Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Harbingers Sing a Lonely Tune... by Dion

I have been granted permission to repost a poem by fellow blogger Dion...it is followed it by a picture of first daughter (which I persuaded the wedding photographer to forward, pending arrival of the full set).

Harbingers Sing a Lonely Tune 
Harbingers sing a lonely tune stifled by
halcyon memories of yore's panacea.
Pyrrhic society yields to the ethereal
remains of humanity's inure evolution.
Paradigm shift imbues ineffable imbrication.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport

I came across a story in Vanity Fair about the Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport, at $2 million the fastest convertible in the world (electronically limited to slightly over 250 m.p.h. to protect the tires).  Actually, there are so many ongoing disasters, I scarcely know which to post - so this is as good as any.  The point here is that it is possible, in any random current photo or video which happens to incidentally include an image of trees (like the tornado above), to discern evidence of damage being done by toxic greenhouse gas emissions.  It is quite obvious to me, although people unfamiliar with the silent language of trees may need the translation that the bare branches above, and the sparse needles on these unhappy pines below are so thin, it means they are in irreversible decline - in other words...on the verge of death.
Naturally, such pictures are often drenched in the irony of extolling, say, a machine that burns through 8 miles per gallon, which consequently produces poisonous air pollution far in excess of what could conceivably be necessary solely for transport from one place to another and in fact, represents not merely denial, but defiance, of the catastrophic consequences rapidly overwhelming our climate and ecosystem.

With standards like this absurd vehicle for consumers to aspire to, is it any wonder that despite the worldwide economic recession, carbon emissions (and by extension, other by-products of burning fuel such as ozone) last year rose precipitously by a record amount, astonishing and terrifying the scientific community that had hoped we would achieve at least a temporary respite?  Apparently any reductions in the developed countries are more than offset by importing goods from the developing nations.  So, it was not to be, as reported by an article in the Guardian UK titled: "Worse ever carbon emissions leave climate on the brink."  The brink of what, one might well ask?  It "...means 2C target almost out of reach."

ALMOST?  It actually preserved that ludicrous caveat - what a joke!  It reached over 90 in New Jersey today, and it's not even June.  This is the sort of weather that was once reserved for the dog days of August, when everyone with a penny to spare fled for the cooler coastline.  And what in turn should be the expected consequence, for human and vegetative health, when we have increased heat episodes?  Oh, wait.  Higher temps = more ozone!



Oh well.  Here's a little video about ocean acidification off the Oregon Coast, which I include not only because it is a tremendously important topic, but because this precautionary tale should be applied - urgently - to the concurrent, broadly equivalent, "acidification" of the atmosphere that is killing trees, just as the corrosive waters of the ocean are killing shellfish and coral reefs - NOT in the distant future but right now.

"The researchers found surprisingly acidic water—corrosive enough to begin dissolving the shells and skeletal structures of some marine creatures—at relatively shallow depths all along the West Coast, from British Columbia to the tip of Baja California. Researchers hadn’t expected to see that extent of ocean acidification until the middle to the end of this century."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

There is No God

I was sorely disappointed to learn after first daughter's flawless wedding last Saturday that the photographers will not have any pictures available for weeks!  I didn't take any myself and so have nothing to share other than a few pre-ceremony shots I took of her and the girls getting pedicures, and scenes of that perfect afternoon around Bramblefields where the reception followed.  Oh well.  Suffice to say it couldn't have been more lovely and I will save the details for a post when I have access to pictures.
 As usual first daughter is camera shy.
 Naturally she is reading the People magazine special issue on that other, comparatively far inferior wedding.
 Phoebe came all the way from London to celebrate with her friends from early childhood.
In any event, there is so much more to investigate that is more pertinent to the purpose of Wit's End (which is explained at the top link, Basic Premise).  After all the hullabaloo subsided, I have come to another disappointment lately.  I originally hoped when starting this blog that as people became educated about the damage being done to our trees and other plants by toxic greenhouse gas emissions, perhaps there would be an appropriate level of alarm and a wide response with an effort to conserve energy and switch to clean sources commensurate with the degree of the threat.  In retrospect, starting last summer with the heatwave and wildfire in Russia, which has since been followed by countless unprecedented extreme fires, floods, blizzards, hurricanes, monsoons, ice sheet loss, tundra melt with methane release, and tornados, all over the world - not to mention exactly zero meaningful political action to stem the tide, whatsoever - I have concluded it should be apparent to anyone who is paying the slightest attention that dangerously disturbed weather patterns from a profoundly and worsening destabilized climate are outpacing the most dire scientific model predictions at an exponential rate.  It is also apparent to me that, even though the loss of agricultural yield and quality from exposure to ozone is significant and deserves far more recognition as a looming cause for food shortages, the percentage lost from pollution is meaningless when the ENTIRE CROP is destroyed by floods or droughts - and that is, alas, already happening around the globe with increasing frequency.  We're not going to have to wait for sea level rise to salinate the fields for famine to erupt, followed by riots, anarchy, coups, and burgeoning international wars.
So I am discouraged but plan to plod along, trying to raise awareness that our trees are dying, anyway.  I have a list of projects in that endeavor for whatever remains of the future, so I expect to be busy.

First though, there is an interesting discussion about why people deny climate change on Alternet where the despairing comments are the best part of the column and the book under review:  "Living In Denial:  Why Even People Who Believe in Climate Change do Nothing About It."  There have been many related investigations by all sorts of psychologists and social scientists yet most of those I have read miss the mark.  They tend to posit that innate behavioral programming resulting from some genetically determined survival instinct prevents humans from sacrificing enough now to react adequately to the severity of that quintessential long-term threat, climate change.

I have always felt this doesn't convincingly include those (admittedly few) people who do fully grasp the existential threat of climate change (and loss of biodiversity, and peak resources), and don't shirk however much they would like to from following the implications through to their obvious but almost universally soft-pedaled conclusion.  What separates such benighted enlightened individuals from the greater population (certainly the overwhelming majority of Americans - and more often than not even highly knowledgable scientists themselves)?
I would posit a few fundamental basics.  One is, most Americans never directly confront foreknowledge of their own death, or their own primal terror of mortality.  We have become experts at deflecting, minimizing and obscuring any pondering or contemplation of our own inevitable death through various methods, chief among them the corporate-owned media promotion of an insane accumulation of trashy possessions (as though we can take them with us!) and pursuit of wholly moronic entertainment.  I learned about this from an excellent 1973 book called, ta-da, The Denial of Death, which I read when I was young and impressionable and have never forgotten.  It basically posits the notion that denial of death informs the very structure of our society, as well as our myths, and I highly recommend it.
Even more influential for people - and that would include most - who were brought up in ANY kind of religious tradition is the even deeper dread of Soulless Death - a notion that is so unsettling few even acknowledge it as a genuine option.  The idea that when you die there is absolutely nothing left of you other than your physical remains and whatever memories other living humans have - plus maybe a favorite dog or cat - and whatever you created or built, all of which is also ephemeral, is such anathema to most people, they never even seriously consider it - nor do they question the fallacious and self-serving notion that humans are somehow exceptional, and superior, to other forms of life.

Closely related and integrally intertwined of course is the conviction, sometimes not even conscious, that there must exist at some level a God, or Spirit, or Deity, or Gaia, that lives outside human imagination.
So when the inexorable, immutable, unstoppable trend of Climate Change is accepted - and not the kind that means we all should ride bicycles and change our lightbulbs and buy local and shop with cloth bags, but the real one that veered out of control and lurched past crucial tipping points decades ago (like ocean acidification and the albedo effect and methane clathrates)...the super scary one where we have already plunged over the precipice and are now hurtling towards oblivion, no more able to reverse what we have  instigated than tiny insignificant self-destructive petri-dish inhabiting bacteria - THAT climate change challenges our most basic sources of emotional, moral and intellectual security.  Very few have the fortitude to venture there.  We are going to die, our entire race is going to die and there will be nothing left of us after time has eroded our flat-screen teevees and football stadiums...and there is no fucking god.  Rather than go down that path, most shut their eyes and pray.
But still there ARE trees remaining, struggling valiantly to survive the poisonous air in which we have shrouded them, so I still want to return to what remains of our ecosystem, and see how quickly it is succumbing to habitat destruction and pollution.  As one of the commenters on the first article referenced said, even if we can only slow it down, isn't it worth it?  Shouldn't we keep trying to buy as much time as we can, even if we have no idea how much time that might amount to?  To my mind, there is no other practical or moral course.  So following are pictures of what is happening to vegetation - the basis of the food chain, and the foundation for our terrestrial ecosystem.  Older laurel leaves have round holes where their stomates are so damaged they are punctured like the famous ballots with hanging chads.  (NO, there are no bugs eating them.  The lights green leaves that have just emerged this spring are as yet unscathed.)
In general terms, most species are not faring very well.  In fact according to this article in the Daily Mail, hundreds of plants and animals in Europe face extinction.

"Today, biodiversity doesn't simply mean the protection of rare plants and species,' said Sarolta Tripolzsky of the European Environmental Bureau. 
'It's about protecting a system people rely on to live. The costs of replacing nature's free services would be devastating.'
Conservationists argue that ecosystems over time find a complex balance and changing one seemingly small aspect can have significant consequences that cannot always be foreseen."
That seems pretty unambiguous to me, and fits in with exactly what I realized as soon as I decided to pay the least attention to climate change (because I saw the trees are dying) - "ecosystems over time [lots of time, far more than the last 150 years since the Industrial Revolution began spewing hydrocarbons into the air] find a complex balance and changing one seemingly small aspect can have significant consequences...".  Correct.  Our ecosystem created over eons is a house of cards, where each one is essential to support the others.  Now think about changing, not one seemingly small aspect, but a HUGE aspect such as climate - the timing of seasonal change and patterns of precipitation, and how altering something so fundamental would fatally disrupt migration, pollination, feeding and nesting.  Or how about another HUGE aspect such as the composition of invisible gases in the atmosphere?
Which brings us to more letters scientists [their replies in lavender]:
On May 20, 2011, at 9:27 AM, Wit's End wrote:

Dear Dr. Reich,
I am writing in reference to your study as reported by the National Science Foundation here.

I hope you don't mind a quick question.  I'm interested to know if you were able to control for ambient background tropospheric ozone in your plots and if not, whether stunted growth from exposure to ozone could have been a factor in measuring plant growth.

Thank you so much for your attention.


Gail Zawacki
Oldwick, NJ

Following is his response:
Great question!  We had the same ambient ozone level across all of our plots and treatments, so ozone per se would not influence the responses (even if ozone itself was at high enough levels to have an adverse impact)....moreover, ozone pollution is low in the part of Minnesota where the experimental site is located.

"Wit's End" <witsendnj@yahoo.com>
October 29, 2010


The size of the trees had gotten large enough that it wasn't really feasible to continue the treatments (we had reached the height limits of the infrastructure).  When aspen is managed, it typically is clearcut, allowing the root system to send up sprouts, creating a new forest.  Our removal of the existing overstory is representative of a common management technique for aspen, and will produce a vigourous new stand on which we can follow treatment effects. We had tracked cumulative effects on the original trees for 12 years, which is a very long time in ecological research.  The new stand is from the same root system, so we are still measuing cumulative effects.  

Average O3 in the FACE area has typically been around 37 ppb with the O3 treatment targeted at 1.5 x ambient.

We did not notice spindly/weak appearance in our faster growing trees (they had both greater height and diameter).  I am not aware of any studies that would suggest faster growth in trees is analogous to humans whose overindulgence leads to diabetes or heart disease.

Andrew Burton
Dr. Burton's FACE project is near Rhinelander, Wisconsin, which is about 200 miles east of Dr. Reiss's NSF plot, just north of Minneapolis, MN.  So I think it's safe to assume that the level of ozone there is probably quite similar, 37 ppb according to Dr. Burton.  Is a constant background level of 37 ppb enough to cause significant, cumulative damage to perennial vegetation?

I understand why FACE had to cut down the trees which were physically too large to fumigate in the open-air chambers, however I also have to add that the subsequent experiments can't possibly accurately simulate the effects of exposure to ozone over decades because cutting, as Dr. Burton said, ["...will produce a vigorous new stand"] - in cutting down the trees and starting over from root stock, they have removed all the damaged branches and trunks through which existing and opportunistic disease, insects and fungus infect the roots (all plagues proven to be exacerbated in conditions of elevated ozone), thus giving the trees a fresh and at best temporary boost.
That is why the arborists are so busy trimming amputating branches from dying trees.  It stimulates them to put out young undamaged (but weakened) growth thus prolonging the more rapid death spiral if the tree were left unattended.  This intense manicuring isn't possible to scale to forests however, so this summer I am planning to hire an airplane and take aerial photographs.  By now so many standing trees have completely bare crowns I am certain that it will be plain to see from above.  Of course NASA and the NJ Dept of Ag. already have such images.  But just try to find them.

This morning as I was completing this post RPauli forwarded this serendipitously apropos youtube, to which I would only add...professional climate change deniers are not only crazy, they are depraved in the most criminal, immoral sense of that word:

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