Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Scientists are Egomaniacal DoucheBags

I have nourished this clivia for about 25 years. It typically blooms around this time, a deep brilliant orange. Now this year, it is streaked with white. Is that significant? I have no idea, but it IS weird. And now that I think of it, last summer many of the lilies in the garden lost their pigment and turned white as well.
In the last post I mentioned that trees appear to be bleeding sap. This is becoming prevalent, everywhere.

Examples abound.
Notice how the soil is almost bare of any cover. Bizarre!
The bleeding is accompanied by bark shearing off from trunks and branches.
Truly a vile apparition.
Also notable are extremely strange pockmarked growths.
They reveal extensive internal damage.
Shrubs everywhere show evidence of toxic atmospheric impacts. They are actually shrinking and puny, like they are starving.
This Japanese Andromeda has leaves with the discoloration and prominent veins typical of greenhouse gas poisoning.
Here is a mature hedge of arborvitae.
But so many of them died, the town replaced a number of totally dead specimens with younger plants - which, oops! - are also dying.
The needles are all turning brown.
And even more interesting than brown, they go from green to a creepy purple.
The ground beneath is covered with their dropped fronds.
Next, let us visit a stand of mature trees, a mix of maples and white pines. These maples looked normal a year ago - they started to turn black and now are blanketed with a green moss.

The color is lurid and almost unearthly.
It is thicker at the base but has crept up the trunks.
I like moss but this is overwhelming.
And by now it reaches high up to the topmost branches.
Decay accompanies the progression.
Some of the formations are quite strange!
This oblong growth is about the size of two footballs.
I may just splurge on a new camera so I can do justice to such amazing sights.
The odd green also colonizes inanimate structures like the fence.
as well as other constructs, like this set of stairs.
The pines in this setting have been losing needles.
And branches.
Their bark has been coated with a crusty lichen.
Alas, we have arrived at the sunset of human civilization. Very few realize it, even though it is glaringly obvious. Some are deliberately, greedily obtuse, and desire to prolong their binge as long as possible. For most people though, I think it is a failure of imagination.

Here is the latest futile correspondence:

Dear Editor, Dr. Allen, Dr. Stephenson, Dr. McDowell, and Dr. Sala,

I am writing in reference to this story about the effects of long-term drought from climate change. When I first noticed wide-spread tree decline I felt reasonably certain that less frequent precipitation and considerably less snowpack could be the primary cause. Since then however I am convinced that the major reason trees are dying is that our atmosphere has intolerable levels of toxic gases from fossil and biofuel emissions.

Trees that are not deprived of water - those along rivers, for example, or young trees being grown in watered pots in nurseries - exhibited the same foliar damage as trees growing in landscapes or in the wild. For that matter, last summer, annual crops and ornamentals, whether in pots or in fields, also had the characteristic stippling from damaged stomata as did the trees.

Also, in reading any research I can find on this topic it turns out, there are many studies showing that ozone and acid rain are extremely poisonous to vegetation. Although there are many isolated studies of trees dying - in California, in Colorado, in New Hampshire, in Bangladesh - very few scientists or foresters connect the dots. Most often they attribute individual species decline to particular insects, fungus, or disease, ignoring the fact that the immune systems of trees have been damaged leaving them unable to resist such assaults.

I am begging you to think outside the box. Scientists are so focused on their specialties that I think sometimes the bigger picture is lost. I am not a scientist, I do not have the capability to bring attention to this very urgent existential threat. Please consider the possibility that we could lose all our forests, which are the foundation of our ecosystem, if somebody doesn't investigate the connection between pollution and tree death, before there aren't any seeds left.

I have been posting photographs and links to scientific studies at Of particular interest might be this post with links to research, and this Stanford study. This post links to a website with numerous studies in the US and internationally.

I also urge you to consider the consequences of disruption to the nitrogen cycle. I would be delighted to discuss this further with any of you. Thank you so much for reading. Here is a link to my profile at the World Wildlife Fund climate witness program which describes the origin of my interest in this topic.

Sincerely, Gail Zawacki Oldwick, NJ

Gail, Your concern for the forests of this world is admirable. Yes, air pollution is a problem too, but we have focused on the effects of drought and heat, which are predicted to increase in many areas. You may wish to read the attached articles, and some of the references mentioned in them, for some perspectives on the work we've been doing. Best regards - Craig

Dear Craig,

I do understand that you have focused on drought and heat, and I think that's admirable. I really don't need perspectives on the work you are doing, however, as I'm quite certain it is of great value, and I'm equally convinced that climate change is going to kill many or perhaps all trees through those mechanisms. It seems obvious the trees can't adapt fast enough to the relatively rapid warming and drying - climate change is always followed by mass extinctions.

What I wrote you about is the work you are NOT doing. The explanation for tree decline that you and your co-authors provide simply does not explain all of the empirical facts. The foliar damage that is apparent on annuals, aquatic plants, and potted, irrigated trees is identical to that of indigenous species in the wild. If you are serious about explaining forest decline, you have to include all of the data, which indicates an atmospheric toxin.

It is critically important to identify the precise source because the the decay is accelerating which urgently requires attention. The good news is that once the source is identified, we could quickly reduce it, which would buy some time to devise methods to mitigate the longer-term problem you have been researching and publishing.

I have to say your response to me felt patronizing and dismissive. Did you even read any of the scientific articles linked in my message? There is actually quite a body of research demonstrating the poisonous properties of ozone and acid rain, but there seems to be little coordination.

I do believe that the USGS, which is a publicly funded agency, should allocate some of their resources to studying this problem which is going to affect every single citizen. All of our trees are at risk, as are all the species that depend upon them. Ultimately our food security will be imperiled.

Surely this is enough reason for scientists to abandon their myopia and gaze at the big picture.

Is there anyone at the USGS that is pursuing this line of inquiry?



1 comment:

  1. "Alas, we have arrived at the sunset of human civilization"

    The more I read about it, and the better I understand the way civilisation works, the more I am coming to this conclusion too. Our entire civilisation is based on energy - overwhelmingly on the amazing property of fossil fuels, that they give us back many times more energy than we expend in acquiring them. I can propel a car full of people and luggage hundreds of miles at 70mph just by burning a few gallons of flammable liquid. When you think about it in those terms, it is quite amazing. Think of what would be involved in moving that amount that distance by manpower alone, even at a vastly slower walking pace. Fossil fuels directly or indirectly power virtually all our mechanised transport. They form the basis of many raw materials (e.g. plastics and fertilisers). They give us nearly all of the world's electricity. And they're all finite resources - oil has probably peaked (demand is going up and production down). Same goes for any other raw materials - they are all finite. We can recycle, but that takes energy, which requires more fossil fuels. We can build nuclear power plants, which work on the basis of an even higher energy density fuel than fossil fuels, but we don't have the luxury of many decades to replace fossil fuels with nuclear... and constructing them would require large amounts of energy from fossil fuels, even if there was enough raw materials and nuclear fuel for us to do that. The sun, wind and waves could potentially give us unlimited energy but only at a very low energy density, so would require vast amounts of raw materials and fossil fuels to build infrastructure and make a significant difference. Do we have the time and resources (and will) to make such a huge change? I'm very much afraid that we don't.

    Then there is food - we are probably near the limit of productivity for the land which is already being farmed, and there aren't vast amounts of free fertile land to convert to farmland, even ignoring the climate consequences of doing so. At the same time, human population continues to increase (nearly 7 billion now). The productivity we have now relies hugely on fossil fuels, for fertiliser and mechanisation. How will we feed 8, 9 or 10 billion people on limited farmland, declining water resources and scarcer and more expensive fossil fuels?

    Civilisation is based on energy and predicated on infinite growth, but this is clearly impossible on a finite planet, so it is inevitable that *at the very minimum* the kind of civilisation that we're used to has to end and be replaced by something sustainable. The question is, what size of human population is 'sustainable' on an already over-exploited world? It's hard to see how, with greatly diminished fossil fuels, we could grow enough food for more than 1 or 2 billion people.

    And all of this, of course, is before we even consider the chaos looming from disastrous climate change.

    For most of my life I've almost unconsciously assumed that life just gets better all the time, that I'll always have a job, that I'll eventually retire in comfort, that my kids will have a decent life etc. Now I'm not nearly so sure. I can't take it all for granted any more. I'm more and more convinced that it will inevitably collapse, and that it will do so soon enough to make life a lot less secure and comfortable for me and my family in the future.


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