Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Simon Shares a Popsicle

The first thing I read this morning was a summary from Colorado State University Extension, titled "Air Pollution Affects Local Trees" about the effects of ozone on vegetation. It's worth reading for the matter-of-fact descriptions of damage and symptoms, and the distinct lack of alarm. Ozone causes plants and trees to die, ho hum.

Now I have to admit I am grateful to Andy Revkin. In general I dislike him, because he has had a uniquely valuable forum at the NYTimes to address climate change, which he has squandered thanks to an unconscionable lack of passion or conviction. It is more typically my wont to describe my feelings for him thusly, (to a friend):
He is the reason I stopped reading the NYT after being a faithful subscriber for 30 years, every morning with my coffee, for everything from food to fashion to politics.

I forget which vanity-filled loathsome article did it, but something he said made me realize he is all about Andy. God I hate him. He has so much undeserved influence and is piddling it into a vacuous mirror of self-agrandizement.

But in this interview at e360.yale.edu, he did a creditable job (which may have been accidental) of describing a fundamental breech between the approach of environmentalists and climate change scientists towards educating the public:

"e360: Do you think the fact that most people are really still not paying attention or are that concerned about this issue, do you think that’s a function of the media and scientists not communicating it well, or is it a function of people not really reacting to a problem or situation that seems very far off into the future?

Revkin: It’s pretty primal. Which explains why there are some advocates for action on climate who keep trying to link the here-and-now events: Australian wild fires, or the tree die-off [in North America]. If they can make the point that these changes that you’re seeing viscerally in your landscape now are the result of this thing, maybe that will be more likely to change people. But there, too, the causal linkage between a regional change and human-driven warming of the climate through the buildup of greenhouse gases is one of the hardest things to do confidently."
My comment was:

Yes, that would be me. Losing our trees is intolerable to those of us unwilling to cheerfully relegate our children to the slow suffocation of the hermetic existence you seem resigned to for them.

But you miss the point, which is that the level of greenhouse gases makes it impossible for them to photosynthesize and produce chlorophyll and guess what? Wheat and corn and soy and melons and green beans all need to photosynthesize too. And so, we're not talking about some romantic attachment to trees, we are talking about food.

I would personally like to see Mr. Revkin make like a reporter and call the USDA and the Forestry Service and the USGS and get some real numbers from them.
Today everywhere I look I run into this story and feel like I'm Alice gone through the looking glass. It is about a long term study in Maryland purporting to show that - thanks to rising levels of CO2 - trees are growing faster. This is presented as though it's a good thing - you know, the old "CO2 is food for plants"!

Leaving aside the fact that the human equivalent of that theory would be that bingeing on a high calorie diet and getting fat is good for humans in the long run (uh, it's not), it completely ignores the effects of the "other" greenhouse gases - nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, acetaldehyde - that bathe the trees in toxic ozone and acid rain. How this study could find trees thriving in Maryland is astonishing.

So, I wrote a letter to the lead author, copied below, to find if any "trick" has been employed to "hide the decline". And the only other thing I would note is that the funding for the project is from HSBC Bank. A quick search on Yahoo for "HSBC" greenwash (which means, posturing for public relations or advertising purposes to be environmentally friendly while actually pursuing decidedly unfriendly policies) yielded 46,700 results. Just sayin'!

Here's my letter:

Dear Dr. Parker,

Today in Science Daily I read this report of your study indicating that trees are growing faster because of higher concentrations of CO2.

I do not doubt this and in fact the FACE project in Wisconsin supports your findings. However, my observations that trees are in decline and in fact dying in Eastern forests at unprecedented rates does not seem to be reflected in your study.

I am very interested to understand why this should be. How recent are your measurements - does your analysis include the past 18 months? I date the onset of an obvious, widespread and rapid decline to late summer of 2008.

Is there any other way that your study could be set up so that it would not reflect tree decline? Do you exclude dead trees from growth measurements, for example?

I look forward to corresponding with you and as I live in Northern NJ I am hopeful I will be able to come to the Smithsonian Center to tour your plots. It would be a great pleasure to meet you and get more details about your project, if your time permits. In any event I look forward to seeing your forests first hand.

I have been posting photos of trees and links to research at www.witsendnj.blogspot.com. This post in particular has a video of the FACE CO2 and ozone projects.

Gail Zawacki
Oldwick, NJ

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