Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Every Blade of Grass

I received another email from the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, this time an invitation to an exhibit of photographs by Richard Speedy, celebrating the Pine Barrens.  It was illustrated with the picture at the top.  Enhancing the color of natural scenery seems to be a photographic craze lately, and I began to wonder if it is a deliberate effort, or at least an unconscious attempt, to disguise the fact that everything in reality looks more and more, horrible and dead.
The Pine Barrens is a perfect example of the widespread delusion that environmental “regulation” has been a success.  Despite massive denial, that region was particularly vulnerable to the acid rain that drenched the east coast for decades.  The soils and streams were decimated and have not recovered, and now of course the trees, like everywhere else, are in accelerated dieback from ozone pollution.  The controversy over the acidification of the Pine Barrens was described at length in an earlier post, the last time I got a message from NJCF - in Call Back Summertime - so I won't go over it again.  Here's the invitation:

The Pine Barrens:  A Legacy of Preservation
Photographs by Richard Speedy
January 25 through April 14, 2013
Morven Museum & Garden
55 Stockton Street
Princeton, NJ

Thursday, Jan. 24, 5:30 - 7:30 p.m.
Free and open to the public!

“Featuring the photographs of Princeton native Richard Speedy, this exhibition co-sponsored by the New Jersey Conservation Foundation captures the incredible beauty of the New Jersey Pine Barrens.  The show explores the history of the Pine Barrens' preservation and former Governor (and Morven resident) Brendan Byrne's role in saving this unique natural resource, as well as the ongoing conservation efforts of groups like New Jersey Conservation Foundation and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance.”
The Pine Barrens: The Past, the Politics and the Future
Sunday, March 3, 2 p.m.
Princeton University's McCosh 50, lecture hall

       “A conversation with Governor Brendan Byrne, ‘The Pine Barrens’ author John McPhee, Michele S. Byers of New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Carleton Montgomery of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, and others. Hosted by NJTV's Michael Aron. For more information, visit the Morven Museum and Garden webpage.
I wonder if they're going to talk about the rapid decline of tree health in the Pine Barrens (I somehow doubt it).  I went to Richard Speedy's online gallery to see what his pictures might reveal.
They are very beautiful, and at first when I came across this quote I thought it likely he doesn't realize the extent of the damage depicted in his own pictures:

Every blade of grass has its
angel that bends over it and
whispers, “Grow, Grow.”

~ The Talmud

Saturated colors mask the corroded bark and spindly growth.
As I clicked through though, I started to suspect that he must be well aware of the decay.
The first hint was in a series of photos he took of Yellowstone with shockingly stark skeletal trunks, like those in the scene below.  My suspicion turned into a certainty when I found the following passage in a tragic set of still-lives titled “Remains”:

Our world is changing. The complex web of life on earth, what scientists
call biodiversity, is in trouble. According to a survey commissioned by 
New York's American Museum of Natural History, a majority of US 
biologists believe a mass extinction is underway. They predict that up to 
one-fifth of all living species could disappear in 30 years. Nearly all 
attribute the loss to human activity.
Well, that is a pretty stark assessment - although personally, I'm persuaded it will be more like 90% loss in far less than 30 years...but the general trend is correct and certainly, it is due to human activity.  His photographs become more and more haunting.
It's hard to see how anyone could interpret these landscapes as healthy, and I was not surprised to see that he also turns towards intense and lovely close-ups in a section well worth visiting, “Flora”.
Most fascinating is how he has transformed the broken landscapes, as an artist.  I absolutely love this approach which he grouped under the title, “Passage”.
I have no idea how he creates these images.  They have the richness and depth of a painting - and I can think of no higher praise for a photograph than that.
They seem to be alive and vibrant.
Since the beauty of nature in her broad tapestry has been shattered and no longer exists except in the tiniest details that remain, it's nice that art can still be so exciting.
I may have to go to Princeton for the exhibit and lecture after all.  It would be wonderful to hear John McPhee, whose books I admire tremendously...but I don't know if I'll be able to restrain myself from saying something about ozone...maybe I should go in my tree costume?
In close tandem with our dying forests, the coral reefs are being destroyed as well.
One headline in National Geographic asks, “Will We Ever...Lose All Our Corals?  Isn't it interesting that they are supposedly our corals?  These photos of the fast-disappearing, incredibly diverse and brilliant forms of life in the oceans are from a gallery there.
“In just a few decades, the Caribbean’s reefs have collapsed. Golden beds of elkhorns and staghorns have disappeared and been replaced by thick mats of green algae.”
“The proportion of the reef covered by live coral has plummeted from 50% in the 1970s to just 8% now, changing the fish communities dramatically. ‘Florida was a scary place to snorkel then, with hammerhead sharks, groupers and sailfish,’ says Bruno. ‘Now, it’s like snorkelling in an aquarium.’”
“It’s not just the Caribbean. A third of reef-building corals are in danger of extinction, and reefs the world over are in serious decline. Even Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, long held as a shining testament to careful management, has lost the majority of its coral.”
“‘Ten years ago, we thought, ‘At least we have the [Great Barrier Reef]’, but even that’s starting to look pretty grim,” says Bruno. ‘The question now is not whether things will get worse – they assuredly will – but whether we will lose our reefs entirely.’”
“Rampant overfishing removes herbivorous fish that keep competitors like seaweed and algae at bay. Cyclones and hurricanes physically batter the reefs, as do sticks of dynamite thrown by fishermen.”
“Diseases, some of which are exacerbated by bacteria carried in human sewage, kill them off. The voracious crown-of-thorns starfish – an evil-looking sunburst of spikes – liquefies them with its extruded stomach.”
“Agricultural run-offs flood the oceans with nutrients, spurring the growth of algae and plankton that choke the waters and block out sunlight. Coastal construction projects cut down trees that hold topsoil together, allowing rain to wash sediment into the reefs, smothering the corals.”
“But climate change is the ‘big bad’, according to McPherson. The greenhouse gases that we pump into the atmosphere create an insulating blanket that warms the seas along with the rest of the planet.”
“In warmer water, corals expel the algae that live inside their tissues and produce nutrients by harnessing sunlight. Without these lodgers, the corals lose their energy supply and their bright colours, becoming bleached and weak.”
“Meanwhile, carbon dioxide also dissolves in the oceans, making them more acidic and depleting the carbonate ions that the corals need to build their limestone fortresses. They dissolve faster than they can be rebuilt. Hit by the one-two punch of hotter and more acidic waters, the corals, homeless and starving, become more vulnerable to the other threats they face.”
“…Buying time
Humans can help, particularly by setting up marine protected areas – underwater national parks – where fishing is verboten. Not only do they allow local reefs a chance to recover, but they can seed nearby areas with coral larvae. ‘That’s our best weapon in our arsenal right now for coral conservation,’ says MacPherson, ‘but they need to be managed.’”
“While a quarter of the world’s reefs already lie in marine protected areas, many are protected on paper only. Their restrictions have to be actively enforced, and they need strong support from local communities. All of this takes money, education, and expertise.”
Don't miss that bit - we can buy time by setting up marine protected areas - and then just imagine if you can, the arrogance in what happened yesterday, as recounted in Common Dreams.
US Navy Ship Ignored Warning Before Ramming Pristine Coral Reef
Minesweeper abandoned, taking on water; Phillipine anger grows

“Park rangers radioed the USS Guardian to advise it was nearing the Tubbataha Reef on Thursday, but the ship captain radioed back telling park rangers to bring their complaint to the US embassy, Ms Songco told reporters on Monday.”
“Songco blamed the USS Guardian for turning away park rangers who were about to follow protocol by boarding the ship to check if it had the proper permits, but saw the minesweeper's crewmembers were in 'battle position.'”

“Shortly after the warning, the US ship rammed into the Tubbataha Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Sulu Sea about 130 kilometers south east of the western island of Palawan.”

1 comment:

  1. Yes, definitely go and wear your tree costume. Such an elegant work of art deserves to be displayed! Come to think of it, I think that I'll wear my polar bear costume to DC. Bill doesn't like it, but hey, it garners attention, and that's a good thing! And I like it, and I'm old, and I'm going to do what I want without worrying about what one thinks of me!


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