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.


  1. Happy Giving of the Thanks, enjoy your kiddos, and best of luck in court. We shall soon look back on these days of copious nourishment with hungry longing!

  2. hi Gail,

    isolated you say?

    I was invited tonight to sing in a reunion for a woman who died last year. The big room was decorated with autumn bouquets and leaves on all the tables. The leaves were all stippled and the bouquets big and dreadful. Everything was brown, dry and dead! And everybody was saying «oh! the beautiful bouquets!». I feel like a 'negative' alien everywhere I go. I guess that when the others will find out what is going on, we will be so far in destruction, the panic will be unimaginable.

    have a good time with daughters.


  4. Interesting observation about the tops of trees shedding leaves before the lower parts. Couple of thoughts: (1) it might be an evolutionary defence mechanism to keep as many nutrients as possible. Top level leaves blow away further, so when they rot the benefit is received by other, competing trees. But lower leaves are more likely to fall on the tree's own root system, and the tree itself gets the benefit. The tree therefore might be hanging onto lower leaves as long as possible in the hope they fall later in the winter, even early spring, and the tree can re-use the nutrients.

    (2) Perhaps the roots are damaged so less water is getting up the tree. Lower leaves grab as much water as they can, leaving less for the upper leaves, a bit like the way some countries build dams on rivers leaving less water for countries further along the river.

    Just some thoughts, really.

  5. Thank you for posting this. Saw your comment on "Nature" blog today. I wasn't aware of this issue yet. So sad. I live in California and am currently working hard to promote solar power here. We also have partners in NJ. They are trying to recover now too. Ironic that you live in Wit's End, isn't it? I also viewed your video about Occupy. It brought tears. Here's to being brave in the face of all the adversity. Bless you and yours this Thanksgiving.
    Ellen Perry

  6. Gail, good job at uncovering the obvious botanical nightmare unfolding. The botanical "canaries" in our carbon cloud atmosphere are dying by the millions, and in plain view of every citizen. The authorities are derelict at not recognizing this and sounding a very loud alarm that our atmosphere is toxic.

    Ps Remember when the term "at glacial speed" signified something moving very slowly? Well forget it, take a look at some James Balog's time lapse footage of the world's glaciers melting like Coney Island snow cones in summertime.

    Anonymous, you're a pest, your nonsensical verbiage and fantastical cause-effect scenarios wastes everyone's time and effort during a very serious crisis... Enough.

    -David Lange

  7. Thanks for the photos, and thanks for putting together the before-and-afters.

    I was trying to persuade an avid-photographer friend to do before-and-afters, but he wasn't interested. And now I realize it is already too late for that. I am glad you started when you did. I will not be surprised if your record of trees proves unique.

    Glad you mentioned: I see the same thing--tops of trees going first, and maples getting hit harder than oaks. But most of the oaks are not doing well either. I know of one copper beech, and it is hanging in better than any other tree of any species in my area.

    Today I was invited a short way out of town to look at some land some friends are thinking of buying. A former dairy farm and quite beautiful, with possibilities. But it was also disheartening to get a leisurely look at how badly all the trees are doing, and some very badly indeed. There is a hundred-year oak that my friends especially liked, but to me it looks like it will die soon unless their are ways to ameliorate damage.

    In your reading have you come across anything related to ameliorating ozone damage?


  8. I'm on a very bouncy bus so it's hard to type. The trains aren't working still so I have to take 2 different bus rides, then the ferry, then the subway to get to court. It's complete chaos, the bus drivers are getting directios from the passengers.

    Anyway I have heard that sea minerals are miraculous treatment for plants, you could google them, there are a number of sources. Also liming the soil seems to help with acid rain. I know a forester who understands pollution and has gotten in a lot of trouble for talking about it - he started a business taking care of trees. If you want to consult him shoot me an email and I'll give you his address. witsendnj at yahoo.

  9. I think the trees are making buds

  10. When I was in New York on Monday fruit trees and witchhazel and azaleas were blooming!

  11. Gail, FWIW I don't believe you're crazy*.

    Hope your court trip wasn't too trying. 'Scuse the pun :)

    Re the first man who fenced in a piece of land and said "this is mine"; I'd like to invite him to step outside...

    * But I could, as always, be wrong ;)

  12. Gail, I come back to visit every once in awhile, and again, this visit shook me.

    Over at we comment on an awful lot, but it's just candy, compared to the work you do.

    That is, you are engaged in recording, documenting, confronting the very real, very tangible effects of human impacts on the ecosystem.

    I'm so glad you had Thanksgiving with your kids. We'll soon have Xmas with ours, and our grandchildren, and we will relish it, knowing that our visiting-time is precious, and limited.

    Environmental collapse and economic collapse are twin serial killers, whose work has heretofore been hidden among normal mayhem, but which is increasingly obviously a concerted, even if unintended, set of murders, of what we hold dear.

    We have an outside chance of stopping this criminal assault -- and only can stop it if four billion people wake up and pay attention -- and so I'm not optimistic.

    But thank you, thank you, thank you three times, for documenting what you're seeing.

    And thank you for your Occupy work. Sorry it's such a nuisance, but keep on fighting.

    It's only the prelude, I'm afraid, for the next struggle -- but I bet you're up for that one, too.

  13. Hi, I was looking out the window today up in the trees here in chester and noticed that there are a ton of trees where at the end of the branches all the leaves are turning brown. Its not even july yet.
    I did some searches and found your article. I am going to take a walk to evaluate further. obviously june was a record breaker for the wettest ever, and there is the 16 year cicada hatch that seems to have ended, so I am hoping that was part of what I see.

  14. Hi Anon, actually, you are almost seeing cicada damage. They have an interesting and regimented life cycle. They live underground as larvae, sucking xylem from the tree roots, then they climb up and turn into flying bugs, mate noisily, and then the females lay their eggs into a small hole they make in the tip of a branch. This causes the end of the branch to die, so all those hanging brown leaves are from cicadas. They don't eat anything while above ground so the injury to the tree is limited to one season out of 17, unless it is very young.

    This is quite different from pollution damage, which affects the earliest, older foliage since it has been absorbing it longer. Inner leaves and needles become speckled or bronzed, then chlorotic (yellow) and then necrotic (brown and dead).

    Two other important issues are internal injury that is not visible, especially shrinking. The other is attack by secondary opportunistic pathoges - fungus, insects and disease. This is why so many trees and branches are rotting and falling over.

    If you want to write me for more clarification - send email to witsendnj at yahoo and I would be happy to discuss concerns about trees.

    ~ Gail

  15. oops - almost "certainly" seeing cicada damage.


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