Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Sliver of Hope

After the Storm in Toronto
There are many black walnut trees at Wit's End, mixed in with the ash.  A few big ones in the hedgerow from the days of dairy farming are very old, but most sprang up after the fields were abandoned some 80 years ago, and reverted to woodlands.  That is the case for the one below, which stands in the meadow at the back of the house.  It's the first thing I see from my prone vantage, looking out the window when I wake up each morning and scrutinize the high leaves.
Day by day since it leafed out in the spring I have anxiously watched it become thinner as leaves turn yellow and flutter to the ground.  Those that remain have become progressively more limp and wilted.  By now they are hanging straight down, rain or shine, hot or not - with no substance or vitality whatsoever.
The Rose of Sharon is the one bright spot in the garden.
The grape vine on the porch is blighted and the fruit has mostly shriveled up and fallen off.
The magnolia is setting flowers again - a late season desire to reproduce.
Many of the buds are turning brown without opening, but I found one that is intact.
I hate being witness to the ongoing despair and generally cower in the kitchen rather than venture outside, but every now and then I have to tend to the poultry or run errands.  I planted these two trees (along with dozens of others) about 8 years ago.
The tulip tree is breaking my heart - it has been growing so fast - but the leaves are ominous.
The redbud leaves are curling up.
I planted this river birch at the same time and it has become almost stately - except it is thin.
The inner leaves turned speckled, then yellow...and fell off a couple of weeks ago - a few still cling.
The leaves of the Japanese maple started looking fried just recently.
In the past week, trees falling on power lines left tens of thousands of Canadians without power for days on end.  So get ready Ozonists and Ozonistas!  This post will be lavishly illustrated with dead tree porn, which my friends know I love to indulge in.  The following photos come from newspapers accounts and news videos - in most of them it can be plainly seen that the trees and branches were rotting inside...some just beginning to turn color, and others black or even completely hollowed.
Other branches have few to no leaves at all, and also often visible are holes and excessive coatings of lichen on the bark.  The usual clueless brigade of reporters fanned out across the provinces to gush over the carnage and commiserate with all the people in shock over their crushed homes and cars.  These scenes for instance are taken from television screenshots where the reporter blames lost power on:  "heavy rain and lighting that caused trees like this one to come down."  Really.  It was the storm that made this tree fall!
The type of rot in the next photo is commonly seen now - you can trace where it began at the joint of a double trunk and worked its way down.
And yet incredibly, people rarely see the rot for what it is.  The newspaper caption of this identical specimen speculates it has lightening damage.  Seriously!
After all the quibbles recently by the foresters who hesitate to attribute better human health in the presence of trees to the pollution they absorb, along comes research from scientists who say just that.  (Heh.)  Of course, their focus is still on human health without any consideration as to what happens to the plants that are soaking up the pollution...but it's another useful piece of evidence as to just how significant the amount of ozone they absorb must be to have a measurable beneficial impact on human health.  Following is the article:
Plants Wilt as Heat Increases Ozone
LONDON—Rising temperatures could be bad news for people with bad lungs. Two new lines of research are bleak reminders of the link between air quality and human health.
A study from the University of York in the UK reports that ozone levels soar during heat waves – perhaps because the capacity of plants to absorb ozone is curtailed as the mercury goes up.

When the ground is dry and the temperatures rise, plants become stressed: they shut their stomata – those tiny pores in their leaves – to conserve moisture. It means they can survive the high ozone levels that tend to follow traffic fumes and factory exhausts in hot weather.  But it also means they cannot react to the ozone.
“Vegetation can absorb as much as 20% of the global atmospheric ozone production, so the potential impact on air quality is substantial”, said Dr Lisa Emberson of the university’s Stockholm Environment Institute.
She and colleagues report in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics that they studied the European heat wave of June and July 2006, and modelled the hazard to human health under conditions of both perfect and minimal ozone absorption.
They calculate that the extra ozone not absorbed by plants during the heat wave – and for 16 days, levels of ozone would have been above the threshold for human safety – accounted for 460 extra deaths in the UK.
Source - a branch from this tree fell and killed a 21-year old woman at a swimming pool 
Acute effect on south-east Asia Ozone in the stratosphere is vital to human health: it screens out dangerous wavelengths of ultraviolet light. Ozone in the lower atmosphere though is a toxin, and a dangerous irritant that can lead to increased asthma attacks and lung inflammation.
Pinning individual deaths to this or that environmental cause is very difficult, but using statistical logic, epidemiologists have been comfortably calculating notional extra deaths because of air pollution for decades.
source - This woman says trees were continuing to fall 24 hours after the storm was over
Worldwide, according to a report in Environmental Research Letters, more than two million people die because of human-caused outdoor air pollution. Researchers report that, so far, climate change has had only a minimal effect on death rates.
Around 470,000 people die each year because of ozone pollution, and around 2.1 million deaths are caused by fine particulate matter – tiny particles that become trapped in the lungs. Once again, the research is based on climate model simulations.
Jason West of the University of North Carolina, US, one of the authors, said: “Our estimates make outdoor air pollution among the most important environmental risk factors for health. Many of these deaths are estimated to occur in East Asia and South Asia, where population is high and air pollution is severe.”
In the ScienceDaily version, Dr. Emberson is quoted as saying (and I hope I never need to repeat this again!):
"The more we know, the better we will be able to judge how successful our emission reduction efforts have been so far, and whether we need additional efforts -- in the UK, across Europe and beyond, since we know that pollutants such as ozone and its precursors can carried around the globe," she says. 
The research can also inform public-health responses, Dr Emberson says. For example, people may mistakenly believe that as long as they get out of the city, they are not at risk from poor air quality, so it is important to raise their awareness. 
A sliver of hope as forests learn to consume more CO2Moyan Brenn
Sigh.  A sliver of hope? is postulated in a study published in the journal Nature.  The key quote to watch for is this:  Keenan said: “We’ve examined the trend upside down and inside out as much as we can, and it is wholly robust.”
Because if they didn't factor in the effect of ozone on the behavior of trees, then they did NOT examine the trend upside down and inside out, after they never will understand why they are so perplexed that their result is not consistent with either theory or models.
Here's the article about it from the ConversationAU:
Forests less thirsty thanks to increasing CO2 levels 
Global warming is primarily driven by increasing emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities. Chief among these gases is carbon dioxide (CO2), which warms the planet by trapping heat that would otherwise radiate into space.
But carbon dioxide has effects on things other than the climate. In the journal Nature, Trevor Keenan of Macquarie University and his colleagues report that trees in some forests are using less water to maintain growth than they did only 20 years ago. This puzzling finding has been attributed to the increased levels of CO2, which trees utilise as their carbon source.
Instruments placed in various US forests have been measuring CO2 and water concentrations in the air for many years. These measurements have been correlated with the amount of CO2 locked up by trees over the same period to show that forests have become more efficient at storing carbon. What is more important is that the measurements suggest that the increase in efficiency of storing carbon is six times greater than would be expected if it was just proportional to the increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration during the same period.
Increased CO2 availability means that trees have to restrict the opening of their breathing pores (stomata) so that CO2 levels inside their leaves remain constant. But this has additional consequences for the trees. Smaller pores means less water evaporates from their leaf surfaces through these stomatal openings. This effect has been called the “CO2 fertilisation effect”, which means plants can utilise more CO2 to make more carbohydrates, like cellulose and sugars, while using smaller volumes of water overall than previously required.
The fine balance between CO2 uptake and water loss is critical for plant survival. Early predictions by climate scientists were that increasing temperatures would devastate forests. That is because elevated temperatures increase the rate of evaporation and transpiration at leaf surfaces, potentially causing trees to suffer from “water-stress”. Instead, this paper suggests that increased efficiency of water-use by forests might mean that water does not become a limiting factor in productivity as temperatures rise.
This new finding seems like unadulterated good news, therefore, until you factor in the effect that water usage by forests has on components of the ecosystem. Trees move an incredible volume of water from the ground into the atmosphere. That water then forms rain, which helps the connected ecosystem thrive. Large forested areas play a very important role in the water balance and ecology of most agricultural land on Earth.
Keenan and his colleagues examined 21 forest sites going back as much as 20 years, with their data limited to the temperate and boreal forests of the Northern Hemisphere. Although this is still a relatively small sample size, this work will probably result in a flurry of research activity to establish what will happen to plant primary productivity in other areas in response to elevated CO2. Keenan said: “We’ve examined the trend upside down and inside out as much as we can, and it is wholly robust.”
Climate scientists use data from studies such as this one to build long-term computer simulations that help them examine potential effects of alterations in variables like temperature, ocean currents and rainfall. Decreased volumes of water being moved by transpiration into the atmosphere will now be added as an input in these simulations in an attempt to predict what the medium and long-term effects of the new observations might be.
On the one hand, more consumption of CO2 by forests will help stem global warming. But on the other hand, less water circulated through more efficient use by trees will mean that non-forest ecosystems may get into trouble.
This is from the Abstract:  "We systematically assess various competing hypotheses to explain this trend, and find that the observed increase is most consistent with a strong CO2 fertilization effect.  The results suggest a partial closure of stomata - small pores on the leaf surface that regulate gas exchange - to maintain a near-constant concentration of CO2 inside the leaf even under continually increasing atmospheric CO2 levels."

It looks like they are inferring a partial closer of stomata to explain why less water is being exchanged.  The study is behind a paywall so I can't be sure - but I suspect it's more to do with ozone interfering with photosynthesis than extra CO2.

Yet another study that ignores ozone (illustrated with a very sick tropical forest):
Tropical forests such as this in Borneo remove large quantities of atmospheric carbon dioxide. H-D Viktor Boehm
As temperatures rise, tropical forests absorb less CO2 
Rising temperatures are linked to a decrease in carbon dioxide (CO2) absorption by tropical forests, according to a 50-year study published today.  Forests absorb CO2 during photosynthesis and release it during respiration.
The new NASA-lead study, conducted with the CSIRO and published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, builds on a growing body of evidence that suggests global warming will accelerate as time goes by. 
The researchers analysed data on global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and climate variability between 1959 and 2011, which included El Niño years characterised by higher temperatures and lower average rainfalls.
The researchers found that a tropical land surface temperature rise of one degree Celsius led to an average extra 3.5 Petagrams of CO2 being pushed into the atmosphere per year. A Petagram is a billion tonnes.
“Tropical forests are carbon sinks but when it gets hotter, they become less efficient in absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere. We are learning very clearly that tropical forests do not like to be any hotter than they are. As soon as you increase the temperature, they perform less well as carbon sinks,” said study co-author Pep Canadell, Executive Officer of the Global Carbon Project.
“Many processes involved in this response are the same as what is known as the carbon-climate feedback, which it is thought will lead to an acceleration of carbon emissions from vegetation and soils and into the atmosphere under future climate change.”
Exacerbating the problem  
Steve Sherwood, Director of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, said the findings were important.
“The signals they see are a good way to test climate models that include an interactive carbon cycle. Also, their findings help explain the well-known, natural, year-to-year variations in the rate of carbon dioxide buildup, and in so doing, they increase the likelihood that global warming in the future will cause more of the carbon dioxide now stored in tropical plants and soils to go into the atmosphere,” said Professor Sherwood, who was not involved in the study.
“This will exacerbate our own emissions of this gas, and therefore will make human-caused climate change and ocean acidification a bit worse than these problems would otherwise have been. This is not a new conclusion, but their results increase our confidence in it.”
No doubt dying forests are another amplifying feedback exacerbating climate change - but not only because they are currently absorbing less CO2 because it is warmer.  They're absorbing less CO2 because the trees are dying from pollution.

“We are learning very clearly that tropical forests do not like to be any hotter than they are.”  Really?  What about this new research from paleontologists:
Previous global warming events led to more diverse tropical forests. This is a view of the lowland tropical forest on Barro Colorado Island in Panama. Credit: STRI Archives
“When intense volcanic activity produced huge quantities of carbon dioxide 120 million years ago in the mid-Cretaceous period, yearly temperatures in the South American tropics rose 9 F (5 C). During the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum, 55 million years ago, tropical temperatures rose by 5 F (3 C) in less than 10,000 years. About 53 million years ago, temperatures soared again.
According to the fossil record, rainforests prospered under these hothouse conditions. Diversity increased.”
Scientists are finding more ways that pollution damages trees and makes them more vulnerable to other threats.  An article in Science Daily reports on research from Germany: 
Contribution of Particulate Matter from Air Pollution to Forest Decline
Air pollution is related to forest decline and also appears to attack the protecting wax on tree leaves and needles. Bonn University scientists have now discovered a responsible mechanism: particulate matter salt compounds that become deliquescent because of humidity and form a wick-like structure that removes water from leaves and promotes dehydration. These results are published in "Environmental Pollution."
Nature conservationists call it "lingering illness," and the latest report on the North-Rhine Westphalian forest conditions confirms ongoing damage. Bonn University scientists have now shown that salt deposits on leaves may decrease the drought tolerance of trees, thereby contributing to forest decline. "Our study reveals that so-called wax degradation on pine needles may develop from deposited particulate matter," says Dr. Jürgen Burkhardt from the Institute of Crop Science and Resource Conservation. Wax helps to protect leaves and needles from water loss. 
It has long been known that air pollutants accelerate wax ageing and that "wax degradation" is closely related to forest damage. "Wax degradation was addressed by many studies in the 1980s and 90s, but sound explanations for both the degradation mechanism and the high correlation with forest damage have yet been missing," Dr. Burkhardt reports. Previous approaches assumed chemical reactions for wax degradation, whereas the present study reveals physical reasons. "The deposition of hygroscopic salts is capable of decreasing the drought tolerance of trees," co-author Shyam Pariyar says. 
Accelerated dehydration of needles treated with salt solutions
The scientists sprayed salt solutions on Scots pine needles and recorded their weight loss after abscission. The needles treated with salt solutions dried out significantly faster than the untreated control needles. Using an electron microscope, the scientists observed the salts becoming deliquescent and moving into the stomata of the needles.
Stomata are tiny pores used by plants to take up carbon dioxide for photosynthesis and release water vapor and oxygen. The deliquescent salts form very thin liquid connections between the surface and interior of the needle, and water is removed from the needles by these wick-like structures. Because the plants are unable to counteract this removal of water, the plants dehydrate more rapidly. Therefore, polluted air containing large amounts of particulate matter may directly reduce the drought tolerance of trees. Simultaneously, the deliquescent salts make wax appear "degraded." "This newly described mechanism was not considered in earlier explanations of Central European forest decline," states Dr. Burkhardt.
Conceivable aggravation of forest decline by climate change
A new type of electron microscope enabled the observation of particle deliquescence and dynamics under changing air humidity. In addition, a long-lasting scientific paradigm had excluded any aqueous movement into the stomata, and only recently had Bonn University scientists confirmed its existence.
Recently, regional forest damage has been reported in the western USA and other parts of the world. A relationship with increasing climate change-type drought has been proposed, but the newly discovered mechanism involving particulate matter might contribute to the regional forest damage. "Particularly because air concentrations of hygroscopic particles have largely increased within the last decades," says Dr. Burkhardt.
This tree which fell in one of the series of storms was no ordinary loss for many sentimental Canadians.  It was a landmark known as the inspiration for Canada's "second anthem", the song called The Maple Leaf Forever.   It's kind of treacly so I won't even post a link.
'The Maple Leaf Forever' Tree Felled By Storm - the Huffington Post
TORONTO - A tree said to have inspired the song The Maple Leaf Forever was a victim of severe weather that hit southern Ontario.
An earlier photo of the tree.  Local residents rallied to prevent developers from removing it in the '90's.
"A plaque in front of the house says the tree's falling leaves inspired Alexander Muir, the one-time principal of nearby Leslieville public school, to write The Maple Leaf Forever.  Muir wrote the song in 1867, the year of Confederation.  He died in 1906."

Aside from the recent storms, I found that other incidents of tree accidents are accumulating in Canada, which isn't surprising considering how many trees there are, and how fast they are in decline.  A 45-year old man camping in Manitoba was killed last month by a spruce that fell on his tent, as shown below.
Luckier were the two occupants of an SUV in Port Coquitlam who, last spring, were trapped by a 75-foot tree with a trunk that was 3 feet in circumference.  The first comment on the news article - "That's pretty bizarre, was it super windy? How does a 75 ft tall tree up itself and fall on a car?" -was answered by a second:  "The TREES are fighting back!!"
Rarely is this sort of frank admission quoted:
The deputy chief also noted the tree was rotten at the base.  "They [occupants] were extremely lucky," Kipps told The Tri-Cities NOW.  The area where the tree fell is described as a grassy portion with three cottonwood trees.  According to PoCo officials, the tree was on a small city lot that housed a number of utilities. Following the incident, the city removed the fallen tree and an adjacent tree.  But after further investigation from the city's arborist, another two trees were also removed from the site. 
Another version states:

"I personally have never seen a tree hit a vehicle like that," Kipps said. "It is not very common."  He added that while the cottonwood was on its side it was clear that the tree had a rotten base.

Except it's certainly becoming more common!  Not a month later, in the same vicinity, this accident occurred:
Rotten tree falls, leads to crash;  Driver collides with another tree after trying to avoid the first one
Fire chief Wade Pierlot said an SUV was travelling west on Dewdney Trunk near the Coquitlam/Port Moody border when the rotten tree fell onto the roadway, shattering into several pieces. 
He said the SUV tried to avoid the debris, but doing so caused the driver to lose control and smash into another tree off the roadway.  The driver was taken to hospital and treated for minor injuries. 
Pierlot said it was fortunate the tree had been rotten and smashed into a number of pieces, suggesting otherwise it could have crushed the car.

Oh well, if it weren't for reading up on these things I would never wind up on the local firefighters' forum, and be able to see how they rescued a barred owl perched precariously 60 feet up a tree.  I love owls!!  It was immobilized, tangled in fishing line, and being attacked by crows.  This is the sort of heartwarming rescue that makes you wonder who left the plastic fishing line where the owl could get trapped by it, and maybe how you could hurt them.
Property damage were all one couple suffered while camping last year, although they are still in an ongoing battle to recover damages from the Park Department for their trailer...
...and canoe.
On the other side of the world, in Australia, a visiting Canadian was hit by a branch while participating in a twilight "fun run".
THE triathlon community has paid tribute to a strong competitor and "wonderful person" killed by a falling tree branch during a fun run.
"Canadians Joe and Laura Kelly were nearing the end of a two-year stint in Australia when Joe was hit by a large branch which fell in high winds during a St Lucia fun run on March 24.
He survived for five days before succumbing to head injuries on Friday."

In light of the article this post began with about pollution and heat adding to health problems, fancy this:
Farmers will be on high-alert this weekend as the heatwave threatens to unleash a wave of fires that could ruin crops across the country, a senior Met Office scientist has warned.
As Britain clocked up its sixth consecutive day of plus-30C temperatures  – with the thermometer peaking at 30.4C –  soon-to-be harvested crops such as wheat and winter barley are looking particularly vulnerable to fire, said Karl Kitchen, the Met Office scientist with responsibility for wildfires. He issued his crop-fire warning as the country continued to reel from the longest heatwave for seven years.
As many as 760 people are thought to have died so far as a result of the heatwave, as the death toll of swimmers drowning as the sun enticed people into Britain’s dangerous open water sites hit at least 13.
In London, where there have been an average of 21 grass fires a day this month, an area the size of four football pitches caught fire on Mitcham Common near Croydon. Meanwhile, donations of O and B blood groups are down 11 per cent, the NHS said.
The temperature is forecast to dip slightly today, to a maximum of 29.0C. But the Met Office has today elevated the wildfire warning system it introduced this year from yellow to amber, meaning any grassfire will be extremely difficult to contain.
This news clip isn't even a minute long, but it epitomizes insanity...this just SHOULDN'T HAPPEN:

Although it seems we are a long way from widespread understanding as to WHY wildfires are berserk and trees are falling willy-nilly and harming people, there is certainly a growing perception that they ARE dangerous.  This is a short video from Florida, where people are complaining that despite a young man suffering permanent injury from a falling branch, the municipality is still not responding to concerns about unhealthy trees that pose clear hazards.

There has been a mostly lively but sometimes acrimonious discussion at a facebook group called "Global Warming Fact of the Day" about how doomed we really are (anyone can join!).  Quite a few people take the stance that doom is a self-fulfilling prophesy or even, that if we are doomed, it's still wrong - immoral! - to talk about it because it is scary and discouraging to others.
From what I have seen, the question goes beyond whether doom leads to complacence or defeatism - and there's very little examples of it leading to debauchery.  To advocate acceptance of the inevitability - or even the high probability - of human extinction, tends to challenge the verity of most of our assumptions about our place in the world, and our ability as a species to surmount our most basic instincts (to grow unfettered).  Still, I happen to think it's a very worthwhile discussion because without confronting the overwhelming, innate urges that drive our behavior, there isn't a shred of hope in conquering them.
Once acerbically critical contribution to this debate, which I actually took as an astute observation, was: "Sweet Jesus will you people ever get over your collective and individual sense of self-importance?" Because one of the things that keeps green organizations ineffective is the conceits and posturing of the individuals. Status and self-aggrandizement are as rampant in the offices of environmental groups - and academic departments - as they are in corporate boardrooms.
Obviously people come to learn about climate change from a variety of impetus and that motivation - along with how much they study and what their inclinations are - will determine just how seriously they take the threat.  For myself, I came to it probably rather oddly, mainly because I noticed trees are dying.  Now, since dying trees represent right there an existential threat, I already had that on my radar before I picked up one book about climate science.  Also, I looked at it immediately from a paleoclimate, evolutionary standpoint - which informs you immediately that there will be mass extinctions.  It can be no other way, since it takes so many millions of years for complex, interwoven relationships to develop.  A major, fundamental disruption like altering the climate - let alone altering it massively, globally, and faster than ever before - will cause complete pandemonium and eventually severe, if not total, collapse.

All you have to do is watch some David Attenborough documentaries and marvel at the incredible creations of evolution to understand how delicate it is.  Or this brief preview from the Cornell Ornithological Laboratory:

Forests are even under threat from hunting:
Scientists from the Universities of Stirling, Oxford, Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society warn that current hunting trends in Central African forests could result in complete ecological collapse. 
The authors maintain that the current rate of unsustainable hunting of forest elephants, gorillas and other seed-dispersing species threatens the ability of forest ecosystems to regenerate, and that landscape-wide hunting management plans are needed to avoid an environmental catastrophe.
That sad tale makes me recall that the osage orange tree was almost driven extinct because 15,000 years ago the first humans to arrive in North America exterminated the megafauna that distributed its seeds.
The same principles of top predator loss reverberating through the ecosystem trigger collapse in the ocean.  There's an excellent free documentary about the consequences of overfishing called The Last Fish - Our exhausted Seas, which also talks about the near impossibility of restraining that activity thanks to the observations articulated in the Tragedy of the Commons.  Just as fascinating is the lecture delivered by Jeremy Jackson to the Naval Academy, that he titled Ocean Apocalypse, wherein he describes how destroying the inhabitants of an ecosystem - such as turtles in kelp beds - also destroyed the habitat itself.  In that instance, because the turtles become absent, the sea urchins have no predator, so their population explodes and eats all the kelp.  When Columbus arrived there were so many turtles swimming in the water the ships couldn't budge - there were at least 90 million of them, which is known from the records the Spanish kept of the massacre harvest.   Jackson points out they weigh 1,000 lbs each, adding up to more biomass than all the bison in North America before the arrival of horses and rifles.
This is what the mountains of oyster shells looked like when they were still plentiful and cleaning the water of the great bays on the East Coast:
There are several aspects to his presentation pertinent to Wit's End.  One is, the comparison he makes of coral reefs to forests.  He points out that if people suddenly woke up to find most of the trees dying, they would be upset - and suggests that they take the bleaching of the coral reefs just as seriously.  HAAAAA!  Little does he realize that the trees ARE dying, and nobody notices that, either - including him!  Just as he uses this slide to point out the imperceptibly shifting baselines that allow people to not notice the shrinking of fish catch over time, the same phenomena leads people to not recognize how sickly trees look now, and to become inured to them falling on buildings, killing and injuring people.
Another aspect of his approach that I found compelling is the way he breaks down the threats to the oceans.  He calls climate change the "problem du jour" and puts in squarely in with the other issues of equally vital importance - probably because he's been cataloguing the dangers of overpopulation that imperil our survival for decades, long before climate became the overriding concern.  In addition to the coral bleaching from warming waters, another is overharvesting, which is evident from the two following charts.

The other major issue is pollution, primarily from agricultural runoff and sewage - although of course there are plastics and chemicals as well.  But the first two "fertilize" the water (another Orwellian linguistic feat!), which encourages algal blooms, which in turn use up all the oxygen, leading to eutrophication...and the death of everything else.  The "red tide" even gets into the air, making people on shore ill when they inhale it, like in this episode on the west coast of Florida:

Here's the caption for the following slide, where the coastlines are crowded with little circles each indicating a "dead zone":  "Global distribution of 400-plus systems that have scientifically reported accounts of being eutrophication-associated dead zones. Their distribution matches the global human footprint [the normalized human influence is expressed as a percent] in the Northern Hemisphere. For the Southern Hemisphere, the occurrence of dead zones is only recently being reported."
Although I recommend his lecture, inevitably, Dr. Jackson exhibits the same cognitive dissonance that seems impossible for humans to escape.  Despite his pessimism and condemnation of the bad habits humanity seems addicted to, he still eats fish, flies transatlantically to France every year, and in the Q&A advices a young woman in the audience wondering how she and her future children can survive to "vote" - as though we don't live in a fascist country where democracy is a joke.  Nevertheless he is laudably honest when he says things like:

"Polar bears and penguins are toast because the ice is going to melt.  And that is going to happen.  Because the ice is going to melt, and that's gonna be it.  And that's going to happen.  That is not reversible." and "We don't need more science the problems are economic, political, social."  and "If we don't figure out how to put the genie back in the bottle - sequester co2 on an industrial scale - we WILL have 3 to 4 degrees."

To illustrate how hopeless it is, he uses this chart, which shows that emissions are increasing rapidly when it's necessary for them to cease:
Even worse, this chart indicates that warming and sea level rise are outpacing their predicted rise based on models of the CO2 trend.  What could that be from?  Oh - amplifying feedbacks???

"Changes in key global climate parameters since 1973, compared with the scenarios of the
IPCC (shown as dashed lines and gray ranges). (Top) Monthly carbon dioxide concentration ppm, parts per million and its trend line at Mauna Loa, Hawaii (blue), up to January 2007, from Scripps in collaboration with NOAA.  (Middle) Annual global mean land and ocean combined surface temperature from GISS (red) and the Hadley Centre/Climatic Research Unit (blue) up to 2006, with their trends. (Bottom) Sea-level data based primarily on tide gauges (annual, red) and from satellite altimeter (3-month data spacing, blue, up to mid-2006) and their trends. All trends are nonlinear trend lines and are computed with an embedding period of 11 years and a minimum roughness criterion at the end (6), except for the satellite altimeter where a linear trend was used because of the shortness of the series."

If you want to get a quick notion of how methane is a better indicator of climate change than CO2 - and just how fast the climate changes when warming compared to cooling, check out this video narrated by Peter Carter, starting at around 2.5 minutes in for the really scary part.
So in spite of the slight mania for hope he shares with just about everyone else, Dr. Jackson is notable for his pessimism about climate as well as the other problems he recognizes.  No sooner had I digested his video than I read in the New York Times that James Hansen has proclaimed that we're screwed, pretty much.  He doesn't say exactly that, because he tries to make the case that we can prevail if only we 1.  remove carbon from the air and 2. build next-generation nuclear plants, pronto.

The problem with 1. is that nobody knows how to do it and the problem with 2. is nobody wants to do it...because it's fraught with danger.   Let's see what Hansen has to say:

"It’s useful to show that you can have a lifestyle which produce less carbon, but it doesn’t solve the problem. Because if that’s all that happens, even if you convince a thousand people or a million people or a billion people to reduce their emissions what it does is reduce the demand for the fuel, lowers its price and somebody else will burn it."

Exactly!  More energy produced = more energy used.
Here’s what he says about renewable energy:

"I think it’s unfortunate that so many environmentalists are just assuming that these renewable energies will be able to satisfy all of our requirements. Renewables are only providing between 1 and 2 percent — the soft renewables. Hydropower provides a significant amount of electricity but that’s limited. The hope that the wind and the sun and geothermal can provide all of our energy is a nice idea but I find it unlikely that that’s possible."
"The environmental community is basically asking governments to try to reduce their emissions and asking them to subsidize clean energies. Well, that simply doesn’t work because we don’t get enough energy from the renewables to make a difference. And that then forces any government to approve expanded oil drilling, hydro-fracking to get more gas, mountaintop removal to get coal. We’re not going to turn the lights out. No government, no president or governor is going to turn out the lights. There has to be energy. If renewables aren’t providing it, it’s been fossil fuels."
Reading this provocative analysis of the film Pandora's Promise - which advocates nuclear power (and is funded by suspect sources) - it's easy to see how seductive the promise of "clean" and "permanently renewable" power generation is, especially to the scientists who advocate it.  It tells us this party can continue relentlessly...that the earth can support 7 billion people or even more...that we never have to sacrifice any modern luxury, or curtail endless expansion - even though implicitly it means there will be more and more of us and less and less of nature.  It's exactly what Andy Revkin told me he anticipates when I wrote him, years ago, about the trees dying - we will survive and it will be fine, in a "hermetic" world (in the sense of trapped in space impervious to the external world).  A vision wherein the trees and the butterflies and the lynx will die but we won' it's okay!.  Soylent Green, anyone?

[Sad for me, I find that a despicable abomination.]

It seems there are some among us who will barely mourn the passing of magnificence that took eons to evolve - why grieve when we can watch it all on HD 3-D teevee?  I saw a news story about a young boy who won a science prize having designed an array of solar panels, based on the growth pattern of a tree - and I didn't know whether to marvel in awe or recoil in dread.  At the end, he says of his accomplishment, "We have the power to change the world".  Of course since the whole thing was promoted by GE they no doubt made up that line and fed it to him.
It was not the intent of his project but nevertheless there are two important lessons that arise in connection with his invention.  One is, that Leonardo da Vinci long ago discovered the formula that determines why trees are (or rather, used to be) so resilient in the wind, as described here.  The other is the idea, which he used to construct his prototype, is that trees (being photosynthesis machines) are also designed to take maximum advantage of when they have thin transparent crowns that you can through, it means there is something terribly wrong with them.


  1. I guess from a Darwinian perspective we have been selected for optimism.

    Here is the PR line from the above video: "We really do have the power to change the world."

    "G.E. We bring good things to life."

    "At Boeing we're..."

    I call this the rise of ridiculous optimism. This POV is a by-product of cheap fossil fuels & propaganda.

    The Old optimism was quite different: "A stitch in time saves nine." "A penny saved is a penny earned." "Measure twice cut once."
    "A fool and his money are soon parted." "Don't count your chickens before they've hatched."

    It reflected a self-deprecating caution and thrift. A lot of individuals imagine that once industrial civilization begins it's long inexorable decline that we'll magically re-discover these older values. More empty optimism?

  2. My son and I went for a nature walk yesterday in Patuxent wildlife refuge in Maryland. The plant damage was significantly worse than your photos showed here. I look at the ozone forecasts every day, and the recent heat wave caused a region of unhealthy ozone concentrations centered over Maryland for a week. There were an appalling number of dead trees, and huge amounts of fungus on the dead trees, and the live ones too.

    Nuclear energy has a significant carbon footprint, associated with construction of the facilities, and the uranium mining and processing that is necessary to produce nuclear fuel. Also, the low atomic number radioactive isotopes such as tritium and carbon-14 cause the same kind of plant damage as ozone causes, through the same process of oxidative stress. With the huge amount of tritium being dumped into the Pacific from Fukushima, being evaporated and redistributed over the US as rainfall in the coming years, we will see how "green" nuclear really is.

    Maybe environmentalists want subsidies for solar and other renewables... but maybe governments should stop subsidizing fossil fuel extraction first.

  3. The way it used to look in autumn, the way good music used to sound.

    Autumn Leaves Stephan Grappelli

  4. Sweet, Catman!!

    Bobby1, I learned today that we're along the "tailpipe of the country".

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  6. It's ominous that our trees are in a such a terrible state, and it is equally obvious that the prevalence of toxic air pollution is the major cause of such widespread damage.
    As an outdoor photographer, I keep noticing how much of our air and sky has become dirty with pollution.
    Take a close look at your “redbud” photo (#10 in the lineup). There is a very pasty white glare on the leaf surfaces exposed to the sun. I also see this pasty look in many news photos, as well as places I've been in the US West, and Southwest.
    My memory tells me a crisp and golden sheen was the visible norm. Physics tells me that only a severely dusty or polluted sky (atmosphere) would cause such a murky and ghostly look.
    Everyone should be very alarmed at how much polluted air we have, and how dangerous it is.
    And, be advised, our authorities will offer no remedies (or a decent warning) unless they are forced to do so by the citizenry.
    David Lange


  7. so sad, doing what we do best...

  8. @ wind spirit keeper: the atmosphere has been saturated with pollution and condensation trails from planes since 2006-2007 there is a French site dedicated to this phenomenon insisting on the fact that resulting global dimming is killing everything (mainly pollinators by diffracting the light and blinding them) (French site: are NOT anymore blue skies on pictures, on videos, in magazines anywhere, anymore. I look at all the skies and they are marred with veils of clouds resulting from plane condensation. All of the sky, everywhere, at all times, with very very few exceptions.

    1. Michele/Montreal,
      Thank you for your links about sky pollution and the confused bees.
      And no, we don’t see many blue skies or golden suns anymore, nor any images of of them.
      Pollution from aviation is only one source. Coal fired power plants, and vehicle traffic fills up the lower atmosphere. Everyone should keep a close look at the sky around them, and subtle changes in their everyday world. Our public safety officials, government agencies, and various experts don’t seem to be up to the task of informing us of a very serious and urgent situation. They won’t do anything about it unless we force them to.
      Thanks for caring and talking about it,
      David Lange

  9. I live in Oshkosh WI ,the other day my Wife and I were driving by a Cemetery were my wife use to work ,she loved working there because of the forest of trees that are there. Well as we drew near it really looked like a cacophony of green and part of me said maybe everything I am reading about the trees is not so very bad ,(well at least in my neck of the woods),the problem with distance is it is deceptive it makes me look better when I'm mowing the grass with my shirt off and it certainly made the cemetery woods look healthy ,once we drove in my Wife was the first to comment that the trees looked like Zombie trees so many half dead ,holes all over ,bark peeling off ,some broken and only standing because of the tree beside them ,also the grounds are full of flowers ,wild and tame and yet I found one lousy honey bee and saw no butterfly's nor do I see them in the clover fields on my bike rides in the country . What I find so frighting is this is just one part of this environmental disaster that is taking place around us and so few notice,oh well I am still happy I swallowed the red pill. thank you again for all of your hard work.

  10. Thanks for your comments Mike. I can see why most people don't realize trees are dying because you are right, if looked at all together it looks like just a mass of green. But when you really examine them it becomes obvious that there is something very wrong. It feels like the end of August here, not the end of July and the leaves are so limp I wonder what it will be like by the fall. Well, hang in there, it is frightening to witness.

  11. Gail, I see that you “cower in the kitchen” from the emotional fatigue of witnessing destruction of your natural world. Everyday, when I see the filth in the air and the sky, and the dying trees, I also cower – then I curse, and I cry, and I curse even more when I think of all of the many innocents that suffer. Then I devise ways to sound alarm, or fight back. Then I do the same the next day.

  12. Thanks David! I do try. Some days are better than others.


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