Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Impeded Stream Is the One that Sings

I've lost track of how many times I have struggled through reading scientific research, posting the most relevant sections here on Wit's End and thought, whew, I'm done now!  Surely, this study proves definitively that ozone is causing trees to die and crops to shrivel - no more new expert reports required...we can start conserving fuel in earnest, post-haste, before we destroy the ecosystem and starve, right?  And then immediately along comes some fresh, even more definitive clarification that I feel impelled to parse and copy excerpts on this blog, since,, there's been zero progress, and the vast majority of people remain just as uninformed and unconcerned.
The latest reluctant foray began with a link (forwarded by a determinedly persistent Highschooler) to an accusatory article in the UK DailyMail published a little over a week ago, the headline blaring furiously that American pollution is reducing European crop yields.  Oh, the shock of it!  It neatly sums up, in single lines, the problem.  Pictures on this post are views of our resplendent National Parks (the ones Mitt Romney doesn't know the purpose of other than to satisfy "extreme environmentalists").

"Pollution from America causes Europe to lose a million tonnes of wheat a year

  • Man-made ozone can travel thousands of miles
  • Pollution on one continent can affect others
  • Loss in Europe is biggest worldwide
  • Separate from damage to ozone layer - caused by chemicals from combustion and power plants

Man-made air pollution from north America causes Europe to lose 1.2 million tonnes of wheat a year, a new study has found.

Ozone pollution - produced by coal fired power stations and cars - travels between continents much more easily than thought, traveling thousands of miles on the wind.

Crops on every continent are damaged by pollution from others.

The wheat loss in Europe is the biggest worldwide. 

The chemical - a powerful air pollutant - is produced when pollutants near the ground react with sunlight.
The researchers say that the pollution could even endanger the security of the food supply in future.

Ozone pollution in all of the northern hemisphere's major industrialised regions - Europe, America and southeast Asia - harms major crops such as wheat, maize, soy, cotton, potato and rice on other continents."
"The scale of the impact has previously been unknown.

Ground-level ozone pollution is produced from chemicals released during high temperature combustion, for example by combustion of fossil fuels by motor vehicles and in coal fired power plants.

It's separate from the ozone layer, a protective layer around the outside of our atmosphere. Ground-level ozone is harmful to humans as well as plants."
"The study also suggests that increasing levels of air pollution from one continent may partly offset efforts on another.
The findings have important implications for international strategies to tackle global food shortages, as well as climate.

Dr Steve Arnold, a senior lecturer in atmospheric composition at the University of Leeds, who led the study, said: 'Our findings demonstrate that air pollution plays a significant role in reducing global crop productivity.

'It shows that the negative impacts of air pollution on crops may have to be addressed at an international level rather than through local air quality policies alone.'

Michael Hollaway, a PhD student at the University of Leeds, used a computer model to predict reductions in global surface ozone if man-made emissions of nitrogen oxide from the three continents were shut off."
"Using crop location and yield calculations, he and the research team were able to predict impacts on staple food crops, each with their own unique sensitivity to ozone pollution.

Dr. Lisa Emberson, a senior lecturer from the University of York: 'This study highlights the need for air pollution impacts on crops to be taken more seriously as a threat to food security.'"
"'Air quality is often overlooked as a determinant of future crop supply.  Given the sizeable yield losses of staple crops caused by surface ozone, coupled with the challenges facing our ability to be food secure in the coming decades further coordinated international  efforts should be targeted at reducing emissions of ozone forming gases across the globe.'"

Note that, while it's an exaggeration to say that the "scale of the problem has been previously unknown" since there are countless studies going back to the 1970's about serious crop damage, the emerging conclusion that we will need international agreement to curb pollution that crosses borders, or face global instability in the food supply, is really quite sufficient to make your average right-winger's head explode.
The research that was the basis for the story is somewhat less indignantly titled "Intercontinental transboundary contributions to ozone-induced crop yield losses in the Northern Hemisphere".  Oddly enough this report comes from the same Princeton scientists whose two, 2011 papers I had just linked to so exhaustively a few days ago!  Where previously they examined the current and projected crop yield reductions, and then compared expectations based on various future emissions scenarios, this newest study analyzes where precursors originate, traces where they end up producing ozone, and determines how much six different staple crops are most impacted by imported ozone.  Fun, no?
From the abstract:

"...Using these metrics, model calculations show that for wheat, rice, cotton and potato, 100% reductions in SE Asian anthropogenic NOx emissions tend to produce the greatest global reduction in crop production losses (42.3–95.2 %), and a 100% reduction to N American anthropogenic NOx emissions results in the greatest global impact on crop production losses for maize and soybean (59.2–85.9 %). A 100% reduction in N American anthropogenic NOx emissions produces the largest transboundary impact, resulting in European production loss reductions of between 14.2 % and 63.2 %. European NOx emissions tend to produce a smaller transboundary impact, due to inefficiency of transport from the European domain."
They phrase this in correct, but upside-down language, by showing where reductions in emissions would increase crop opposed to more straight-forwardly stating where emissions are already causing damage, and how much.  The contortions in the double negative phrasing is perplexing.  I suppose that enables the fantasy that emissions will be reduced, thus increasing yields.  Ha!  Even the Daily Mail could see through that ruse!

"In addition to AQSs adopted to protect human health, AQSs for the protection of vegetation have been adopted in Europe. Compared to those for vegetation, human exposure AQSs tend to focus on acute ozone pollution episodes rather than longer-term chronic exposure.  As such, it is questionable whether human health AQSs will protect ecosystems. The AOT40 (accumulated exposure over a threshold of 40 ppbv) metric has been adopted in Europe, to assess risk to vegetation from ozone exposure, and has been used to estimate changes in crop yield losses due to ozone exposure in different global regions."
"The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) set a critical threshold value of AOT40 at 3 ppm h daylight hour accumulated ozone exposure, which should not be exceeded during the plant growing season. In the United States, as of 2007, the USEPA has set equal primary and secondary standards for the protection of human health and human welfare (including damage to crops) respectively, with a peak 8 h mean ozone concentration not to exceed 75 ppbv more than three times a year. The USEPA is currently in the process of revising these AQSs (USEPA, 2010a)."

Of course we all know that it is highly questionable whether the EPA will be permitted to revise the Air Quality Standards and even if they do, it's doubtful that they would adequately protect trees - and that's presuming stricter standards could be met without extreme reductions in patterns of consumption.  Anyone who wants a headache should look at page 273 where the report delves into an extensive discussion of various incredibly complicated and mysterious (at least to me, in my ignorance) ways of modeling ozone exposure and uptake, each lending a different approach to regulation...or else just read this, which strikes me as the significant and certainly most comprehensible part:
"An important aspect to consider is that the AOT40 index was designed to capture the most harmful effects from episodic ozone pollution. However now that background levels of ozone are increasing these threshold indices are starting to become less useful. It has also been highlighted in previous modelling studies that large uncertainties can arise in using these exposure based indices to estimate yield loss from model ozone fields. A more accurate approach is to develop plant response relationships that are based on the flux of ozone into the plant. However, at present flux-response relationships are only available for wheat and potato, and more recently tomato. Not all of these have been parameterised for global application. As there is a much more comprehensive set of exposure-response relationships available to predict crop yield losses from the exposure based metrics, we have employed these here so that we can include a range of major crops, and compare our results across ozone-tolerant and ozone-sensitive crops. However, it should be noted that it is difficult to assess the suitability of these concentration based indices for application in regions different from those in which they were developed."
It also should be noted that if all we have is flux-response relationships for three annual crops, who is finding out what the flux-response relationship is for native perennial vegetation and trees that are living in the real world with multiple stressors??  As convoluted as these studies on annual crops are, you'd still think they would represent formidable evidence that trees and other plants that are exposed to ozone for season after season would suffer cumulative damage, that results in a decline not necessarily linear, and eventually will kill them - even aside from the well-known increase in susceptibility to attacks from fungus, disease, insects and drought.
This baffling lack of coordination between agronomists and foresters, and just as importantly the seemingly total lack of mutual awareness between scientists who study ozone and those who study the nitrogen cascade (never mind climate change) is further evidence that science is fragmented beyond usefulness, at least, it's obsolete by the time it is published considering the grave and urgent implications that require drastic public policy revisions.  Although it is a huge subject I intend to take up on another day, there is some evidence this giant gap in communication is part of an almost deliberate philosophy, which, to digress briefly, is expounded upon at an intriguing website, A Prosperous Way Down.  The authors articulate the problem in what is, for me, a novel and illuminating discussion that I intend to investigate further.
"Whatever happened to the idea of ecological thinking as a unifying concept for science? Click on the map of science below [or the link underneath if that doesn't display] for an expanded view of a network that suggests that many scientific disciplines have reduced themselves into specialized, competitive silos, protected from each other by separate terminology and reductionist theories."
from Wired
"The lenses through which many scientists view the world are microscopic in nature, focusing on analysis using statistical tools that break things down into smaller and smaller pieces.  While analysis is a useful and important subset of the overall process, synthesis and evaluation of policies requires using an instrument such as a macroscope to view the world from a systemic perspective, as the ordering of thinking skills in the Bloom’s digital taxonomy map below suggests. Application and analysis are not enough when one wants to evaluate complex systems. The lack of synthesis prevents us from seeing and evaluating the relationships, processes and structures inherent in the whole."
"The failure to view problems at a larger scale sometimes prevents us from asking the right questions in framing problems. And if we fail to ask the right questions, and focus instead on fragmented pieces of the issues in science, can we ever address the problems wrought by waning resources impacting very complex human economies that reside within a global energetic system? Which are the biggest problems, and how are they related to each other? Does our worldview about how the global economic system runs and what drives it impact our scientific viewpoint? If we fix one problem, are there unintended consequences that impact other parts of the system? Which choices in using waning resources are best for the the system as a whole? How does my science fit into the global scale at one level up, that of human economies residing within nature?"
"We can illustrate the problem using climate change as a hot-button example, since peak oil and climate change are basically the two ends of the same snake,the inputs and outputs of our global energy problem. While climate scientists focus on the waste CO2 buildup caused by consuming fossil fuels as primary, resource experts focus on the disappearing fossil fuels. Is either problem, climate change or peak oil, really a separate issue that can be isolated as a problem within human economies, thus having economic solutions? If the problems are separated, then are the solutions separate and different also?"
"Can single issues that are subsets of 'a safe operating space for humanity' be prioritized as 'the most important issue' and what is our metric for that? If we view the problems from one scale up at the global level, what is the real root cause of both of these problemsWho is molding our cultural debates about priorities in science, and why? Who decides our policies and is the policy based on unbiased science? Why do we focus on one issue out of many environmental problems in science, and does this focus lead us to solutions that are also reductionist and potentially harmful?'"
Their discussion is restricted mainly to the perspective of peak oil and climate change and not surprisingly includes less recognition that the devastation to the environment from pollution is an existential threat...but it's an excellent basis from which to segue to a horrific article at the Guardian, which displays the same error of omission.  Unfortunately it turns out that Bill Gates, among others, is providing massive funds for geoengineering research, which is being eagerly received by some highly respected scientists at major academic institutions.  Aside from black swans and unintended consequences that simply boggle the mind, tossing aerosols or sulphates in the atmosphere will be utterly worthless in reining in ocean acidification.  As Desdemona Despair, where I saw that article, laments, "So the leaders of men conceived of their most desperate strategy yet".
I have forgotten the path but somehow reading the new paper from Highschooler about crop losses led me to more data from the US National Park Service.  From their webpages and reports it would appear the NPS is somewhat less disingenuous than the Forest Service, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the lumber industry.  The Park Service is genuinely concerned with preserving the trees, as opposed to logging them - and they want to restore the clear vistas that attract visitors, without whom they have no raison d'être.  Plus of course, the parks are not the source of the poor air quality that plagues them, nor do they profit from it, so the Service is well aware that it is the result of emissions that travel in from populated, industrial areas and they genuinely wish it would improve.  It's also embarrassing for them to have to warn visitors who are about to embark on a hike that the mountain air has been deemed unsafe - and even healthy people in good physical condition are advised to avoid athletic exertion and stay indoors!

Thus their 2009 report, Air Quality in National Parks, is only somewhat misleading, due to optimism bias.  They at least, however, seem capable of considering ozone and nitrogen in the same publication!

In addition to measuring and modeling, the Park Service uses biomonitoring to assess injury.  This comparative set of aspen leaves has a healthy sample on the left, and an ozone injured leaf on the right.  I have it on good authority from an organic gardener in Colorado that all the aspen leaves last summer were considerably more blackened that this specimen, and the green was not nearly so bright.  Just sayin'...!  Following are excerpts from the Park Service report.  Watch for it...they say the data only goes to 2008...and we know the background level is constantly rising...
"The National Park Service (NPS) measures progress toward improving park air quality by examining trends for key air quality indicators, including:

visibility—which affects how well and how far visitors can see;
ozone—which affects human health and native vegetation; and
atmospheric deposition—which affects ecological health through acidification and fertilization of soil and surface waters.

For this annual performance report, ozone, visibility, and deposition data collected between 1999 and 2008 were examined."
"The NPS exceeds air quality performance goals for 2009, with 97 percent of the reporting parks showing no trends or improving trends in visibility, 100 percent showing no trends or improving trends in ozone concentrations, and 93 percent showing no trends or improving trends in atmospheric deposition.

While improving trends certainly show progress, the lack of a worsening trend in air quality may not be sufficient to protect an area already experiencing poor air quality.

Using an index for each type of air quality data collected (visibility, wet deposition concentrations, and
ozone concentrations), park air quality is characterized as good, moderate (or cautionary), or of significant concern."
"• With respect to visibility, 57 percent of the parks are in good or moderate condition. None of the parks with significant visibility concerns have improving trends.

With respect to ozone, 35 percent of the parks are in good or moderate condition. Among the parks where current ozone conditions are of significant concern, 12 have improving trends, 89 have no trends, and none have  degrading trends."
"• For nitrogen deposition, only 29 percent of the parks are in good or moderate condition. Of the parks where nitrogen deposition is a significant concern, three parks have degrading trends, 35 have no trends, and two have improving trends.

Air quality in parks is expected to improve as regulations aimed at reducing tailpipe emissions from motor vehicles and pollution from electric-generating facilities take full effect over the next few years."

[Note:  there is nothing to indicate that air will improve since whatever emission controls the US puts in place - presuming it does - will be easily overtaken by internationally generated precursors.]

Fig. 8 Air Quality Condition Assessments for Nitrogen Deposition.
Condition assessments derived from interpolations of wet nitrogen deposition 2004 - 2008

Figure 10.  Air quality condition assessments for ozone.
Condition assessments derived from interpolated values of the mean annual 4th-highest 8-hour ozone concentrations
"The NPS exceeded these goals with 97 percent of the reporting parks showing improving or no trends in visibility, 100 percent showing improving or no trends in ozone concentrations, and 93 percent showing improving or no trends in atmospheric deposition."
["no trends" means it isn't getting any better]

"Six total measures are used in calculating the goal percentages: two are used to measure progress toward the visibility goal, one measure is used for the ozone goal, and three measures are used for the atmospheric deposition goal."
"Ozone Condition
The ozone standard was used as a benchmark for rating current ozone air quality. This standard was revised in 2008 in order to be more protective of human health. To attain this standard, the 3-year average of the fourth-highest daily maximum 8-hour average ozone concentrations measured at each monitor within an area over each year must not exceed 75 parts per billion (ppb). To derive an estimate of the current ozone condition at parks, the five-year average of the annual 4th-highest 8-hour ozone concentration was determined for each park from the interpolated values described above."

Figure 11. Long-term ozone trends in parks at or above the ozone standard.
The annual 4th-highest daily maximum 8-hour ozone concentration
at these parks has been consistently at or above the ozone standard of 75 ppb.

Figure 12. Long-term ozone trends in parks likely to exceed the 
new ozone standard [which Obama prevented last fall].
Ozone levels at these parks have been generally below the current 
standard of 75 ppb, but are within the EPA’s proposed range 
(60–70 ppb) for a new ozone standard.

[Note that the levels of exposure are all - including those in compliance - well above what is recognized to damage plants]

"If the resulting five-year average was greater than or equal to 76 ppb the park was assigned to the
significant concern category. Parks with average five-year 4th-highest 8-hour ozone concentrations from 61 to 75 ppb (concentrations greater than 80 percent of the standard) were assigned to the moderate condition for ozone. The good condition for ozone was assigned to parks with average five-year ozone concentrations less than 61 ppb (concentrations less than 80 percent of the standard)."
p. 38

"In addition to the standard, vegetation sensitivity was considered for park condition. Data show that some plant species are more sensitive to ozone than humans and the ozone standard is not protective of parks, including Great Smoky Mountains NP, Shenandoah NP, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon NPs. A risk assessment completed in 2004 rated parks at low, moderate, or high risk for ozone injury to vegetation, based on presence of sensitive plant species, ozone exposures, and environmental conditions, i.e., soil moisture. For this report, parks that were evaluated at high risk were moved into the next condition category (e.g., a park with an average ozone concentration of 72 ppb, but judged to be at high risk for vegetation injury, would move from the moderate condition for ozone to the significant concern condition)."

There are pages and pages of charts like this one, which is fairly representative - and it's obvious that when other issues are factored in as described above, so many parks are shifted into higher categories of risk such that almost none of them are considered "good" (the rare blue dot).  They single out "environmental condition, i.e. soil moisture", as a reason to place a park at a higher level of risk...because ozone increases the vulnerability to drought.  These negative designations beg the question, how has the situation fared since 2008?  I found one report, from California Air Watch dated September 2011, that provides an ominous inkling in the title, oops:  "Air Pollution Rising at National Parks".

2011 National Park air quality ozone exceedences
"Air pollution in national parks is at a three-year high, and two California parks have recorded the worst readings, according to a report by the National Parks Conservation Association.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, located next to each other, exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency standard for ozone pollution 68 days so far this year, the most of any of the national parks that monitor air quality. Joshua Tree National Park came in second, with 49 days above the EPA standard."

I decided to look up the National Parks Conservation Association to locate the original source, and it turns out to derive from a "Code Red" appeal to Congress to allow EPA to tighten regulations, last fall.  Well, we all know how that worked out...Congress didn't have to do a thing...Obama vetoed EPA action.  It's also even worse than the article indicated in the headline "3-year high" - rather, it's a trending increase - 2011 exceeded 2010, which in turn exceeded 2009.  The calculations run from April to October, and last September, a month shy of finishing the timeframe, the days of violations of the [inadequate] standards stood at 196 for 2009, 223 in 2010, and 234 in 2011, not counting another month's worth...a very bad direction!

I also came across some notes that are cryptic but worthy because they are from an April 2011 meeting called the "Greater Yellowstone Area Critical Loads Science Workshop".  The participants are attempting to adapt the criteria of "critical loads" as a method to analyse impacts of pollution on the ecosystem, a practice that has been recognized in Europe as more fully reflecting reality, and is only beginning to gain traction in the US.  Following are a few points from the summary of conclusions, "based on the data and information presented":
1. Nitrogen deposition is increasing (statistically significant trends) in many regions of the GYA:

*Wet deposition of total inorganic nitrogen (N-NH4 + N-NO3) is increasing in most areas (6/8 NADP monitoring stations);

* Ammonium (NH4) concentrations in precipitation are increasing in all areas (11/11 NADP monitoring stations);

* Nitrate (NO3) concentrations in precipitation are increasing in some areas (3/11 NADP monitoring stations);

* IMPROVE data trends at the Bridger site shows increasing nitrate in the winter, and at the Yellowstone site shows increasing annual trends;
 *Bulk deposition collectors at high elevation sites in the Wind River Range both show increasing trends in annual nitrogen deposition (Total N, NH4, and NO3);

* CASTNet data estimating dry deposition at Yellowstone and Bridger do not show any trends.

Some GYA lakes show statistically significant changes in water chemistry:

* Nitrate (at inlets) is increasing at Ross and Saddlebag lakes (Shoshone NF), and ammonium (at outlets) is increasing at Black Joe and Hobbs lakes (Bridger-Teton NF), indicating that beginning stages of lake eutrophication may be occurring in Wind River Range lakes;
* Lakes are beginning to acidify (ANC is declining) in Ross and Saddlebag lakes (Shoshone NF) and Hobbs Lake (Bridger-Teton NF);

* Lakes in the Beartooth and Teton ranges and Yellowstone NP can be sensitive but generally have adequate buffering to maintain stability with current low deposition levels;

* Lake sediment cores in the Grand Teton NP all show (7/7 lakes) depletion of N 15 which indicates increasing influence of anthropogenic sources of nitrogen to lakes.

I won't bother to pile on more of their statistics; the point is, the trends are generally going badly - in Montana and Wyoming!!  Maybe that is why citizens there are suing the EPA over a lack of stringent controls, as described in this article from Common Dreams, which says:

"A group of local Wyoming citizens today demanded that the Environmental Protection Agency act immediately in confronting the unhealthy ground-level ozone pollution that has resulted from an extraordinary rise in oil-and-gas activity within the state’s Upper Green River Basin."
"Citizens United for Responsible Energy Development (CURED) served EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson with notice that it will file a lawsuit in sixty days unless the Environmental Protection Agency formally designates the Upper Green River Basin as an area not meeting national ozone standards. Such a designation will trigger needed protections under the Clean Air Act. CURED is a grassroots organization dedicated to ensuring that energy development in and around Sublette County Wyoming does not compromise human health or environmental quality."
"In recent years, oil-and-gas development within the Upper Green River Basin has escalated at an exceptional pace. The resulting decline in the region’s air quality has been dramatic. Before the oil-and-gas boom, Sublette County’s residents enjoyed some of the best breathing in the country. Today, thousands of federally approved oil-and-gas wells pollute the region’s air with significant amounts of ozone’s ingredients—volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). As a result of this development, those living in Wyoming’s rural Upper Green River Basin have recently suffered some of the nation’s highest ozone levels."
"Ozone, a primary component of smog, damages lungs, worsens asthma, reduces lung capacity, triggers respiratory-related hospital admissions, and increases premature deaths. These health impacts are disproportionately felt by the most vulnerable—children, the elderly, and persons already suffering from respiratory ailments."
"During Sublette County’s winter months—when sunlight, still air, and snow-cover spur ozone formation—residents face repeated warnings about elevated ozone levels and the resulting risks of going outside. On such days, some are left to stay indoors—including the children that take part in Pinedale Elementary School’s “alternative recess.” Others venture outside only to suffer burning eyes and difficulty in breathing. The stress and uncertainty resulting from these conditions have further diminished the quality of life in Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin. As the Sublette County Commission emphasized in a March press release, the region’s residents have become “‘alarmed and concerned with so many alerts and spikes in ozone levels.’”
“'After years of unhealthy air and government delay, it is now up to the citizens who live, work, and recreate in Sublette County, Wyoming, to take a firm stance for the restoration of the region’s air to its prior, pristine state,' said Elaine Crumpley, Chairperson of CURED. 'CURED is taking such a stance today.'”
“'The health of individuals who live, work, and recreate in Sublette County is of paramount importance and actions need to be taken to ensure that our air is safe and healthy for all to breathe,' said CURED board member Mary Lynn Worl. 'We don’t believe that public health and the quality of life in our communities need to be traded away for economic activity. We can have both. Industry has made improvements in reducing emissions and they have the expertise to continue these innovations.'”
"More than two-and-a-half years ago, then Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal recommended designating the Upper Green River Basin as an area in violation of national ozone standards. Under the federal Clean Air Act, this 'nonattainment' designation would have triggered critical requirements and deadlines for bringing the Upper Green River Basin back into compliance with the EPA’s air-quality standards for ozone."
"The Clean Air Act required the EPA to finalize a 'nonattainment' designation for the Upper Green River Basin by March 12, 2010. For one and a half years, the EPA has unlawfully failed in its duty to take such action. In this time, Wyoming’s ozone problem has not abated. While the EPA has now announced an intention to publish its ozone designations nearly a year from now—“by mid-2012”—such further delay cannot be allowed."
“'With today’s letter, Citizens United for Responsible Energy Development has given the Environmental Protection Agency notice that further foot-dragging is unlawful and intolerable,' said Earthjustice lawyer Sean Helle, who is representing CURED. 'If the EPA fails to begin confronting the air pollution in Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin within sixty days, CURED will seek a court order compelling the agency to act.'”
Apparently, the EPA relented shortly after the threat of a lawsuit and in December agreed to designate the area in non-attainment, opening the way for increased surveillance of emissions that in 2010 amounted to:  "...ground-level ozone at 78 parts per billion (ppb) according to the data from the Boulder air monitoring station. Area-wide, including parts of Lincoln and Sweetwater counties, the analysis found 68,451 tons per year of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and 58,738 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) per year...".
Ultimately this will require steps be taken by oil and gas producers as well as other industrial categories.  If you read the article though, it's very clear that actual compliance is a far, far distance and many layers of bureaucratic forms away from merely designating non-attainment status and furthermore, it's quite possible that - as contrarians claim with some validity - there is so much pollution arriving from Asian sources that any improvements made in emissions locally will be more than offset by those imported.

Believe it or not, there is now another issue of Issues in Ecology, the Winter 2012 edition, "Excess Nitrogen in the U.S. Environment:  Trends, Risks and Solutions".  Sadly, the cover features the dwindling Joshua Trees.  There are many pictures of the magnificent Joshua Tree National Park in better days from last year's post here, if you missed them.  Following are some highlights from the new report (the fall edition, "Setting Limits:  Using Air Pollution Thresholds to Protect and Restore U.S. Ecosystems" is excerpted in this post from December):
"Humanity has disrupted the nitrogen cycle even more than the carbon (C) cycle. We present new research results showing widespread effects on ecosystems, biodiversity, human health, and climate, suggesting that in spite of decades of research quantifying the negative consequences of too much available nitrogen in the biosphere, solutions remain elusive."

I have to give them credit.  On the first page they ask the question I had been wondering as I read the above introduction - albeit a bit more crudely...why do they bother to keep writing the same dreck since 1997 when nothing changes?:
"Fifteen years later, we now ask: “Has scientific awareness of the growing problems of nitrogen pollution fostered progress in finding solutions?”  In some respects, the answer is a disappointing “no.” Atmospheric nitrous oxide is still increasing, the number of aquatic ecosystems experiencing eutrophication and hypoxia (low oxygen waters) has grown, and biodiversity losses due to air pollution have continued.  Indeed, these problems have been exacerbated by unanticipated new demands for biofuel crops, which created further demand for agricultural expansion and fertilizer inputs."

"Biodiversity losses due to air pollution" = deaths of species.  From there, they launch the happy talk about how much they've learned, and how there are ways to mitigate if only we would implement them, and there will be new technology, blah blah blah.  I will leave it to readers to go directly to the report to see more detail, because frankly, I'm feeling a little disgusted and so instead of posting even more of the same repetitive verbiage, I'm going to close instead with two bits of poems, because I like them.

The first I saw at MamaStories.
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

 ~ The Hard Work, Wendell Berry
And this by the same author I saw, coincidentally, at the aforementioned blog, A Prosperous Way Down

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.
~ Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” from The Country of Marriage, Wendell Berry


  1. Thanks, Gail, for this synthesis. And are those pictures of Trunk Bay on St. John? Which, coincidentally, had its spectacular reef demolished by too many loving tourists?

    Here's a motherlode of Berry quotes:

  2. Oh thank you for that link. I am ashamed to say I have never read much by Wendell Berry! I know, shocking.

    Yes that is Trunk Bay. My parents spend winters nearby, so I have been there twice, ten years apart. Seeing the reef go from literally psychedelic brilliance to dull grey in that time was instructive, to say the least.

    I guess I am one of those tourists who unwittingly killed it.

  3. You continue to make the mistake of assuming that politicians work for our benefit. They do not.
    They are bought-and-paid-for corporate workers bees.

    For how long have we known that pollution destroys things? Or that burning fossil fuels will lead to climate change? Or that over-fishing leads to fish stock collapse?
    And so on.

    Nothing will change as long as the status quo continues.

  4. I don't know why you say I am mistaken about politicians, about whom it's difficult to image anyone with deeper cynicism than me. I was writing about scientists.

  5. Paul, you say that nothing will change as long as the status quo continues. I believe Berry speaks to that, also. Mother Nature will take care of the status quo, and votes won't make a difference in the outcome.

    “Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.”
    ― Wendell Berry

  6. From the article:
    "We can illustrate the problem using climate change as a hot-button example, since peak oil and climate change are basically the two ends of the same snake,the inputs and outputs of our global energy problem. "

    Same old story of course - the one about the 5 blind men describing the elephant.

    The snake of climate change/peak oil is, of course, just the trunk of the elephant. The real elephant is 7+ billion people on one small planet!

    Interesting that people looking for the overview are still missing that big ol' elephant!


  7. DaveW, you are of course, exactly correct.

    Don't know how to put that genie back in the bottle!

  8. Gail, the scientists only inform the politicians. They cannot change anything themselves.
    Scientists have been informing the politicians for decades about problems upon which the politicians will never act. If the scientists do manage a consensus on ozone killing trees then it will matter not one jot.

    Iaato - I fully agree that Mother Nature will re-dress the balance.
    But none of us want to be around when that happens, and we probably won't.

  9. Hi Gail,

    Just for fun, let's look at that ol' elephant again.

    If climate change/peak oil are the trunk, maybe we could say that :
    1 leg is ocean acidification
    1 leg is atmospheric pollution - Ozone, NOxs etc...
    1 leg is land use/de-forestation/agribusiness...
    1 leg is H2O consumption/waste

    I think the body is our population problem
    maybe the head is mineral consumption/waste

    ...and the tail?

    The tail is the global economy, which is waggin' the whole damn elephant!


  10. What Paul said - and another R. Pielke Jr. note


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