Sunday, June 6, 2010

Goldman Sachs and Anthropocentrism

Just about every year, I go on the Somerset Hills Garden Club tour.
Somehow they persuade people with extraordinary homes and gardens to open them to public view, for a fundraiser.
This post will consist of photos from this year's tour of four local gardens, which took place last Thursday, June 3.
It was a hot, sultry, humid, overcast afternoon.
The first garden was relatively modest in comparison to some of the grander places.
There was some landscaping around the house, but the main attraction was a small enclosure, immaculately maintained, of raised beds planted with a mix of flowers, vegetables and herbs.
The lotus leaves in the center pond are already beginning to show the symptoms of chlorosis.
Around the house are some large trees.
But like this maple, all have leaves that are turning brown and shriveling.
Evergreen shrubs like this yew have the sort of same problem, their needles looking fried and falling off.
Fruit trees are particularly susceptible.
Their leaves are being destroyed by exposure to toxic greenhouse gases. They are especially wilted, spotted, and yellow.
I have to confess last year I was perplexed as to why lawns were emerald green whilst all other forms of vegetative life that must photosynthesize were universally showing symptoms of ozone poisoning. Then I read a study that said that grasses are more tolerant of high levels of ozone. This spring, I have been hesitant so far to say that grasses too have fallen victim - however, it is now becoming obvious that they too are turning brown. Lawns and fields look more like they are in an August drought than the beginning of June with plentiful rainfall.
This is not a good sign for a basic grain crops like wheat.

The next house on our tour is now owned by a former partner of Goldman Sachs.
What a nice place for retirement! Goldman Sachs of course is to our financial system what BP is to the Gulf of Mexico.
This house is a "mini" copy, believe it or not, of the even much larger version built by C. Douglas Dillon in the same neighborhood. The copy originally belonged to his son.
C. Douglas Dillon, a chairman of the Rockefeller Foundation and Secretary of Treasury in the '60's, was the grandson of one Texas immigrant, Samuel Labowski, an impoverished Polish Jew. A little change of surname to one sounding a bit more Anglo-Saxon and voila! like magic, an Eastern patrician line is established instantly.
I love this story because other than Basia Johnson, the upstairs maid who famously charmed Seward Johnson into abandoning his family, I've long been the lone Pole in a bastion of Mayflower blue-blood WASPs.
This house has magnificent, uninterrupted vistas of the countryside.
There are several separate gardens strung throughout the extensive property. The rose garden is very formal and traditional.
But except for this comely pair, most of the flowers are looking shabby.
Not only is the foliage twisted and deformed, but the flowers are puckered like dry tissue paper before they even open.
I had sort of forgotten about this link, and just stumbled across it - it's sort of an "Ozone for Dummies" guide and so I'm going to reproduce portions of it below, once again.
Entering the O(no!)zone
Janna Beckerman, Extension Plant Pathologist
The kousa dogwood leaves behind the statue aren't supposed to be so wrinkled and curled.
This large willow oak standing in front of the pool fence has what I call BALDing syndrome (Bark Atrophy Lichen Decline) - a rapidly accelerating and lethal condition, characterized by splitting, bleeding, falling bark and rampant lichen spread at abnormally fast rates.
The leaves high above are turning brown.
The pool is enclosed in a charming white fence.

"The last week of June brought warm temperatures, high humidity and a somewhat unusual phenomenon, at least to Minnesota: Ozone. In the upper atmosphere, ozone (O3) actually serves as a beneficial UV filter. However, when it's produced at ground level due to the spontaneous interaction of heat and pollution, the effects on plants (and humans!) can be serious. Average ozone levels across the state are approximately 30 parts per billion (ppb). During the last week of June, we reached levels as high as 120 ppb!"

The distant treeline is indicative of the general dieback, where skeletons are being obscured by vines.
This year plants in pots started showing damage almost immediately.
These leaves should be uniformly a dark, velvety purple.

The youngest leaves in the center of this flowering vine are darker and smoother, because they have had less time in the air and exposure to invisible atmospheric poisons.
Older leaves have lost their dark green coloration and shine - they are badly wrinkled. It is like they are shrinking because they are starving, the same way a person who had no food would lose weight.
Magnolia leaves are ripped and singed.
These lotus leaves have the same color distortions seen in the first garden.
By the end of last summer the lotus at Wit's End had turned into brown webs of rotted tissue, and based on the progression so far, I expect these to deteriorate even faster.

The Japanese maple leaves are also turning odd hues.
Hosta leaves look burned.

"Ozone is the probably the most common and most damaging form of air pollution. It is a highly reactive form of oxygen that causes a variety of symptoms. Foliar symptoms include flecking (silver or bleached-out spots), tissue death between the veins, stipple (numerous tiny spots of yellow, light tan, red-brown, dark brown, red, black, or purple pigment), mottling (irregular blotches of green, light green, and yellow), yellowing, bronzing, or bleaching. Plant growth may be stunted if foliar symptoms are severe. Flowering and bud formation can be depressed or aborted."

This little maple is supposed to have curly bark, but it's supposed to be pretty,
not suggest a limb charred by napalm.
It's leaves are all damaged as well.
Many are just missing.

"Of course, some plants are more susceptible than others. Conifers, particularly white (Pinus strobus) and jack (P. banksiana) pine frequently show a silvering of the foliage. Other conifers, such as red and Austrian pine, which are more resistant to ozone damage, may develop yellow to brown mottling and tipburn or a yellow to brown or orange-red flecking and banding of the needles. Ozone-killed tissues are readily infected by certain fungi, which may lead to the misdiagnosis of needlecast."

The grounds are full of sculpture and potted flowers.
There are many inviting porches and patios.
"Broadleaf trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants develop different symptoms in response to ozone damage. Flecks and stippling occur in interveinal regions, while veins remain green. Mature leaves develop symptoms first, progressing to younger leaves. Young plants are generally more sensitive to ozone. Injured leaves may drop prematurely. The most sensitive broadleaf trees and shrubs include: Kentucky coffee tree, poplars, grape, Ohio buckeye, Prunus spp., cotoneaster and bridal-wreath, lilac, sumac and willow. Herbaceous plants that are extremely susceptible to ozone include pumpkins, watermelons, spinach and tomatoes."

From every vantage the rolling hills spread into the horizon.
This is the peony garden.
It is a recent addition, and the owner bemoaned the fact that they all bloomed early, and were spent quickly this year.

Here is the best one I could find, and even it looks frail and soft.
Clematis is languishing, the blossoms curled and the earliest leaves already yellowing and falling - the lower part of the vines are bare.
Here a maple has a thinning crown.
Most maples now have trunks that are black from fungus or oozing sap or both, I'm not sure.
The bark is clearly splitting in a vertical direction.
The leaves that remain are brown, and of course, holes proliferate.
"Upon diagnosis of ozone damage, we're confronted with the question of what to do? Every day, each of us inhales about 20,000 liters of air. Every time we breathe, we risk inhaling dangerous chemicals that have found their way into the air. Maybe our plants are trying to tell us something?"
The rooms of the house are filled with exquisite orchids everywhere.
Of course to maintain rooms full of specimens it is necessary to have a greenhouse to provide a constant supply.
This breathtaking greenhouse is cared for by a devoted gardener.
When I was growing up I loved to visit our local greenhouse.
I wanted to own one and sell plants when I grew up.
haha, this webpage is so funny I almost fell off my chair laughing when I read it at! Excerpts follow:
"Air Pollution Removal

By absorbing and filtering out nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO), and particulate matter less than 10 microns (PM10) through their leaves, trees perform a vital air cleaning service that directly affects the well-being of people and reduces the greenhouse gases that are a contributing factor to Global Warming. AMERICAN FORESTS’ CITYgreen software calculates the annual air pollution removal rate of trees using a scientific model developed by the US Forest Service and the pollutants are those that are identified by EPA as the major greenhouse gases. The dollar values are derived by “externality” costs, (a method developed by economists) which are indirect costs borne by society..."

"The Air Pollution Removal program is based on research conducted by David Nowak, PhD, of the U.S. Forest Service. Dr. Nowak developed a methodology to assess the air pollution removal capacity of urban forests with respect to pollutants such as Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Sulfur Dioxide (SO2), Ozone (O3), Carbon Monoxide (CO), and particulate matter less than 10 microns (PM10). Pollution removal is reported in pounds and U.S. dollars, on an annual basis. Removal rates were estimated for 55 cities."

Excuse me, but is it even necessary to point out that nowhere in this wretched description
do these researchers mention any interest or express any concern
as to what the consequences are for those noble trees who are so obligingly removing toxins from the air
so that we humans can breathe a cleaner atmosphere having dumped insane amounts of pollution in it?
Oh dear, I feel a powerful sense of deja vu!

Could this criminal conspiracy be reminiscent of the rapture felt when it was first reckoned that the ocean has been obligingly absorbing a large (~40%) portion of our 70 million tons per day of CO2 emissions!? Oops, that was before somebody bothered to ask, hm, what effect might that have on life in the sea and then realized gee whiz guess what?! Acidifying water is going to collapse the food chain (watch this video if you don't know why) - just like acidifying the air is going to kill all the plants, including those that produce this fig tree with stippled leaves, from stomata damaged by ozone.

Whew. Surely that can't affect people who live in houses like this one, the most European in style of the tour?
Almost certainly only poor people, or people far away in African villages or remote, inconsequential Pacific islands, will have problems.

How can a setting so serene and elegant possibly be affected by a collapsing ecosystem?
Yet the hedge is painfully see-through as it runs along a broad path mowed down the mountain to provide a view. A trunk at the edge of the woods is almost invisible from the layer of lichen swathing the bark.
At the rear of the lawn is a long, romantic allee of very tall, mature mixed evergreen shrubs.
In the pots at the entrance, a purple potato vine is speckled and green.
I often think that the acidifying oceans are a perfect parallel to the decline of forests from ozone, and it frustrates me that very few people are aware of it (although far too few are cognizant of the ocean problem, for that matter.)
And I also think it ironic that so few make the connection between the destruction of the Gulf and the destruction of the air.
Pasted at the end of this post is a comment I left on the Huffington Post along those lines.
Notice these mountain laurels, rhododendrons, and azaleas on this venerable walkway have serious, life-threatening damage - especially to the older leaves from chronic exposure.
But getting back to the handy and cynically expedient American Forest Air Quality Calculator, this sort of anthropocentrism is going to be the ruin of the human race as well as all the other species we so casually abuse. Industrialized society has forgotten that we are dependent upon the other forms of life on earth, and that it is a delicately balanced complex web of interconnectivity that has evolved over millions years, which we disturb at our peril. Curses and shame on these foresters who are whores for the lumber industry pretending to be scientists!
This final house isn't nearly as luxurious as the others but has an impeccable pedigree - George Washington (really) ate here, back when it was a tavern in 1777. The current owners have a raised bed vegetable garden, fenced against the deer, next to the barn.
It wasn't the last on the tour but I have saved it for the end of this post, because it best illustrates the importance of this subject. I suppose people can be forgiven if they don't recognize the long-term damage being done to trees, and ignoring their gradual (although rapidly accelerating) decline. I guess maybe it's even understandable if people are so obtuse they don't realize how impoverished a world without maple syrup, nuts, fruits, shade and wood and wildlife habitat will be. Personally I cannot bear the thought of losing their beauty.
But as this garden demonstrates - on June 3, 2010! - what is at stake here is nothing less than our food supply.
From tomatoes to green beans, vegetables have much earlier and more pervasive damage than they exhibited last year, which frankly scares me into pure panic.
Here's the HuffPo discussion - yay I got fanned and faved!!

Haley Barbour: Oil? What Oil? Press Should Stop Scaring Tourists

Posted: 06- 6-10 10:18 AM

Haley Barbour

The biggest problem facing Mississippi in the wake of a massive oil spill in the Gulf isn't tarred beaches or ecological waste, the state's governor Haley Barbour said on Sunday. It's the national press corps, which, he asserted, is inflating the disaster's current impact and, as a result, decimating the state's tourism industry.

In an appearance on Fox News Sunday, the Mississippi Republican veered as close as any elected politician could to insisting that the biggest oil spill in the history of this country had been overblown -- at least when it comes to his state.

"The truth is," he said, "we have had virtually no oil. If you were on the Mississippi Gulf coast anytime in the last 48 days you didn't see any oil at all. We have had a few tar balls but we have had tar balls every year, as a natural product of the Gulf of Mexico. 250,000 to 750,000 barrels of oil seep into the Gulf of Mexico through the floor every year. So, tar balls are no big deal. In fact, I read that Pensacola or the Florida beaches when they have tar balls yesterday didn't even close. They just sent people out to pick them up and throw them in the bag."

"The biggest negative impact for us has been the news coverage," Barbour added. "There has been no distinction between Grand Isle and Venice and all the places in Louisiana that we feel so terrible for that have had oil washing up on them. But to the average viewer [of] this show thinks that the whole coast from Florida to Texas is ankle-deep in oil. And of course, it's very, very bad for our tourist season. That is the real economic damage. Our first closure of fisheries in Mississippi waters came just earlier this week after about 45 days. So it may be hard for the viewer to understand, but the worst thing for us has been how our tourist season has been hurt by the misperception of what is going on down here. The Mississippi gulf coast is beautiful. As I tell people, the coast is clear. Come on down!"

Barbour has been one of the most defiant skeptics about the impact of the crisis in the Gulf, comparing the spill, early on, to the sheen commonly found around ski boats. Perhaps it's because Mississippi, so far, has yet to feel the spill's direct affects. The first signs of oil on the state's shores came four days ago. Barbour, meanwhile, said that there have been only two cases of oil washing up on shore.

And yet, his lack of caution or concern is notable. On Sunday, Barbour joined a growing chorus of Republican lawmakers to criticize the president for putting a moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf. An investigation as to what went wrong with the BP well may not be completed. But the likelihood of another accident was statistically small, he stressed. And by the time the six-month suspension of drilling had ended, companies will have gone looking for oil off of different coastlines.

"They'll be in West Africa, Indonesia, in China, and drilling oil wells elsewhere in the world," said Barbour. "And the loss of production that we're going to suffer will make us even more dependent on the Middle East, on Venezuela, on people that aren't our friends. let me tell you one other little thing environmentalists ought to think about. The ten worst oil spills in American history, seven of them were from ships."

Story continues below

As for the job that the administration was doing in handling the spill, Barbour insisted that he wanted to remain above the partisan fray. After, all, he added (with a wink and a nod) what kind of politician would he be to get in the way of another's self-destruction?

"The American people are making up their minds pretty clearly about what they think of the administration's performance in this disaster," said Barbour. "And I'll let it stand at that. You know, Napoleon said never interfere with the enemy while he's in the process of destroying himself."

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opprobrious 10 hours ago (10:24 PM)
Haley Barber has his facts wrong, of course. It's not barrels. It's metric tonnes. And it's not in the Gulf of Mexico. It's worldwide. And it's estimated at around 600,000 (give or take a million) metric tonnes which is equivilant to about 12,000 barrels. And I'm quoting a study co-authored by a scientist from the oil industry. The study was an attempt to lowball the amount of man-made oil seepage when compared to the amount that seeps out of the bottom of the world's oceans naturally (which they'd want to highball). http://www .springerl ntent/bya6 g7r7ceeban rl/ And if you really want a laugh... http://www .chevron.c om/product s/sitelets /elsegundo /downloads /mother_na tures_oil_ wells_shee t.pdf Of course, the study somehow manages to ignore the Niger delta (which is way worse than even the Gulf spill)... http://www .guardian. d/2010/may /30/oil-sp ills-niger ia-niger-d elta-shell


Gail Zawacki 9 hours ago (10:42 PM)
What is also ignored is what happens when the oil isn't spilled, but rather is burned as intended. That burning fuel sends less visible but no less toxic emissions into the atmosphere. It has created epidemics of cancer, emphysema and asthma. It is linked to autism and ADHD. AND, it is pure poison for vegetation. Ozone impairs the stomata of foliage, impeding the ability of plants to photosynthesize and produce chlorophyll. The cumulative exposure to inexorably rising levels of tropospheric ozone is killing trees at a rapidly accelerating rate. Go look at some! Their leaves are singed, turning brown, and falling off. This isn't some romantic, hippy issue - it is an existential threat! If plants can't grow, people can't eat! Think it's overblown rhetoric? visit www.witsen dnj.blogsp for photographs and links to scientific research about the impacts of ozone on crops. If we don't switch to clean, renewable energy - solar, wind and geothermal, and soon - famine will be the result, even in rich countries like the US. Whether you are rich or poor, or are a farmer or a consumer, we and the source of our food are all breathing in the same toxic air.
opprobrious 9 hours ago (10:44 PM)
And don't get me started on the effects of the dispersants. Excellent post.


MyOwnPerson172 7 hours ago (12:34 AM)
Fanned and faved.


  1. This ozone meter is outside my price range but it measures 8-150 ppb ozone and data logs it. If you had this meter or the S-200 (no data logging) you could take a picture of a plant and get an ozone measurement at the same time.
    Correlations would quickly show themselves.
    (I googled 'ozone meter')


  2. Interesting perspective, Catman306! They appear to be marketing ozone for everything from killing bacteria to deodorizing. I called to get more information but ended up confused. I still don't know if their ozone is the same as the ozone produced from burning fuel, or if that is different depending on the fuel, and the temperature, and the UV radiation...the guy on the phone did tell me 1. either way you don't want to be breathing the stuff and 2. if you want to measure ozone out in the real world (as opposed to controlled enclosed areas that they test) you need a really really expensive piece of equipment...

    Stay on it! It's all new to me.

  3. Of course I realize it may be that the total ozone exposure of a plant over time that creates the problems that your photos document. It may be a short term high exposure instead of long term low average exposure that causes the harm. Any measurement you took would be an instantaneous reading that might have nothing useful to add, but I suspect some locations with damage may just be in some plume of O3 coming from some roadway or factory upwind of your plant of interest. There's so much we don't know about ozone and thousands of other chemicals.


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