Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Reposting Wesleyan University Pricing Carbon Conference

What follows was originally posted last November in 2010, as "Pricing Carbon at Wesleyan U - and the Mournful tale of a forlorn, rejected Fox."  I repeat it because this morning a new comment appeared, which includes a photograph of the same beech trees I took pictures of last fall.  If you've already read this, you can just scroll to the end to see the comparison.  Bring a hanky with you.
By way of introduction on this blogpost, I am going to paste my comment to a link initially provided by Highschooler, about a story that made the rounds on the web last week claiming that an experiment by Dutch researchers indicated that radiation from Wi-Fi networks is responsible for killing trees.  Here's my comment:

NASA, the EPA, and the US Dept. of Agriculture all report that toxic tropospheric ozone (the kind derived from fuel emissions, not the beneficial and naturally occurring stratospheric layer that protects from UV radiation) is the cause of BILLIONS of dollars in crop yield losses annually.

Ozone is poisonous to vegetation, visibly damaging the stomata of foliage.  Long-term, cumulative exposure such as is experienced by trees and other perennial vegetation is gradually, incrementally killing them.

check out www.witsendnj.blogspot.com.  There's a link at the top to "Basic Premise" and a long list of peer-reviewed, published scientific research documenting this topic.

People notice that trees are dying and it's scary.  They latch on to crazy theories like contrail conspiracies and radiation because it's too painful to acknowledge that every day we pour tons of pollutants into the atmosphere to the point where the level is intolerable to the ecosystem.

Oh, the WHO estimates that ozone kills more Americans every year than breast and prostrate cancer combined - more than automobile accidents.  I guess that's the price we are willing to pay to live our cheap-energy-gobbling lifestyle.

Without any more ado, now to our weekend of non-stop fun at the Pricing Carbon Conference, which took place at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.  Anybody who knows me knows I am a timid paranoid driver so it always takes quite a bit of fortitude for me to undertake a long-distance trip.  But I had been working on my tree costume and hand-out for several weeks, not to mention the expenses were piling up between the sonotube and fabric, the printing, registration and hotel, and gas.  Auughh!  The total amount will go with me to my grave. I was committed.  I packed up the fox and left Friday, with spare needle and thread, anxious to explain to people that it's time to look beyond carbon.
So after all that, I'm still in a bit of a state of shock - since, if it weren't for a couple of stalwart friends and the impressive and inspiring presence of many student activists...it would have been a more-or-less unmitigated horror show.  I think I would have gotten a more welcoming reception at a tea party gathering than I received from the carbon cappers.  In fact, that may be my next appearance as a tree.

I asked one of the volunteers if there was some place in the lobby during lunch where I could hand out leaflets and not be in the way.  She took a copy (which is more or less identical to the "Basic Premise" page at the top of this blog, minus the list of links to scientific research) to one of the organizers who, after reading it, approached me with barely concealed outrage.  Here is what he said, staring at me with a withering intensity:

"This is not the appropriate venue for you to be pushing your own agenda."
...Whereupon I thought, a collapsing ecosystem is "my" agenda?  Really?

"This is a serious conference about putting a price on carbon."
Ah that makes me frivolous?...So, so reminiscent of Jim Bouldin telling me that "knowledgeable" people are the only ones deserving to make comments at Real Climate!

And lastly my favorite, pronounced without a hint of irony from the midst of reams of pamphlets and brochures and stacks of xeroxed directions and schedules:

"The University is very conscious of not wasting paper."

It's a safe bet he didn't personally pay for any of that printing, whereas I spent hours perfecting the proof at Staples and paid $.85 per copy x 500 copies = $425.00 to produce that flier...so if anybody thinks those pieces of paper are too valuable to be wasted, it's me!

I successfully resisted a fleeting urge to smack his supercilious, smug, condescending face and inquired as sweetly as I could muster, "Is it okay if I stay outside on the sidewalk...is that university property or a public space?"

He conceded it probably is a public space where he couldn't prevent me from leafletting - but as a courtesy he thought I should let him consult with a University representative first.

I said, fine, that's why I asked in the first place.  To be courteous.

So, we met about an hour later and he had grudgingly changed his tune.  "You can do whatever you like outside," he informed me stiffly.  Somebody affiliated with the university must have told him to stop parading around like a petty tin-pot dictator.  Free exchange of ideas, anyone?  Contrast that to what he might have said, alternatively:

"Gee, that's really interesting.  I didn't realize NASA has determined that ozone causes billions of dollars of damage to crops every year.  If cumulative damage to trees is enough to affect the forest carbon sink, that would have a very significant impact on climate change.  I would like to learn more about this after the conference when I'm not so preoccupied, to see how this information should be incorporated in our strategy.  Meanwhile please stay in the corner so you don't impede traffic."

Instead he kicked me outside on a cold blustery day.  Imagine my dismay, especially because I could have been at that very moment at the Metropolitan Opera with my dad, enjoying the matinee of Cosi Fan Tutte!  Oh did I mention that I could have gone that night with first two daughters to the Amwell Valley Hunt Ball, drinking champagne and dancing the night away, instead of sleeping in a hotel where all my belongings teetered on the teevee because I read that bedbugs can't climb up there?

Anyway...Soon enough I was established on the patio with my tree costume and my fliers and my daughter's stuffed fox, which she had taken to a taxidermist after finding it dead on the side of the road.  Next thing you know, along comes said organizer, to inform me I couldn't keep the fox because an animal rights person was complaining, which was really unfortunate, because the fox got a lot of attention.  People are so unfamiliar with nature these days.

Besides, was that really true?  If so, why didn't he say to that person, "I'm sorry, but this is not the appropriate venue to push your own agenda?"  He had no problem saying that to me, and at least "my" agenda is not tangential, but integrally related to climate change!  For that matter, why didn't he say, "I'm sorry, but I cannot tell her she cannot have a stuffed fox any more than I can tell her she can't wear a fur coat - or for that matter, tell every participant at the conference that they cannot attend sporting leather shoes, belts, wallets, purses or briefcases!"  He should have told them if they have a problem with the fox they could tell me directly about it, and then I would have explained of course, that the fox was roadkill by automobile, much as the trees.

All of this pales in significance of course to the massive failure of the conference, which with a few notable and heroic exceptions was mainly a useless parade of posturing, mewling pontificants, each so wedded to their own approach and branded organizations (not to say funding), that it was readily apparent that nothing significant is going to change despite the more honest speakers at the podium.
The most tragic aspect of all was the lack of anything other than lip service to the ideas presented by the valiant and earnest students - who to my mind had a right to feel chagrined at the glacial (or rather, what used to be thought of as glacial, before they sped up) pace of action.
Some of the speakers clearly understand the imminent enormity of catastrophic amplifying feedbacks, such as the methane from melting permafrost, not to mention the destabilization of society by climate refugees, but others appeared to believe we have decades to convert from burning fuel, and are oblivious to the determination of people to extract every last smidge of dirty fuel no matter the consequences to the environment and climate no matter how much we cajole them.
Luckily after Sunday morning's concluding session, the sky had cleared and it was a beautifully calm, sunny, pleasant afternoon to roam the Wesleyan campus.  This magnificent oak was the sight that greeted us when we emerged from the auditorium.
This institution was established in 1831, and so there are many very large old trees of quite a few varieties, and numerous younger trees planted more recently.  I couldn't take a picture of every single one, but if I had, every single one would exhibit serious, terminal, fatal damage. Following are the photos, one after the other, as I walked along...and some interesting stories that have emerged since my last post at Witsend.
The evergreens next to the big oak have peeling bark.
It is so raw, it is painful to look at.
I really do not know what exact mechanism is causing bark to split, peel, flake, and fall off.
It goes hand in hand with oozing sap - and the loss of needles.
These particular pines have almost none left.
Here's that big oak again.  The almost invisible "evergreens" are right next to it, on the left.
First in our roundup, a brief article from USA Today, contributed by Highschooler, adds ash trees to the near universal list of tree species dying off, of course blaming insects, drought and weather:

Ash trees already under attack by the emerald ash borer are dying at rate much faster than expected in Fort Wayne after a 2008 ice storm and a recent drought.

The Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne reports that city arborist Chad Tinkel expects Fort Wayne to lose 3,000 ash trees through 2013 on top of the normal annual tree deaths of about 500.  That's twice as many as was projected two years ago.

The city's park board was told Monday it would cost more than $5 million through 2017 to remove and replace all of the ash trees along city streets and in city parks. Park officials said there isn't money to complete such a project.
In addition to damaged bark, gaping holes are to be found in almost every tree, old or young.
This maple has it all - holes and splitting bark.
Of course, there have always been trees with holes - where else would owls and flying squirrels live? - but they were centuries old trees, before clear-cutting.

Depending on the species, bark peels in different configurations.  The pine bark falls in patches that look like a jigsaw puzzle.  Maples peel off swirly writhing strips.  I think the vast majority of people have no idea how abnormal this is.

This sad story warns that chocolate trees are under attack.  I eat chocolate rarely, and only when it is very dark and rich.  The best place I have ever found is Woodhouse Chocolates in California.  They are very expensive to have mailordered, but so densely flavorful that 1/2 of one per day is pure unadulterated luxury.  I suggest you splurge now before the impending chocolate crisis hits as described at Alternet:
You can see how huge some of these trees are by comparing this sycamore to the pedestrian on the lower left.   It is truly humbling to see a life form so gigantic and heartbreaking to see them on the wane.
In a world that takes for granted the availability of delicious and affordable chocolate, it's easy to forget that the popular product actually comes from trees - not magical elves of free-flowoing cocoa rivers, sadly.  But, some experts are predicting that in a matter of decades a drop in production due to changing weather and agriculture incentives may make chocolate 'as expensive as gold'. "In 20 years chocolate will be like caviar.  It will become so rare and so expensive that the average Joe just won't be able to afford it," says one researcher...
This is typical of the crowns of trees.  Branches are missing or broken.
Cocoa production also faces competition from other crops which farmers may find more financially appealing, like for palm-oil, driven by an increasing demand for biofuels, and rubber.  Changes in weather patterns, too, have crippled production in places like Indonesia that might normally be there to pick up the slack.
High up, is a large hole.  They start from rot within.
In the last few decades, these factors have already led to higher cocoa prices, but in the coming years they could put chocolate out of reach for the average consumer.
Lovely example of missing bark, and garish green growth.
"Production will have decreased within 20 years to the point where we won't see any more cheap bars in vending machines," predicts Marc Demarquette, a British confectioner who a advised the BBC on a story about the coming chocolate crisis.

This tree has a hole in the very center at the top of this trunk.
Many of the high branches produced no new growth this season.
Highschooler also sent some links about the disappearing Amazon - a story from treehugger that validates the IPCC report:

Thomas Lovejoy, biodiversity chair of the Heinz Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment, as well as biodiversity advisor to the World Bank, says the Amazon is "very close to a tipping point." By 2075 the forest could shrink to 65% of its original size.

Lovejoy says that the tipping point for the Amazon is 20% deforestation, and we are currently at 17-18% deforestation.

Main factors in the decline include climate change, deforestation and fire--sounds mighty like what the IPCC 4th assessment report said.

As for what the forest will turn into: "The forest eventually converts to cerrado (savannah) after a lot of fire, human misery, loss of biodiversity, and emission of carbon into the atmosphere."

The Wesleyan campus is spacious and elegant, but a little to the right of this view of the stadium, the entire row of hemlock and spruce is transparent.
Another study documents the rivers disappearing due to drought.  I have always wanted to go there and see the spectacular waterfalls, but I guess I never will:
In places throughout the Amazon, some stretches of the region's most important rivers and tributaries have dried up almost entirely, reducing the normally flowing waterways to a vast plain of broken clay and mud. For some people who live and work in this part of the world, life has come to a screeching halt amid the worst drought in recent memory. It is estimated that more than 62 thousand families have been affected by thelack of rainfall with over half the municipalities in the region having enacted a state of emergency. And, on the heels of a recent report about the global droughts to be expected due to climate change -- one can only wonder if such scenes will become more common elsewhere.

Whereas this contradictory study from - who else? - researchers with the Smithsonian Institute claims that the Amazon trees can adjust just fine to higher temperatures and CO2.  All the evidence suggests that the SI is hopelessly corrupted by Koch brother financing.  It's interesting how they grasp at data from the past and hazard guesses as to what it means for the future, compared to the stories above that are based on empirical current observations.

It is generally acknowledged that a warming world will harm the world's forests. Higher temperatures mean water becomes more scarce, spelling death for plants – or perhaps not always.

According to a study of ancient rainforests, trees may be hardier than previously thought. Carlos Jaramillo, a scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), examined pollen from ancient plants trapped in rocks in Colombia and Venezuela. "There are many climactic models today suggesting that … if the temperature increases in the tropics by a couple of degrees, most of the forest is going to be extinct," he said. "What we found was the opposite to what we were expecting: we didn't find any extinction event [in plants] associated with the increase in temperature, we didn't find that the precipitation decreased."

Another reader forwarded this horrible article about birds disappearing, in England.  I know they are disappearing here as well.  I miss hearing their delightful songs.  We have taken what was literally paradise and trashed it.  There are more trees that follow, but only little else to say.  Scroll down to the beeches.

I'm not sure, this might be a fraternity.  Below are closeups of the two large trees in the foreground.
This is the maple, on the right.  It is seeping, bark is breaking off, you can see it on the ground.
Here's the tree on the left.  The entire outer layer has already fallen from the trunk.
The peeling is working its way up to higher branches.

Here's another big maple, close up below revealing holes.

The tree below has many small cankers, with suckers protruding from them, a signal of distress.
the high branches are dead.

This tree has a large patch of missing bark, on it's way to developing a big hole.

Lest anyone bring up the tired argument that trees are dying from old age, here's a row of recently planted young trees.
They have gaping holes also.
And their bark is splitting to the same degree as the old trees.
A tree tour just wouldn't be complete with some lichens.
It's interesting that they cluster around lesions.

Oh, perennial geranium is blooming in November but global warming is a hoax!
Many trees are stained in various shades from seeping sap.

This tree has lost the entire center of it's crown.

There is - or rather was - a spectacular collection of beeches in this area of the campus.
Upon closer inspection they are all dying back, the center of the crowns lost.
Cracking bark and below, a nascent canker protrudes.  These are growing on all species at a mind-boggling rate, and are generally from an opportunistic, lethal fungal infection.

This is some sort of fruit - a crabapple likely.  It too has suckers, and is an excellent demonstration of the degradation of bark.  The left limb has smooth bark along the right hand side - that's how it should be.  To the left and on the lower right limb, the bark is heavily corroded and coarsened.
Here is my favorite scene.  The romantic in me can imagine generations of passionate students stealing kisses concealed under the glowing canopy of these two weeping willows in the spring.
Now though, the nearest has cankers clustered up and down its trunk.

And the one on the left, further back, has lost so many branches it is lopsided.
This squirrel was quite annoyed by my camera...or perhaps because the pine tree in the back is almost completely bare.

This has to be the pinnacle - nadir? - of extreme tree bizarro.  Maybe we should have a contest?
Here are more of the pathetic beeches:

When I was heading back to my car for the long journey home, the light was fading and this tree was just a silhouette...so I debated whether it was worth climbing the marble stairs.
I did anyway, and sure enough, there was a hole at the base of the trunk.
 I just so happened to come across a macabre picture of a fallen tree that I rather like, so here it is, and that's all for now, folks...except this reminder:  Zawacki is a verb that means I Told You So.
Oh, and as a footnote, I did send a very rough draft of this post to the organizers of the conference, offering to incorporate their perspective - and have yet to receive a reply.  If they ever decide to respond, I'll update.

Update:  I received an email from the Wesleyan Grounds Manager in  response to my questions in which he stated:

Over the last 30+ years, we've had to take down the oldest trees, some with storm damage and some with terminal disease.  The estimated oldest that we have now is probably only around 150-175 years old.

Update 2:  Tom Stokes sent me an exceedingly kind and gracious response early on Thanksgiving Day morning, for which I am extremely humbled and grateful:

Dear Gail Zawicki,

I read your account of the Pricing Carbon conference,
and regret having caused you such grief. Rather than
trying to once again explain and justify the stance
we took re your efforts to convey justifiable alarm at
what is happening to our trees, I merely say that I
was trying to do a lot of things at once, adhere to
University ground-rules, and respond to multiple
concerns different people had. Had I not been under
so much pressure, overseeing many events at once, I
certainly would have taken more time to listen to you,
understand your cause, and to seek a mutual agreement
and accommodations that might have been more satisfactory
for you and for all of us concerned.

More that the understandable anger you feel toward
me, I regret the part that our interaction had in
contributing to your overall negative impression of
the conference. It was something that many of us worked
on extremely hard (with dedication approaching yours
towards threatened trees), and we remain heartened that
we were able to provide an event that so many found to
be worthwhile (notwithstanding a couple of notable

In my travels and work, I have often identified with
that forlorn and rejected fox.

A number of the pictures that you posted are beautifully
taken, moving and compelling. I admire your dedication
and wish you well.

Tom Stokes

UPDATE June 7, 2011:  Below is a new photograph of the beech trees sent by commenter Tennessee J:


  1. Does the guy's teeshirt say "I am For A Carbon Tax?" I wonder if he knows what that implies, if implemented within our current social-political-economic structure? What it would mean is that poor people would live in even more destitute conditions, and those who were on the threshold of being poor would now be thrust into poverty whilst the Plutocrats, and their sycophantic minions, sat comfortably out of reach in their heated and air-conditioned mansions. In otherwords, it would be used to facilitate what is already happening, and that is an exponential concentration of wealth and a significant widening of the disparity between rich and poor. This unfolding calamity requires untold of radical measures......measures that would never be implemented, let alone considered, by the political class, or their paymasters, the Plutocracy. It will require a radical reordering of our lifestyles, which would entail a complete rejection of our failed institutions. Common people the world over would have to join in collaboration in bringing this about. The current political class and the Plutocrats....and the various other supporting Technocratic classes would have to be brought to heel, and incarcerated and detained, if necessary, because they would surely attempt to squash or eliminate such a threat to their vested interests.

    Appealing and/or petitioning the very System that is responsible for this insane predicament is nothing short of insanity. It's a feel-good cop-out. This System cannot provide a solution to itself. It's not part of the program. We who see this for what it is and realize what it would take to reverse the course, if that's even possible at this point and it's doubtful it is, are not part of the program....we are a virus....and for now, a minor nuisance that doesn't even register on the virus scan, thankfully. Not yet, at least. But when we do, we will be removed, unless a vast majority of us, across the globe, do so in unison. Our only chance is with huge numbers and guys with naive teeshirts like this at the forefront of what is supposed to be opposition is not encouraging.

    What has to be done won't be fun....it won't be like the 60's counter culture movement. It will be more like the Jews providing some sort of resistance to the Nazis during WWII. Think the Bielski Brothers.


  2. Another read and weep. Good til the last drop applies to more than just Maxwell House. I like what the guy said in the Bielski Bros. video. How could God not have heard their cries?


    Natural Gas Entering 'Golden Age'

    The increasing abundance of cheap natural gas, coupled with rising demand for the fuel from China and the fall-out from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, may have set the stage for a "golden age of gas," the International Energy Agency said Monday.

    Under a scenario set out by the IEA, global consumption of natural gas could rise by more than 50% over the next 25 years, with it accounting for more than a quarter of global energy demand by 2035, up from 21% now.

    Go Team Green!! Yey!!!

    Juxtapose this with what we know from Gasland. It wasn't difficult to see that writing on the wall.

  3. I never saw that movie, Morocco Bama. Thanks for the link, I will have to watch it all. Or maybe go hide in a forest.

  4. Maybe Defiance wasn't such a great suggestion afterall, considering the trees are dying and there will be no more forests in which to hide. In which case, I would respectfully request that someone please Bring Me A Shrubbery.

  5. I was shocked to see that image of Wesleyan campus. I recall it in the late 60's as filled with grand trees.

    What a pity.

  6. Go hide in the forest....while you can. I haven't seen Gasland either.
    But I was not too surprised to find articles online calling 'natural' gas a poison. A friend of mine who died a while back from multiple chemical sensitivity incurred by working at a natural gas cracking plant couldn't abide 'gas' heat. And the stinks of southern Alberta finally lost their appeal to me completely. But one lady has been tireless about 'gas' : http://txsharon.blogspot.com/
    Flowback: How the Texas Natural Gas Boom Affects Health and Safety

    Climate change. Yep, it's scary. Denial. That's b.s. misrepresentation.

    As you say. It would be nice if we understood what was happening.

  7. Hi Opit, thanks for the links. The Forbes had a great ad to start, about help with investing, with the clever twist "Econo-ME". Yep! That is a great phrase for the investing class!

    The author of that article said this:

    ...it is increasingly clear that the models are the linchpin of the theory of catastrophic man-made global warming theory. They are not just a piece of the evidence for future catastrophes, they are the only evidence."

    Which is just a lie. There is ample evidence in the paleoclimatic record to indicate higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere will be catastrophic for human civilization as it now exists - that is, a huge population, with most of the major cities and agriculturally productive regions close to sea level.

    And of course, he completely ignores ocean acidification from CO2, from which there is empirical evidence NOW that keystone species are in decline. We cannot live on land without life in the sea.

    I don't know why you put quotes around "natural" gas as a poison. Arsenic is "natural" too as are radiation and water. In sufficient quantities, they will kill you.

    As far as CO2 in greenhouses, this quote from that 2002 paper is still true:

    "The benefits of carbon dioxide supplementation on plant growth and production within the greenhouse environment have been well understood for many years."

    However a long-term study has proven that those benefits DO NOT TRANSLATE into the real world, where many other variables interact and overwhelm whatever stimulation higher CO2 accounts for.

    I would add that since plants today have evolved over time to grow in the preindustrial levels of CO2, in my opinion the jury is out as to any long-term benefits higher CO2 might have. Just because plants grow faster, there has been no research that I have found to prove they are healthy - and that nutritive value, and reproductive strength for example, remain equal.

    Lastly, there is much that is not understood about climate change, the behavior of gases, the scale and speed of amplifying feedbacks, and so forth.

    However, there is very solid understanding of the basics of climate change, just as there is with the damage ozone does to human and vegetative health. In fact there is so much fundamental understanding that we should all be terrorized into action. The threat of self-inflicted environmental annihilation is far greater than any danger faced by the human race in the past.

  8. "ample evidence in the paleoclimatic record to indicate higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere will be catastrophic for human civilization as it now exists"

    I'm still unconvinced we know we're at the point where runaway co2 is the ticket to mass extinction. I can't deny the possibility - but don't see the evidence that it is so.
    What are my scientific credentials ? Zip. So I'll consider arguments others won't...for a while.

    The unfolding multiplicity of calamaties - I agree with the ApocaDocs, thank you for that link. I'll be using your blogroll.
    The economic scam is a recurrence of what has happened before...amplified almost beyond recognition. The use of deliberately reduced Carrying Capacity will be sold as our salvation...but it will wreck our biosphere indefinitely.I don't think we need worry much about our failed institutions...they have killed pretty well all of us.
    One place I don't know if you're aware of : http://www.cassiopaea.org/cass/index.html
    Laura is brilliant ... I listen.

    So that's a big point for your view. It still does not suggest there is any effective action we should take, simply because if it comes to 'our goose is cooked'...then the scare job will have only accomplished paralysis.. not alleviated by a fund which will bleed away revenues which nations might use to compensate partially for disastrous challenges.

  9. opit, thanks for all your links. I really do appreciate your comments, and learn something one way or the other!

    I don't think we need to have runaway CO2 to trigger mass extinctions. If you think about the process of evolution, and the incredibly complex relationships and dependencies that develop over generations of adaptation by different species - to each other and the surrounding environment, which includes climate - it would only take the alteration or elimination of one significant lynchpin of that system to disrupt the entire thing. It is a delicate balance, a house of cards...and CO2 emissions are only one of the dastardly impacts humans have caused.

    I do not advocate cap and trade, by the way. It 1. isn't going to happen, 2. wouldn't work if it was adopted because of corruption and 3. wouldn't be even close to sufficient even if it did function as intended.

    The only thing that could conceivably stave off unmitigated disaster - and even then only for some minor proportion of the current population - would be emergency rationing.

    I know, I know. Dream on.


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