Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Radical Joy for Hard Times
I have accumulated a mountain of new information about trees dying from ozone, but other catastrophes have interfered so just for today here is a brief segue into other fearsome territory.

As usual there is a thought-provoking post at Collapse of Industrial Civilization, where XRayMike has embedded a talk by Guy McPherson and adds citations from the book "Catastrophism - The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth".  He goes on to discuss this engaging concept of catastrophism, a notion which is new to me - that the populous is becoming numbed to disasters through the "normalization of catastrophe" via games, films, television and other popular amusements...Like the following zombie doomer porn!  I can't wait to see the movie but I'm afraid by the time it is ready for release the theaters will be permanently closed, so perhaps we will have only this trailer:

To me the juxtaposition of that book and Guy's lecture seems a bit incongruous because the authors advocate NOT portending disasters - and you can't find a much grimmer prognosticator than Guy McPherson (which is why I like him).  The overview of the book says:

"The authors argue that those who care about social justice and the environment should jettison doomsaying—even as it relates to indisputably apocalyptic climate change. Far from calling people to arms, they suggest, catastrophic fear often results in passivity and paralysis—and, at worst, reactionary politics."

Anyone who has read Wit's End probably knows I disagree vehemently with that assessment.  Passivity and paralysis and reactionary (fascist?) politics may well result from fear - but on the other hand, that's exactly what we already have - and yet most people are so far clueless as to just how bad our prospects for survival have become.  Put simply, people don't quit smoking because it's a little bit bad for their health.  They quit because they have been told it's going to KILL them, and that is why I think the only way people radically alter their behavior is if they have had the wits scared out of them.

This is some of what David Wadsell, Director of the Apollo-Gaia Project, has to say in the video below:

“The distinction between just a feedback process and a runaway feedback process is very, very important indeed. You can have feedback that slowly increases, if you like, the risk, and puts the temperature up a bit higher. Runaway feedback says the system responds so much to an increase in temperature that it becomes faster in the way it changes the climate with rising temperature. So the hotter it gets, the faster it gets hotter...and the hotter it gets, the faster it gets hotter faster, until you move into a process that’s completely uncontrollable. And instead of coming up to a new equilibrium temperature that may be a bit high, it goes on going up faster and faster until something runs out—there’s no more methane to release or we’ve run out of forests to burn or something... or there's no more ice to melt…
“The danger of moving into a runaway climate change scenario is now clear and is beginning to be quantified for the first time in the last few months. It’s probably the greatest threat that we face as a planet."

"The rate of change in the climate is phenomenal compared to previous extinction events.  We are already in a mass extinction event."

Following is Guy's lecture. The Arctic Methane Group are passionately proponents, at least short-term for the ice, of some sort of emergency geoengineering, whereas Guy talks about the moral imperative to enlighten people about our grim prospects - which is, I assume, why he continues to speak and write about amplifying feedbacks and their consequences.  The ice, after all, is as good as melted.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Merely Players

Last Monday I went to court for the fourth time for my arrest at Occupy - and once again, the "people were not prepared" to go to trial.  This was particularly infuriating because I had to get up at 5 a.m. to be sure I would arrive in New York on time, since the trains are still not recovered from Sandy (for new visitors, there are pictures of rotted trees on earlier posts such as here and here).  NJ Transit replaced the railcars with shuttle busses, piloted by bewildered drivers - city dwellers who might have been exiles from another planet so little notion did they have how to navigate the winding country roads to obscure stations.  The passengers gave them directions and we tried to keep them from ending up with their huge vehicles wedged in impossibly tight turns.  Next I had to take the ferry to lower Manhattan, and finally, the subway.  I made it just in time for nothing.

Apparently, since the entire incident is on videotape, the "people" have figured they cannot win and so they have decided to run out the clock until the allowance of time to prosecute is exceeded, and then our case will be dismissed for procedural reasons.  What an outrageous, rigged system - for Bloomberg's army to be able to harass citizens who are peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights, with no consequence.  It appears we have no recourse.  Our democracy, in case you hadn't noticed, is a corrupted sham.
Anyway...the shuttle service didn't resume in the outbound direction until late afternoon so after that farce I decided to spend the rest of the day uptown.  I had intended to go to the Metropolitan Museum, forgetting that it is closed on Mondays...but that was okay because instead, I took a long walk through Central Park.  I had never been to that section of the park before - looking at a map there, I was astonished at what an enormous treasure it is, taking up a large portion of the city.  Seeing new things is one of my greatest pleasures now, because to witness the deterioration of places I know well is too sad.  So, the next post about ozone killing trees will have pictures from one week ago - but first, a report about our Thanksgiving weekend.  Even Wick the fox had a feast.
I was too busy cooking to take any pictures, so these are from middle daughter's cell phone.
In between three runs to the airport to fetch two daughters plus a significant other, I cooked (with plenty of help!) two meals, first for Thanksgiving proper (eight of us) and then our annual Friday night redux at Bramblefields, for friends and the other side of extended family (over thirty altogether).
Here are the menus, in combined total: two turkeys with stuffing, 3 filet mignons with gorgonzola, countless brussels sprouts with pancetta, green beans & wild mushrooms, butternut squash with leeks, goat cheese & hazelnuts; mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry and tangerine sauce, farro with parmesan, two pumpkin pies with almond pastry, two apple and vanilla poached quince upside-down tart Tatin, and one pear tart (plus of course many cheeses, smoked salmon and caviar, shrimp, olives, patés, salamis, fruits and so forth) ...cognitive dissonance reigns supreme!
It was wonderful to have all three of my daughters in one place, which occurs too rarely - and everytime it does I am haunted with the foreboding that this murderous world will come to a standstill in one sort of paroxysm or other, and it will never happen again because they will be trapped, too far from home to return.  I love seeing them happy together, laughing, playing charades and rehashing old episodes of hilarity.  They are all planning for the future as though it will be as benevolent and generous as it has always been, for which I think they are smart.  There is no way to prepare for ecopocalypse, no way of predicting how and where and when it will unfold.
On Saturday the four of us went to a matinee of The Life of Pi.  I hadn't read the book, but the movie was fascinating.  Even though I intend to spoil the plot, it doesn't matter because the cinematography is so exquisitely and lusciously filmed that you will not regret seeing it.  I have been thinking about it quite a bit, particularly because of recent encounters with Moby Dick - chronicled in The Final Puff, which led me to visit Nantucket (Torches of Freedom).
Both of these parables are about our ravenous devouring of Mother Nature, whose power is a major character in both of them - but Moby Dick is more about hubris on a grand, industrial scale, whereas Pi, I would say, examines the moral complexities of individual consumption (and is not at all about any sort of *triumph* as the hooplah advertising would have you believe).  Pi is shipwrecked on a voyage from his home in India to Canada.  In the story he shares a small lifeboat with wild animals from his family's zoo, including a tiger.  As we follow his epic struggles to survive, it becomes clear listening to the now grown man recount the tale that most of it is a carefully constructed fantasy - and that, horrific as the journey was as he describes it, the reality was even more gruesome.
Earlier in the story, a very young Pi decides to sneak into the chamber leading to the tiger's cage and get close to him by offering him some raw meat through the gate.  Just in time his father rescues him, furious.  Pi tells him that he didn't believe the tiger would harm him because he had looked into his eyes and seen his soul.  "He has no soul" his father yelled incredulously, "you saw the reflection of your own emotions".  (Perhaps that is also what ecologist Aldo Leopold mistook, sentimentally, when he famously saw the "fierce green fire" in the eyes of a wolf - also now a movie about the history of environmentalism, coming to a theater near you, maybe.)
To make sure Pi understands, his father forces him to watch as he has a little goat tied to the spot where Pi had been, which is swiftly torn apart by the tiger.  Should the tiger feel guilty about eating the goat?  This is an important question, because Pi and his mother are religious and vegetarian, to the disgust of the father, who is "scientific".

In Pi's preferred version, by the time the boat washes ashore on a beach in Mexico, the tiger has eaten all the other animals that were adrift with them and quite a few fish besides.  Pi is bereft when the emaciated tiger, with whom he believes he has bonded, disappears into the jungle without a goodbye, or even a glance backwards.  This becomes significant when we learn the other version - the much uglier, cannibalistic version like the true story of the Essex which inspired Moby Dick - in which Pi himself is the tiger, and the animals were other human survivors of the shipwreck, at least one of whom he ate.

Humans are large carnivorous animals.  We like to look back...we like to think we have souls.  We like to think our marvelous conceits - Mozart and Monet, Galileo and Shakespeare - set us apart from other animals in some profoundly cosmic way.  But really, we are creatures with a top predator temperament and we can no more restrain ourselves from devouring everything in sight than the reindeer who ate all the lichen on St. Michael's Island.  Perhaps, the more principled individuals among us can choose to be, say, vegetarian...but when the trappings of civilization are stripped away, certainly as a species we will revert to our inner tiger.
Unfortunately, now the world is like that boat lost on the sea - there is no second earth from which to extract more resources or sequester our pollution, and even though we have the ability to look back and weep, we can no more change our fundamental selves than can a tiger.  Pretend as we might, we have no transcendent soul, only the reflections of our emotions.

On the upside, there is no need to feel guilty.

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

This Impostor

The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said "This is mine," and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.

~ Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality, 1754

Shortly after I first realized (in 2008) that trees are dying at a profoundly abnormal and deeply disturbingly accelerating rate, I began taking photographs of the many visible symptoms of decline - among them, premature leaf drop and lack of normal vivid fall foliage.  In 2009, I searched the internet for earlier pictures of trees that were dated, in order to make an objective comparison of their condition over time.  The set that follows were taken by a fellow who calls himself Colorado Guy.  He was visiting New Jersey in 2007, and uploaded these images of fall foliage.  Luckily he was very specific as to two locations, in Fairfield, not too far north from Wit's End.  He also noted the exact day he took them - November 21, the day before Thanksgiving.

This is the drive leading to the front entrance of Kyocera Headquarters in Fairfield as he recorded it five years ago.  The picture below I took on November 14, 2012 - so, a week earlier in the season.  The two shrubs at the beginning of both islands have been removed, and so has all the low evergreen groundcover along the right side of the drive, replaced with grass.
I had already done comparisons in 2009, and 2010.  I think last year I skipped, because I was busy with Occupy Wall Street.  Clicking on those years will bring you back to the prior posts, clearly indicating a trend towards progressively earlier leaf drop, and dull colors.  Premature senescence is a sign of overall decline and portends a mortality event.  On this scale it is unprecedented in the natural world - but then, we now inhabit a most un-natural world.
Looking at the leaves more closely reveals not just the dull color but lesions and brown tissue.
And no, that is NOT from the Sandy Storm.  Leaves were turning brown and shriveling up well before the storm came this year (just check any earlier post from this fall) - plus, the trend was well underway in prior years.
This particular pattern - stippling and spotting and marginal leaf burn - is a classic symptom of direct damage from absorbing ozone through stomates as leaves photosynthesize, an effect that has been monitored and documented by scientists, and replicated in controlled fumigation experiments.
Following is a representative sampling of leaves from trees I planted in the garden around Wit's End, pictures taken October 20, a week before the storm - a Chinese dogwood:
Across the street from Kyocera is a little park.  It looked lovely back in 2007.  Even the leaves on the ground were still bright, clear, and unblemished.
When I was there three days ago - a full week before the 2007 version from Colorado Guy - there were almost no leaves left on the trees or the burning bushes.
What leaves hadn't fallen were turning brown while still on the branch.
Chlorosis and stippling spread...
until the leaf becomes entirely necrotic.
Here's a view of one of several round benches in the park, from 2007.
This is the same bench from an angle slightly to the right.
These big circles of mud are where trees have been removed.

There are remains of a more formidable tree that probably predated the establishment of the park.
What few leaves cling to various other shrubs and trees are all damaged.

Overall, it makes for a bleak and moribund scene.
The view now is dominated by a shroud of grey grasses.  I have read that grasses and vines are more resistant to pollution.
I don't know if that's true, or wishful thinking that something will survive.
After I left the park for the next stop on the itinerary, I pulled over to examine this Japanese Maple, which should be a brilliant vermillion red.
That entire tree is covered with crinkly dead leaves - only here and there is a little spot of fall color to be found.  And it's perfectly typical of all the maples I saw that day.
Here's the view up the Passaic River from Horseshoe Bridge as taken by Colorado Guy in 2007.
And this is what it looks like now, even earlier in the season.
Just on this basis alone - millions upon millions of leaves falling a month earlier than normal - makes me wonder, how much less photosynthesizing does that represent - how much less absorption of CO2 and production of oxygen?  And that leaves aside the question of whether the photosynthesizing was impaired well before, which I would posit it likely was.  I left one of my usual comments about this incalculable and dangerous amplifying feedback to global warming at Collapse of Industrial Civilization and was delighted with XRayMike's hilarious reply: "Yer just tryin' to scare us...":

Well, it IS scary!  Ever since the Sandy Storm I've been posting pictures of the incredible number of trees that came down, far out of proportion to the wind strength, because it reveals that their insides are rotting, like this one:
This batch of photos are from within Oldwick village, all taken this past week (November 10 - 13).
Many trees are still lying untouched, there are far too many to be cleaned up even in the almost three weeks since the storm.  Where cut branches and logs are stacked, the interior rot that led so many to break and fall is evident.
This week what has astonished even me is the incredibly swift shriveling of remaining leaves.
I don't know if anyone remembers that they once upon a time - only a few short years ago! - leaves changed color in the fall and looked glorious for weeks, and then fell off in glossy brilliance and then eventually, after they were on the ground, turned brown.
In the interim there was time to collect them, intact and lustrous, for art projects and decorations.
Now, they are dying while still on the branches - and it has never been more obvious or faster than this year.
It's a very bizarre pattern, where the topmost leaves are dying first.  I am at a loss as to how to explain it, but I definitely see it occurring on maples particularly, everywhere I go.
It can be plainly seen in the tree above, and the Japanese Maple outside the Oldwick Village Spa.
Following is an article from the New Jersey Star Ledger assessing the impacts of Sandy, the headline of which declares:  "Sandy Decimated NJ Power Systems far worse than Irene, Data Shows".  The reason, of course, that the power systems were decimated is that the trees are all dying - but hardly anyone knows that.

The number of utility poles, trees and transformers that were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy exceeded damage wrought last year by Tropical Storm Irene and the surprise Halloween storm combined, a Star-Ledger analysis has found.
There’s no question the power outages resulting from Sandy were worse than either of the late 2011 storms: For some New Jerseyans, Sandy cut power for two weeks or more, compared with outages during the two storms last year, which knocked out some customers for as long as 10 days.
“We’ve never had a direct hit of a hurricane and had the 80- and 90-mile-per-hour winds we’ve seen,” said Ralph LaRossa, president of Public Service Electric & Gas, referring to Hurricane Sandy.
Officials at Jersey Central Power & Light agreed.
“People do not like to hear this, but the severity of damage to our system was not like anything we’ve seen before,” spokesman Ron Morano said. “For our customers, this is the third time in (recent years) they’ve experienced something like this … certainly we understand that frustrates them.”
Although customers may not feel forgiving, the regulators who oversee the state’s utilities will surely consider the damage to the state’s infrastructure when assessing the restoration efforts.
There’s the number of wrecked power poles: 5,606 and counting for PSE&G, JCP&L and Atlantic City Electric. That was more than double the 2,000 or so snapped and damaged by Irene and the October snowstorm.
PSE&G replaced about 900 poles in those two storms, according to a report to the state Board of Public Utilities, while JCP&L lost about 1,100 and Atlantic City Electric, 60 or so.
Another measure of damage caused by Sandy was the number of transformers knocked out — more than 2,200 of the devices that convert electric current from high voltage to low voltage. That included 1,000 each for PSE&G and JCP&L and 200 or so for Atlantic City Electric.
The total for both 2011 storms was 1,500.
When it comes to tree-related incidents that required a response like cutting or moving a fallen tree, the numbers have also shot up.
During last year’s two storms, the three major electric utilities reported 25,000 tree jobs.
This time? The number more than quadrupled, to 113,000, and that’s not even including Atlantic City Electric, which said there are too many such incidents for it to count.
One hard number that doesn’t measure physical damage, but serves as a proxy for problems in general, is the number of calls customers make to utilities.
Not all utilities have reported that information, but PSE&G, the state’s largest utility, got more calls for Sandy than it received in the two major 2011 storms by a large margin: 1.7 million for the 2011 storms, 2.28 million for Sandy.
That about equals the number of customers affected by Sandy’s outages, the company said: 1.7 million out of PSE&G’s 2.2 million customers, or 77 percent, lost power, far more than the 40 percent who lost service in Irene or 29 percent in the snowstorm.
JCP&L got 1.3 million reports of outages, more than its 1.1 million customers, due to some households losing power repeatedly as temporary fixes went down and snow that fell a week after Sandy hit.
That compared with 71 percent of the company’s customers who lost power in Irene, and 39 percent in the 2011 snowstorm.
By Wednesday evening, both major utilities were cautiously claiming victory, although both JCP&L and ACE said some houses at the Shore were no longer counted because they were so badly damaged that power can’t be safely restored.

Tomorrow, has organized a march in Washington to demand something or other from Obama, that he will completely ignore.  I can't go, because I have to be in court in New York Monday morning for my arrest at Occupy Wall Street (4th time!!)...and it's going to be quite difficult to get there, because the train station I usually go to in Hoboken is still flooded.
But the truth is, I wouldn't go to Washington again anyway.  I'm disgusted with climate activists.  Following is a message I sent in the course of a discussion with some friends which explains why.
What is misguided about climate policy as it is promoted by the major players is the message from almost all activists and scientists...that we can convert to clean energy and the party can continue.  But we have to convert within 20 - no,10 - no, 5 years!
Even if you believe we could deploy some technology to do that (and I don't), it can't happen in time to avert what the science and the empirical evidence tells us is going to be catastrophic (already is if you live in New Jersey, Bangladesh, Texas, Tuvalu or Venice).
So when activists and scientists promise otherwise, they play into the hands of the hard-core, professional deniers.  The deniers are able to - and they loudly DO - cast doubt on the veracity of climate "realists" by pointing to that discrepancy, and then in the minds of the great majority who would prefer to ignore the problem, climate realists have lost credibility - and everything they say can be safely ignored as well.
Pussyfooting around how serious and imminent the issues of climate enables deniers and obviously hasn't resulted in any significant progress.  We should be calling, loudly, for drastic cuts in consumption, made equitable by rationing, and enforced by bans on unnecessary burning of fuel (like quads, leaf-blowers, cars, planes, and swimming pools for starters).  This, of course, would require a radical cultural and political shift in what is valued, so we should be calling for that too.
The politicians are NEVER going to do this.  Only people who have had the wits scared out of them can move the politicians.  And that will only happen when people who KNOW the truth speak it.  McKibben is not speaking the truth or he would be telling people we must expect to give up the goodies provided by industrial civilization if we want to survive.
On the other side of Wit's End, away from the village, I finally ventured down the road, which had been closed.  My neighbor's farm looks for all the world like a petulant giant lost a game of chess and with one angry swipe, knocked all the pieces flat, scattering them onto the playing board.
Since this was over two weeks after the Sandy Storm, and there has been a crew cutting and clearing and stacking, I can't even imagine what it looked like the day after.
Actually my neighbor had already removed scores of sickly trees over the past few years.
Many of the stumps have been removed but plenty remain, mutely attesting to the trend, around the property.
I only just picked up The Petkau Effect from the interlibrary loan, which needless to say was held up, so I haven't read anything but snippets yet.  The book is about radiation, but doesn't completely discount ozone's influence on trees.  Here is an interesting excerpt:
The question that should be asked is why plants react so much more sensitively to air pollution than do animals and humans.  There is a fundamental difference between humans and plants.
We need air "only" as a provider of oxygen, to burn our food and provide us with energy.  
Plants, however, get almost all their building material, i.e., their food, in the form of carbon.
It is contained in the air as carbon dioxide (CO2), and is passed back to the plants by means of photosynthesis.
However , a plant has to "breathe in" and process incomparably greater quantities of air than does a human, for air contains only 0.035% carbon dioxide, as opposed to 21% oxygen.
For this purpose, the leaves and needles of plants are provided with a highly-developed ventilation system, so that enough CO2 can be incorporated from the great dilution in the air.
This air finds its way into the interior of plants and needles through very fine pores, the so-called stomata.  A single oak or beech leaf has over half a million such openings.
This intensive ventilation of plants explains their much greater sensitivity toward air pollution.

Thus, the effects of air poisoning are noticed much earlier in plants than in animals or humans.

This is the back entrance that leads to the caretaker's cottage and the barns.  Once, those pines made an impenetrable wall of green, and the driveway was deeply shaded, like a darkly mysterious tunnel.  I used to love to collect the scrumptious Boletus edulis, which hitchhiked on the roots when the trees were long ago imported from Europe.
In the last few years they have been shedding needles and have become transparent, and the mushrooms no longer appear.  Perhaps it has become too hot and dry and bright for them now.
The bark peels off with just a slight flick - if they don't all fall in the next storm, they'll fall soon after.
Yesterday, first daughter called wanting to visit a nursery to pick out some large trees.  She wants them planted right away, to replace those that fell around her house and pond at Bramblefields.  As an Ozonista, I think it's pointless because they are going to die and fall too, but I always love to spend time with her and plus, I was curious about the condition of trees further inland.  I grabbed my camera and met her at the farm in Frenchtown, and then we drove together through Stockton, and across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania.
It's a very nice nursery even if the view of the distant hills is brown and bleak.  They had some hollies with yellow berries instead of red, which I've never seen.  They're thin, though...
and the leaves are damaged.
The Bradford pears seem to be no better or worse than those closer to home.
The leaves are approximately the same.
This is a sweetgum, which ordinarily has bright leaves but they are mostly shriveled, like the maples at home.
They are marred by black spots.
The yellow species is likewise spotted.
I managed to refrain from pointing out to first daughter that all the leaves exhibit unmistakable symptoms of ozone damage.
I didn't even mention that the bark was cracking and peeling.

I'm pretty sure she will get this beech, which has deeply scalloped leaves that are most unusual.
They will have to employ some very large equipment to dig those mature trees up and transport them.

There were several Japanese maples, all but two of which were completely bare.
But those two were just spectacular.  I wish that I had seen them a week or so ago, but even though they were past their prime, it was a huge joy to soak in such a riotous display of vibrant color.

The other was nearly black on one side.

I may do a quick update after the hearing on Monday, but other than that will probably not post until after Thanksgiving, since middle daughter and youngest daughter are coming home for the holiday (yay!!!).  So I would like to wish a wonderful Thanksgiving to all, and to say now a word of gratitude to those readers, commenters and friends who do me the great kindly favor of toiling through these interminably long ramblings, with a faithful determination that I take to indicate perhaps I'm not completely crazy.  Thank you.  It sucks to be isolated.

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