Thursday, January 14, 2010

On the way to Avatar

This is one of the entry gates to the home of the late Doris Duke, who inherited a huge tobacco fortune. She left this property in Somerville in the hands of a trust, which is mismanaging it to the edge of criminality.
Part of the mandate the trustees must follow is to be stewards of the environment. And yet look at what I saw yesterday.
I have written to the trustees in the past, as copied at the end of this post.
But the trustees chose to ignore it and I had a fruitless exchange with them.
And so now, they have deployed the heavy equipment.
Piles of felled trees line the road.
If you examine them it's quite obvious why they are being cut down.
Their interiors are rotted from root and foliar exposure to toxic fuel emissions.
Which makes for interesting formations.
And curious patterns.
There are mounds of huge trunks all along the drive.
And for the same reason.
It's pathetic!
They are all in almost synchronized stages of rot.
Within a very amazingly short period of time.
Mr. Huntington, of the DD Foundation, was quite clear that the reason trees on the property are dying is because they are old. So why did this young tree keel over?
And why is the bark peeling off this young tree?
And where did all the needles on this pine disappear to?
Beyond Duke Farms, I came across Drumthwacket, the New Jersey Governor's mansion in Princeton. Looks like the changing of the guard. I for one frankly can't wait to see how the newly elected governor manages a state that is about to implode while simultaneously reducing government services. Good luck with that!

Now, here's the nitty gritty for anyone who actually cares:

After searching every day for the last 18 months, I have managed to locate about 10 or so people who independently became as convinced as I am that trees are dying at such appalling rates as to threaten not just their own survival but many other species as well (including us).

None of us are convinced we know precisely why the trees are dying, because there are no scientific studies on such a broad topic, although many smaller studies on more specific incidents of decline can be found and used to extrapolate inferences.

Each person I have come across has their own pet theory, however. One is convinced that acid rain is the root cause. Others believe it is ozone. Yet another thinks it is a synergistic effect from myriad pesticides, fertilizers, and emissions. And when you read articles about the killer pesticides like this one, that is quite persuasive!

Personally, I think that although there has been decades of degradation from all of the above, the recent and dramatic damage must be due to a new twist - perhaps emissions from ethanol, or wafting nitrogen fertilizers used for growing corn to produce the ethanol.

Today however I came across a believer of the theory that airplane emissions specifically are damaging the upper (and beneficial) layer of stratospheric ozone thus allowing in too much UV radiation, which is frying vegetation (and people). Here's the link, and there is a wealth of information to be found. I am still in the process of exploring all the studies compiled there, and very gratified to have found a sort of west-coast counterpart to myself!

I still suspect that it's quite likely ethanol is largely to blame, for the following reason: none of the other explanations quite fit the empirical facts as I have observed them. I think all those sources would be expressed in the environment as more localized symptoms based on location - topography or soil type or moisture - and what I see is fairly uniform - absolutely everything, everywhere - which can only be explained by the atmosphere. And since ozone has been around for decades, that leaves ethanol, the new kid on the block. But I'm still intrigued with the other ideas, particularly since apparently airplane fuel is quite high in nitric oxides, which is what all those lichens like to gobble up...and of course, the Eastern Seaboard has quite a bit of air traffic, as does the West Coast, where this theory originated. On the other hand, I THINK that the West Coast has been using ethanol for longer than anywhere else.

Regardless, there are several points I think I can safely say everybody in this very tiny minority group appears to agree on:

1. trees are dying so rapidly they are facing an existential threat
2. nobody is sure exactly why
3. there is a blanket of repression when it comes to discussion, research, and government regulation of potential sources
4. we're all going to be really fucking sorry we didn't pay attention to this problem before it's too late.


Then again, when you consider another passed tipping point like this, does it even matter?

Well, yes, I suppose...

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