Saturday, December 11, 2010


Mike Roddy (author of the wickedly clever "Five Awards for the World's Most Heinous Climate Villains," just published on Alternet) has shared some of his wonderful photographs taken around his former home near Joshua Tree National Park.  So here they are!  Along with some terrible news:
The New York Times reports that Obama's EPA has decided to "delay" strengthened regulations for air pollution.
Seriously?  ...after I taught Simon to say "Obama, Yes We Can!"!??  Now, I'm going to have to teach him to say "Ohhhhh....BAMA!"  A brand new form of profanity.
"The delayed smog rule would lower the allowable concentration of airborne ozone to 60 to 70 parts per billion from the current level of 75 parts per billion, putting several hundred cities in violation of air pollution standards. The agency says that the new rule would save thousands of lives per year but cost businesses and municipalities as much as $90 billion annually."
Well, that's pretty clear then, isn't it?  Profits trump health.  Re-election over human lives.

I'm actually okay with the delay.  Implementing the rules wouldn't change a thing - maybe some industries would have to pay fines, and there would likely ensue court cases, with cities blaming the poor quality of their air on wind-borne ozone precursors from China.
I suspect that the damage ozone is doing to trees and crops is going to become so blatantly dangerous in the near future that those delayed "acceptable levels" will obviously need to be revised even more significantly downward, more like 30 ppb, at the most.  There is no safe level, because the damage is cumulative!

Oh that too sanctimoniously idealistic??
In light of such shameless capitulation, this report about the report hidden costs of ozone is required reading, as is this section of the EPA analysis about the impacts of ozone on vegetation.   The following pictures are to be found at a visual anthology of a trending genre of contemporary photography - documenting ecological and economic disaster.  Never ending fun!
As usual, I'm left absolutely flabbergasted to learn of the bleak surreal terminology used by our government regulatory agency, noted in the first for instance VSL:
"The value of statistical life ('VSL') EPA used in calculating the value of fewer premature deaths represents the largest share of the Transport Rule benefits."
and then there's WTP:  “'willingness of people to pay' (WTP) to reduce such risks"

Does the general public not know or not care that our lives are being analyzed in terms of their statistical value and the willingness to pay to reduce mortality??
"Given these staggering health benefits, EPA had little scientific reason to look beyond mortality and morbidity. Although EPA does quantify a $3.6 billion benefit attributable to visibility improvements in national parks and wilderness areas, it omits other significant welfare benefits simply categorizing them as “B” to represent real benefits without quantification. In addition to the substantial omissions related to government and business losses discussed at length in the following Section II, the EPA did not quantify significant pollution reduction benefits such as improvements in recreational and commercial fishing, agricultural yield, and forest productivity."
That, however, IS the focus here at the witsend blog - the reductions to agricultural yield and declining forests from exposure to ozone - so let's read some excerpts from the EPA report which DOES examine those impacts.  There are a series of disclaimers as to why they can't regulate because of insufficient data and an inability to link ozone levels to sources:
"Many of the potential nonattainment areas are in rural areas, many without significant sources of emissions of ozone precursors within the potential nonattainment area, and likely due to longer-range transport of ozone and precursors. An analysis of the origin of the contributing emissions in such areas is still incomplete, so it is unclear from a practical standpoint how SIPs would be developed. In some cases, multi-state plans might need to be developed to address the violations."
Despite this impotence when it comes to regulation the report goes on to assure us, in its understated way, that we are well and truly screwed:

"Ozone causes discernible injury to a wide array of vegetation (U.S. EPA, 2006; Fox and Mickler, 1996). In terms of forest productivity and ecosystem diversity, ozone may be the pollutant with the greatest potential for regional-scale forest impacts (U.S. EPA, 2006). Studies have demonstrated repeatedly that ozone concentrations commonly observed in polluted areas can have substantial impacts on plant function (De Steiguer et al., 1990; Pye, 1988)."
"When ozone is present in the air, it can enter the leaves of plants, where it can cause significant cellular damage. Like carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gaseous substances, ozone enters plant tissues primarily through the stomata in leaves in a process called “uptake” (Winner and Atkinson, 1986). Once sufficient levels of ozone (a highly reactive substance), or its reaction products, reaches the interior of plant cells, it can inhibit or damage essential cellular components and functions, including enzyme activities, lipids, and cellular membranes, disrupting the plant's osmotic (i.e., water) balance and energy utilization patterns (U.S. EPA, 2006; Tingey and Taylor, 1982)."
"With fewer resources available, the plant reallocates existing resources away from root growth and storage, above ground growth or yield, and reproductive processes, toward leaf repair and maintenance, leading to reduced growth and/or reproduction. Studies have shown that plants stressed in these ways may exhibit a general loss of vigor, which can lead to secondary impacts that modify plants' responses to other environmental factors."
"Specifically, plants may become more sensitive to other air pollutants, or more susceptible to disease, pest infestation, harsh weather (e.g., drought, frost) and other environmental stresses, which can all produce a loss in plant vigor in ozone-sensitive species that over time may lead to premature plant death. Furthermore, there is evidence that ozone can interfere with the formation of mycorrhiza, essential symbiotic fungi associated with the roots of most terrestrial plants, by reducing the amount of carbon available for transfer from the host to the symbiont (U.S. EPA, 2006)."
"This ozone damage may or may not be accompanied by visible injury on leaves, and likewise, visible foliar injury may or may not be a symptom of the other types of plant damage described above. Foliar injury is usually the first visible sign of injury to plants from ozone exposure and indicates impaired physiological processes in the leaves (Grulke, 2003). When visible injury is present, it is commonly manifested as chlorotic or necrotic spots, and/or increased leaf senescence (accelerated leaf aging)." 
"Because ozone damage can consist of visible injury to leaves, it can also reduce the aesthetic value of ornamental vegetation and trees in urban landscapes, and negatively affects scenic vistas in protected natural areas."
"Ozone can produce both acute and chronic injury in sensitive species depending on the concentration level and the duration of the exposure. Ozone effects also tend to accumulate over the growing season of the plant, so that even lower concentrations experienced for a longer duration have the potential to create chronic stress on sensitive vegetation."
"Not all plants, however, are equally sensitive to ozone. Much of the variation in sensitivity between individual plants or whole species is related to the plant’s ability to regulate the extent of gas exchange via leaf stomata (e.g., avoidance of ozone uptake through closure of stomata) (U.S. EPA, 2006; Winner, 1994). After injuries have occurred, plants may be capable of repairing the damage to a limited extent (U.S. EPA, 2006)."
"Because of the differing sensitivities among plants to ozone, ozone pollution can also exert a selective pressure that leads to changes in plant community composition. Given the range of plant sensitivities and the fact that numerous other environmental factors modify plant uptake and response to ozone, it is not possible to identify threshold values above which ozone is consistently toxic for all plants."
"Because plants are at the base of the food web in many ecosystems, changes to the plant community can affect associated organisms and ecosystems (including the suitability of habitats that support threatened or endangered species and below ground organisms living in the root zone). "
"Ozone impacts at the community and ecosystem level vary widely depending upon numerous factors, including concentration and temporal variation of tropospheric ozone, species composition, soil properties and climatic factors (U.S. EPA, 2006). In most instances, responses to chronic or recurrent exposure in forested ecosystems are subtle and not observable for many years. These injuries can cause stand-level forest decline in sensitive ecosystems (U.S. EPA, 2006, McBride et al., 1985; Miller et al., 1982)."
"It is not yet possible to predict ecosystem responses to ozone with much certainty; however, considerable knowledge of potential ecosystem responses has been acquired through long-term observations in highly damaged forests in the United States (U.S EPA, 2006)."
These images, immediately above and below, are screenshots from the monumental movie, "Home."  It's a full-length feature, so click here when you are settled in with whatever snacks and drinks you require.  It is narrated by Glenn Close, who unfortunately sounds throughout sort of like a hectoring, peevish has annoying and unnecessary subtitles (unless you're deaf)...and the screechy soundtrack would not have been my choice either.  Having said that, the visuals are stunning, and if you hang through to the end, it does make an attempt to offer some positive observations about the prospects for human civilization to survive.  Because, why not?


  1. I don't consider Obama a capitulator. This was always the plan and he is doing exactly as he was told to do which is serving as the face of this Corporate State's policy initiatives. He's no more, or no less, than Dubya, which is to say a cheerleader, pitchman puppet and stooge. The system and its diabolical structure should be the focus, not the actors. Focusing too much on the actors and the names is a distraction....that's why Beck and Limbaugh do it so much.

  2. Gail, I posted this over at Dave's blog, but it didn't really get any response, so I will post it here. Maybe you've seen it, and if you have, excuse the redundancy, but I think it's important to understand the sources of ozone, and this most recent natural gas play is a significant contributor to ozone as well as water contamination. Natural Gas is being touted as green because it burns cleaner than coal and oil, but when you consider the extraction process, it is actually much more insidious and dangerous than coal and oil, if you can believe that. It's called Gasland. Here is a link to Part 5. I highly suggest watching the whole thing, but initially go to the 11:30 mark and review what the scientist says about the pollution created by the natural gas wells in and around Dallas/Fort Worth. Look at the emissions coming off the condensate tanks that is invisible with the naked eye but when viewed through infrared is frightening.

  3. Oh thanks! I have heard of that film but haven't seen it. Perfect for a dismal rainy housebound Sunday!


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