Saturday, November 10, 2012

Dark Satanic Mills

Frost has arrived more than once at Bramblefields in the past few days and pretty well finished off the marigolds in the garden...but it has not been so cold as to stop the petunias from producing a few feeble blossoms.
So you would think some one other than me would wonder why maple leaves look like this:
Chris Hedges published a scathing account of the somnolent, hypnotized US electorate, elaborating with his usual eloquence on the ability of average people to be willfully oblivious to reality - what is known in some circles as facts.  He quotes:
“Crowds have always undergone the influence of illusions,” wrote Gustave Le Bon, one of the first pioneers of the study of mass psychology. “Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.”
Mass delusion can be the only explanation for why people don't understand that toxins are rendering leaves blotchy and necrotic - not just in New Jersey where I live, but identically, in Washington state as in the above photo.  That image was uploaded a few days ago to Jeff Master's blog as though it were was the vile burnt landscape below, from Pennsylvania.  I don't know which is more horrible - the images themselves, or the fact that people can look at them without feeling stark terror.

A picture of the aftermath from Sandy below, is typical - you can see the rot beginning in the dark center of the cut branches in the foreground; meanwhile, the bark is encrusted with lichen...a sure sign of decline.
Demerest, New Jersey
I'll be doing a more precise (exact location) comparative study in a few days based on these photos taken in northern New Jersey on November 21, 2007 when it is closer to that same date again - but for now, here are three of the set, to put things in perspective - yes, trees did once upon a time turn blazing beautiful colors and stay that way to Thanksgiving:
I'm coming around to the conclusion that we cannot rely on the media or the scientists to expose this accelerating existential threat.  Without forests the entire ecosystem will collapse - just like coral reefs, acidifying in the oceans.  But the media won't touch it if the scientists won't explain it; and the scientists don't dare be "alarmist" without direct causative proof - even though the case can and has been convincingly made by much more authoritative sources than me.  So it's going to take ordinary people to come out of their stupor and start screaming about what is plain to see - there is something terminally wrong with trees, and the only explanation is pollution.  It's not age!  Young trees are dying just as fast as old trees, and in event, they should live for hundreds of years.  It's not acid rain!  Plants growing in enriched soil in pots exhibit the identical, classic ozone-derived chlorotic damage to leaves - even plants in greenhouses are stunted.
You'd think the climate scientists would be interested in this because a major carbon sink is rapidly disappearing. Trees are actually an ozone sink too, and it is estimated that vegetation takes up one quarter of the ozone produced by burning fuel and other industrial processes.  Since ozone in the troposphere itself is a considerably more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 that, too, will be yet another amplifying feedback to global warming. So it’s going to get way, way hotter, way, way faster, than even the worst-case current models predict.
It turns out that, on top of the precursors to ozone produced from burning fuel, enormous amounts of pollutants are released in the very process of extracting and processing the crude oil from the tarsands in Canada.  There is a documentary on youtube about it called Witness:  To the Last Drop which is well worth watching.  The scale of these "dark satanic mills" is unimaginably huge.  It's possible that the tarsands are contributing mightily to the ozone that is killing trees.  This screenshot shows just a tiny portion, and it makes me think humans are insane.  Who would do this to their air?
Yet another article has appeared chronicling the massive tree dieoff in England.  There is thinly veiled panic in the UK, which has a public that is historically extremely fond of nature in general and particularly trees (there are fantastic pictures of ancient UK specimens in this post), but there doesn't seem to be much inclination to examine the underlying causes for there to be such a devastating trend among so many different species, other than to blame imported insects and diseases.  As I pointed out, the English have been importing trees for centuries.  Americans prefer to blame climate change...and nobody wants to blame pollution.  Here's the photo used to illustrate the article, a tree which has the same sort of stained, corroded bark that can be found everywhere else.

Distracted by the storm surge from Sandy, almost nobody has noticed that the number of trees that fell is absolutely extraordinary, and completely unexplained by wind or rain.  Ever since I realized trees are dying, I have been expecting them to cause damage to cars and houses and lost power at a hitherto unheard of rate, and also to injure people.  So it was not a surprise, but still a very deep shock, to learn only hours after I posted a few days ago that last week Tom Frey, who I have known since he was a kid, was hit in the face with a tree branch and died the next day, at age 44.  Tom was on the road crew for the hot-air balloon ride I took a year ago, to film the colorless autumn.  Here he is, flame-throwing.
Afterwards, we all sat around a rickety picnic table, sipping the traditional champagne, talking about trees and climate change.  It makes me cry again to write this.  Rest in peace, Tom, and thank you for the wonderful balloon trip, it was the most unexpectedly magical experience in my life to float over the countryside, high in the air.  Really incomparable.  Here's a link to the video, for anyone who missed it.  Following is the BBC article.  The captioned photos were posted by JCP&L on their flickr page, proof that the pine trees that fell in Sandy were thin and the deciduous trees were covered with lichen, had no roots anchoring them, or were already rotting inside.
Ashes to ashes: Why is dieback making the headlines?

Experts say it poses a real-and-present danger to the nation's population of 80 million ash trees.

They warn that it could change the landscape in a way not seen since the height of the Dutch elm disease outbreak in the 1970s and 1980s, which saw millions of elm trees being killed or destroyed.

Since it was confirmed that it was present in woodlands in East Anglia on 25 October, the disease has received extensive media coverage and prompted the environment secretary to convene a Cobra meeting, normally reserved for national crises, and call an emergency summit on how the disease should be defeated.
Yet a quick glance at the Forestry Commission's Tree Pests and Diseases website shows that woodlands face a number of threats from a wide variety of pathogens.

So why has this disease, caused by the Chalara fraxinea fungus, gripped the nation's attention?

Tony Kirkham, head of the arboretum at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, said he was very surprised when he heard the news that ash dieback had been confirmed in the wider environment.
"We were all led to believe that it was only on nursery stock, which had been called back to the nursery and this had been destroyed," he told BBC News.

Keith Kirby, one of the UK's leading woodland ecologists, said he was a little surprised by the amount of publicity generated by the arrival of ash dieback on these shores.

"Although when you look back, you can see that it is a case of the public being sensitised through previous diseases and concerns about the threats to forests," he said.
"Also, I think the nature of this disease and the fact it is affecting such a common tree has played a part and it does appear that this is the thing that the forestry world has been fearing for the past 10 or 20 years - that it is the next Dutch elm disease."

Dr Kirby, now at visiting researcher at the University of Oxford's Department of Plant Sciences, is a veteran of numerous tree disease outbreaks - including Dutch elm disease (DED) - during his time with English Nature and Natural England, said that DED was still present in the UK's landscape.

"You find that elm is still surviving in hedgerows and woods, but it tends to grow to a certain size and then it gets attacked and dies back again," he told BBC News.

"I don't know if this is the case with ash dieback, whether once the tree is dead that is it and there is no survival in the roots where regrowth could happen."
Another difference between the two diseases is the way the spores are distributed. Dutch elm disease was spread by beetles, whereas ash dieback is dispersed via wind-blown spores.

"There was some evidence that under warm and dry conditions, the beetle was likely to spread further so if you had a series of wet summers, it might not have spread so much," Dr Kirby observed.
"At this stage, we do not know if there will be anything that will limit the spread of ash dieback but with wind-blown spores, it is less likely we will have a get-out-of-jail-free card."

Another disease that hit the UK in recent years is Phytophthora ramorum. Until 2009, the disease was only detected at a very low level but then it displayed a sudden change in its pathogenic behaviour. [note:  It was late summer of 2008 when I saw all the leaves on every kind of tree abruptly wilt, and realized they are all dying.]
In the first recorded case of its kind in the world, P. ramorum was found infecting and killing large numbers of Japanese larch trees - a commercially important conifer species - in South-West England.

In 2010, it was found on Japanese larches in Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and in 2011 it was confirmed at locations in western Scotland.
Researchers acknowledged that this was a setback in the effort to tackle ramorum disease.
Another disease that has the potential to have a massive impact on UK woodlands is acute oak decline (AOD), which can infect the UK's two native oak species - sessile and pedunculate.

So far, the bacterial pathogen has killed oaks in woodlands throughout the Midlands and South but has not been recorded in other areas to date.

Tree professionals and conservation groups voiced concerns that if the disease got a foothold in the nation's woodlands then the landscape would be changed forever.
Tony Kirkham, responsible for the health of 14,000 tree at Kew, said: "Every year there is something new that will pose a threat to this amazing historical and new tree collection, and there is still a lot out there."

In the summer, the Forestry Commission warned that UK trees were facing an "unprecedented level of threat" from pests and diseases.

Hilary Allison, policy director for the Woodland Trust, said that it was important that research into all the threats to UK trees received the necessary funding.
"Ash dieback is now one more of a whole range of pests and diseases already present in the UK, all of which pose a threat to our native woods and trees," she said.

"All of our native trees are important for biodiversity, for providing habitats for our native wildlife - some species unique to particular types of tree - and for the health and wellbeing of our nation."
She told BBC News: "Another source of concern is that landowners worried about tree disease may perceive the risk of planting trees too great, actually leading to a reduction in tree planting and a decline in the UK's woodland overall.

"Given that the UK is already one of the least wooded countries in Europe, and what we know about the public's love of woodland and all the health and economic benefits associated with it, this would be a catastrophe for all concerned."
  • Phytophthora ramorum - fungal pathogen that infects the commercially important conifer species, Japanese larch
  • Acute oak decline (AOD) - An aggressive bacterial disease that can kill an infected tree in just four or five years
  • Great spruce bark beetle - breeds under the bark, weakening the infected tree and in extreme cases, can kill the tree
  • Chalara dieback of ash - "a serious disease of ash trees", caused by a fungus called Chalara fraxinea, and can kill an infected tree
  • Horse chestnut bleeding canker - appears as an area of dying bark that oozes liquid. If it spreads around the entire trunk, it cuts off the food supply, killing the tree
October 31, Morristown, NJ JCP&L
The following pictures I took on November 8, starting on Lake Road in Far Hills, and continuing up to the Bernardsville Mountain, which is still without power.
The very first place I stopped had a huge tree down on the fence, but before I walked back to it, this young tree presented very typical splitting bark.  So all those foresters that claim trees are dying because they are old, please stop it. 
 Somebody had already been cutting and stacking the smaller branches.
This pile should demonstrate beyond any doubt that those dark circles in the center are the beginning of interior rot, which progresses until the tree is hollow.
 Another young tree that is losing bark (which is putting it charitably).
This advanced deteriorated condition pre-dated Sandy - or Irene, or any other extreme weather event in the recent past.
 Both the younger tree in the front and the older tree in the background have damaged bark.
Most trees lost their leaves even before Sandy, about a month early, without ever turning bright colors.
 Some remain on oaks and maples, but they are injured and have been turning ghastly shades.
Another example of a tree that commenced to decline several years ago.  Every time there is a storm more and more will come down, because they are uniformly brittle and have lost natural flexibility in the wind.
Those are flattened pines with brown needles in the foreground - the trees still standing have almost no terminal growth (young tips from which leaves will sprout in the spring).

 This formidable branch that broke off is perfectly average, unfortunately.
 The dark brown is rotted wood - and the white fungus is pliable, like soft plastic.
It wouldn't be complete without lichen, and insect holes - all ozonists and ozonistas know that controlled fumigation experiments have shown that exposure to ozone predisposes trees to attacks from biotic pathogens whether insects, disease or fungus.
Remember the corroded bark in the BBC story photo?  The standing tree in the back has the same sort of patchy loss.
 The white fungus pervades the broken stump.
And there is black rot as well.
I had a nasty thought first thing when I woke up this morning.
I thought, what if people suddenly, finally woke the hell up and realized the trees are dying from air pollution and didn't care?
After all, it is no different than the entire notion of driving cars in the first place.
Imagine if the proposition were - how would you like to have a vehicle that hurtles you through enormous distances at incredibly fast speeds so you can go all over the place whenever you want - only some people will be maimed or killed as a'll just have to hope it's not you or someone you love.
Well, it would appear we're pretty much all okay with that.
Just like we're okay with epidemics of lethal diseases that result from the various poisons that accompany modern industrial civilization.
So, why would the response be any different to the news that we are decimating trees? 
Well, that's the way my thinking goes these days.
I'm not the Diva of Doom for nothing!
All of these downed trees were along maybe two miles.
I can't even begin to guess how many came down altogether.
There are so many cluttering this area that all that has been done is to hastily push them to the side to allow access and egress.
As of two days ago, no one had even begun to repair all the broken lines.
Everyone is just driving right over them, or under them.
 I still have no power at Wit's End.
If I'm lucky it will be restored tomorrow.
Once I have running water again, I can begin the revolting task of throwing away all the spoiled food in the refrigerator and freezer.

 I didn't want to attempt crossing the fallen lines so I couldn't get any closer to that broken trunk.

Instead I cropped the picture - it's almost hollow.
[Update:  I saw this comment on a newspaper article about the lost power:

"PSEG: 5,580 outages remain from Hurricane Sandy. Power has now been restored to more than 99 percent of the 1.7 million customers impacted.. 17,148 outages remain from the Nor'easter Wednesday night and reports of outages received since Friday; these outages may or may not be weather-related. Since service restoration began, PSE&G has replaced at least 2,500 poles and 1,000 transformers, as well as cut down 41,000 trees, to repair widespread damage from the hurricane. Contrary to rumors, PSE&G has ample supplies of poles and other equipment on hand."
41,000 trees - and that is only the ones PSE&G cut.  That doesn't count other power companies...
and it obviously is only those along the roads impacting power lines.  What of all the others?]
Here's another very young tree, which must have started to decay several years ago.
And here's a very large one that snapped nearer the top.
More lines impeded the way.
So I cropped into that picture too.
The tree on the left has a gigantic empty base.
It's actually kind of funny that the residents of obscenely oversized houses like this one have had to resort to propping up lines with forked branches in order to drive their Range Rovers winding through the obstacle course the road has become.
I stealthily walked across this lawn to get a better picture of the tree by the house.
I stopped at the first tree though to record its spectacular canker.
Cankers are everywhere now, and they are indicative of the presence of a lethal fungus.
Kind of like an inoperable cancer tumor.  And yet just about everyone acts like they are normal.  Well, perhaps it's not that novel because I guess we're getting used to the cancer epidemic, too.
As I suspected - the big tree that split by the house was rotten, too.
This one made me laugh - it twisted and then flattened like a pancake because there was nothing inside it.
You can see all the way through it to the other side.
Every year the autumn foliage looks noticeably worse.
By the end of the season every leaf is singed and they barely turn fall colors, if at all.
A row of about a dozen of these pines toppled, exposing this mansion to view from the road.
Maybe it is white pine blister rust that makes for this copious buildup of sap.
The collection of fabulous mansions on the Bernardsville Mountain began as a summer colony that was a legendary retreat for Manhattan moguls escaping the summer heat.
Whatever you think of the extravagance and indulgences of the ultra-rich, the splendid old trees on the estates made it beautiful.  Now it is unspeakably, hideously, ugly.
It makes me so sad that we have essentially destroyed paradise, not just here but everywhere on earth.
 It will never return, and people that have never seen it will not even know to miss it.
 Instead we will be left with the decomposing, foetid trash.
Maybe in the grand scheme of things - all the other converging catastrophes that will overwhelm nature and destroy civilization - forests dying from ozone are not the greatest threat.
 Wars over peak oil and epidemic diseases and famine may eclipse ecopocalypse, who knows.
But for me, losing our magnificent trees and all the parts of the ecosystem that depend upon them is the one that sorrows me the most.
I guess you'd expect that anyone with enough money to reside in a house like this would plan to vote for the candidate of the 1%, since they obviously belong to the 1%.
But as you can see, wealth won't insulate them from air pollution.  Even people like David Koch will get cancer, and people with big estates will have dying trees, like this one.
And so even though it's a tempting schadenfreude to contemplate the downfall of the wicked, shameless and contemptible rightwing, who are so delusional that once it finally sank in they lost the presidency they still don't have a clue why (Matt Taibbi wrote a hilariously funny review, and Frank Rich dissects the anti-science platform with surgical precision) I have no illusions that it was anything but a sham election...because Obama's not going to do a thing to slow climate change, stop the Keystone XL pipeline from the tar sands, or save the trees.  He can't.  Still, this last picture is a fitting epitaph for the despicable and loathesome candidates, Romney and Ryan.

And now, an irresistible example of doomer porn, courtesy of Collapse of Industrial Civilization:


  1. Yup, the Romney/Ryan tree pretty much sums it up!

  2. It's a really good decade or two to be heating with wood. I suggest that everyone who can, get themselves a wood burner.

    The British electric industry seems to be converting from coal to wood pellets to run their boilers. A new factory in south Georgia will be turning pine trees into wood pellets for the Brits. Cheaper than coal! Maybe they can turn the dead and fallen trees in the NE US into wood pellets to replace coal. Someone, please build a facility to do this in the NE. Waste not, want not.

  3. burning wood on a large scale is not a good idea because of the smoke and particles. actually, most good ideas of the past are turning out to be bad today because of the sheer number of human beings who need energy to survive. in the area where I live in the city, if only a few people burn wood at any given time, the air is not breathable.

  4. It seems they have a tendency to explode, too:

  5. Gail and Michelle:

    The problem is what to do with all of the dead and fallen trees. Leaving them to rot in the air produces more CO2 and methane. Making it into wood pellets for use as a coal replacement makes use of it. Turning some of it into biomass for fuel makes some sense. Burning it in wood stoves and wood furnaces makes some sense. Particularly if there's no electricity at your house and it's below freezing outside.

    Letting this wood rot in piles in the atmosphere makes no sense. Burying it in a landfill makes no sense.

    Michelle, the air is already unbreathable; that's why the trees are dying. And smoky wood fires are the results of operator error, if the fire is hot enough and the fuel is dry, a wood stove makes no smoke.

    What do you propose should be done with all of this waste, maybe millions of trees?

  6. Hi Witsend, thought about you during the hurricane and nor'eastern. The photos make me so sad. We've really boxed ourselves in as a species, haven't we? Not only with the waste from our dying trees, but all the waste we've made. What a wasteful and tragic species we've become.

  7. Thanks, ConflictedDoomer! As of yesterday, I NOW HAZ THE POWER.

  8. Woohooo! Glad to hear that. Enjoy.

  9. We had an explosion of chemtrail particulates rain down on us here in Philly suburbs yesterday afternoon.

    Turned day into dusk in a matter of minutes.

  10. Thanks, Gail for mentioning the "influence of illusions" in the context of mass psychology. Also, it was Sigmund Freud's psycho-genius propagandist cousin Edward Bernays who got women addicted to cigarettes by marketing "Freedom Torches", as well as influencing consumers they needed drive black carbon fossil fueled automobiles to feel good about themselves.
    Remember too, that air pollution has been known to cause the deaths of many thousands of children, and elderly or ill people. Now that botanical indicator organisms, such as trees are dying en-mass can there be much surprise or doubt,that we need to use every resource at hand to put a rapid and unconditional stop to our certain destruction.
    DT Lange



    L = LEAVES
    F = FRUITS


    ASH: L, B, S
    CITRUS: L, F
    CORAL: L, B
    OAK: L, B, S
    PINE: N, BP
    SAPOTE: L, F
    PLUM: F

    Note: Many of these botanicals observed were in well watered areas, received weekly attention by “gardeners”, and in full view of any, and all professional arborist, botanist, or licensed landscaper.
    Some were on private property, some were on public easements or public park land.
    No special effort was needed to observe these plants, or the area around them.
    DT Lange 2012.

  12. David not a night goes by that I don't wonder in the middle of its darkness why my daughter got cancer.

  13. I have also been guessing tarsands as a major source of ozone precursors. When your Energy-Return-on-Energy-Invested drops from 10 to one to only 3 to one (roughly the difference between the deepest most difficult lightsweet crude and tarsands) you are burning more than three times as much to get the same usable product, and whatever you were doing in the sense of powering the economy is now producing 30% more pollution to do it. Economic collapse is not going nearly fast enough to compensate for the increasing dirtiness of our energy sources.


  14. it makes me think humans are insane

    You're not wrong. I've been saying for a while now that 'homo sapiens sapiens' -- 'the wise (knowing) man' -- needs to be renamed to 'homo fatuus brutus' -- 'the stupid, foolish man'.

  15. Oh wow! Genetically modified trees for fuel.

    I wonder how many clear cuttings of these GM eucalyptus trees will grow on the same plot of land before the nutrients give out resulting in stunted growth and disease. The number for timber grade Georgia pines is about 3. Pines still grow but they're just pulpwood.

  16. Duh, here's the link.


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