Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wibble and Watermelon and more Tornados

In hindsight it would appear undeniable that following first daughter's wedding I took a respite from chronicling environmental disasters on a daily basis.  Never fear though - the death of trees continues unabated!  In some ways, catastrophe seems to be unfurling in slow motion, as ponderous as this disoriented snapper, who probably lost her way from the Cold Brook in the incessant rain, and appeared on the walkway at Wit's End.  At other times, the intemperate warnings of cataclysmic disaster hurtle forward with incomprehensible velocity, like the fatal tornados that have hit even Massachusetts, just yesterday, prompting the declaration of a state of emergency.  You couldn't have asked for more poorly timed inanity than this article published in immediately before the storms hit, sanctimoniously pooh-poohing any scientific connection between climate change and violent weather!  Haha!  Please, go leave a comment to jeer at the moron who penned that drivel!
On Sunday we took a sail on the Hudson, where we could measure the progress on the so-called "Freedom Tower" rising in lower Manhattan (never mind our eroding civil liberties in our halcyon protofascist daze)...and the foreboding hulk of Goldman Sachs on the Jersey side.  Of course this blog is primarily about the collapse of the ecosystem - but as an aside, the market economy is going to implode too - soon, and permanently.  Rather than explain why it is foolish to have money still invested in stocks I defer to expertise at the Decline of the Empire.
In the interim between wedding and sailing, I happened upon two blogs that were new to me, both of them delightfully erudite, engagingly witty, with penetrating, original and fresh perspectives.  (Luckily they came to my attention at a critical moment of personal distress, as our Romm'n'Leader solicits new recruits, and something of a mutiny among the loyal legions has occurred.  Never mind!  In many ways it is time for true doomers to look beyond unwarranted hope.)
Anyway, one is Australian David Horton's Watermelon Blog, and the other, originating from the opposite side of the world in Britain, is known variously as pedantry dot wordpress...just another glitch in the matrix...or even more inscrutably for an American as Wibble, a word which evokes such a wealth of associations (from an erratically wobbling chin to faking insanity to escape battle) that my fellow countrymen who may be as unversed with the term as I was, can click here for various definitions (and then for further exposition, watch scenes from Blackadder on the youtubes at the end of this post, for fun!).
I gleaned two eminently useful phrases from these writers, so I will digress temporarily from the topic of trees languishing in atmospheric pollution and insert some photos of more pleasant images from our gardens which finally decided to bloom - after weeks of gloomy rain, having been mercilessly replaced by days of vicious, suffocating, humid heat.
How fortunate am I to live in the age of the intertubes where such content is freely available and instantly accessible, and the authors so generous to share their trenchant observations.  I highly recommend both of those blogs, from which I expect their very useful phrases will go far to help me cope with the recurrent pain of enlightenment.
From the Watermelon Blog I discovered the term "jamais vu" which is in contrast to the more familiar "deja vu".  It means the opposite of an eerie perception of having been in the same place or situation before, to describe NOT recognizing a place that should be familiar.  I have mentioned before that I often have that bewildering discombobulation now that the landscape is altered beyond recognition, where trees are missing and hills or houses that were obscured beyond their cover have suddenly loomed into view, and I feel abruptly marooned  and lost even in places I have been on an almost daily basis for decades.  Now I have a name for that sensation, by which I intend to control it.
From Wibble I learned of the dismissive term "c'est la guerre" which refers to irrational behavior excused because it derives from the craziness endemic to war.  This I shall substitute as more evocative than "it's the insanity" which I had been mentally repeating with alarming frequency to describe all sorts of lunacy, my own especially, that is antithetical to rational thought, but rather an often unavoidable consequence of inhabiting the parallel universe where bounty masks the coming crisis.  Here's the definition according to urbandictionary:
"This French phrase of resignation gained widespread use during World War II. It provided the universal excuse for everything that was broken, no longer functioned, was unavailable or could not be accomplished. It also explained away all unusual behavior. That it is in the language of a nation whose life and joie de vivre was being crushed by an occupational army gives it an aroused sensibility."
"The phrase lingered into European reconstruction and then into modern times in all nations. It is spoken with a wry acknowledgement of its former literal meaning even though it may currently describe any other interfering force preventing accomplishment of a task, even laziness."  Or the cognitive dissonance and intermittent paralysis that results from helplessly witnessing a train wreck you cannot stop?
The first leaves to emerge in the spring, lowest on annual weed stalks, are already exhibiting symptoms of exposure to ozone.
They are losing the ability to photosynthesize and produce chlorophyll, hence the lack of color, and the brown damaged stomates speckling the surface.
While I am still diverging from ozone, I will post some thoughts by another virtual acquaintance, a correspondent by the name of Clive, who lives and ponders deep thoughts in faraway New Zealand.  He had contributed extensive comments to Climate Progress incorporating the teachings of Jiddu Krishnamurti, which with his kind indulgence are partially reproduced below along with some emailed embellishments (as usual blogger plays havoc with fonts, sorry!):
"Krishnamurti was greatly concerned with the destruction of the environment, which he described very passionately many decades back. Taking the liberty of paraphrasing the essence of his words, he said man was destroying the environment because he has no relationship with it. There is really only one crisis, not many, and that is the crisis in human consciousness. All mankind’s problems stem from there; they are a result of his greed, his desire for power, his fear, his pursuit of illusory security. These are all manifestations of the self, the ego. Because Man is divided in himself, he cannot help but create a world that is divided, separated into nations, religions, beliefs. And when there is separation there must be conflict.

I think it is clear that as long as these separations exist, we cannot work together to meet the many challenges facing us.

Thus, the only way for all the chaos of society to come to an end, Krishnamurti said, the only real solution of the endless problems that mankind creates, – that is a transformation of human consciousness. That seems to me self-evident.

Less easy to understand is Krishnamurti’s insistence that each of us is totally responsible for all the problems of the world. Not the Americans, not the politicians, the capitalists, etc...  I quote:

'We are each one of us responsible for every war because of the aggressiveness of our own lives, because of our nationalism, our selfishness, our gods, our prejudices, our ideals, all of which divide us. And only when we realize, not intellectually but actually, as actually as we would recognise that we are hungry or in pain, that you and I are responsible for all this existing chaos, for all the misery throughout the entire world because we have contributed to it in our daily lives and are part of this monstrous society with its wars, divisions, its ugliness, brutality and greed – only then will we act. '”
Upon reading this I wrote back:

These excerpts [those two sections where I added italics] are very powerful to me and help me to understand my own personality and partially answer a question I wonder about constantly - what enables some few unlucky people (me included) to recognize the self-destructive course humanity has been on ever since we started exterminating species and multiplying exponentially (and you are right it goes far back in time before the Industrial Revolution, which has merely accelerated it - and even catastrophic climate change I would venture, since we started cutting forests and burning wood) which link to two seminal experiences when I was young.

The first is that from as far back as I can remember I have been afraid of animals - afraid they have a collective conscious and resentment for our exploitation and cruelty towards them, and will one day turn on us in a vicious but well-deserved revenge.

The other is that ever since I found out about WWII and the Nazi deathcamps - and from there all the other atrocities throughout the ages not least Lord of the Flies - I have had an inescapable inkling that people are really nasty critters underserving of our position as top predator, entwined with a deep and unshakeable sense of guilt.
Both these suspicions have made me profoundly uneasy throughout my life.

Clive responded:

"I have read a fair amount about human atrocities. And it's not a matter of studying history – they are happening all the time. It is a fact that man, or at least some men (?) is capable of great cruelty, brutality. I suggest, tentatively, that that is a result of the hurt he has received. Hurt and violence, another cycle repeating itself endless in human consciousness.

This cruelty is also very much tied up with the great tendency of people to take on beliefs. That seems to make them 'inhuman', and able to justify just about any action on those who do not share their beliefs.

It is interesting to me to communicate with someone who accepts totally that the future is going to be very very grim. Full Stop. Now I say that and just yesterday I read an article about the 'mini ice age' and the Maunder Minimum which suggested there is just a chance that the sun's emissions could fall at any time, producing cooling. Of course this would not reverse the growing acidity of the ocean, or solve any other of the crises mankind has created. In fact it might introduce even greater problems like food production.

And in his present state of consciousness, mankind is going to create ever more problems, corrupting whatever he touches. That is so obvious, surely?"

Next Clive forwarded this quote from JK:

"Human beings, each one, right through the world, go through great agonies, the more sensitive, the more alert, the more observant, the greater the suffering, the anxiety, the extraordinary sense of insoluble problems."

and later added:

"I read Krishnamurti used to have a picture on the wall of a tiger. He would talk to it, although he was actually using as some sort of focus to communicate with tiger consciousness. 'Stay deep in the jungle. Keep away from man', he would say."

I think the reason I have long mistrusted animals, and most especially pets, derives from the possibly fanciful idea that their unnatural dependence breeds resentment.  (This goes a long way to explaining the unruliness of the American teenager.)  Having said that, Wit's End has long reluctantly been a veritable menagerie which has spawned, it would appear - between the veterinarian in training, the sea otter dissertation, and the Frenchtown horse farm - a cult of animalia.  So here are pictures - I can't resist! - of the newest members of the family, Nishisaka and Wick, named for the creek that runs through Bramblefields.
Nishi on the left is known as a Red Pearl fox for her white coat.
She reluctantly allows herself to be fitted to a harness.
Foxes are solitary, not herd animals.  Lacking the instinct to run in a pack or pay obeisance to an alpha leader, they are impossible to train.  But how cute can they be!?
I cannot conclude a post without more reference to our noble suffering trees.  A facebook friend of a friend, who lives in Ontario, Canada, has lately become alarmed by the number of dying trees, so following are a few of the photos she shared.  There has been an impressive amount of discussion on her entry about the possible causes for these trees to die, as she is not the only person to notice.
She has described these as "red pines" although I thought they were white.
In any event, to my eye the clearly dying pines in the forefront are not in significantly better condition that the other conifers to the rear - I believe those are hemlock.  Which apparently, are disappearing.
Perhaps as more people realize there is a global trend that affects all species and ages of trees - in all sorts of locations - there will be some wider understanding of the underlying reason that is causing insects and fungus and disease to run amuck, and there will be some hope of intervening to save them.
A local Pacific Northwest newspaper report quotes plants pathologists and aborists speculating that madrona, a lovely native variety, is also dying - from "blight" and cankers:

"Many are diseased, with brown or missing leaves and ugly black cankers on their trunks and limbs.

Lopez Island arborist Fred Ellis said canker-causing natrassia and fusicoccum fungi stop up the capillaries in the cambium so that fungicides cannot penetrate and protect the trees.
'It’s a choking disease,' he said.  Elliot is currently researching whether climate change and management practices like fire suppression may be a factor for the disease.

'We have seen 18 or so leaf diseases and two major cankering diseases over the past few years, and it's been getting worse,' said Orcas arborist Herlwyn Lutz."
You would think scientists would suspect something fundamental has gone awry when ONE species alone is being attached by 18 leaf and 2 major cankering diseases!  Tree AIDS perhaps?  In this recent photo, new growth is seen above the older, damaged leaves.
When I visited the PNW last summer, and found that the leaves of all sorts of species, not only madrona, exhibited severe, life-threatening damage - for anyone with the time to spare, those pictures can be seen by clicking here and here.  In the first link, there are extensive excerpts from the writings of Dr. Garg, a botany professor from India, one of which describes effects of the acid rain resulting from ambient ozone as:

"Increased susceptibility to pathogens:  Acid rains damage the surface cuticle of leaves and other plant organs and thereby make the plant more susceptible to attack by pathoggenic fungi and bacteria which can now enter through the damaged surface."

Dr. Garg also observes there are three stages in the decline of trees from exposure to pollution, the last and most visible of which is:  "...toxic aluminium is released at pH 4.2 leading to destruciton of tree roots and deterioration of natural defense mechanisms of trees that prevent the entry of pathogenic bacteria, fungi and viruses.  The trees thus gradually die due to nutrient deficiency, heavy metal toxicity and various pathogenic diseases."

Of course Dr. Garg is not the only scientist to note this connection and make it explicit.  American researchers at the Free Air Carbon Enrichment experiments demonstrate the same opportunistic mechanisms of decline in a video, which is embedded at the end of this post.

Is there any reason the photos from Washington State U's research web page look so similar to the leaf damage on the east coast?  Nah...must be coincidence!  Or could they have a little problem with nitrous oxides encouraging inordinate quantities of lichen to proliferate as in this image, too?
That is enough for today...As promised, for those in need of some bleak humor, here is the final Blackadder episode in two parts, about The Wibble - where it's deceptively tempting to while away quite a bit of time laughing at others...I did!


  1. Things look a heck of a lot better this year in the PNW. Not really sure what to make of it..I thought it would continue to get worse on a year by year basis here from what I saw in '09 and '10. Seems to be a bit of a revitalization at this point.. what do you think could be the cause?

  2. Well, not being there to see what you see, it's hard to say why you have the perceptions things are better. Perhaps there actually is an objective improvement, but like any decline, you would not expect it to be perfectly linear.

    On the other hand, I can think of a couple of reasons it might look better even though it isn't.

    1. You are used to the damage and are comparing this year to last or '09, and not this year to, say, 1983.

    2. It's spring. New growth obscures dead old growth, even though the dead old growth is outpacing the ability of new growth to replace it. The pictures of the madronas in this post are a case in point - they are from the PNW, I didn't take them. The first is of very damaged leaves from a prior season, and the second is new growth this spring. By the end of the summer if not before those smooth bright green leaves will look mottled and shriveled like the earlier growth, which will have fallen off. That's why the interior of what should be a mountain of glossy green is bare. Same exact thing with evergreen shrubs and trees here on the East coast.

    3. Not all plants/trees have the exact same vulnerability to ozone, just as if you throw a bunch of people in the ocean, they will all drown, but not at the same moment. It's therefore possible that the most vulnerable species of vegetation, and individual specimens in more tenuous locations (for instance, parking lots or steep slopes) have already died off completely, leaving behind younger/hardier individuals.

    ...Just a few thoughts off the top of my head, since you asked. I don't expect the overall situation to improve, in fact I expect it to deteriorate quite rapidly. There have been a slew of stories recently about rising ozone and its impacts on human health which I haven't had a chance to post yet - of course they don't generally include dying trees, but the point remains that the levels are rising, and the dieback will inevitably accelerate.

    I suggest you do an inventory of needles - looking from dropped interior branches and yellowing, plus leaves, looking for speckling, stippling, loss of color, prominent veins etc. Those are symptoms of chlorosis from ozone. It's easy to find already around Wit's End. I'd be interested to see if you notice any.


  3. 3 links I don't think you've received from here:

    This one is about air pollution, the radioactive kind:

  4. I suspect the inventory at the end of summer will show stress from the heat as well. Insects and weeds will thrive. Meanwhile, it takes a very narrow view to find things are "better".

    Thanks much for the fascinating record. Down in Hopewell we've also had turtles, along with a neat confrontation between a deer and a male turkey. Deer feerless, turkey in full panoply.

    Did you not know it is a sign of god's disfavor if you are not wealthy and busy getting more? Not a master I could respect, but tastes differ.

    (Susan Anderson)

  5. Thanks for the explanations regarding my observations in the PNW so far this spring. This is true I am comparing the improvement to '09 and '10 rather than previous to that. So far we have been spared the intense heat that was already present at this time the past few years, in fact it has been much cooler and far wetter than usual and maybe this has had an effect.

    I've seen little to no discoloration of the new foliage so far this year. Yes the old foliage took heavy damage in previous years and shows as such.

    My surprise lies more in the fact of how well the deciduous trees leafed out this year compared to the last 2 that I've observed. They are much fuller with more well formed leaves than this time last year, though I admit I am going by memory rather than photos.

    We'll see what happens by the end of the summer, but at least it is not as bad yet as I thought it would be. I honestly felt that most of the trees would not leaf out at all this year, so you can imagine my surprise.

    How long do you estimate we might have left? I think I recall you mentioning that at some point you weren't sure if we'd make it to your first daughter's wedding in May.

    Do you think we're looking at a matter of years or decades? Thanks.

  6. Years or decades for what exactly? For many of the oldest trees, it's already over. They are gone. I have to admit though I am astonished at how they struggle to survive, particularly I noticed the yearling seedlings only one or two feet high that I planted about 5 years ago - those that survived - are so much taller than me now, it's humbling. It has made me determined to track down the biofuel emission connection. A bunch of intriguing studies have surfaced the past week or so, I haven't had a chance to put them together coherently yet.

    As far as general climate catastrophe and extinction...I'm due at a graduation party, so meanwhile you might want to check out Milan's post from yesterday and the comments, it's quite an interesting discussion you might want to contribute to.

  7. Congratulations! Graduations, weddings, new family members...It's nice to be reminded that the miraculous cycle of life continues even in the midst of human stupidity.

  8. Thank you killing Mother! It is all about time now - but then perhaps it always was. Time to spend marveling at the precious gifts life gives us for as long as we can. I am making a list of things I want to do before I die. It's a good exercise!

  9. Years or decades to total collapse. Personally I was under the impression we only had a few years left though I am now more leaning towards decades. even since I posted about how much better the vegetation looked here though it seems that much of the new leaves are suddenly being ravaged by insects, seemingly coinciding with our sudden arrival of warm weather. Thanks I'll check out your link.


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