Thursday, February 28, 2013

Now I am an Azotista

Quite some time ago, ClimateProgress proposed a contest challenging readers to describe Canada in 2050.  My friend Richard Brenne included in his submission the admonishment, "Zawacki is a verb that means I told you so".  He was referring to my prediction that trees all over the world will die from ozone pollution (those that aren't dead already).  I thought that was so funny I made it the title of a blog post using his essay.
Back then most experts didn't even recognize the ominous trend that forests are in decline, let alone what is causing it to happen at a rate unprecedented in all of time.  Even as the bark beetles decimated forests in the west, in fact, eminent professors at venerable forestry departments from Yale to Harvard to the Smithsonian Research Institute insisted when I wrote them that, in the east, due to increasing CO2 and because so many old farms had been abandoned and left to revert to woods, forest cover was increasing and thriving.
So when vindication emerges that trees are, in fact, prematurely dying, do I reflect smugly that my last name is a verb?  Not really.  I can feel my heart beating with dull thuds and my eyes tear up and I stop breathing for a minute and experience a terrifying, overwhelming paralysis.  This is what happened when new research showing this graph derived from satellite data was described thus:  "NASA Eyes Declining Vegetation in the Eastern United States from 2000 to 2010"
Caption:  "Trends in forest canopy green cover over the eastern U. S. region from 2000 to 2010 derived from NASA MODIS satellite sensor data. Green shades indicate a positive trend of increasing growing season green cover, whereas brown shades indicate a negative trend of decreasing growing season green cover. Four forest sub-regions of interest are outlined in red, north to south as: Great Lakes, Southern Appalachian, Mid-Atlantic, and southeastern Coastal Plain."
On the way home from the "Forward on Climate" rally in Washington DC, I stopped at Longwood Gardens where the annual orchid show was featured in the greenhouses.  I don't want to dwell on the problems I saw there, but it's obvious that in order to maintain vegetation with some semblance of health, there are massive efforts to remove chlorotic, burnt, and necrotic foliage.  This is one of the reasons I am certain that the composition of the atmosphere, and not drought from climate change, is killing trees.
The horticulturalists must be ceaselessly trimming, cutting, pruning and rotating plants in and out of the working greenhouses nobody sees.
With the help of who knows how many barrels of pesticides, fungicides and antibacterials, the staff still manages to put together a spectacular show.  
As mentioned many times before, plants damaged by ozone become prone to attacks by pathogens, what one scientist called "sharks that smell blood in the water".
With the larger plants on permanent display, the gardeners cannot keep up with the dying leaves.
The bamboo inside the greenhouse which is, obviously, being watered and coddled, looks just as bad as the bamboo I planted outside, around Wit's End.
All of the leaves appear singed and battered.
Never mind...we have perfumed flowers to admire!  What follows is the release from NASA of the recent paper mentioned above, which is titled, "Declining Vegetation Growth Rates in the Eastern United States from 2000 to 2010".  Note that the most recent data used is from 2010 - and so given that we are talking about an exponential trend, the decline is now much more widespread and far, far worse.  Naturally, the authors associate it with drought from climate change, with no proof other than corrolation...and don't even consider ozone - but what else is new?
"NASA scientists report that warmer temperatures and changes in precipitation locally and regionally have altered the growth of large forest areas in the eastern United States over the past 10 years. Using NASA’s Terra satellite, scientists examined the relationship between natural plant growth trends, as monitored by NASA satellite images, and variations in climate over the eastern United States from 2000 to 2010."
"Monthly satellite images from the MODerate resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI) showed declining density of the green forest cover during summer in four sub-regions, the Upper Great Lakes, southern Appalachian, mid-Atlantic, and southeastern Coastal Plain. More than 20 percent of the non-agricultural area in the four sub-regions that showed decline during the growing season, were covered by forests. Nearly 40 percent of the forested area within the mid-Atlantic sub-region alone showed a significant decline in forest canopy cover."
"'We looked next at the relationships between warmer temperatures, rainfall patterns, and reduced forest greenness across these regions,' said Christopher Potter, a research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. 'This comprehensive data set gave us the evidence to conclude that a series of relatively dry years since 2000 has been unfavorable for vigorous growth of forest cover over much of the Eastern U. S. this past decade.' Potter is the first author of the paper titled 'Declining Vegetation Growth Rates in the Eastern United States from 2000 to 2010,' published by Natural Resources, Dec. 2012, (3), 184-190."
"In the past, scientists were uncertain about what was causing the changes in the forests in the eastern U. S. Based on small-scale field site measurements since 1970, forest growth was thought to be increasing in regions where soil nutrients and water were in good supply. At the same time, there were fewer wildfires throughout the eastern U.S., which scientists believe contributed to the transformation of more open lands into closed-canopy forests with more shade-tolerant, fire-sensitive plants."
"More recent studies indicate that climate change could be having many adverse and interrelated impacts on the region. The warming climate this century has caused new stresses on trees, such as insect pest outbreaks and the introduction of new pathogens. Scientists consider both climate change and disease to be dominant driving forces in the health of forests in this region."
"NASA’s technology is revealing an entirely new picture of these complex impacts. The MODIS satellite captures very broad regional patterns of change in forests, wetlands, and grasslands by continuous monitoring of the natural plant cover over extended time periods. Now, with over a decade of 'baseline' data to show how trees typically go through a yearly cycle of leaves blooming, summer growth, and leaves falling, scientists are detecting subtle deviations from the average cycle to provide early warning signs of change at the resolution of a few miles for the entire country."

"'The next studies at NASA Ames will research areas that appear most affected by drought and warming to map out changes in forest growth at a resolution of several acres,' said Potter."
Here's the abstract of the paper:

"Negative trends in the monthly MODerate resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI) time-series were found to be widespread in natural (non-cropland) ecosystems of the eastern United States from 2000 to 2010. Four sub-regions were detected with significant declines in summed growing season (May-September) EVI, namely theUpper Great Lakes, the Southern Appalachian, the Mid-Atlantic, and the southeastern Coastal Plain forests ecosystems. More than 20% of the undeveloped ecosystem areas in the four sub-regions with significant negative EVI growing season trends were classified as forested land cover over the entire study period. We detected relationships between annual temperature and precipitation patterns and negative forest EVI trends across these regions. Change patterns in both the climate moisture index (CMI) and growing degree days (GDD) were associated with declining forest EVI growing season trends. We conclude that temperature warming-induced change and variability of precipitation at local and regional scales may have altered the growth trends of large forested areas of the eastern United States over the past decade."
There are more anecdotal indications that trees are dying.  Two news reports - one from Atlanta and another from Ohio - relate that people were killed by falling trees.

The Portland Press ran a story about New England pines losing needles:  "New England white pines are losing more needles; 'Something very serious is stressing the trees,' says one expert from UNH's Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space"

"Something very serious is stressing the trees" - to which I want to say, NO SHIT, SHERLOCK!!!

"DURHAM, N.H. — A University of New Hampshire forest program has noticed that white pine trees in northern New England seem to be losing more needles lately.  The Forest Watch program says the trees maintained vigorous growth during the late 1990s as the Clean Air Act took effect and ozone levels fell. Ozone is an oxidant that accelerates aging in foliage."
"But data shows that since 2010, the trees have not done a good job of retaining those needles."

"'Something very serious is stressing the trees,' said Forest Watch founding director Barrett Rock of UNH's Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space. "Not since the early to mid-1990s, when ozone levels were extremely high, have we seen these kinds of measurements of stress in the pines.'"
"One possible cause is air pollution from wildfires. Rock said he believes that a powerful oxidant in wildfire smoke from Canada, in combination with unusually high temperatures, might have contributed to damaged sugar maple trees in the region."

"'The event might also have stressed the pines, and other pollutants from a growing number of wildfires might be causing further stress,' Rock said."
"Another theory is that unusually wet weather in 2009 caused an explosion of fungi that are clearly now feasting on the pine needles. They appear as orange-looking "blisters" on the needles."

"'Such fungi normally only attack needles that have been weakened by some other factor, and the fungi usually only damage a small percentage of the needles, not the large percentages we're seeing,' Rock said."
"Forest Watch takes K-12 students and teachers out of their classrooms to study air pollution and forest health.  Since 1991, more than 350 schools across New England have helped researchers at UNH gather samples and measurements of white pine needles to monitor the impacts of the ozone levels."
I don't know why Barry Rock is blaming wet weather and wildfires when the massive emissions of precursors from Asia dwarf any such influences, especially on a global basis - and it's on a global scale that all species of trees are dying, not just white pines in New England.  I also can't explain why he refers only to reduced peaks of ozone when the persistent background level has been inexorably climbing.  Government regulatory agencies always like to downplay the impacts of low-level, but constant exposure to poisons, whether it's radiation, heavy metals, chemicals, or ozone - but why an academic ignores it is a mystery.  I wrote him in an email in 2010:

One of the reasons I think the atmosphere must be creating the recent, rapid tree decline, at least in New Jersey and surrounding states, is that trees that are irrigated, or growing in pots, have the exact degree of leaf damage as trees growing in the wild.  For that matter, all plants in pots had symptoms of ozone poisoning last summer, and it's also important, I think, that every species of tree, and every age, is equally affected.

We also had an exchange in which he insisted the lichen growth is normal.

"The photos you sent with the lichens suggest to me that they are likely in large numbers because of the very wet summers we have had the last two years. My diagnosis is based on the fact that the lichens (apparently crustose) are all small, and so very young (or recent), and they are located in the fissures of the bark, where rainwater would be concentrated as the result of stem-flow. The fissures would also limit the amount of drying during non-rainy periods. Also, keep in mind that lichens do not harm trees, nor do they indicate a tree is damaged. Lichens are also very sensitive to poor air quality, and their presence suggests air quality in your region is pretty good. Don't worry about the lichens. They are actually environmental good news."

Yesterday, I stopped at a cemetary which is about a mile from home.  Given how the trees are plastered with the lichen and stones that date back to 1820 are also festooned, it's pretty obvious to me that there has been a historic explosion of growth - and since they are epiphytes, it has to be a consequence of SOMETHING in the rain, air or both.  Perhaps nitrogen?  Consider this Irish lichen website:

"For example, some species of the genus Xanthoria establish and grow abundantly in nitrogen rich areas, such as near farms or chemical factories...Lichens, unlike most living organisms, are unable to 'refuse' entry to many chemicals into their bodies. This means that chemicals can freely invade them and interfere with their metabolic processes, often killing the lichen, but sometimes increasing their growth rate."
In the past Dr. Brook was considerably more direct about the effects of ozone.  Here's what he said in a lecture (transcript and link at Apoptosis and Cosmeticsm) in 1999:
We've done many other studies--open-top chamber studies, controlled exposure environments in which we can document the impact of a variety of other parameters--but at least here in New England, our work and the work of others indicate that

[drum roll...]

ozone is the dominant factor affecting the growth of white pine."
According to an interview with the New York Times in 2010 (posted in The Country Mouse Reluctantly Trains to the City) he had already backtracked from ozone being a "dominant factor" and jumped on the climate change bandwagon along with every other forester and scientist in America.  

In an interview for an article by the NRDC OnEarth Magazine, Spring 2005 edition, about researching a forest in Europe, he was quoted:
"'So I came to the Krušné hory. When I looked at the Landsat images I couldn't believe what I saw. The damage was appalling.'"

"This was in 1989. What Rock found on the ground when he arrived in May of that year confirmed the worst."
"'Retention of needles is a key indicator of health in these trees. A healthy tree may have 12 or more years of needles on its limbs. These had only two or three. The trees were skeletons with tufts of needles. When I looked at the cells of these needles I saw they were suffering plasmolysis, the inability to retain water. The cell content pulls away from the cell wall. The cells become physiologically crippled.'"
"When Rock takes out photographs of damaged needle cells they recall for me comparisons between normal lungs and smokers' lungs. The cells' chloroplasts, which are responsible for photosynthesis, disintegrate. Acidic tannins, looking like tar, accumulate inside the cell. The cell's walls go flaccid and the needles' normally orderly interior structure disintegrates. Says Rock, 'Sulfur dioxide and ozone are the only things that do this.'"

Even the National Park Service understands without equivocation what ozone is doing to trees:

"Air pollution is shrinking scenic views, damaging plants, and degrading high elevation streams and soils in the Great Smoky Mountains. Even human health is at risk. Most pollution originates outside the park and is created by power plants, industry, and automobiles".

And they also document nitrogen pollution:

"Research shows that certain high elevation soils in the park are receiving so much airborne nitrogen that they are suffering from advanced nitrogen saturation."

The leaves of the ornamental shrubs in the cemetary exhibit classic damage - stippling and bronzing.
In the worst cases the leaves turn completely brown and fall off.
All the way in the back, almost invisible, was the hulk of a once majestic tree, surrounded by much younger trunks gleaming greenish white from lichen.
It makes me wonder how many collosal older trees, in quiet unvisited places, have silently disappeared and been forgotten.
Here are the remnants of another former giant.
Here are a couple of the old stones that are plagued with the lichen.
When it appears on trees, it is always accompanied by cracking bark.
I stopped on the way home, along the Cold Brook.  Only a few years ago the woods were so thick, you couldn't see the water at all, ever...let alone through to the fields on the far side of the creek.
You would never have known those red barns were there.
Aside from all the other evidence, if drought from climate change were the primary cause for tree death, wouldn't you expect trees growing along water to be in better shape?  And yet, they are not.  Not at all.
All is not lost, however.   Today I learned that we can "reject" ecosystem collapse.  Yes, we can!! I wrote to Dr. Barry Brook (not to be confused with Barry Rock, above) in 2009.  It was before I started Wit's End, so instead I sent some pictures I uploaded to two facebook pages (which I had forgotten all about and will have to return to for a comparison), until I was reminded by his new research:

Ecologists reject 'doomsday-like' scenario

"Planet's Earth's terrestrial life is not likely to suffer sudden global collapse at the hands of humans, says an international team of ecologists.  But there is debate about their conclusions, to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution."

"Dr. Barry Brook of the University of Adelaide, and colleagues, question suggestions in recent scientific papers that human activity is pushing planetary ecology past "tipping points", altering terrestrial life rapidly and possibly irreversibly."

"Some scientists, for example, argue the number of species lost has already crossed a threshold, compromising ecological function.  Brook says while ecological tipping points apply in some cases, such as the Amazon, he does not believe humans can have the sort of global-scale impact on the terrestrial biosphere, that meteorites or exploding volcanoes are capable of."

"In the past, such catastrophic events drove large and rapid planetary-scale changes that shifted Earth's terrestrial ecology into a completely new state, he says.  By contrast, says Brook, human activity has a much more local and piecemeal effect on terrestrial environments and this does not add up to one focused global driver of change."

Before you rejoice, however, it's worth continuing.  According to the article, Dr. Andrew Pitman from the University of New South Wales dissents, saying "…Brook has failed to consider the role of the atmosphere in driving global-scale change."  He is referring of course to climate change from CO2, but it's even more true of ozone.

And so, in addition to the earlier established addition of Zawacki to the dictionary, now, based on the brilliant suggestion from my Arizona friend WindSpiritKeeper, I would like to propose the inclusion of Azotist/Azotista.  This is far more expansive than Ozonista (and far more poetic than "doomer") because it infers not merely the consciousness that pollution is causing a march towards total ecosystem collapse, but everything else as well - ocean acidification, habitat destruction, resource depletion, and climate change with the already-triggered, irreversible, exponentially accelerating amplifying feedbacks.  The etymological root Azote (an obsolete word for nitrogen, the reactive version of which is, as we know, a primary ozone precursor) is the French azote, which derived from Ancient Greek ἀ- (a-, "without") + ζωή (zōē, "life").  It was originally coined by Antoine Lavoisier, who saw it as "the part of air which cannot sustain life".

I hope all who understand that yes, Professor Brook, the tipping points have been passed, and ecosystem collapse is well underway and unstoppable, will join me in embracing the concept of azote, and henceforth be a proud Azotist.  Or Azotista, as the case may be!

I was reminded of another great metaphor by Paul Chefurka - that like the ballerina smitten by the irresistible red satin shoes, we are trapped by our own desires, and will continue to dance ever more wildly and compulsively, until we collapse.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Mass Extinction...a Burgeoning Meme

Death Comes to the Banquet Table ~ Giovanni Martinelli, 1635
Inspired by art, literature, music, drama and ancient legends in every culture going back as far as time takes us, humans have been admonished to remember the inevitability of our individual deaths.  Periodically there have even been cautionary figures who claimed to confront the foreknowledge of the total end of, if not our species, our civilization.  Lately it seems such a cacophony is swelling, and reaching a crescendo.  Those who, however inadvisedly, attempt to warn people of converging catastrophes, are compelled to wonder why bother?  It certainly doesn't make us popular dinner guests.  Besides, if extinction is inevitable, a legitimate question is, what good does it do to anticipate it?
Two Women Surprised by Death and the Devil ~ Daniel Hopfer, 1520
Since I saw an essay titled Memento Mori at Nature Bats Last, a rare haven where people actually have that conversation, I have collected a few images from that venerable artistic tradition.  How can I resist?  My heart is so heavy from grieving for our desperately dwindling world, which looks more egregiously depauperate by the day, I can hardly bear to go outside and witness the incontrovertible evidence.  It's like walking through Dante's inferno, an unspeakably oppressive purgatory from which there is no escape.
Jan Davidsz. De Heem, 1630
And so it is a relief to study the countless versions of memento mori in different guises.  To my mind the Dutch Masters were unrivaled in such depictions.  They often utilized symbols such as the hourglass or other timepieces, and juxtaposed decay with the temporary glory of flowers and fruits.
Vanitas ~ Herman Henstenburgh, 1700
In the Venetian painting below, death triumphs over all other players.
The Card Game of Death ~ Giuseppe Erts, 1663
A brilliant artist named Kevin Best is creating contemporary photographic versions of the classic Dutch still life by constructing complex sets incorporating authentic antique props, and then he adds whimsical twists, like irridescent bubbles.  His work is so lush, I could look at it all day - much nicer than the crashing ecosystem outside my window!
Still Life with Nautilus Cup ~ Kevin Best, 2012
In this piece, the orchids peek playfully out of the frame.
Still Life Chinese Jars and Dancing Lady Orchids ~ Kevin Best, 2011
Yet, he adheres to traditional elements to evoke the ephemerality of life, such as the wisps of smoke from an extinguished candle.
Still Life With Delft Jug ~ Kevin Best, 2010
Perhaps one of the most irascible of all doomsayers is Pentti Linkola, Finnish author of Can Life Prevail.  His unflinchingly draconian prescriptions are widely critiqued as immoral ecofascism, even though really, no less drastic polemic has sufficed to halt or even slow the destruction of Earth's bounty (and it's too late now, anyway).  Even as we reject his advocacy of eugenics, genocide, extreme authoritarianism and abortion to control overpopulation, it brings stark reality face to face with our squeamishness in confronting the questions that aren't even being broached by mainstream environmentalists.  Among many controversial quotes:
"What to do, when a ship carrying a hundred passengers suddenly capsizes and there is only one lifeboat? When the lifeboat is full, those who hate life will try to load it with more people and sink the lot. Those who love and respect life will take the ship's axe and sever the extra hands that cling to the sides."
Still Life Vanitas Framed ~ Kevin Best, 2011
 From the introduction to his book, by Brett Stevens, which lays out some of the main principles:

"Progress - consisting of technological, economic and moral/social growth - is an illusion.  'Its priests fervently cling to the idea that material prosperity brings enjoyment and happiness - eve though history has shown that only material want and a life of struggle lead to a meaningful existence.  In other words material prosperity doesn't bring about anything apart from misery.'"
Infinite Vanitas ~ Kevin Best, 2011
"Democracy empower selfishness.  'Any political system based on desire is fundamentally flawed.  Society and life have been organized upon the basis of individual desires, not on what is good for nature.'"
Still Life, Pride ~ Kevin Best, 2011
"An elite is needed to rule.  'Just as only one out of 100,000 has the talent to be an engineer or an acrobat, only a few are truly capable of managing the matters of a nation or mankind.'"

"We need strong leadership to keep individuals from being selfish.  'Our only hope lies in strong control of the individual citizen.'"
Still Life with Shells and Books ~ Kevin Best, 2011
"Population control can be done with passive means.  Births must be licensed, immigration and international trade must end, and growth must be reduced."

"We can find a more balanced life.  People can travel with bicycles, rowboats and horse carts.  Private cars are confiscated.  Long-distance travel is done with sparse mass transport.  Trees will be planted on most roads."
Vanitas ~ Herman Henstenburgh, 1700
The narration in the video below is delightfully droll and witty.  What's amazing is that, not only is the painter a phenomenally accomplished artist, he is subtly sly and deep - an astute social, political and philosophical commentator.  There is a terrific surprise at the end!  Perhaps what is most remarkable is that the painting, and all those exquisite objects depicted including the gorgeous damask backdrop, the hand-knotted Oriental carpet, and the sophisticated thinking that engineered all of it, were created without any use of petroleum.  All of this represents a level of skill and thought which far surpasses the average modern American's abilities to paint, craft, or ponder - and yet most cannot abide the thought of life without the amenities provided by copious inputs of oil, as though life has no meaning without Nascar and the Oscars on the tv.

When youngest daughter was home over the Christmas holiday she was idly inspecting a gold locket she recently inherited from her grandmother, and had been wearing daily.  She abruptly realized that one side was adorned with what looked suspiciously like a stylized, curly lock of human hair which mimicked a fern frond.  She was a bit horrified and I had to explain that it was common for Victorians to make all sorts of jewelry, ornaments and art using hair, especially of deceased relatives.  Not only that but, at a time when child mortality was excruciatingly high, many times parents took a last - and only - photograph of their child before internment.  Unless noted, these memento mori photos come from an online collection.
Sometimes the photographer colored the cheeks pink.  Often they would prop open their eyes.
Many times the surviving siblings were expected to pose with the deceased.
Faces were always expressionless because it took so long to expose the plate.  The unmoving dead were sometimes in much sharper focus than the living.
In this portrait, the dead sister is propped up with a book.

“Memento mori—remember death! These are important words. If we kept in mind that we will soon inevitably die, our lives would be completely different. If a person knows that he will die in a half hour, he certainly will not bother doing trivial, stupid, or, especially, bad things during this half hour. Perhaps you have half a century before you die—what makes this any different from a half hour?”

Leo Tolstoy 
Unlike Victorians, Americans nowadays are insulated from both death, and nature.  We tend to think food originates, antisceptically, at the supermarket (see What Happens When the Food Runs Out), and botox will keep us young forever.  We certaintly don't want to hear that we risk extinction.  Like the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, the vast bulk of people would rather sleep than keep watch.  Poor Jesus had to wake his disciples over and over, but they betrayed him, and fell back into their slumber.
The Garden of Gethsemane ~ Andrea Mantegna, 1470
This is a recent photograph taken in the Garden in Jeruselem.  It's not clear whether any of the olive trees were there at the time Jesus was praying the night before he died, but according to recent tests, some of them are impressively old.
"The results of tests on trees in the Garden of Gethsemane have not settled the question of whether the gnarled trees are the very same which sheltered Jesus because olive trees can grow back from roots after being cut down, researchers said."

"'We cannot rule out the possibility that there was an intervention to rejuvenate them when they stopped being productive or dried out,' chief researcher Professor Antonio Cimato said at a presentation of the results in Rome.  But let me say: plants of greater age than our olives are not cited in the scientific literature. Our olives are among the oldest broad-leaved trees in the world,' he added."

"Carbon dating showed that samples taken from the oldest part of the trunks of three of the eight trees came from the years 1092, 1166 and 1198, according to the study by the National Research Council of Italy Trees and Timber Institute, and academics from five Italian universities."

"The other five trees at Gethsemane - which means "oil press" in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus - could not be tested as they are so gnarled that their trunks have become hollowed out, with only newer growth remaining."

Following is a very short snip of Sir John Stainer's The Crucifixion with tenor James Gilchrist (...because it's exquisite...).

from the poem Memento Mori
~ Billy Collins

...the realization that no one
who ever breasted the waters of time
has figured out a way to avoid dying

always pulls me up by the reins and settles me down
by a roadside, grateful for the sweet weeds
and the mouthfuls of colorful wildflowers.

This is a recent photo of Jingshan Park in China, which accompanied a story about the government's acknowledgment of the proliferation of "cancer villages" due to pollution.  In the US, climate activists prefer to talk about how much China has invested in clean energy - ignoring the fact that more energy production leads to more energy use - of all sorts!
Did anyone besides me detect any irony in the fate of "America's Power - Clean Coal??"
Since Wit's End is supposed to be about trees dying from pollution, I'm reposting, for anyone who missed it, this horrific chronicle of tree death, which as usual is attributed to climate change - drought and higher temperatures.  It was produced a little under a year ago, yet as time passes the glaring dichotomy between that assessment, and the observable and measured fact that trees in areas of the world that have received increased precipitation are dying just as fast, is inescapable.  Personally, I dread the spring.

The rest of the pictures that follow were taken by a wonderful photographer named Peter Manship who works mostly in New England.  You can visit his facebook page and see many more.  He excels in images that I love - dilapidated, ramshackle barns...and seascapes and landscapes with trees that remind me of home, growing up before everything was dying...oh, and owls.
Given the grim evidence continually emerging that climate change is going to be catastrophic sooner rather than later, one has to wonder if it even matters that trees are dying off.  I've been waiting in vain for an answer to a letter I sent to Dr. Corinne Le Quéré which said, in part:
I am writing about your study reported in this article published in the UK Guardian from 2009, specifically related to this portion:

"Meanwhile, the scientists have for the first time detected a failure of the Earth's natural ability to absorb man-made carbon dioxide released into the air."
"They found significant evidence that more man-made CO2 is staying in the atmosphere to exacerbate the greenhouse effect because the natural 'carbon sinks' that have absorbed it over previous decades on land and sea are beginning to fail, possibly as a result of rising global temperatures."
Nicolas Stern was just quoted last month as making the same observation:

"In an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Stern, who is now a crossbench peer, said: 'Looking back, I underestimated the risks. The planet and the atmosphere seem to be absorbing less carbon than we expected, and emissions are rising pretty strongly. Some of the effects are coming through more quickly than we thought then.'"

So, I asked Dr. Le Quéré whether the reason the planet is "absorbing less carbon" than expected might be because trees are dying from tropospheric ozone, and also:  "...since that article was from 2009 before Copenhagen, and Copenhagen obviously did fail, do you currently think this statement holds?"
"Professor Le Quéré said that Copenhagen was the last chance of coming to a global agreement that would curb carbon-dioxide emissions on a time-course that would hopefully stabilise temperature rises to within the danger threshold. 'The Copenhagen conference next month is in my opinion the last chance to stabilise climate at [2]C above pre-industrial levels in a smooth and organised way,' she said."
"'If the agreement is too weak, or the commitments not respected, it is not 2.5C or 3C we will get: it's 5C or 6C – that is the path we're on. The timescales here are extremely tight for what is needed to stabilise the climate at [2]C,' she said."
My question has been met by a thundering silence.  It's always five minutes to midnight.  The scientists will never admit it IS midnight, even if, in hindsight, they already projected it.

Here's a coy suggestion  from one of many articles about the latest Ehrlich collaboration, "Experts Fear Collapse of Global Civilization":

"Experts on the health of our planet are terrified of the future. They can clearly see the coming collapse of global civilisation from an array of interconnected environmental problems."

“'We’re all scared,” said Paul Ehrlich, president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University.  'But we must tell the truth about what’s happening and challenge people to do something to prevent it,' Ehrlich told IPS."
"Global collapse of human civilisation seems likely, write Ehrlich and his partner Anne Ehrlich in the prestigious science journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society.  This collapse will take the form of a '…gradual breakdown because famines, epidemics and resource shortages cause a disintegration of central control within nations, in concert with disruptions of trade and conflicts over increasingly scarce necessities', they write."

"Already two billion people are hungry today. Food production is humanity’s biggest industry and is already being affected by climate and other environmental problems. 'No civilisation can avoid collapse if it fails to feed its population,' the authors say."
"Escalating climate disruption, ocean acidification, oceanic dead zones, depletion of groundwater and extinctions of plants and animals are the main drivers of the coming collapse, they write in their peer-reviewed article “Can a collapse of global civilisation be avoided?” published this week."

The article finishes:

"Solutions exist and are briefly outlined in the Ehrlich paper. However, these require sweeping changes. All nations need to do everything they can to reduce their emissions of fossil fuels regardless of actions or lack of them by any other country, he said."
"Protection of the Earth’s biodiversity must take centre stage in all policy and economic decisions. Water and energy systems must be re-engineered. Agriculture must shift from fossil-fuel intensive industrial monocultures to ecologically-based systems of food production. Resilience and flexibility will be essential for civilisation to survive."

"A key element in meeting this unprecedented challenge is '…to see ourselves as utterly embedded in Nature and not somehow separate from those precious systems that sustain all life', writes England’s Prince Charles commenting on the Ehrlich’s paper."
"'To continue with "business as usual" is an act of suicide on a gargantuan scale,' Prince Charles concluded."

So, solutions exist but...they require sweeping changes.  And therein lies the rub.  We aren't making sweeping changes, and we're not going to.  It's not in our nature!  ...but that's for another post.

One recent title in Slate magazine, asks, "Could Humans Go Extinct?" and warns, "There's a chance we're living in the end times."  Current conditions are compared with the geological record that reveals past events:
"What could have caused this crisis? It’s an open question.  Figuring out what happened 251 million years ago—at the end of the Permian Period, when reptiles had come into their own on the giant continent of Pangea—and in what sequence, and with what cause and effect, is exceedingly difficult. The fossil record paints with a thick brush. But it seems that volcanoes in what are now the Siberian steppes were spewing lava, which was in turn vaporizing vast deposits of coal. Carbon concentrations went through the roof—much as they are doing now from human industrial activity."
[Ozonistas might well wonder:  If coal was vaporizing, and carbon concentrations were rising, wouldn't there also have been ozone precursors released???]

"One of the interesting things about past mass extinctions is that they seem to happen over many millions of years. The exception, of course, is the one that doomed the dinosaurs, which basically occurred during one bad weekend with an asteroid. But some paleobiologists have recently whittled the Permian extinction down to a few tens of thousands of years, give or take. That puts it squarely on a human timescale. If we are indeed in the midst of a new mass extinction, one started by our own hand, when did the clock start ticking? Just under 200,000 years ago, when modern humans left Africa? Ten thousand years ago, when we started agriculture? And how much time do we have left?"
A headline at Climate Connections declared mournfully:  Obama administration finalizes polar bear extinction plan.   This is because they refused to use the Endangered Species Act to protect the bears, and instead finalized a new regulation which " modeled on a previous Bush-administration measure excluding activities occurring outside the polar bear’s habitat — such as carbon emissions from coal plants — from regulations that could slow Arctic warming to prevent the bear’s extinction."
Is this a harbinger of the Keystone XL ruling?  Aspirational climate activists, as usual, persist in grasping at straws hoping it won't be approved - oh...John Kerry! - as if it makes any difference either way.

Yet another article warns we are on a path towards evenutal human extinction and ends with the obligatory, ridiculous hope.  There is a quote from Paul Gilding and it probably helps to think of the climate challange as "exciting" when you have no children.  To be sure, the blog couldn't possibly be any more explicitly techno-magical - it's written by the "Science Pope" and the subheading reads:  Climate Change Threatens.  Science Saves.  Never mind of course that science is what got us into this inextricable, atrocious predicament in the first place!
It's an interesting and well-written blog, anyway.

"If you believe in climate change, then presumably you believe what scientists tell us about it. That means you believe the United Nations when they tell us the world will be 5°C hotter (~9°F) than pre-industrial levels by 2050. This temperature increase is more than enough for the oceans to swallow our cities, stop all food from growing, and doom to extinction every species short of the cockroach. For all intents and purposes, climate change is a meteor that lands in 2050…it’s the end of human civilization."

"And it’s 37 years away."
"I bet you didn’t know you believed that."

"Your first reaction will be to reject this information as false or exaggerated, but this forecast is roughly consistent with projections from the International Energy Agency and various departments of the US government. Your brain will fight it, even with the numbers on the page staring back at you, because the collapse of civilization is simply beyond human comprehension."
"To really internalize this information means you would need to accept things like:
  • You are among the last people that will ever walk the Earth
  • Your children won’t survive to middle age
  • All of the beauty, culture, and scientific discoveries we’ve unlocked will return to the ether from whence they came."
"Forgive my French, but that is some heavy shit. Yet our ability to understand and feel threatened by this information is hindered by the fact that things don’t seem that bad right now. Sure things feel a little “off”, but how can we be so close to oblivion when life is (generally speaking) so good, modern and happy?"
"The answer is exponentials. Climate change does not follow a linear path (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc…), it follow an exponential path (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, etc…). Global temperature is increasing exponentially, fueled by humanity’s exponential rise in energy use, population, and economic growth. As you can see from the chart, exponential functions look like a hockey stick: they stay low for a long time, and then rise very suddenly and rapidly once they turn the corner. Everyone has some experience with exponential growth in their daily lives…any bank account with compounded interest will follow this curve, and exponentials are the reason that sickness spreads so rapidly through your child’s school."
"Yet humans aren’t wired to understand exponential growth. We just aren’t. We’re wired to think linearly…we age one year at a time, we eat one meal at a time, and every day has precisely one sunrise and one sunset. We evolved this way because most of the time it serves us well to assume that tomorrow is going to be a lot like yesterday."
"We are 37 years away from the end. That means climate change isn’t a problem for our children or grandchildren, it’s a problem for us. It’s you and I that are going to have our natural lives cut short, you and I that will bear witness to the collapse of human civilization. Fighting climate change isn’t so the hippies can save the polar bears, or so the scientists can save the Arctic ice. It’s a battle for all of humanity to save itself."
"With this unthinkable scenario looming over us, we can view the future in a rather binary way. On one hand, if we do nothing on climate change (or even too little), humanity will be destroyed. We will be actors in final scene of the saddest story ever told: a species full of promise and beauty that destroys itself through its own hubris."
"On the other hand, if we decide to meet the challenges of climate change head on, we will rapidly transform the world with new systems for energy, economics, and governance. We are instead actors in the greatest story every told: a species on the brink that pulls together to save itself from oblivion, surviving to achieve its full potential out amongst the stars. The odds are long, but we all love an underdog…so I remain excited and optimistic about the future, and I hope you'll join me in writing this story."
I rather think these owls are all like...srsly???

The following lecture by Chris Martenson is embedded in that article, and has a compelling demonstration of exponential change, as well as a compassionate exploration of how humans deal with the mind-boggling dimensions of the threats we have constructed for ourselves - of course, as it must, it too ends with unjustifiable hope...but it's worth watching anyway.

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