Saturday, March 26, 2011

Squabbling over the Scraps at Tamino's Closed "Open Mind"

Contributing on a regular basis to this blog about dying trees has become progressively more excruciating.  It is like pulling out a splinter.  Has anyone ever said that about writing?  If they have, I'm sorry to be repetitive.  But it suddenly occurred to me, that the process of composing a post is quite similar to having a vexatious thorn pierced beneath a fingernail, procrastinating while it festers and swells and becomes more tender - and the only way to stop the pain is to yank it out, which hurts!  But it must be done.  Over and over...I know, it's kind of a repulsive analogy.  Sorry.
This pastoral scene provides a perfect example of how I begin.  Anyone can do it!  Start with a peaceful place like this church, which is a few miles north of Wit's End, a hoary graveyard adjacent...and in front, an august, centuries' old maple that perhaps, who knows? - dates from the establishment of the congregation, in 1727.
An elderly parishioner who had stopped by to clear the grounds agreed to pose by its trunk to give a sense of scale...It's hard to convey how massive an ancient tree is without some comparison.
"That's probably our oldest tree," he observed.  "Every winter we lose some branches."
But what he doesn't see (and only a handful of people do) is the harrowing truth that this tree harbors if only you LOOK - and know how to recognize the symptoms that indicate it is dying, along with all the others, incrementally - and lately faster and faster - from caustic air pollution.
Like most people, he isn't noticing the bark splitting and peeling from trunks and branches, and doesn't realize that cankers like this are just as lethal to a tree as malignant tumors are to humans and animals.
Most people don't understand that these gaping holes from fallen branches are proof positive of a rotting interior - and harbingers of death.  Oh, this would be the human equivalent of...gosh...hard to say.  Arms falling off?  Maybe just fingers.
The bark, meant to be an invulnerable, protective skin, is spiraling off in twisted torques, a slow motion destruction.
From this dismal survey I headed in the direction of home, but stopped for a brief respite from the unrelenting late snow at a small nursery, where the proprietress specializes in orchids.
I have been buying ornamental plants from her for three decades now, and she is still hard at work, even though she is stooped with age.
The tall pines along the drive are disturbingly thin, but worse still is the troubled holly beneath.
It's a long established tree, which is hard to discern because hollies grow very slowly, but you can compare it to the wooden barrel on the lower right corner of the photograph.
The older the leaves are, the more seasons they have been exposed to ozone, and the more extreme is the visible damage to the stomates.
Thus the stippling from top to bottom on this specimen is vicious.  The ground beneath is littered with leaves that have fallen off.  NO - that is not normal.
In a few days the buds on this viburnum will fully open and the air will be filled with their heavenly perfume.
It was with great relief and gratitude that I toted my camera inside the greenhouse, where it was steamy warm and orchids were in bloom, all the while keeping up a conversation with my Dutch friend about the dismal condition of the world in general, the enviable cohesion of the Japanese people in the face of multiple incomprehensible disasters compared to the looting that followed the 9/11 blackout - and pollution.
My expert gardener was surprised to hear that:  1.  pollution damages plants; 2.  our rural, western section of New Jersey is polluted and 3.  the US of A is still burning coal.
She thought that because our remote area is so far from industry that our air must be clean!  When I explained about coal plants in the Midwest building immense smokestacks to disburse the pollution up and east she was astonished that we were still doing something as filthy and archaic as burning coal.  I don't know where she thinks we get electricity!
Meanwhile, mixed in with the divine orchids, you might see something more squalid - leaves that appear to have quite obvious signs of exposure to ozone - loss of chlorophyll, or stippling from burned stomates, or singed these!
Or these...
But try to ignore that.  Open Mind, and Real Climate do.  So can you.  Nothing to see here - move along!
I didn't realize when I left a comment on the blog ironically called "Open Mind," that it is written and visited by Real Climate loyalists.  I don't even have any idea who the author, called Tamino, is.  If he/she is identified anywhere on the blog, I missed it.
Anyway, following a link from Climate Progress, I found that he/she had published an analysis, titled "Food for Thought," on the topic of climate change affecting agriculture.  As is so often the case, the conjecture about what is triggering precipitous commodity price increases completely neglects to include the significant yield reductions and impairment of crop quality that are directly due to exposure to ozone.  So I left a couple of what I considered rather innocuous and informative comments, to whit:
Higher temperatures = more ozone. That’s the equation fossil fuel companies really don’t want the public to understand.
Inexorably rising levels of background tropospheric ozone result from the VOC emissions created when burning fuel, reacting to UV radiation. Ozone is highly toxic to people, causing cancer, emphysema, asthma, allergies, and is recently linked to diabetes and autism – all of these ailments have reached epidemic proportions.
Worse still, ozone is even more poisonous to vegetation. NASA and the Dept. of Ag. estimate crop yield losses annually in the US alone in the billions of dollars. In addition to stunting growth and causing a decrease in quality and in nutritive value, exposure to ozone increases the vulnerability of plants to insects, disease, fungus, drought and wind.
The real kicker is that long-lived species like trees and shrubs that are exposed to ozone season after season are dying off at a rapidly accelerating rate. This is happening around the globe as ozone precursors travel across oceans and continents. Imagine the implications of a world with trees. The entire ecosystem of species that depend upon trees for food and habitat, shade and soil retention, will expire with them. That includes, ultimately, humans. We also happen to rely on forests for oxygen to breathe, along with life in the sea, which is also doomed from ocean acidification.
We should convert to clean energy on an emergency basis before we starve and suffocate, if it isn’t too late already. Or rather, even if it is already too late – we should do it anyway.
I’m not making this up, by the way. The effects of ozone are well documented in scientific research – links here:

“Human-Generated Ozone Will Damage Crops, Reduce Production… MIT, 2007 …A novel MIT study concludes that increasing levels of ozone due to the growing use of fossil fuels will damage global vegetation, resulting in serious costs to the world’s economy. The analysis, reported in the November issue of Energy Policy, focused on how three environmental changes (increases in temperature, carbon dioxide and ozone) associated with human activity will affect crops, pastures and forests. The research shows that increases in temperature and in carbon dioxide may actually benefit vegetation, especially in northern temperate regions. However, those benefits may be more than offset by the detrimental effects of increases in ozone, notably on crops. Ozone is a form of oxygen that is an atmospheric pollutant at ground level.”

I was genuinely astonished that the link above inspired this spiteful vituperation from the blog host/hostess:
[Response: You've had plenty of opportunity to push your ozone agenda. Enough.]
Why is it that climate change activists and scientists are so obsessed with the physics of CO2 and so willfully ignorant of the damage wrought to the environment from other greenhouse gases?  So entrenched is their bias that when it's pointed out to them they either evade it or start sniveling and then censor further dialogue, to the point where they are more tolerant of outright climate change deniers repeating their canards than allowing any examination of ozone!  So I left this:

Are you kidding me? I have an “ozone agenda”? Oh, like, I LOVE ozone? Or what?
I have a “survival” agenda. Like, I would like my beloved daughters to live to a nice ripe old age, and they aren’t going to be able to do that, because guess what??
The air is so polluted that all the plants and trees are dying! YEAH. That is what is happening, in the real world, and if you GUYS want to ignore pollution and fuss over atmospheric physics ad nauseum, go right ahead.
Meanwhile, we will just all die, together.
[Response: The problem is that after having stated your thesis, repeatedly, you continue to do so without letting up. That's fine for your own blog, but not for this one (or RC, where you did the same thing). And you don't seem to have the peer-reviewed science to back up your claims.
You've had your say. If you want to keep talking about the ozone issue, you've got your own blog. My agenda is global warming, which is what this blog is about.]
He/she refused to publish my answer:

Your comment is awaiting moderation.

“you don’t seem to have the peer-reviewed science to back up your claims….”
That’s ironic, given that the comment that inspired you to complain about my “agenda” was nothing other than a direct quote from a journal about peer-reviewed scientific research – from MIT!
“My agenda is global warming, which is what this blog is about”.”
Scientists say ozone is the 3rd most important greenhouse gas. Not to mention, if and when trees are gone from exposure, a rather major CO2 sink is going to disappear.
Fiddle on!
It's profoundly dispiriting that the very people you would expect to be concerned about toxic greenhouse gases - educated and aware of the consequences of climate change - are enmeshed in as deep a denial of ecosystem collapse as the average American teevee addicted couch potato!  Why is it that both Tamino and Jim Bouldin feel compelled to whine "Our blog is about climate science!"  Are they suffering from some kind of identity crisis?  In saying that, they actually deny ozone is a major contributor to climate change, regardless of whether they want to admit it's killing people and trees directly...which is patently absurd.  It is as though even the most enlightened are SQUABBLING OVER THE SCRAPS rather than confront reality.
Perhaps because it is a very bitter truth that challenges the stability and security of our most fundamental expectations that even most climate scientists and activists are ideologically opposed to considering the effects of dirty pollution in their study of pure atmospheric physics.  CO2 and the precursors to ozone are produced from the same industrial processes of burning fuel for energy.  Solving climate change by switching to clean sources of energy combined with drastic conservation would simultaneously solve the health and ecosystem damages from ozone...and vice versa.
Or maybe, scientists frightened by positive amplifying feedbacks leading to a runaway Venus syndrome prefer to be oblivious to ozone, because the last-ditch hope they secretly cling to is that catastrophic warming might be slowed with geo-engineering technology...and geo-egineering won't do a damn thing to stop trees from going extinct, taking most other life-forms with them.  Now, that's a seriously disheartening notion. (see:  Playing God with the Environment)
Besides, the CO2 climate change position has got us citizens of the earth exactly nowhere in terms of policy, so I think it's high time we started a discussion about ozone.  Ozone kills people.  Even the revered late Dr. Stephen Schneider contracted a rare form of cancer which was treated by a particularly vile chemical cocktail known by the acronym of R-CHOP, and later died of a heart attack in a plane.  R-CHOP damages the heart.  So there is certainly a better than zero chance that air pollution killed one of the giants of climate change science.
Imagine, not one scientist has ever replied to my many letters and comments about the "hide the decline" scandal.  The reason researchers had to discard the anomalous data in tree rings of the last few decades when constructing temperature records, is because the accelerated growth from warming was diminished  from rising levels of background tropospheric ozone, even in remote areas.  Briffa himself conjectured in one of his early publications that "anthropogenic" causes could explain the decline, without specifying what those causes might be.  Considering how damaging that episode was to efforts to cap carbon emissions - and still is, the deniers continue to repeat it - it's amazing that neither Briffa nor Mann is willing to consider the evidence that ozone is the cause of the decline they had to "hide."
On the way home I took pictures of random trees, all of which are in the late stages of death.  It's incredible that so many are still standing when the base is just a shell.
Following the above exchange on "Open Mind," Tenney Naumer posted this:

Some may believe that Gail has an ozone agenda, but what her agenda is is that people should be paying more attention to ground level ozone. There is plenty of research coming out of the University of Illinois that under increasing temperatures ground level ozone rises and reduces crop yields. Well, it is not only bad for maize.
Ground-level nitrous oxide apparently also increases. Also very bad for crops and trees.
Far too little attention is being given to these gases at the ground level.
Next Richard Pauli added these helpful comments and links:
Your posting today is about food.
We should remember the National Crop Loss Assessment Agency was established to determine why significant losses to agriculture. Their studies that showed significant crop loss due to tropospheric ozone emissions.
Crop losses typically from 10 to 18%
Ozone relates strongly to energy policy, crop loss, health and more. And should be factored in any systems approach to AGW. For one reason – with more heat, and more UV radiation, the atmospheric chemical reactions will generate far more dangerous chemicals – Ozone is a particularly nasty one.
The Crop Loss Assessment Agency was shut down by the Bush Jr Administration. Their reports and conclusions still apply.
From the Journal of Economic Surveys:
Notice how the outer striated bark is missing on the lower trunk.
"Agricultural crop production is highly dependent upon environmental conditions among which air quality plays a central role. Various air pollutants have been identified as a potential influence on commercial crops including SO2, NOx, O3 and CO2. In particular, ozone in the lower atmosphere has been identified as a serious cause of crop loss in the United States and seems likely to be creating similar losses in Europe."
"In this paper the methods which can be applied to assess the economic damages from air pollution are critically reviewed. This requires measuring pollutant concentrations, relating these to physical crop damages, and estimating the reactions of the agricultural sector and consumers to give welfare changes in terms of consumers’ surplus and producers’ quasi-rents. The approach of the European open-top chamber programme (EOTCP) is shown to have neglected lessons learnt by the National Crop Loss Assessment Network (NCLAN) in the US”
Thank you Tenney and Richard!  But then since their contributions of course, the issue was once again universally dismissed.  Tamino has his/her hands over ears, shrieking "I don't hear anything" and obviously, any of the other readers who might refer to the topic risk receiving the same caustic vitriol that I got.
Never mind!  It turns out that at last some brave scientists have actually called for rationing of fuel, and high time too.  Following are excerpts from an article in the Guardian, which was written last fall, making the same points that I have been making:
1.  Switching to clean energy isn't, can't and won't be sufficient to save us from utter catasprophe. We have to drastically curtail our use of fuel - and rationing is the only fair way to distribute it.  (Deniers know this instinctively - that is why they deny.)
2.  It doesn't have to be that onerous.  People lived for thousands of years, many of them quite happily, without squandering resources the way we have in the developed world, the past hundred years or so.
Early spring is the time to prune in the orchard.

In a series of papers published by the Royal Society, physicists and chemists from some of world’s most respected scientific institutions, including Oxford University and the Met Office, agreed that current plans to tackle global warming are not enough.
Unless emissions are reduced dramatically in the next ten years the world is set to see temperatures rise by more than 4C (7.2F) by as early as the 2060s, causing floods, droughts and mass migration.

It's pure fantasy to think a tree tormented by bark like this can survive very long, let alone produce fruit.

In one paper Professor Kevin Anderson, Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, said the only way to reduce global emissions enough, while allowing the poor nations to continue to grow, is to halt economic growth in the rich world over the next twenty years.
This would mean a drastic change in lifestyles for many people in countries like Britain as everyone will have to buy less ‘carbon intensive’ goods and services such as long haul flights and fuel hungry cars.

These seeping blisters are magnets for insect attacks.

Prof Anderson admitted it “would not be easy” to persuade people to reduce their consumption of goods.
He said politicians should consider a rationing system similar to the one introduced during the last “time of crisis” in the 1930s and 40s.

Many branches are swathed in this grotesque fungus.

This could mean a limit on electricity so people are forced to turn the heating down, turn off the lights and replace old electrical goods like huge fridges with more efficient models. Food that has travelled from abroad may be limited and goods that require a lot of energy to manufacture.
“The Second World War and the concept of rationing is something we need to seriously consider if we are to address the scale of the problem we face,” he said.

Prof Anderson insisted that halting growth in the rich world does not necessarily mean a recession or a worse lifestyle, it just means making adjustments in everyday life such as using public transport and wearing a sweater rather than turning on the heating.
“I am not saying we have to go back to living in caves,” he said. “Our emissions were a lot less ten years ago and we got by ok then.”

The base of this fruit tree is so raw it is repugnant to see.  Ugh.
The willow on the left, in front of the farmhouse, has been severely "trimmed" although I now think of these hail mary attempts to resuscitate growth as "amputations."
Even from a distance, this appalling tree is in dire straits.
So I was overjoyed to see the very first daffodils I have come across so far this spring, dozens blooming joyously on a bank.
But back to trees, I wasn't home yet.  This big oak has a brass plaque named for a local farmer, and some emerging cankers.
In a parallel collapse to that of the terrestrial forests, the "rainforests of the sea" are about to expire within TWENTY YEARS - according to a scientific coalition lead by Sir David Attenborough.
The world's coral reefs are in danger of dying out in the next 20 years unless carbon emissions are cut drastically, warns a coalition of scientists led by Sir David Attenborough.
This fallen giant was a neighbor to the oak still standing.
The delicate ecosystems, known as the “rainforests of the sea'', support huge amounts of marine life. But as oceans absorb CO2 they become more acidic, making it impossible for structures such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia to survive.
When I got back to Wit's End, I noticed how the branches that have broken are smothered in lichen.
Reefs are also at greater danger of bleaching as sea temperatures warm. Scientists gathered at the Royal Society in London to call for tougher target cuts in emissions. Sir David, who co-chaired the meeting, said the collapse of coral reefs meant the death of marine ecosystems. “We must do all that is necessary to protect the key components of the life of our planet as the consequences of decisions made now will likely be forever as far as humanity is concerned,'' he said. Open water absorbs around a third of the CO2 in the air. At present, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is 387 parts per million (ppm).
This is a new one!
Alex Rogers, the scientific director of the International Programme on the State of the Oceans, says the figure will reach 450ppm in the next 20 years if the world continues to burn fossil fuels at the present rate, and once that figure was reached the ocean would become too acidic for coral to survive. “The kitchen is on fire and it's spreading round the house. If we act quickly and decisively we may be able to put it out before the damage becomes irreversible,'' he said.
The California contrail folks have been perplexed by "white tube socks" proliferating on trees.  Now we've got it too.
Coral reefs are living organisms that rely on calcium minerals, called aragonite, in the water to build and maintain their external skeletons. But when the oceans absorb CO2, it mixes with the seawater to make carbonic acid, reducing the aragonite levels. Mr Rogers said that once CO2 levels in the atmosphere reached the 600ppm mark, other organisms - such as plankton and sea snails - would start to die and whole marine ecosystems could collapse.
The bark pops off when poked.  Is is from aerosols spraying in the sky?  I think it's fungus.
“Five hundred million people depend on coral reefs for livelihoods, food and culture,'' he said. “The economic implications of the loss of coral reefs are absolutely huge.'' Alongside other scientists from the Royal Society and Zoological Society of London, Mr Rogers wants world leaders to agree to much tougher targets to cut emissions as part of any climate change deal decided in Copenhagen at the end of this year.
This tree, next to the whitened walnut, fell a couple of years ago.
I would like to say that I have received some exquisitely thoughtful and touching emails from readers that would move me to tears if I wasn't on the verge of sobbing in general anyway!  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your perceptions on ecosystem collapse and how it touches you.


  1. There's a new concept that's making its way to the forefront, because the time is here. It's called the Economics of Extinction, and the Japanese are at the leading edge with their theft of the seas. Here's Captain Paul Watson's take. Nobody is innocent in any of this. It's a spectrum of blame, some holding much more blame than others for their sadistic complicity.

    Katsutoshi Mihara is the speaker of the Taiji municipal assembly. He was elected to the assembly in 1973. Mihara heads the town's liaison council for opposing a total whaling ban by the IWC. Katsutoshi Mihara wrote the following article for the Asahi Shimbun in which he defends Japan’s policy of both opening up coastal whaling operations and continuing the slaughter of the whales of the Southern Ocean.

    The idea that increased whaling operations will provide a sustainable and inexpensive source for meat protein in Japan is delusional. Whales are a diminished resource and will not recover any time soon to levels that the Japanese desire for profit and increased consumption.

    Japan’s approach to whaling is the same as it is for tuna. Maximum exploitation for short term returns. It is the economics of extinction. As a species’ numbers are diminished, the price of the meat is increased. Scarcity translates into increased profits. Extinction translates into holding a monopoly on a product no longer obtainable and this allows for even larger profits.

    The desire for an increased number of whales killed is ecological madness and only makes sense in cold ruthless economic terms where diminishment is a bonus. A percentage of the profits of a resource driven to extinction can then be diverted into exploiting another diminished species.

    In this way, the exploitation of a species is finally ended by commercial or biological extinction by a continuation of lethal exploitation upon another species.

    It is the maximization of profits in the short term at the expense of the conservation of a resource in the long term. This is destructive to the interests of future generations but it serves the interests of the present by accruing wealth for individuals now at the expense of impoverishment of future interests.

    Mihara is of the school that believes in robbing the future to profit the present.

  2. Reading today's Climate Progress post on the US expansion of coal production just reinforces the view that we're not going to see any effective voluntary mitigation of climate change. It's the 'Tragedy of the Commons' in action. No politician is going to tell his electorate that they have to get by on much less energy and live a much less luxurious lifestyle. If someone ever did, he would be swiftly voted out of office and replaced with someone who told the public what they wanted to hear, and reversed any imposed hardship. No-one's going to vote for a politician who wants to take away their warm house, their gas-guzzling car, their air travel and so on.

    I'm not optimistic.

    Thanks to you though Gail, as ever, for bringing so much to our attention.

  3. When the scientists accuse you of 'cherry picking' the data, they make it sound sound like you are the denier. But they neglect the fact that the 'scientific data' that they cite, that they say you ignore, has been wrung through the filter of 'research dollars'. That filter prevents real research on the effects of raised ozone levels on plants. Koch brothers and other oil, industrial agriculture, and chemical companies have put that 'filter' in place to protect their polluting ways.

    I support your 'ozone agenda' and will continue to support it because what other than a change in the atmosphere can explain such a problem with trees and other green plants WORLDWIDE?

    Plants have little-to-no natural resistance to ozone because they never have had to evolve that protection. Ozone exists in our present day atmosphere at hundreds of times the pre-industrial revolution levels. That might make a difference. Duh!

  4. "Unless emissions are reduced dramatically in the next ten years the world is set to see temperatures rise by more than 4C (7.2F) by as early as the 2060s, causing floods, droughts and mass migration."

    News in just yesterday (29May2011) (via Franny Armstrong on Twitter): The International Energy Agency (IEA) (the 'gold standard' reference for global emissions) says we're on track to exceed 2020's energy-related emissions limit -- nine years ahead of schedule.

    Scary stuff :(

    As for the 'hide the decline' issue you raise: on reading your basic premise the other day, the same thought had struck me, ie that the 'decline' referred to apparent changes in dendrochronology from the, err... 1960s?... making that data suspect (and thus, in my opinion at least, eminently discardable). I had started a draft post on this; but it's still in draft as it feels counter-productive to refer to an issue (swifthack) that was, in my opinion, so successfully engineered to turn world opinion against action on climate change at exactly the right moment to stifle COP-15 in Copenhagen. Might others feel a similar reluctance (perhaps, at least in part, explaining your bad reception @tamino?).

    I too support your 'ozone agenda,' Gail. Keep hammering away, that's all any of us can do.


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