Friday, May 6, 2011


Preparations for first daughter's wedding on May 21 are getting a bit frenzied, with meetings with the caterer, the tent rental, plus cake tastings and jewelry shopping.  Not to mention making the decoupage coasters for gifts!  And the bridal shower tea at Wit's End next weekend...This week, The Dress arrived and we went back to the Exquisite Bridal Salon for the first fitting.
These festive activities are of course taking place against a grim background of looming ecosystem collapse.  So of course, just as ironically, this post is going to have some pictures of the fabulous gown...and some of the surrounding signs of decline.
Most Americans choose to ignore long-term threats, given the least excuse to do so.  And why shouldn't they?  Those who can afford it are surrounded by luxury unimagined even in the recent past, and now take it completely for granted and fully expect it to last indefinitely.  And those who can't afford it can watch the teevee and dream that someday it will all be theirs.
Epic, unprecedented floods from Tennessee, Iowa, and Connecticut in the US, to Canada and Pakistan and Australia, are already devastating farmland.  Searing heatwaves and droughts have assaulted Australia, Europe and Moscow.  Food commodity prices are soaring.  Extreme weather continues to break records by huge margins all over the world.  And that's without even considering the impacts of rising levels of air pollution.
Ever since we came to be enlightened about the existential threat of catastrophic climate chaos, I have had a running dispute with Steve, in whose humble opinion the scientists should be blaming themselves for society's stunning lack of regard for their warnings - because for the longest time almost none have been sounding any sort of compelling alarm.  My response is usually that marching in the streets isn't their role - it's ours.  They research and present information, and politicians and voters decide what to do with  it (I realize this ignores the fact that the government is a wholly owned subsidiary of Blackwater, Monsanto, big Pharma, and BP but it still absolves the scientists.)

He counters that it just isn't convincing to the average lay person that drastic action is required to avert disaster when the scientists aren't actually behaving as though we are in anything approaching an emergency.  If they really think we have to cut emissions 80% by 2020, or even at all, then why aren't they making that case by any means necessary, rather than quibbling about emails and funding and arguing with paid professional oil and coal industry propagandists?  And I have to agree that, while in some instances, researchers must travel in order to collect the data that informs the science, it is also less than convincing - particularly in the case of climate activists - and it undercuts the seriousness of their message, when they are jetting around the world to impart it.
At the very least, it was a colossal mistake to use the year 2100 as a benchmark for predictions of sea level rise, or glacier melt, or higher temperatures.  Anyone old enough to read them in the IPCC consensus report will almost certainly be dead when they come to pass!  Even though it flies in the face of prudence and caution, scientists should be talking about what is happening NOW - and there is certainly plenty of it.  While they are at it they should completely abandon reference to a "once in 500 year event" unless it is immediately explained that although most people big deal, it happens every 500 years...actually, it means according to a mathematical model, that there is a 0.2% chance of it occurring in any given year...which has a much more serious implication about the rarity and severity of such an event to happen, let alone several - or a 1000-year flood, for instance.  That results in a 0.1% chance that Tennessee would have looked like this in 2010:
And another peeve - saying we hit the highest temperature or the most tornados or longest drought since, say, 1896 makes it sound like in 1896 it was more extreme, when it often means, that is as far back as we have a reliable record!
I am starting to have a little more sympathy for Steve's judgment in general, however, as I make the connection between the many, many published studies that scientists have produced that warn unequivocally that ozone is toxic, and yet to read them, they are full of unsupported assumptions encouraging unwarranted complacency and encourage a perpetuation of the status quo - such as, it is not such a big problem really, because people are going to start reducing their use of dirty fuel that results in poisonous emissions...honestly, surely, someday soon!  So we should just be studying which species are more resistant to ozone - when in fact, anything that has to photosynthesize is vulnerable to one degree or another.  So this is pure nonsense and what they should be saying is:  all the trees are going to die and every species dependent upon them (including us as well) - unless we die of famine and civilization breakdown and resource wars first - because crop yield and quality is being damaged more and more every year...because the level of background tropospheric ozone is inexorably rising.
First daughter does not like me taking her picture and so she scowls at the camera.
Her Vera Wang dress is an amazing confection of pleats, ruffles, netting, and lace, all tucked in a bon amusement of pouffy layers.  Truly delightful.
Following are pictures of trees hereabouts, interspersed with excerpts from a summary of the state of the knowledge in 2008, which is a case in point.  An expert review compiling evidence from many independent studies is referenced in the paper, "The Ozone Component for Global Change:  Potential Effects on Agricultural and Horticultural Plant Yield, Product Quality, and Interactions with Invasive Species," which begins with this observation (all quoted passages in lavender):

Ozone poses a critical threat and a challenging problem to world food security, fiber and timber production, conservation and genetic diversity of natural plant communities.  [This is fairly straightforward and yet somehow doesn't ever lead to any admonishment that urgent action is required.]
Many trees this spring are only partially leafed out.  This can be seen all around this historic rural farm.
 Concluding remarks:

In general, it is important to remember that Oat sufficiently high concentrations is toxic to most living things.  [The only living things it isn't toxic to are the ones we haven't studied yet.]  Our present understanding of crop responses to Oindicates that measurable yield losses due to Otoxicity are likely occurring in food and fiber crops in many regions of the world.
 Quality aspects of affected vegetation can be lowered by Oas well. Ozone concentrations continue to rise in some regions of the world, but if proposed emission control legislation is implemented worldwide [hahaha], Oconcentrations in 2030 are projected to stabilize at 2000 levels except in regions (e.g. India) with large increases in energy, transportation and industrial activities.
Bare branches hang over this great blue heron wading in the pond.
 Rising levels of atmospheric COwill likely ameliorate deleterious Oeffects on vegetation, although the converse is also true – Osuppresses the potential COaerial fertilization effect in some plants as well. Overall, efforts to mitigate climate change are also projected to lower ground-level Oconcentrations and radiative forcing[hahaha]
However, climate models also suggest that episodes of high ground-level Oconcentrations will occur more frequently during the growing season in regions such as the northeastern USA and Southeast Asia due to increases in temperature and changes in atmospheric circulation patterns. Damaging effects of ambient Oon yield and quality of many crops and horticultural plants will continue in many areas of the world and require further scientific evaluation of magnitude, distribution and mechanism.  [require further scientific evaluation BUT NOT IMMEDIATE EMISSION REDUCTIONS?]
Understanding the impact of ambient Ounder open field conditions is especially relevant to current agricultural practices where new crop cultivars, many of which are genetically modified, are being placed into production without specific consideration of their sensitivity to O3. Crop breeding programs need to incorporate selection of traits for improved plant tolerance to ambient Oin order to maintain and increase crop yields and nutritive quality.  [Good luck with that.]
 However, a full assessment of ambient Oimpacts on food crop and ornamental plant performance is likely to be complex. Growers may not be aware of yield losses due to Owhen sensitive cultivars are no longer grown near resistant ones, when distinctive symptoms do not occur on more resistant cultivars and particularly when yield losses on adapted, O3-resistant cultivars are not identified because there is no clean-air control for comparison under commercial production conditions.
This enormous tree is completely dead.  The mother goose at the edge of the pond is sitting on a nest - father to the right hissed at me ferociously!
 Yield losses due to Oexposure have been reported in cases where no visible injury symptoms were observed. Powell et al. (2003) observed altered foliar chemistry and decreased forage nutritive quality in the absence of foliar injury. In contrast, visible foliar injury was observed in five tomato cultivars following Oexposure, while a range from little to significant reductions in biomass and yield were found among the plant lines.
 Thus, visible foliar Oinjury might not always be a reliable indicator of potential Oeffects on biomass production, yield and product quality. Environmental conditions influence ambient Oeffects and inter-annual variability in weather conditions makes generalizations difficult. It is challenging to assess yield loss in the field and to diagnose Osymptoms without comparisons of biomass and yield responses at a range of Oconcentrations.
The farmer was setting out ornamentals along the walk.
There is currently consensus within the scientific community that Ocan have significant effects on many crop and horticultural plants. This has been demonstrated through studies using a variety of approaches such as: outdoor controlled-environment chambers, OTCs, free-air exposure systems, open-air experiments with sensitive/tolerant cultivars and O3-protectants, and multivariate modeling of plant responses to ambient Ousing multiple study locations and similar experimental protocols.
The protocols have been used in various combinations to screen crops and cultivars for Osensitivity. To refine the range of likely losses will require updating and expanding previous studies using mod- ern cultivars grown under current production conditions of fertility and water management. Potential gains achieved by screening modern cultivars for Osensitivity using marker- assisted selection is an unexplored arena.
The native cedars are dwindling fast.
Further studies are needed to: (i) define crop responses to Ounder a range of environmental conditions; (ii) identify molecular markers for Osensitivity; (iii) assess plant responses to ambient Oin natural settings; and (iv) construct predictive models of crop performance in a changing climate. These are costly studies to conduct and have not been carried out for currently-used cultivars.
This fungus is a dead ringer for the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
In a similar and quite typical watering down of reality, this headline refers to a scientific study predicting the increase in the number of heat deaths that can be expected as the earth warms, "Climate Change Analysis Predicts Increase Fatalities from Heat Waves," but if you read the article (I can't access the original study) it actually says:

The scenarios were based on estimates from seven global climate change models and from mortality and air pollution data for the city of Chicago from 1987 to 2005.
That's right - the researchers based their estimates on AIR POLLUTION because higher temperatures mean higher levels of ozone, and ozone kills people!  So why don't headlines that talk about deaths in heat waves point to the real culprit - poisonous levels of pollution?  Maybe because it's more scary to think about being poisoned to death than just dying of the heat?  And God forbid, we scare anybody!
Here is some anecdotal corroboration for the notion that our ecosystem is in freefall collapse, noted by reader Catman.  In Athens, Georgia a scientist pleads for more information on an outbreak of caterpillars that have always been around but suddenly are capable of consuming an entire white oak in a day.  Naturally, I think that perhaps the fact that it has been demonstrated in many studies that trees lose their natural defenses to ward off attacks from insects, disease and fungus when they have been exposed to ozone might have more than a little to do with it.
I went looking for morels but haven't seen any in several years, although I used to collect sacks of them.  They should appear with the Jack-in-the-Pulpits, of which there are far fewer.  It used to be impossible to avoid stepping on them.  Now you have to hunt to find them.
Lastly, yet another sad example in the annals of wildlife perishing for no apparent reason, in this case, elk that starved to death.  An Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife biologist explained their deaths thusly:

The winter wheat did the young elk in because their digestive systems cannot break it down and absorb its nutrients. This means some elk actually died of starvation because they were not absorbing nutrients from the winter wheat. “They starved to death on full stomachs,’’ Kirsch said.

Uh huh.  I wonder if he knows about the conclusions in the USDA paper quoted extensively above, which says:

Decreased yield and quality of O3- exposed bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum Fluegge) and sericea lespedeza (Lespedeza cuneata) were of sufficient magnitude to have nutritional implications in their use by mammalian herbivores. Likewise, a decline in relative feed value of high-yielding alfalfa in Alberta, Canada was strongly linked to ambient O3 concentrations, based on a multivariate analysis of air pollutant and meteorological data. Interactive effects of O3 with other air pollutants on plant quality have also been reported. For example, results from a long-term experiment in a Swiss sub-alpine pasture revealed that positive responses in forage quality to nitrogen inputs were negated by increased lignification of cell-wall constituents associated with accelerated foliar senescence due to elevated O3. Similarly, Sanz et al. (2005) reported that nitrogen fertilization amplified O3 effects on the concentration of the ligno-cellulose fraction in subterranean clover (T. subterraneum L.). Decreased nutritive quality of forages can lead to lower milk and meat production from grazing animals, thus linking air quality with impacts on animal production systems.
Once upon a time I had a body like that!  First daughter stole my body!!  Lest anyone doubt the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, here she is, determined to live in Camelot but knee-deep in the muck, stubbornly and single-handedly digging a trench for the cement footing for her stone arched bridge.
 With a little help from a backhoe.


  1. Interesting correlation

    I filling my three bird feeders almost daily in early March. As soon as the caterpillars started down on their thread of silk, the birds stopped coming around and eating sunflower seeds. It was like someone flipped a switch. The caterpillars didn't do much damage to the big oak trees, just to some really young dwarf white oaks on the other side of the house.

    A bird garden with food and water keeps the insect pests under control.

  2. I was having a problem post as catman306 but it's OK tonight.

  3. Love the way you link nuptials and ozone - it is all so personal and universal... thank you.

    And best wished to the bride and groom.

  4. Correction: The identification of the caterpillar from the Agent Answers on May 1 was incorrect. The correct identification of the caterpillars that are eating oak trees around town are black-dotted browns (Cissusa spadix).

    I've had them here for many years, just not so many. But all of this happened several weeks ago.


  5. I happened to look at the google maps streetview of my house which was taken sometime in 2009 or earlier, judging by the fact my brothers old car is in the driveway. It would seem that things have not gotten markedly worse here since then. I had convinced myself that things had gotten extraordinarily worse over the last 2 years but it seems this may not be the case. I guess we could take that as a sort of "good" news. No doubt we're probably in a downwards spiral though. But I think we have far more than a few years left. I'm in Vancouver BC.


    You'll want to see the pollination video



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