Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Catching Up

After early January, when I had already written the guest post Whispers From the Ghosting Trees so kindly published today by Greg Laden, several intriguing new studies have since emerged in just these past few weeks.  For any new readers who might stray by from Greg's blog, I thought I would do a quick recap, with links back to the posts that go into more detail on each.
This view is looking out my kitchen window just after sunset, at the steep hill that looms above Wit's End.  When I moved here just about a dozen years ago, the woods were impenetrable.  You could barely walk through without a machete, and you couldn't see through to the sky, even in winter, from the ground up to the tops of the trees.  Since then, so much of the understory has died, and so many trees have fallen, that it has become comparatively barren.  The trees that remain standing have ceased growing and are rotting.  This is absolutely typical of forests everywhere.
Today I went out and grabbed a few pictures to illustrate this post.  The leaf is from a Chinese honeysuckle.  It has some early buds and blossoms, but the leaves exhibit classic stippled damage to stomates from ozone pollution.  Before I knew that pollution is killing trees, I planted over two hundred, about eight years ago.  Most were just little twigs to start, but I splurged in front of the barn and bought three bigger saplings.  This is the red maple as it looks today.
Of the many symptoms of decline, one of the more astonishing is the corrosion of bark.  Everywhere it is splitting and cracking, and on warm days in the winter, like today, it often oozes sap.  All those little round spots are liquid drops.
 This branch is higher up, and it is seeping as well.
The sheen on the left is from wetness; there is a drop on the right.  Lichen is growing and the bark is breaking off, particularly at the joints where branches protrude from the trunk.
 It's not just the maple - below is the willow oak, also oozing and cracking.
 The lower trunk is a fungal disaster.
 Daffodils are starting to emerge from under the katsura tree, even though it's still January.
The way the bark is popping off is not normal, at all.  It's easily stripped, and feels spongey and squishy.
But, on to our links!  The first very interesting paper reveals the discovery that people living in neighborhoods where trees had been removed had significantly more cancers and respiratory disease than people living among trees.  The implications of this important study are discussed in A Travesty of a Mockery of a Sham.
New research has determined that wildflowers in the UK are dying due to low levels of air pollution, which leads to some obvious inferences about trees and other vegetation, posted in Trashed.  Our government released a draft for public review of the National Climate Change Assessment; my commentary on the Forests chapter can be found at The Withering of All Woods is Drawing Near.
And finally, Naomi Oreskes collaborated on an essay that speculates from the perspective of the future as to why scientists, in the face of overwhelming statistical corrolation, declined to make the link between violent, extreme, unprecedented weather, and climate change from fuel emissions.  The parallels between that and the failure of foresters to make the direct link between ozone and tree death is explored at More Research is Needed...Not.

Whispers from the Ghosting Trees

Greg Laden generously offered me the opportunity to guest post on his blog (I know, shocking right!  A real scientist!!).  Here's the beginning of it, which was published today.  You can click here to read the whole thing (and stick up for me in comments!).  Thanks, Greg!!

Whispers from the Ghosting Trees

While we hustle busily through the necessities of our lives, wrapped up in our daily preoccupations - our obligations to our families, our jobs, and our dreams - at the same time all around the world, trees are silently expiring.  For those who take the time to look, we can see that the forests are being transformed before our helpless and incredulous gaze into spectral mausoleums, as even the most ancient living wood is consumed by a raging tsunami of pathogens unprecedented in scale and virulence.  What has instigated this global explosion of lethal insects, disease and fungus, which is decimating swathes of trees across ravines and mountains, invading city streets and wilderness, rampaging through parks and suburban backyards?   What would we hear the trees saying if we understood the language of their injured foliage, if we could discern the message in their tortured splintered branches?

Only the latest in a long tradition of foresters, scientists, and ecologists, I am merely an amateur and a gardener doing what I can to warn society that there is a longstanding trend under way that is ominously accelerating.  Until very recently impaired tree health was generally regarded as a regional, episodic problem mostly attributable to acid rain from sulfur dioxide.  Now, new satellite technology has revealed that precursors of ozone - reactive nitrogen and methane pollution - travel across continents and oceans, and the toxic reach extends into the most remote and rural places.  What was once slow and localized and species-specific has become terrifyingly fast, ubiquitous and indiscriminate.

Is it merely a colossal coincidence that all over the world, within the past few decades and at a hugely accelerating rate, trees are dying?  If it’s not a coincidence, what is the underlying factor?  Fair warning – this post will be a long explanation as to how there is an underlying factor , and why it is pollution.  One of the strongest and most persuasive evidence for me has been the visible damage to foliage and needles that became virtually universal several years ago.  Serious, terminal damage can occur in roots before any of the classic symptoms appear on leaves…so the fact that by the end of the summer growing season, it is just about impossible to find a single leaf on a tree, bush, garden produce or ornamental flowering plant that ISN’T visibly injured indicates the extent to which the problem has intensified.  Just about any link to my blog will include photos of typical leaf damage.

Monday, January 28, 2013


Having canceled my subscription to satellite service several years ago, I rarely have an opportunity to watch television anymore (not that I want to).  The obsolete teevee, a grumpy hefty metallic relic, collects dust on the floor under my bedroom window...I don't know quite how to retire it in a socially responsible way.  So it remains - a perpetually antiquated, hostile rebuke - a repulsive hulk of my former stupidity, oblivious of our unsustainabilty - that now gives me nightmares.

Every now and then though, I come across an advertisement on the 'tubes, that just knocks me over.  Perhaps since I'm out of the exquisitely calibrated media loop,  I tend to be overly impressed. I mean, they're so cleverly produced!  So here I will share a couple of them on Wit's End - even though maybe everybody but me has already seen them...because they're funny.

You might think this ad is from tireless and selfless defenders of biodiversity who are so generously giving you a pass to buy your way out of discomfort, risk, or sacrifice and still be noble...but oops, you'd be wrong.  This ad from the Rainforest Alliance "certifies" products so that you will feel better about buying them.  They should instead be called Rainforest Profiteers, because one of their major functions it to verify forest carbon credits, the better to enable pollution and extraction.  This is all part of the vast commercialization of environmentalism, a cynically sophisticated campaign to trick people into thinking that ecosystems are being protected and preserved when in fact, they're being decimated.  You could just google: Rainforest_Alliance_Greenwash  and find lots of information - or be lazy and read more here.

Anyway, for another example - this time, an eco-friendly washing machine - enjoy!

Isn't that adorable!  Meanwhile, reality is better reflected in the desperation seen in Greece, Syria and even Germany, where people are illegally chopping down trees because they cannot afford oil or other fuel for heat.  This is pretty much in line with what I have been expecting - we're going to burn everything in sight until there is nothing left (if we don't die off from pollution or nuclear war or meltdowns or pandemics or extreme weather famines first!).  In Greece, the skies are black with wood smoke.  Germans alone bought a whopping 400,000 wood-burning stoves in 2011.  In Syria, where 60,000 people have been killed in the past 22 months of conflict, displaced families and loggers are stripping the national park of trees, not only for heating but for baking bread.

“I feel very bad,” says Abu Saleh, a 64-year-old, as he helps men bring branches and logs down a steep slope to be chopped up. 

“Before this was a very beautiful forest - now it’s like a desert.” 

EGALEO, Greece—While patrolling on a recent cold night, environmentalist Grigoris Gourdomichalis caught a young man illegally chopping down a tree on public land in the mountains above Athens.

When confronted, the man broke down in tears, saying he was unemployed and needed the wood to warm the home he shares with his wife and four small children, because he could no longer afford heating oil.

Tens of thousands of trees have disappeared from parks and woodlands this winter across Greece, authorities said, in a worsening problem that has had tragic consequences as the crisis-hit country’s impoverished residents, too broke to pay for electricity or fuel, turn to fireplaces and wood stoves for heat.

Such woodcutting was last common in Greece during Germany’s brutal occupation in the 1940s, underscoring how five years of recession and waves of austerity measures have spawned drastic measures.

“The average Greek will throw anything into the fireplace that can be burned, ranging from old furniture with lacquer, to old books with ink, in order to get warm,” said Stefanos Sapatakis, an environmental-health officer at the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Of course we Americans shouldn't be complacent about the poor air quality in places like China, because a lot of that is a result of manufacturing and shipping junk that is exported to us...duh.  Plus, all over America people are burning wood too, and why not?  There are so many dead trees around - imagine that!  In places like Utah, they are being told to stop incinerating wood, because the air quality is far worse than even the absurdly lax EPA regulations allow.  And more rural areas justifiably are fearful of being penalized for nonattainment due to transboundary pollution that they can't control.

Researchers in the UK have figured out that low level air pollution is causing wildflowers to disappear, which is something I noted somewhere or other on Wit's End, years ago, about the New Jersey countryside.  When I moved here (over thirty years ago) I was splendidly shocked at the ravishing and constantly shifting pallette of colors, from early spring to frost, in fields and woodlands - tiny wildflowers of all sorts growing in such huge prolific masses like I had never dreamed of.  Since then, they are almost all gone.

Sadly, the wildflower loss is only the most noticeable, and there's no reason to think that other less pretty and desirable vegetation isn't being lost as well...most especially longer-lived species like shrubs and trees that sustain cumulative damage, season after season.

At least the scientists in the UK, using painstaking comparisons, made the link to pollution -whereas in Hawaii, which has more endangered species than any other state, less rainfall is blamed even for the dwindling numbers of the Haleakal silversword.  This iconic species, with rather spectacular blooms, has clung to life on the precarious and treacherous volcanic slopes of Maui, evolving from a species that arrived five million years ago from California...and surely been through a few changes in climate.  And yet now it - along with every other form of vegetation - is suddenly in precipitous decline, as are - according to an out of date survey in 2010 - more than 1/5 of the planets 380,000 species (take a good look, it's heartbreakingly tragic).  Of course, Ozonists and Ozonistas expect that percentage to be more like 100 at the rate we are burning everything in sight.

It's just one more example of the overall collapse of the ecosystem due to pollution that is being ignored by most of the scientific community.  New York State did manage to obtain a settlement of $400,000 from the owner of midwestern coal-fired power plants,  because it "failed to keep up with federal standards for controlling sulfur dioxide emissions, violating the Clean Air Act".  New York State is planning to to squander those funds, using it to give grants for research into ways to "reduce the impact" of acid rain in the 500 lakes, streams and ponds of the Adirondacks that "hampers plant growth and is detrimental to aquatic life and humans".

The program aims to clean up the acid rain already present in the Adirondacks due to decades of pollution. Woodworth said the Adirondacks have lost half of their spruce growth due to the lack of nutrients caused by acid rain falling into the soil.

Even with the decrease in acid rain and pollution by federal regulations, Woodworth said if an effort is not made to safeguard the region from acid rain "… we lose our trees."

Woodworth said most of the air pollution affecting New York state, including the Adirondacks, is coming from the Ohio Valley and other states southwest of New York and the best method of recovery is to switch to natural gas.

There are so many levels of crazy here that it's difficult to write about it calmly.  Directing research to find ways to help the region to "recover" while the culprit, Cinergy Corp., continues to pollute is just some sort of repulsive political posturing.  The trifling piffle of $400,000 they have paid for ineffectual research is just the price of doing business as usual for them - and a bit of pocket change for any scientists unscrupulous enough to accept it, rather than demand that the coal companies be shut down.  And the notion that "natural" gas - methane, another fossil fuel - I mean fool - is a solution??  Please, I'm going to BARF.

Meanwhile, heroic anti-tar sands activists are being sued and forced to settle - since for some unfathomable reason, they can't afford as many lawyers as the corporations, and funnily enough, don't really want to languish in jail (for a revealing set of photos that imparts the staggering extent of tar sands, click here).

Thanks to the ever-vigilant WindSpiritKeeper  for many of the links in this post.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Petroleum's Dark Shadow

This documentary raised the alarm about the dangers of bisphenal A, which has since often been replaced by bisphenal S...except...research indicates that the substitute has the same endocrine-disrupting effects...and more studies show that male reproductive problems continue to worsen.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

National Putrid Radio, and the Dolphin Slayers

I was listening to All Things Considered on NPR yesterday when one of their fatuous announcers, I forget which one, announced in a perky aside that apparently, a confused dolphin that was trapped in Brooklyn's Gawanus Canal "didn't get the memo" that the waterway, long contaminated with dumping from manufacturing, has been designated a toxic superfund site, haha.  Isn't that funny??  The dolphin didn't get the memo.  Bwahahah, silly silly dolphin!  This enraged me and I thought immediately, you stupid bitch, don't you know that poor dolphin is going to die??
Sure enough, lo and behold, the dolphin has died, choking in visible filth.  Rescuers couldn't help because the water was too poisonous for them to get in.  For hours, people - with the exception of one bicyclist who climbed down to the surface - just watched this creature pathetically gasp and choke.
I tried but couldn't locate a clip to that brief announcement on the radio website - I think they don't preserve the news in their podcast of the longer stories - because I would have liked to post it so everyone could witness exactly how callously the talking heads at NPR are mired in disgraceful anthropomorphic myopia.  But hey, this blurb from an earlier AP account provides the same glibly puerile perspective:

News video: Raw: Dolphin Makes a Splash in NYCThe deep-freeze weather didn't seem to faze a dolphin that was making a splash Friday in New York's Gowanus Canal. According to authorities at the scene, the creature appeared to be adventurous, rather than stranded. (Jan. 25)

Stop the War on Mother Earth

St. Louis police use "pain compliance", including pressure points, arm and neck twising, on protesters peacefully demonstrating yesterday against Peabody Coal's destructive mining practices and pollution.  Read More.

Updated, with thanks to Catman...lyrics below:


When I was a child my family would travel
Down to Western Kentucky where my parents were born
And there's a backwards old town that's often remembered
So many times that my memories are worn

"And daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the green river where paradise lay?"
"Well, I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking
Mister Peabody's coal train has hauled it away"

Well, sometimes we'd travel right down the Green River
To the abandoned old prison down by Adrie Hill
Where the air smelled like snakes and we'd shoot with our pistols
But empty pop bottles was all we would kill

"And daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the green river where paradise lay?"
"Well, I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking
Mister Peabody's coal train has hauled it away"

Then the coal company came with the world's largest shovel
And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land
Well, they dug for their coal till the land was forsaken
Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man

"And daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the green river where paradise lay?"
"Well, I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking
Mister Peabody's coal train has hauled it away"

When I die let my ashes float down the Green River
Let my soul roll on up to the Rochester dam
I'll be halfway to Heaven with paradise waitin'
Just five miles away from wherever I am

"And daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the green river where paradise lay?"
"Well, I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking
Mister Peabody's coal train has hauled it away"

Thursday, January 24, 2013

More Research is Needed [not!]

In hindsight this tiny window of our times will be seen as the beginning of the end of science.  Actual, current impacts of a violently careening climate - and the twin rampages of pollution and habitat destruction - are too dangerously rapid for orthodox science to adequately catalogue, let alone analyze or form predictions.  Finally, two prominent researchers have come out and said it bluntly okay...hinted...that the current era of peer-reviewed, painstakingly controlled, traditional research (although a formerly elegant, valuable, and much-revered construct) has been rendered obsolete by events.  Just to be safe though, they had to fabricate a science fictional retrospective, set comfortably off in the future in fantasyland, to even tiptoe around the implications.  Why are these young girls braver than the most highly-educated and privileged intellectuals in the West?
Naomi Oreskes, a professor at UC San Diego, previously collaborated with Eric Conway, a historian of science, to write the brilliantly illuminating Merchants of Doubt.  Now, they have published The Collapse of Western Civilization:  a View From The Future in January's issue of the MIT Journal, Dædalus.  Here's the abstract, with the critical part in blue:

Authors' note: Science fiction writers construct an imaginary future; historians attempt to reconstruct the past. Ultimately, both are seeking to understand the present. In this essay, we blend the two genres to imagine a future historian looking back on a past that is our present and (possible) future. The occasion is the tercentenary of the end of Western culture (1540 – 2073); the dilemma being addressed is how we – the children of the Enlightenment – failed to act on robust information about climate change and knowledge of the damaging events that were about to unfold.
Our historian concludes that a second Dark Age had fallen on Western civilization, in which denial and self-deception, rooted in an ideological fixation on “free” markets, disabled the world's powerful nations in the face of tragedy. Moreover, the scientists who best understood the problem were hamstrung by their own cultural practices, which demanded an excessively stringent standard for accepting claims of any kind – even those involving imminent threats. Here, our future historian, living in the Second People's Republic of China, recounts the events of the Period of the Penumbra (1988 – 2073) that led to the Great Collapse and Mass Migration (2074).

It's truly sad that the threats so eloquently exposed in this essay don't include the dying of the forests from ozone, because you could substitute that blindness into this passage about climate change without changing hardly a word:

 “Even more elusive to scholars is why scientists, whose job it was to understand the threat and warn their societies–and who thought that they did understand the threat and that they were warning their societies–failed to appreciate the full magnitude of climate change. To shed light on this question, scholars have pointed to the roots of Western natural science in religious institutions.”
“In an almost childlike attempt to demarcate their practices from those of older explanatory traditions, scientists felt it necessary to prove to themselves and the world how strict they were in their intellectual standards. Thus, they placed the burden of proof on novel claims, including those about climate. Some scientists in the early twenty-first century, for example, had recognized that hurricanes were intensifying, but they backed down from this conclusion under pressure from their scientific colleagues. Much of the argument surrounded the concept of statistical significance. Given what we now know about the dominance of nonlinear systems and the distribution of stochastic processes, the then-dominant notion of a 95 percent confidence limit is hard to fathom. Yet overwhelming evidence suggests that twentieth-century scientists believed that a claim could be accepted only if, by the standards of Fisherian statistics, the possibility that an observed event could have happened by chance was less than 1 in 20. Many phenomena whose causal mechanisms were physically, chemically, or biologically linked to warmer temperatures were dismissed as “unproven” because they did not adhere to this standard of demonstration.”
“Historians have long argued about why this standard was accepted, given that it had no substantive mathematical basis. We have come to understand the 95 percent confidence limit as a social convention rooted in scientists’ desire to demonstrate their disciplinary severity. Just as religious orders of prior centuries had demonstrated moral rigor through extreme practices of asceticism in dress, lodging, behavior, and food–in essence, practices of physical self-denial–so, too, did natural scientists of the twentieth century attempt to demonstrate their intellectual rigor through intellectual self-denial. This practice led scientists to demand an excessively stringent standard for accepting claims of any kind, even those involving imminent threats.”

“Western scientists built an intellectual culture based on the premise that it was worse to fool oneself into believing in something that did not exist than not to believe in something that did. Scientists referred to these positions as “type I” and “type II” errors, and established protocols designed to avoid type I errors at almost all costs. One scientist wrote, “A type I error is often considered to be more serious, and therefore more important to avoid, than a type II error.” Another claimed that type II errors were not errors at all, just “missed opportunities.” So while the pattern of weather events was clearly changing, many scientists insisted that these events could not yet be attributed with certainty to anthropogenic climate change. Even as lay citizens began to accept this link, the scientists who studied it did not.” 

So when you see the respected Gavin Schmidt of NASA, shamefully hedge in an interview at PBS about whether Hurricane Sandy was influenced by the melting Arctic Ice, it just serves to illustrate that what they wrote is sad, but true.

Of paramount importance here at Wit's End, is that virtually all scientists continue to refuse to acknowledge the obvious connection between the global decline of trees and what we now know to be increasing, persistent, globally-transported tropospheric ozone.  This is what Gavin Schmidt wrote on his RealClimate blog in July, 2007:
In a nice example of how complicated climate feedbacks and interactions can be, Sitch and colleagues report in Nature advance publication on a newly modelled effect of ground level (or tropospheric) ozone on carbon uptake on land (BBC). The ozone they are talking about is the ‘bad’ ozone (compared to ‘good’ stratospheric ozone) and is both a public health hazard and a greenhouse gas. Tropospheric ozone isn’t directly emitted by human activity, but is formed in the atmosphere as a result of photolytic reactions related to CH4, CO, NOx and VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds like isoprene, benzene etc.) – the so-called ozone precursors.

It’s well known that increased ozone levels – particularly downwind of cities – can be harmful to plants, and in this new study with a carbon-climate model, they quantify how by how much increasing ozone levels make it more difficult for carbon to be sequestered by the land biosphere. This leads to larger CO2 levels in the atmosphere than before.

Yet, as earlier documented, his response when I emailed him (unaware of that post or much else about ozone) asking him the following about tree decline:

It is so widespread now that no other limited cause, such as a pest or disease or even warming and drought, can explain it. And of particular interest, plants in pots and aquatic plants have had this past summer symptoms identical to those growing in the ground - so drought and warming from climate change cannot be the primary cause. This problem is urgent but being almost entirely ignored or misdiagnosed.

Since you know about atmospheric gases can you think of any process that could be responsible for the recent rapid impacts?

His answer was:

Unfortunately, I don't know of any pollution issue that would be responsible for this...

I shouldn't leave the impression that Gavin is by any means an isolated example, in fact the opposite is the case...he is in the vast majority of scientists who (at best) stand diffidently on the sidelines, cautious to not utter anything that might get them censored, penalized, or ostracized by their toady colleagues (and at worst collaborate with industrial polluters, but that's another story entirely).  That would be well and good, except that the stakes have changed.  It's not a mere silly academic argument about, say, whether plate tectonics caused Pangaea to separate, or whether humans caused the extinction of the Australian megafauna.  Science is now vitally important to our survival as a species.  Why is it that only a handful of scientists - the heroic James Hansen, the outstanding Arctic Emergency Group, and a few other brave pioneers like David Attenborough (who just declared humans a Plague On The Earth) - will risk the wrath their employers, and who knows else, by speaking the truth about this trainwreck hurtling off a cliff?

The sheer amount and variety of chemicals - hundreds of millions of tons annually - being dumped into the environment without any safety testing whatsover defies categorization, as does the synergy between them.  What are the scientists who unleash these wicked brews thinking?

The Atlantic has picked up on the study I mentioned earlier, indicating that people become less healthy when trees in their neighborhoods are lost.  Naturally I left a comment:

"...they are unable to satisfactorily explain why this might be so." That is because the Forest Service - which is entangled with timber and other extractive mining industries linked to fossil fuel interests - doesn't want to admit what they well know: the pollution from cars and power plants is toxic. How many times have you heard - plant a tree, they clean the air? Well, they do! That's why people are healthier when the trees are absorbing tropospheric ozone.

The other thing this study ignores is the rather obvious question - what happens to trees when they so obligingly absorb poisonous gases? Answer: THEY die, instead of us! Studies have proven that trees are dying all over the world, and it's because they are damaged from pollution, which makes them more vulnerable to other pathogens - insects, diseasae and fungus. The grid went down for so long after Sandy because hundreds of thousands of trees fell, and it was easy to see that they were rotted on the inside. Trees should live for centuries, some for thousands of years. They're not supposed to be rotted when they are 50 or 150 years old. More on this "flawed" (coughs politely) study here.
As if more research were needed to demonstrate that it is higher concentrations of POLLUTION that is affecting people's health when trees die - and not emotional stress, not when a clearly understood process is present - a study in the American Journal of the American Medical Association from 2001, Impact of Changes in Transportation and Commuting Behaviors During the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta on Air Quality and Childhood Asthma, found a significant drop (28%) in ozone levels during the period of time that the city provided 1,000 buses for public transportation and closed the downtown to private vehicular traffic, with a staggering concurrent drop hospitalizations from asthma, over 40% overall.

Asthma is a leading cause in childhood morbidity.  It kills children.  Do we need more research to tell us we should close city centers to automobile traffic and put in fast, safe, reliable, convenient public transportation instead?
What's it going to take for the scientists to have the courage of their own results?  As the discoverers and trustees of knowledge, aren't they obligated to use their superior understanding to enlighten the rest of us?   Is it moral to rely on the children to take on the burden of standing up to the purveyors of disinformation and fascistic control?

~ Thanks to the Noor Foundation for permission to reproduce the first and last photos in this post, taken by Yuri Kozyrev and collected in the gallery titled their desire to protest ~

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