Saturday, November 26, 2011

Freedom's Just Another Word


~ Milton's description of the exotic trees
surrounding the Garden of Eden in Paradise Lost Book IV.
The etching above, titled Larches at Dunkeld, depicts what is known as The Mother Tree.  It was drawn by J.G.  Strutt and published in his Sylva Britanica in 1825.  When I first started writing to professionals to try to determine the cause of widespread, universal tree death, the reception I got was at best gentle patronization, at worst ridicule...and mostly, I was (and still am) ignored.  Recently though, some foresters, scientists and ecologists have stopped the charade of denial, and are documenting the irrefutable fact that trees are demonstrably, in every location - whether in cities or remote forests - rapidly succumbing to any number of threats.  As the articles I will link to later in this post make clear, evidence from satellite and ground inventories is now overwhelming that, from one thing and another, trees all over the world are headed towards extinction.

It remains to be determined, however, exactly WHY trees are dying.  It's a crucial distinction, because what, if anything can be done to slow (if not halt) this trend, depends upon the fundamental source of the decline.  If there is anything that can be done to postpone the collapse of the ecosystem as long as possible, we should do it regardless of how difficult or how many sacrifices are required.  Our supply of food and very survival hangs in the balance.  In this post I will intersperse photographs, like the one above, that I have shamelessly stolen from the book I splurged on, at the giftshop when visiting Longwood Gardens.
Frontispiece for Sylva Britannica by Jacob Strutt (1826)

"Meetings With Remarkable Trees" contains the photos and thoughts of Thomas Pakenham, who was inspired to produce a record of living ancient trees following a storm that knocked down several of his two hundred year old beeches, and later a trip to an irrevocably deforested region of China.  Published in 1996, well before the rapid die-off began, it is much more than just a glossy coffee table book, it is an eclectic collection of history, anecdotes, literature, poetry, and above all, an expression of passionate and profound love and respect for trees...which are, truly, a remarkable life form.  Be sure to look for the person in each picture too, for scale...because these trees are so huge, it's easy to miss people, dwarfed by their immensity.  I'll start with an extended quote from his text about the next photo, so that the richness of the prose, as well as the photography, is apparent.  This is the awe-inspiring photo he chose for the cover of the book:


Handel's only comic opera, SERSE, opens with the hero, Xerxes, sitting under a large plane tree singing:

Ombra mai fu
di vegetabil
cara ed amable
soave piu

(Never was made the shade
of a plant
dear and loving
or more gentle)

The opera sank into well-deserved obscurity itself, but Handel rescued the tune and recycled it as his famous Largo.

He took the story of Xerxes and the plane tree from Herodotus.  The great king of Persia was marching to Sardis when he encountered a magnificent plane tree at Kallatebos near the crossing of the River Maeander.  So delighted was he with its shade that he loaded it with golden ornaments and arranged for a man to stay there as its guardian forever.
Another plane, found here
'What good did it do the tree?' asked a 3rd-century author, a killjoy called Aelian.  The great king had made a fool of himself, losing his heart to a tree, hanging bangles on it and setting a guard over it as though it were a lady of his harem.

The Fellows of Emmanuel College, Cambridge do not share Aelian's puritanical sentiments.  They have indulged their pet oriental plane [the first one pictured above] with half an acre of the Fellow's Garden, and guard the tree uxoriously as did Xerxes.

Although still young - certainly not planted before 1802 - the tree has covered the lawn with its curtain of ziz-zag branches, that sweep down to form 'layers', then rise again as new trees in their own right."

This brief clip from the opera is exquisitely tender and reverential:

frondi tenere e belle
del mio platano amato
per voi risplenda il fato
tuoni, lampi, e procelle
non vi oltraggino mai la ara pace
ne giunga a profanarvi austro rapace

(Tender and beautiful fronds
Of my beloved plane tree
Let fate smile upon you
may thunder, lightening and storms
Never bother your dear peace
Nor may you be profaned by blowing winds)
The champion sessile oak at Croft Castle, Herefordshire - 37 feet in girth
I hope if Mr. Pakenham ever finds out I have posted his photos and quotes from his book he will accept it in the spirit of an homage rather than theft.  His examples of remarkable trees is a rare, perhaps unique testament to the tenacity and longevity of trees, which represents an illustrative correction to the common misconception many people have - a mendacity which is perpetuated by liars in the timber and agricultural industries and even government regulatory agencies - that trees are dying because of old age.  While I was waiting for the train to take me to play in the band at Occupy the Governor's Mansion last weekend, I got into a conversation with an elderly woman and I brought up the subject of trees.

I am always curious as to what, if anything, people have noticed.  I mentioned to her that it seems as though there is an accelerating trend for them to all be dying prematurely, and she observed that many of them are very old.  But, I replied, most species can live for hundreds of years.  Not any more! she replied, tartly.  Yes, I agreed, not any more...because of the pollution.  That's right!  she responded, without hesitation or surprise.
~ William Cowper, The Yardley oak, 1791
Three centuries he grows, and three he stays,
Supreme in state, and in three more decays.

~ Dryden

Three hundred years growing
Three hundred years living
Three hundred years dying.

~ the life of an oak, according to an old saying.

The Fredville Oak, from Silva Britannica by J. G. Strutt, 1825 
Defensive conservatives often take comfort in pointing out that it was Nixon who signed the Clean Air Act and established the EPA.  It's very simple why the right wing was once more supportive...they had no idea at the time they passed legislation protective of the environment that maintaining a truly pristine and healthy ecosystem would prove to be fundamentally incompatible with the endless "growth" they believe in as fervently as a religion - and that ecological sustainability would call into question the viability of an economic system based on property ownership and profit.  As soon as it dawned on them that there would be limits imposed upon their ability to defer the staggering costs of pollution and climate change, environmentalism and science became politicized.  Extraordinary efforts are still being made to render expensive regulations unenforceable, and to disguise the true extent of the damage from pollution.
An ancient oak at Birnam, branches propped by wooden crutches, in 1996.  There's no person to be seen,
but the tree is large enough for the author to take refuge from the snowstorm inside the hollow trunk.

I will not be afraid of death and bane
Till Birnam forest come to Dunsinane.

~ Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act V, Scene III

It occurred to me with sudden force that soon, we really will have nothing left to lose, and then we will learn what comes from that kind of freedom.  Following are my latest attempts to convince scientists, politicians and media to look seriously at the nitrogen cascade and the ozone it spawns, which is utterly out of control, and destroying life itself.  We'll start with a letter sent last Tuesday to the folks who were interviewed in an article about forests dying in northwestern US:
The Tullynally Oak
Planted in 1745 by the author's predecessor seven generations ago
the first Baron Longford
Tallest oak in Ireland at 109 feet [in 1995]

Dear Commissioner Goldmark, Dr. Franklin, Mr. Peterson, Mr. Welch, Mr. Everett, and Mr. Stephenson:

I am writing in reference to the story referenced in the subject line, about the predicted dieback of forests in the Northwest USA.  Below is copied a letter I sent to the editor of the NYTimes, which refers to an article they published recently indicating that trees are dying around the world, not only in the Pacific Northwest.  The scientists interviewed in that article attribute the global decline to climate change.  However,  although I quite agree that climate change is eventually going to cause mass extinctions, it's clear to me that what is killing them so quickly is in fact air pollution, which has been proven in numerous fumigation research, to encourage insects, disease and fungus.
The Fredville Oak [Kent, in 1994 one of the two largest Quercus robur]
Known locally as "Majesty"

This existential threat pertains to annual agricultural crops as well.  The background levels of tropospheric ozone are inexorably rising, as precursors travel across oceans and continents, causing significant decreases in crop yield and quality even in rural locations. This places organic farmers at a distinct disadvantage, since they cannot compensate with petroleum-based fertilizers, insecticides and fungicides.

This affect on vegetation is extensively documented from decades of scientific controlled experiments as well as field observations, published in peer-reviewed literature and textbooks.
The Charleville Oak of King's County, Ireland
One branch stretches 30 yards parallel to the ground

I think it's absolutely critical that experts such as yourselves alert the public that the major threat to trees and the ecosystem derives from ozone precursors emitted from burning fuel and other industrial processes; and if we don't stop, famine will be the direct result.  In terms of public policy, especially when considering logging as a remedy, which can't possibly do anything to reduce ozone, it would be far more efficacious to educate people about the urgent need to conserve energy and transition to clean sources.  It would be a disservice to voters and readers of newspapers to withhold this well-known information.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or thoughts on this topic.  Here is a link to the "Basic Premise" page on my blog,Wit's End, where I collect research and photos.


Gail Zawacki
Oldwick, NJ

None of them has replied yet.  The letter to the NYT will follow but first, a group selection from the chapter, Trees of Liberty, of especially special trees...which have been historically associated with revolutions.  Who knew? 


O glorious France, that has burst out so; into universal
sound and smoke; and attained the phryrgian cap of Liberty.
In all towns, trees of liberty also may be planted;

~ Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution, 1837

The Tolpuddle Martyrs under the Sycamore tree,
and the government spy who reported them, in 1834

The Martyrs' sycamore on the village green at Tolpuddle, Dorset
a shrine and place of pilgrimage for the Left.
Under this tree was formed the first trades union in Britain. 
Another living revolutionary symbol:  Kett's  Oak at Wymondham

In the meantime I met with but one instance where this goodly tree has been (in our country)
abused to cover impious designs, as was that Arch Rebel Kett, who, in the reign of Edward VI
(becoming leader of the fanatic insurrection in Norfolk) made an Oak (under the specious name of
Reformation Oak) council house, and place of convention where he sent forth his traitorous edicts.

~ John Evelyn, Sylva, 1670

Here is my letter to the Times:

Dear Dr. Swetnam, Dr. Field, Dr. Phillips, Mr. Anderegg, Dr. Munger, Dr. Six, Dr. Running, Dr. Crabtree, Dr. Kurz, Dr. Cleaves, Mr. Werden, Mr. Gillis and Editors of the New York Times,
The Clapton Ash, Clapton Court, Somerset, girth 29 feet

Several quotes from the article mentioned in the subject, and a follow-up blog post by Mr. Gillis raise a question that none of you appear to have addressed; and I would greatly appreciate your consideration.  Here are the relevant quotes:

1.  “If this were happening in just a few places, it would be easier to deny and write off,” said David A. Cleaves, senior adviser for the United States Forest Service. “But it’s not. It’s happening all over the place. You’ve got to say, gee, what is the common element?”
Scots Pine in the Spey Valley
One of the last of the great Caledonian Forest

2.  “A lot of ecologists like me are starting to think all these agents, like insects and fires, are just the proximate cause, and the real culprit is water stress caused by climate change,” said Robert L. Crabtree, head of a center studying the Yellowstone region. “It doesn’t really matter what kills the trees — they’re on their way out. The big question is, Are they going to regrow? If they don’t, we could very well catastrophically lose our forests.”
The Holker Lime, probably planted early 18th C.
It was the fashion to plant Tila x vulgaris from the 17th C.
prized for it's formality when pruned
3.  Aside from the satellite record, what kind of evidence do we have of recent forest loss? Mainly this: a flood of reports about forest die-offs and die-backs are appearing in the scientific literature.
A dance on the stump of an Oregonian Sugar tree, so named by
David Douglas, a botanist who explored the Umpqua river area in 1825
and introduced over 200 native American species to British gardens.

4.  A count of such reports by Craig D. Allen of the United States Geological Survey shows a relentless increase in recent years. In principle, that could simply reflect rising interest in the subject on the part of scientists, but most of the experts I talked to suspected that it represented a change in the reality on the ground.
This Douglas fir, named for David Douglas who "discovered" it, is the tallest tree in Britain, at 212'.

5.  “It seems to be just too widespread to ignore,” said Steven W. Running, the University of Montana scientist..."
Tulip tree at Kew, imported from America, where it can grow to 170'.
In a canoe made from a hollowed out tulip log, Daniel Boone set out to travel west.

6.  “That doesn’t mean that every forest on earth is going to fall over dead,” Dr. Running continued. “But it means we’re seeing an accelerated mortality pattern that we can’t explain by the normal processes...."
The Goodwood Cedar of Lebanon planted in 1761.  Because of England's mild climate,
many species from habitats all around the world thrive here.  This specimen lost
half of its six heads in the hurricane of October '87.

I agree completely that we are seeing a dangerous and accelerating trend in forest mortality, and when I originally realized it was underway (in 2008) I assumed that long-term water stress from climate change was the cause underlying opportunistic disease, insects and fungus, as postulated in the two articles.
Britain's two tallest hardwoods, London planes at Bryanston

However, I would like you to consider that climate change is not (YET) the primary culprit, because it does not adequately account for all the empirical, easily verifiable facts, which are:
The yews at Borrowdale, which has branches over 1,500 years old

But worthier still of note
Are those Fraternal Four of Borrowdale
Joined in one solemn and capacious grove
Huge trunks! and each particular trunk a growth
Of intertwisted fibres serpentine

~ Wordsworth, 1803, Yew Trees
1.  Young trees that are  being sheltered, watered and irrigated in nurseries are in the exact same poor condition as older trees growing in the ground.
Sidney's Oak in 1822, already hollow, and below, still clinging to life.
2.  All trees of every age, species and habitat exhibit classic and worsening symptoms of exposure to air pollution - and background tropospheric ozone is inexorably rising, as precursors are traveling across oceans and continents.
3.  Annual agricultural crops and even ornamental summer flowers grown in enriched soil being watered in pots have the same stunted growth, reduced yield and injured foliage as long-lived trees now uniformly exhibit.  For that matter, even aquatic plants that are always in water have marginal leaf burn, chlorosis and necrosis.
4.  It has been well-established in extensive scientific research going back decades that ozone is extremely harmful to vegetation, by causing both foliar and internal, physiological changes, such as reduced allocation of carbohydrates to root development.  It has been demonstrated by many investigations that plants exposed to ozone are more likely to succumb to attacks from insects, disease and fungus; as well as be more vulnerable to wind-throw and drought.  Occam's razor would seem to apply.
A ginko at Kew Gardens, which arrived in 1762 from China, where it can live for 1,000 years
Ginko trace their lineage back 350 million years, before the dinosaurs.
I would go so far as to beg each of you to investigate the above four points, which I have personally observed up and down both East and and Western US coasts, and even in Costa Rica.  Ozone is the giant elephant in the room; the Nitrogen Cascade has been called the worst environmental disaster you've never heard of.  The "acidification" of the atmosphere is eroding trees in perfect parallel with the concurrent bleaching of corals in the ocean.  Frankly I do not understand why neither of the articles in the Times mentioned ozone even once, since there is a staggering amount of information on the topic.
The Greendale Oak at Welbeck, drawn by J.G. Strutt in 1826.  In 1724 the Duke of Portland won a bet that he did not have an oak large enough to drive a carriage through.
Foresters and atmospheric physicists and ecologists need to confront this existential threat before we don't even have any more viable seeds, the quality, viability and quantity of which is waning.  The public needs to understand that a drastic curtailment of burning fuels is essential.
Thank you so much for your attention.  I would be most interested in any responses, and delighted to answer any questions.  Here is a link to a video of tree dieback in New Jersey from the vantage of a hot air balloon, with a radio interview about the cause.
Gail Zawacki

The beech hedge at Meikleour, plants set 18" apart, 100 feet high

Dr. Bob Crabtree of Yellowstone Research actually wrote me back!!  Here is how the conversation went:

Hi Gail –

Being an open-minded scientist, I certainly recognize alternative explanations, especially key factors that interact with other causative agents.  Further investigation of ozone effects are not within my wide range of research investigations but I surely hope you and.or others can gain funding.  Do you have access to just one overall paper that discusses the topic and provides a synthetic look at the empirical evidence?  I would appreciate that.  I have always been interested in the cumulative/interactive effects of multiple factors.  I believe it lies at the very heart of our own species comprised immune systems.  Also, I don’t think that, Occam’s razor is an appropriate way to characterize ozone effects any more than water stress or climate change.  It’s a multi-causal interactive system out there and simple, single causes just don’t exist.

Thank you for your persistence and best of luck with your research and education.

Prince Buddha finds enlightenment under a Bo-tree.
~ Life of Buddha (edited by Silva-Vigier)
Dear Bob,

Thank you so much for your reply.  To answer your question, no, there is not one paper that summarizes the effects of ozone on vegetation - rather, there are dozens and maybe hundreds, and entire textbooks as well, not to mention endless scientific advisory reviews for regulatory agencies around the world...but not one of them really explains how serious the problem is.  It's always described as being a problem for "sensitive" species, to which we should respond by:  funding more research, identifying more genetically tolerant species, or developing protective chemicals.  Anything but insist on drastic reductions of the so-called "intractable" source of the problem, precursors from burning fuel.  I wish there was someone who would undertake to delineate the existential threat to vegetation of the rising background levels - that's why I write to scientists, journalists, and politicians, and why I collect links on my blog.
The Crowhust Yew in 1994

The interior is hollow and has been fitted with a table in the centre, and benches around.
This roof however, as it may be termed, has fallen in.

~ Bayley, History of Surrey, 1850
Unfortunately, I am not trained as a scientist, and so I have no way to conduct experiments, let alone get funding!  But perhaps precisely because I am not trained in rigorous investigative techniques that underlie scientific reticence, I am able to see the larger trend.  Occam's razor does, actually, apply.  Not one person who has questioned my theory has been able to explain (or even bothered to try to explain) why young trees in nurseries, and potted plant being watered, have leaves with the exact degree of damage as older trees growing in the ground.  They cling to the explanation - even though there is no more scientific evidence for it than ozone, in fact there is none other than that no other explanation is considered  - that drought and/or warming from climate change is the main reason forests worldwide are "in decline".  Whereas there are numerous controlled fumigation experiments proving that ozone leads to tree decline, and an increase in insects, disease and fungus, there are none that I know of comparing water and temperature! 
The Little Porter Oak at Welbeck
Of course I don't think drought and climate change aren't a fatal problem for trees, I do.  In fact I am quite sure that ultimately, we are headed for a mass extinction from climate change alone, probably far sooner than even the most doomyist predict.  But not quite this fast.

I understand what you are saying about there being no single cause.  But honestly that's like saying there are many factors when a smoker gets lung cancer (which of course, the tobacco industry says).  One excellent analogy is AIDS.  When somebody with AIDS dies, we don't say they died of pneumonia.  It's AIDS that killed them, the pneumonia just took advantage of an already compromised immune system.  It is the same with the insects, the disease and the fungus.  In some cases, they are invasive, but in many they are naturally occurring and the trees have simply been overcome.
This Yew at Much Marcle is hollow inside.  There are about 50 gargantuan yews in Britain
mostly in churchyards.  When more than 30 feet in circumference, they are assumed to be 1,000 years old.  
The seasons bring the flower again,
And bring the firstling of the flock,
And in the dusk of thee, the clock
Beats out the little lives of men.

O, not for thee the glow, the bloom,
Who changest not in any gale,
Nor branding summer suns avail
To touch thy thousand years of gloom.

~ Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam, Stanza II

Did you know that ozone, in addition to damaging stomates in foliage and needles, and entering the tissue causing physiological damage, actually eats away at the protective waxy surface coating on leaves and needles?

Well, I won't bother you any more.  I think it's a shame that people are willing to accept all the collateral damage - cancers and asthma, dying trees - so we can continue with our profligate consumption.  If you know of anyone who might want to pursue this, please fell free to share my blog or email address with them.


The Muckross Yew, County Kerry, Ireland
The evergreen yews provided the "palms" for Palm Sunday processions

Where they used to come with me together,
Ten hundred angels were there
Above our heads, side close to side.
Dear to me is that yew tree:
Would that I were set in its place there.

~ 16th century Life of St. Columcille by Maurice O'Donnell
translated from the Irish
p.s. If you have any further interest, I can tell you that in August I received a phone call from Dr. Nigel Bell, professor at Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medecine in Berkshire, editor of the book, "Air Pollution and Plant Life" during which he reiterated what he had sent me via email - he agrees with everything I had written him, which was essentially the same as I wrote to you.
The Knap Hill weeping beech
imported from France in the 1820's
Branches have formed  a vast dome covering half an acre
with numerous separate spires 80 feet high
Specifically, he wrote:

"Dear Gail, Thank you for your kind remarks about my book.  I was rather proud when it was finally published.  I agree with everything that you say but there is no doubt that ozone is spectacularly neglected as a threat to plants.  This is particularly so in the developing world where our research over many years has led us to believe that it is a serious threat to food security but almost entirely unrecognized..."

He is the only authoritative figure I have found that does agree with my assessment, other than Dr. Muir of Oregon State.  Dr. Muir has an online course syllabus, but she never responded to my calls or messages.  I think any professor or research scientists who publicly states that air pollution underlies widespread tree death and presents the potential for famine would be inviting ridicule due to the rather terrifying implications.  There is a tremendous amount of resistance to the notion, but she makes it quite clear in her notes, which is linked to on the "Basic Premise" page of my blog (along with many other published studies and books) that ozone is the "ultimate cause" of tree death.  Here is an excerpt:

Engraving by Jacob Strutt of a sweet chestnut by the Parish Church of Tortworth, Gloucestershire.
Already, in the early 19th century, it was considered to be ancient.  Below is a contemporary view:
The tree was imported, possibly by the Romans, for the nuts.   See the figure at the top!

Observations of problems in ponderosa and Jeffrey pine in the San Bernadino/San Gabriel Mts. began in the late 1950's and early 60's. Problems involving loss of vigor, yellowing foliage, needle dropping, and reduced growth were noted as far as 120 km from the Los Angeles Basin, and were initially called "x-disease." While distant from LA, these areas receive abundant O3 (and O3 precursors) from the LA Basin. In the Los Angeles National Forest over 20% of these trees were reported to be injured, and in the San Bernadino National Forest alone, over 100,000 acres were reported to be affected as early as 1970.
A candidate for Herne's Oak at Windsor, one of more than 100 self-sown trees remaining from the Middle Ages.
Herne, keeper of the Forest, hanged himself from an oak and then returned to haunt:

There is an old tale goes, that Herne the hunter,
Some time a keeper here in Windsor Forest
Doth all the winter time, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragged horns,
And there he blasts a tree.

~ Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act IV, scene IV
The problem has continued, and is now observed to a lesser degree as far north as Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks, resulting from transport of O3 and its precursors. The forests have many sick and dying trees, and there is evidence that ponderosa and Jeffrey pine will diminish in importance in these forests to be replaced by other, more O3-tolerant species. With shifts in dominant tree species are likely to come shifts in properties of the entire ecosystem. (For example, increased fir and incense cedar in the understory are likely to change many aspects of the ecosystem; they provide habitat for different species, influence nutrient, light and water regimes differently than do the pines, and so forth.)
Evidence that ozone is causal?

(1) The spatial pattern of injury coincides with O3 exposure. Injury increases with elevation (as does O3) and is worst on west-facing slopes, which are directly in the path of O3-laden winds from Los Angeles). There is also a sharp west-to-east geographic gradient in injury. In the westernmost regions, growth of ponderosa pine is down by as much as 50% and mortality over 1973-1978 reached 10%.
(2) No "natural" causes seemed to match spatially or temporally – drought, disease, etc.

(3) The temporal pattern coincided with the growth of precursor emissions from Los Angeles (that is, problems with the pines were noticed only after LA's production of pollutants increased greatly)

(4) Visible symptoms on pine needles match those produced in lab by controlled fumigations with O3, including chlorotic mottle, tip necrosis, and premature senescence.
There is a yew, the pride of Lorton's vale,
Which to this day stands single in the midst
Of its own darkness as it stood of yore...
Of vast circumference and gloom profound
This solitary tree! - a living thing
Produced too slowly ever to decay;
Of form and aspect to magnificent
To be destroyed.

~ Wordsworth, Yew Trees

(5) Species known from laboratory work to be most sensitive to O3 are declining the most, including ponderosa and Jeffrey pine.

(6) Known physiological mechanisms are capable of producing the observed effects.

Thus, all criteria needed to establish causation for air pollution injury are actually met in this situation (a rare case when all criteria can be met!).

What is actually killing many of the trees is bark beetles (western pine bark beetles), who are able to attack the O3-weakened trees. That is, beetles are the proximate cause of death, while O3 is ultimate (or is the ultimate factor high population density and use of fossil fuels??). In addition, the trees' weakened roots are vulnerable to attack by root rotting fungi which can cause death (recall that O3 decreases plant allocation of carbohydrate to roots...).
The Bowthorpe Oak
in 1768, The hollow trunk was smoothed out to make room in which the squire could sit down to dinner
with 20 friends.  Since then it has been used at times as a stable.
Hi Gail –

Thank you for such as response.  To be honest, you write as well as any academic I have met.  You should consider a review article in a journal.  And if the ‘fortress’ of academics won’t let you then, team up collaboratively with some like Dr. Bell or his group.

And I understand the rather simple model of proximate vs. ultimate causes.  And why Occam’s razor is such a poor fit for ecology, in many cases, is because single ultimate causes are not common.  One thing I am is an ecologist and a quantitative one at that.  Our assumed ‘model’ for scientific inquiry assumes “mutually exclusive alternate hypotheses”.  So, if we apply this general scientific method to the assumed scientific method for ecology, we would reject it!  Ecology just doesn’t work that way.  It is clear to me that there is often interacting factors in ecology, that in a sense, ‘compete’ for the ultimate cause.  There are always lots of proximate causes.  However, overall, I believe you are on the right track with ozone yet the current scientific method of inquiry about ozone is leaving it out—that’s a tragedy since it needs to be thrown in with the cast of characters and tested.

Best regards,

Chatsworth relics
Dear Bob,

Thank you for your kind message.  Would you mind if I include our correspondence in a blog post?  Or, I could include it without attribution.  But if you'd rather I not use it at all, that's fine too.  (Remember - almost no one will read it!).

I would like to mix it up with pictures and quotes from "Meetings With Remarkable Trees" - and this article about a severe shortage of acorns.  One of the things trees do when they are dying is to put all of their remaining energy into seed production, so they'll have a season or two of a bumper crop before then go into terminal decline.  The past couple of years conifers have had more cones than needles, and the deciduous trees are following the same pattern.  It's rather poetic.
Squirrels and other animals may have to scrounge for other means of sustenance this fall and winter.
"I'm not sure when we last had so few acorns in our region," a scientist said.
Following our discussion I was thinking that perhaps it doesn't really matter what is killing the trees, drought from climate change, or ozone.  But then I remembered, it really does matter, because we're pretty much stuck with climate change, which is only going to worsen.  But if we decided to drastically conserve, ozone levels would reduce relatively quickly, and trees could be saved for a while.  And every moment of incremental time we can save means everything, at this point, since ultimately the converging catastrophes cannot be averted...only delayed.

The twin yews at St. Edward's.  

And BTW, I believe that both ultimate cause(s) and proximate causes matter—as any ecologist should.  You are right about “caring for”, and seeking solutions for, proximate lethal and semi-lethal proximate causes!

The Rootery at Wakehurst
Hi Gail,

We do indeed agree on a lot here.  And you deserve the compliments…. Remember too, that one of the best quotes ever from Einstein was his answer to the question, “what the best job for a true scientist?”; his answer was, “a lighthouse keeper”.
The roots of the native yews have snaked over the rocks to reach the soil as it is eroded.
Use my dialogue anyway you would like and attribute it to me as well.  We scientists need not be afraid.  We need to be WAY more transparent than we are.

Best regards,


Apologies to Thomas Pakenham, whose book I have ruthlessly pilfered,
with gratitude for his spectacular depiction of a vanishing and wondrous form of life.

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