatures that may result in more ozone injury."
"The symptoms of ozone injury could be confused with a disease infection or maybe a nutrient deficiency. Ozone symptoms on the leaf are very patterned and uniform. Ozone injury on the leaf results in the small leaf veins remaining green. In contrast, many grape disease infections results in chlorosis (yellowing) or necrosis (browning) of these small veins. Ozone damage can at times look surprisingly like advanced symptomology of potassium deficiency."

The article was first published in July last summer, so it's anyone's guess whether the leaves progressed on to premature senescence.  Wit's End must be just ahead of the curve (they don't call New Jersey cancer alley for nothing!) because here is what my Concord Grapevine leaves looked like in September of 2009.
This image from ozoneinjury.org, a European website, has leaves that exhibit bronzing and clorosis:
 While this leaf shows a different sort of damage at Wit's End from May 2010:
 This leaf is from June 2011:
And lest anyone say that is NOT ozone injury, here is the leaf shown on the Clemson University Extension website from a 1976 photo attributed to a USDA handbook, with what is described as "shotholing" ozone damage to peach leaves, with a normal unblemished sample on left.  (As an aside, I admit that even being the world's first self-designated Ozonista, I never heard of shotholing before, so I googled it, which has opened up a whole new exciting world of ozone damage! - but I'll save it for a later post.  You're welcome.)
The USDA ozone injury website has this photo of a grape leaf, and describes possible visible symptoms:
"Ozone symptoms usually occur between the veins on the upper leaf surface of older and middle-aged leaves, but may also involve both leaf surfaces (bifacial) for some species. The type and severity of injury is dependent on several factors including duration and concentration of ozone exposure, weather conditions and plant genetics. One or all of these symptoms can occur on some species under some conditions, and specific symptoms on one species can differ from symptoms on another. With continuing daily ozone exposure, classical symptoms (stippling, flecking, bronzing, and reddening) are gradually obscured by chlorosis and necrosis."

Everyone should remember this, because it's spring (isn't it?), and we have a wonderful season ahead of stalking symptoms on leaves.  I especially plan to concentrate on photographing leaves growing on potted plants that are being watered, because I'm sick to death of having drought blamed for trees dying!
An article describes research published in January which "...suggests that using such trees as a biofuel could result in up to 1,400 deaths per year in Europe – per the European Union's 2020 tree planting goal – attributable to increased amounts of ozone in the air, along with $7.1 billion in additional health care costs and crop losses".

Titled "Impacts of biofuel cultivation on mortality and crop yields", the research in the journal Nature Climate Change warns of (yet another!) unexpected consequence of frivolous and wanton energy consumption.  The Abstract says:

"Ground-level ozone is a priority air pollutant, causing ~ 22,000 excess deaths per year in Europe, significant reductions in crop yields and loss of biodiversity. It is produced in the troposphere through photochemical reactions involving oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The biosphere is the main source of VOCs, with an estimated 1,150 TgC yr−1 (~ 90% of total VOC emissions) released from vegetation globally. Isoprene (2-methyl-1,3-butadiene) is the most significant biogenic VOC in terms of mass (around 500 TgC yr−1) and chemical reactivity and plays an important role in the mediation of ground-level ozone concentrations5. Concerns about climate change and energy security are driving an aggressive expansion of bioenergy crop production and many of these plant species emit more isoprene than the traditional crops they are replacing. Here we quantify the increases in isoprene emission rates caused by cultivation of 72 Mha of biofuel crops in Europe. We then estimate the resultant changes in ground-level ozone concentrations and the impacts on human mortality and crop yields that these could cause. Our study highlights the need to consider more than simple carbon budgets when considering the cultivation of biofuel feedstock crops for greenhouse-gas mitigation."
One of the most important things to remember with ozone is that the background level keeps getting worse, and as predicted in one paper from Swedish researchers (among countless others) the level will continue to rise as emissions of precursors increase, and in response to rising temperatures from climate change:

"The increased risk of ozone damage to vegetation is mainly due to rising ozone concentrations and higher temperatures in the future," says Jenny Klingberg at the University of Gothenburg's Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences. "The most important effect on agricultural crops is premature aging, which result in smaller harvests with lower quality."
And so it really shouldn't have been quite so shocking when Obama told Lisa Jackson she could not issue more restrictive air quality rules, since short of draconian reductions in lifestyles and population, it's only getting worse.  There is an excellent summation of the legal and political wrangling over ozone rules written by an "environmental" attorney (even though he is no doubt loathed by herrings and whales, whose status as endangered he successfully thwarted, oh, and trees, after his work for timber companies on carbon offsets) here.  Had EPA been allowed to lower the standard from 75 ppb to between 60 and 70 (based on the tsunami of research indicating 75 ppb isn't a safe threshold) many more areas would have been judged in nonattainment - and the repurcussions can be far more extensive than you might suspect.  For instance:

"A more stringent ozone standard can mean new limits on major stationary sources, but also on regional transportation systems (the Clean Air Act requires that the air quality impact of highway projects and other transportation infrastructure changes be evaluated before they can receive federal funding)."

And we all know how the Obama administration loved to squander those stimulus dollars to pave roads that didn't need paving!

As a case in point and purely for amusement, check out the counties monitored in Indiana.  Here are the numbers for the 2009 summary (there are better resolution of the originals at the state website:

And below, the numbers for 2012.  Not every single one, but most have gone up and more to the point, almost every single one would be out of compliance if the air quality maximum was restricted to 60 ppb.

It gets so much worse!  Anyone who thinks anything will be accomplished at the EPA during Obama's administration should read this gloomy assessment that discusses the DC circuit court where the cases and endless appeals about regulations are decided.  The article focuses (surprise!) on regulations affecting greenhouse gases, but is just as relevant for cases being heard on other pollutants, like ozone.  This year is the regularly scheduled review of air quality regulations, which I predict will come to exactly nothing.  Think - there are FOUR open seats (inexplicably and outrageously, two since Obama came into office in 2009!) on the 11-seat bench which, history has shown (see above) is CRITICAL for regulations to actually be implemented.

"President Barack Obama's [so-called, purported] plan to use federal agencies, and the Environmental Protection Agency in particular, to drive his second-term climate change agenda might be in peril if he cannot fill vacant seats on the federal court that has jurisdiction over major national regulations, legal experts say."

"Obama is the first full-term president in more than a half century not to have appointed a single judge to the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  The court, considered the second most important in the nation, decides cases challenging agency regulations such as those involving the EPA's Clean Air Act and often serves as a feeder to the Supreme Court."

"'If we continue on the current path of invalidating critically important rules, the DC circuit will be the graveyard for all programs, initiatives that are being pushed by the Obama administration and will affect all of us,' said Nan Aron, president of the judicial rights group Alliance for Justice.
'The DC circuit has that much power.'"

One beacon of light that has been shining on the multiple converging forces that are dragging us off the cliff comes from David Ulansey, who has been ringing the alarm since launching a website in 1998 about the Sixth Mass Extinction.  You could listen to a very interesting 45-minute audio clip of his presentation in San Francisco from 2004, in which he discusses the processes underway...or you can take my word for it that back then, he said in order to avoid certain, irreversible catastrophic mass extinctions, five years - or at the most ten - remained for people to have a collective epiphany and reverse course.  Haha!  According to that prediction, the perennially open window of opportunity that just about everyone - or at least, most anyone who wants an audience for their books, movies, TED talks, articles or lectures - swears by, is nearly slammed shut permanently...and does anyone see any such reversal occurring by 2014?  Didn't think so.
There is still much to learn from him anyway, so following are some snips from his observations, (imperfectly transcribed but I tried to be accurate):

"According to the best estimates of biologists, 3/4 of species on earth will be extinct in 100 years....and that isn't counting the myriad impacts of global warming - that will make it worse."

"We are all in the state of the profoundest denial.  I didn't used to take the psychology of denial seriously, I thought it was all psychobabble.  But it turns out it is the most serious thing in the world.  We are living in a pathological dreamworld.  We are utterly out of touch with reality.  And so the question is how to get ourselves back in touch with reality".

"Everybody always asks me - what can I do?  We know what to do.  It's very simple - for a generation, only one child per couple.  No more meat.  No more cars".

"The deeper question is - how do we get people to do that?  It's a problem of human psychology, that's why I'm talking about the psychology of denial".

"We are reeling from the sense that we are living in an alternative universe where dark alien forces have seized the planet - and that is not an inaccurate way to see things."

"We are going to have to make unimaginable sacrifice, bringing into the absolute center of our consciousness the full truth about our situation".

"The environmental organizations have failed us dismally.  They are keeping the truth from us under the rubric of 'we'ld better not frighten people, people freeze up'.  Well, we had better frighten people with the fear that mobilizes...the fear that activates."

"Spread the word.  Tell people...individual people have to wake up to the existence of the problem, a step that has not yet been taken."

"Raising conciousness about this issue is extraordinarily difficult.  People won't believe you and even if they do believe you they will say that they don't care.  So the task then becomes finding the ways to penetrate through that veil of utter denial.  People with children for example, they don't want to know what their children are going to be facing...but if they don't know it they are impotent in doing anything about stopping it.  And it can still be stopped.  We are right on at the cusp.  We have about five years - five, maybe ten at the most - to intervene, to turn the human species around".

Perhaps that is why I can't find any recent appearances or publications from Dr. Ulansey.  Perhaps he has become somewhat reclusive.  After all, he has been "reeling from living in an alternate universe" since 1998, at least, with no improvement in fact, with rapidly accelerating deterioration...and I've only been there since 2008.  It does not seem that the awakening he hoped for is gaining traction and in fact, may be precluded by the most innate and immutable tendencies of our species.

He lists the causes of the mass extinction (HIPPO)

Habitat destruction
Invasive Species
Overharvesting of natural biological resources

Already, by 2004, he had added global warming to that list.

Another point he makes persuasively, is that individual action is not the answer because if you go that route, you instantly realize it will make no difference whatsoever and sink into despair.

Ulansey and the organization he founded, Species Alliance, produced a film titled, Call of Life - Facing the Mass Extinction.  This is a link to watch the entire film (80 minutes) online for free - the short trailor is below.  Even though it ends with the obligatory spiritual/quasi-religious/hopey delerium (as though humans CAN change their psychology, which happens to be genetically hardwired), I highly recommend it anyway - highly.  It does a rare if not unique job of tying in all the converging ecological catastrophes, not just climate change.  Not to be missed is a scene of futuristc, robotic logging equipment that looks as surreal and terrifying as something Stanley Kubrik might have invented for a science fiction movie.  Overall the analysis is a bit shy on the consequences of peak oil - for instance, there's no way human population will approach UN projections.  If not disease and starvation, war - and there's nuclear potential (if not inevitability, to read that analysis) in several contested regions - will intervene with the expected trajectory.
The only other flaw - and what else is new? - is that although pollution is accorded a starring role in mass extinction, vegetation dying from ozone is never mentioned - it is just assumed that a solution is to replenish forests with trees.  Invasive species are included - however, my feeling about them is they may change the balance and reduce diversity (a terrible thing), but at least they are ALIVE.  If we don't do something about ozone, ALL the plants, and then all the animals, will be dead.  I see that as a bit more of a problem.  Of course, when the film was in the making (2007 or so) trees weren't yet in such rapid global decline.  Curiously though, in the still above of a little bird from the movie, the leaves look ravaged.  Nobody notices.

As Dr. Ulansey laments in his talk, it's almost incomprehensible that today most scientists who know better are publicly silent about mass extinction.  They are at least if not more silent about forest decline from ozone specifically and perhaps the film reveals why - it is stated that researchers only get to ask one question per career, by which is implied asking a question of real consequence - like, why are all the trees/frogs/bees/birds/fish/mammals dying...because as soon as a researcher asks that one verbotin question, his or her career is over.  When Dr. Tyrone Hayes, Berkeley biologist, quietly mentions controversy, keep in mind he has been in the vortex of vicious attacks - to his integrity and his funding - from chemical industries for his research implicating endocrine-disrupting pesticides in the worldwide extinction of amphibian species.  Just google him.


  1. Indiana, not Illinois.

    You provide a great service by documenting what you do.

  2. Ha thanks! I hate it when that happens! I'll fix it...

  3. Caught this yesterday on Common Dreams...


    "Reportedly, French champagne producers are already buying up land in southern England."

    Thanks Gail...I consider your posts to be Epic.

    Jacob Horner

  4. Oh, Call of Life full movie can be viewed here...


    Jacob Horner

  5. Thanks Jacob - The French are buying in UK, but it is going to be persistently flooded. Oh well, the Chinese are trying to buy land in Iceland, wonder why?

    that link is actually in the post:

    This is a link to watch the entire film (80 minutes) online for free - the short trailor is below.

    but not very well highlighted. Maybe I'll go back and make it bright blue...

  6. Yes...me bad. It's my habit to first scroll down to see the photos & videos, then go back and read.
    Got side-tracked when I reached Edna's poem...went off chasing some dim memory - which happens often.
    Took awhile, but I found it...
    "Booth led boldly with his big brass drum" (might seem odd, but there is a connection)
    Came back and left the comment before finishing the read.
    BTW - saw that you'll be camping out at Four Quarters. I wonder...do they allow filming?

    Jacob Horner

  7. No problem Jacob Horner! I appreciate when people alert me that something is wrong/missing/not clear. I don't know if Four Q allows filming, but there are several videos on youtube that seem candid - and fun! They appear to be closet pyromaniacs so I can definitely relate to that! Also despite the "spiritual" focus of the group they seem to go to great lengths to NOT be preachy, so I think I will be okay with that. I forced myself to watch an interview with JMG last night - https://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=ceRP8rSwlMc&feature=endscreen

    since he's going to be there. He is wedded to the idea of a "slow descent" so the idea that the ecosystem is in rapid collapse doesn't fit into his worldview and was enough to get me banned from commenting at this blog way back when, before I understood the schism between peak oilers' pov and climate change science.

    I will try very hard to either be polite or avoid him, I haven't decided which.

  8. Yep...the great & powerful Archdruid's pontificating can sure be tedious. I try to keep Ken Wilber in mind..."Nobody is smart enough to be 100% wrong all of the time"

    I suggest not deciding...just be spontaneous. A spontaneous kick in the ass might do him (and the event) some good

    If I go I'll look for you.



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