Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

One of the earliest exchanges I had with most cherished Significant Other was this, from me to him,

"Do you dare to eat a peach?"

In a heartbeat he replied, "Speaking of Michelangelo..."

Now, THAT is how to fall - exquisitely, tumultuously, and irrevocably - in love.

Peaches are among the most luscious of fruits. There are others that rival its superiority - black raspberries and figs, for example. All fruit, when you come to think of it, are delightful.

But peaches are particularly fragrant, delicately multi-colored, and irresistibly textured. Oh that sweet fuzz, and the silky flesh inside it!

The Oldwick orchards are incomparable. This year, I have for the first time grown my very own, pictured above. Which is naturally breaking my heart, as I expect this will be remembered as the last year any peach trees produce a full crop.

On Friday, I left the Jersey shore and drove to the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, north of Philadelphia, to meet with Marcus Bellet-Travers. He's the representative of the infrared camera being used in the UK that I read about, and he's touring the states to train and present demonstrations. The camera can detect the heat flow from the ground through a tree, and distinguish areas of health...and those of obstructed flow indicating rot, fungus, or other damage. Kind of like a CAT scan, for people, to detect a problem before it manifests itself in symptoms, and is too late to treat.

I could see as soon as I neared the entrance that the arboretum was going to yield many terrible and sad examples of compromised trees.

Of course, I couldn't have predicted that I would be unable to go up the main drive, which it turned out, was obstructed by this fallen willow oak, having fallen the night before. I had to drive quite a distance around, and sneak through a back gate, to gain entry.

On the part of the tree left standing, this is what the leaves looked like:

From that bit of carnage we moved on so that Marcus could demonstrate his camera using this gigantic oak as a sample. The camera is an invaluable and revolutionary technology that can diagnose tree pathology before symptoms appear. Usually, by the time symptoms of decline are visible, whether they be scorched or wilted or dropped leaves, fungus and lichens, thin crowns, and/or bare or falling branches, the damage is irreversible - and although there may be methods to provide temporary relief ultimately there is no cure.

As foresters, Marcus and his host at the arboretum look upon the camera as a tool to save trees by pruning or treating disease or other malfuctions due to environmental stress such as poor drainage perhaps, or nearby paving. Kind of like surgery to keep a cancer tumor from spreading, I suppose.
While they looked through the bark, I looked at the leaves:

Unlike the arborists, I harbor scant hope any trees in this region can be saved. The value of the camera to me frankly lies in proving this is true. Of course, it is possible that the damage from ozone might be reversible for those specimens where it is not too advanced (a rapidly diminishing proportion) but even if so, that would only be the case if the ozone exposure were to diminish - and we are certainly far, far from that occurring any time soon. Au contraire.

So I would predict that all the trees and shrubs will be dead in very short order, and the question becomes, how quickly can citizens and policy makers be convinced of that, so that the EPA will invoke the clean air act to halt production of ozone-producing emissions, so that we can preserve an atmosphere that will allow annual crops to produce food.

The alternative is famine.

Once I get a package together I am going to search for an academic or government agency who will undertake a scientific study to demonstrate the degree of damage to trees. Perhaps this will spur recourse through the Clean Air Act, which regulates ozone. Scant hope, I know.

When Marcus asked me my interest in the camera I explained that I believe ozone is killing trees and hope the camera could be used in a study to expose their condition. I pointed to this shrub, I think it's a vibernum, and said "There's a perfect example of leaf damage."
"That has a fungus!" he and our host Rob exclaimed in unison.
Foresters always want to point to fungus, bugs, disease, or acid rain. Those are all treatable. Tropospheric ozone can only be dealt with by stopping emissions from petroleum products and coal, period. And that means a radical re-engineering of the way our society functions.

The fern and the basil in the garden next to the cafeteria show the same sort of symptoms.

By then it was past one, so I said goodbye to Marcus, who has promised to email me promotional materials, and Rob, a member of the Arboretum staff. I can't remember his exact title and full name, although he did offer me his business card, because I ate it for lunch on the two-hour drive home. It could have used a squirt of lemon and some salt, perhaps a splash of tabasco; but it was a nice chewy source of fiber nonetheless.

But before I left I took just a few minutes to take the usual pictures of trees, followed by a close up of their leaves.


Bur Oak


When I got home another lotus was blooming.

The tell-tale leaves are deteriorating.

And here is wild Joe Pye weed.

Thanks to Richard Pauli for this link:

Isn't it amazing that the symptoms of tomato blight are identical to ozone poisoning? And the "late" blight is early? And isn't it amazing that the NYT gets so worked up about losing gourmet tomatoes that they devote an entire op-ed to the problem but not one word about ozone poisoning everything?

We will be seeing many more stories like this one:


  1. Gail,
    A while ago, you offered a dinner to anyone you couldn't convince of CO2 induced drought after a four hour tour of your area. Does the bet now hold for ozone?

    Sounds like you made some good contacts at the arboretum. Most of what you ascribed to drought and now ascribe to ozone, the professional foresters ascribe to natural occurrence.

    While there wasn't a drought, there is ozone.

  2. Um, I would have to retrieve the exact wording but I have never been 100% certain CO2 induced drought was the reason trees are dying. I think I said, I could convince anyone that all the trees are dying. From the very beginning I have been, I think, clear that I don't know for sure the mechanism, only that something as over-reaching as climate change-induced drought has to be responsible - or acid rain, or ozone.

    Seriously the last two summers we did have almost two months with zero rain, snowmelt is reduced, and warmer temps mean faster evaporation.

    But, that doesn't explain the lotus, plants in pots, and irrigated trees.

    So we are left with ozone - or, some more virulent combination of increased UV radiation or other chemical reactions to different pollutants. There is a long list and there may be completely unknown things going on. But at this point I would stake more than a dinner on something in the atmosphere being to blame. And there's no question in mind mind something quite unnatural is killing vegetation.

  3. "... so that the EPA will invoke the clean air act to halt production of ozone-producing emissions ..."

    Including from the "favorite little blue toy"? :-) Maybe it's time for those next-gen hybrids to make more headway in the marketplace.

    It's interesting to note, though, that although tropospheric ozone is also a greenhouse gas, it's breakdown destroys methane, a more powerful GHG (although still a less significant global forcing than currently much higher emissions of fossil CO2). I'm not sure what the net forcing effect is, considering the interaction between the two, but it would be nice to reduce both of them along with CO2.

  4. The big squabble seems to be around "anthropogenic" Of course it is.

    Global warming from CO2, Ozone depletion and ozone toxicity, other GHGs - all, ALL are caused by humans. Out of control civilization.

    The denialists can no longer deny warming, or even a destablized climate. But their final line in the sand battle will be about whether it is all human caused. Of course PR encouragement from carbon fuel industries helps much

  5. Gail,
    Wasn't trying to hold you to anything. I think ozone is a better line of investigation.

  6. Hey, it's not MY little blue toy! Anyway, that kind of finger pointing is counterproductive. It's like people complaining about Al Gore's house.

    One of my favorite Obama quotes is his reply, when asked what he has done to reduce his carbon footprint, was something like, "Hey, its not going to make any difference if I change a fucking light bulb. It's a collective thing."

    Ooh, doesn't that sound socialist!

    Anyway I appreciate the comments!

  7. If Obama means it'll take more than just individual action at this point, then yes, I agree. But people do have a tendency to think their actions have little effect. The light bulb thing, or the equivalent "Oh, c'mon, my little carbon footprint is meaningless" X hundreds of millions of people assuming the same thing = significant problem. If most people did all they could to live as generally efficiently as possible, that would at least ease the transition to a fossil-free economy. Even Al Gore seems to have acknowledged that, with his home/office energy retrofit. I think the fuss about his energy bills was overdone a bit considering his use of renewable power, an initial obstacle to solar installation in his neighborhood, and his old home having similar energy use to others of similar size in that area.

  8. Welcome back, Anonymous. I think we do agree and are more or less saying the same thing. We all must and will make lifestyle adjustments, willingly or not. It may soon get to the point where any recreational burning of fossil fuels is banned. But one person's luxury is another's necessity. And I guess what I object to is when deniers ridicule scientists and policy makers for flying to Copenhagen, for instance.

    Ultimately the solution is a global push for renewable energy and conservation (individual and collective). I think that was Obama's point. And I like that he can be blunt about it.

  9. I can only tell you to be very carrefull on doing bussiness with Marcus. We are one of the numerous companies in Europe to whom he own's money! Do never pre pay any service or material, as he will not forfill hi part of the contract and tell you all kinds of reasons whyè he can't. it a shame as the thermal imaging is probalby a good additional tool to inspect trees but Marcus is not a honest person!

  10. Oh my, CETEV! It is always good to be cautious and prudent. At this point the trees are deteriorating so fast that examining them with an infrared camera hardly seems necessary. Most people are still oblivious, of course, but I doubt for much longer. Thanks for reading!