Thursday, March 28, 2013

NJ Loves Chris Christie?

Wow, I can't believe I was invited to speak on a HuffPo live panel discussion, and brought up climate change without even mentioning that pollution is killing trees!  Oh well - it's a complicated subject that most people are totally unfamiliar with, and there wouldn't have been time to explain it.  Maybe some day I'll get a chance to talk about that.  Meanwhile, here's the segment, which is about Chris Christie.  I'm the third speaker in - and then again at 20 minutes, if you want to skip the whole thing:

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Grasping at Straws

Woodblock illustrations from the 1516 edition of Utopia,
by Sir Thomas Moore

As the real news (not the phony news from corporate-controlled media) lurches from dire to cataclysmic - from the unprecedented shattering of Arctic Ice to the stupifying reduction of monarch butterflies - the portent of some terrifically amusing end-time cults can already be discerned in our near future.  Facing the prospect of extinction, few have enough fortitude to accept the implications, which tend to render the entire notion of an immortal "soul" lamentably meaningless...and so simply demur.  The human mind is so arrogant that it cannot admit there can be a world without us - a place where we have done our wretched utmost to wear out our welcome.  We, and so much that we have deplorably trashed, are about to be summarily and mercilessly evicted.  In response, even educated, formerly rational people - even atheists! - will dig down deeper into whatever faith they can summon, if not in a religion then in a belief in tribal wisdom and cooperation, or in technology, or some sort of cosmic spiritual fantasy of shared consciousness, to ward off that forlorn foreknowledge of nothingness - and their illogical gyrations will become ever more outlandishly improbable and fabulist.  It promises to be quite a show.

The latest example comes from Paul Gilding, Australian "sustainability advisor" who chose a title for his most recent essay so explicit that its absurdity needs no elucidation from me:  "Victory at Hand for the Climate Movement?"  He prudently allowed himself a bit of an out by adding the question mark, but even so the greater bulk of fatuously irrational optimism has been endorsed as having "the ring of truth" by mainstream activists like Ted Glick, who described its premise as "insightful" in Grist - where he also invokes the work of Mark Jacobson of Stanford, who has declared with profound solemnity:  "It’s absolutely not true that we need natural gas, coal or oil—we think it’s a myth".
And so we have a double and contradictory conceit, a habit that wouldn't suprise the Ancient Greeks who knew a thing or two about hubris that we seem to have forgotten.  One reassures us that we are NOT so masterful and clever that we could conceivably usurp the rightful powers of god to engineer our own demise and that of his creations...and, Two - we are SO masterful and clever that we can invent technology to replace the energy of millions of years of the stored sunlight in fossil fuels AND harness it in time to prop up the stumbling edifice of civilization.  Oh, and while we're at it, we can ressurect species which we have already driven to extinction...and rebuild broken ecosystems that took millions of years to evolve.

Desperate people grasp at straws, especially those who will not relinquish the modern luxuries of life.  Modern man will drown with eyes bulging at a screaming mangled metal wreck in a televised Nascar race, frantically clutching the remote, just as described in A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation by Sir Thomas Moore, in 1534:
"He that in tribulation turneth himself unto worldly vanities, to get help and comfort by them, fareth like a man that in peril of drowning catcheth whatsoever cometh next to hand, and that holdeth he fast, be it never so simple a stick; but then that helpeth him not, for that stick he draweth down under the water with him, and there lie they drowned both together."

But the main topic at Wit's End is more specifically about that monstrously repugnant, if inadvertent, consequence special to industrialism, which is the production of tropospheric ozone, an invisible but highly toxic gas that derives from the emissions of burning fuel.  There is never any lack of new information from the scientific community, which assiduously monitors the effects on the ecosystem - but never, ever tells us that it is collapsing all around us, from the poison.  Trees and other vegetation are dying and so are the animals that eat plants - moose and raccoons, for instance, both of which are described as emaciated with lower-than-normal body fat.  Many other animals are dying off, such as beavers, with no clear cause...and aquatic life is under siege from the disrupted nitrogen cycle creating dead zone in lakes, at the mouths of rivers and along coastlines.  It's only to be expected that any sort of disease or predator will take advantage of animals with compromised immunity who are weakened from lack of nutrition, and yet scientists hasten to assign blame to pathogens or natural causes whether they exist or not.

Following are links about ozone I have only recently come across, punctuated with some wonderful portraits from a project based on Norwegian folklore, Eyes as Big as Plates by photographers Riittai Konen and Karoline Hjorth, which I initially saw on the blog called "Sad and Useless" - Old People Wearing Vegetation.  Because.  Everything else that follows is most deplorable and depressing and if we cannot laugh there is nothing left for us but to go insane.

Let's start with two papers about forests written by Diane Styers, who is currently an assistant professor at Western Carolina University.  She wrote both a Master's thesis (2005) and a PhD dissertation (2008), the former while at Georgia State and the latter at Auburn University.  Both were completed with the aid - and in the case of her PhD under the direction of - Professor Arthur Chappelka.  Even considering that they were written several years before satellite confirmation of widespread dieback of eastern woodlands, her first paper presents a much more comprehensive problem than Chappelka would admit to when I wrote him and a number of his colleagues in 2009.  Despite the fact that I pointed out that trees are dying everywhere, he dismissed it as New Jersey weather.
But here are passages (citations removed, emphasis added) he approved in his student's Master's thesis:

"The purpose of this study was to examine air pollution damage to vegetation using a foliar-injury survey on Stone Mountain. The objectives of this project included 1) establishing that pollution transport from Atlanta to Stone Mountain occurs, 2) determining the magnitude of ozone concentrations near Stone Mountain and 3) assessing sensitive plant species on Stone Mountain for foliar injury."

p. 1
"Tropospheric ozone has been recognized as the most widespread phytotoxic air pollutant in  eastern North America. The prevalence of high ozone concentrations was once thought to be a problem only in urban areas, due to industrial and vehicle emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOX), a precursor compound in ozone formation. Studies on the role of atmospheric transport of ozone and its precursors have indicated that rural and forested areas located downwind from metropolitan regions are also susceptible to above-average concentrations of ozone.
p. 5
"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers ozone a major air pollutant as it involves the welfare of both humans and vegetation. Low levels of ozone have been shown to disturb human health causing skin and eye irritation, shortness of breath, chest pain and decreased lung function to sensitive individuals; high levels of ozone can cause symptoms in anyone of the general population. It is for this reason that most ozone studies in the U.S. are conducted. However, ozone is equally detrimental to the health of vegetation and research has proven this much more solidly. Trees that have been adversely affected by ozone commonly exhibit reduced photosynthesis rates, reduced height and/or diameter growth, biomass loss and/or foliar injury. If damage is great enough an entire forest ecosystem can be significantly altered."
p. 6
"Effects on Plant Physiology 
Ozone can damage plant leaf tissue when a sufficient amount of ozone molecules are able to pass through a series of permeable layers in the leaf to reach the mesophyll, a spongy tissue critical to photosynthesis. If met by antioxidants such as ascorbic acid at any point a long this pathway, ozone molecules may be scavenged prior to reacting with vulnerable plant cell tissues. An ozone molecule first diffuses into a plant leaf through one of its many stomata (leaf pores), which regulate gas exchange by allowing for sufficient carbon dioxide uptake while limiting water loss through evapotranspiration. The stomata open to a cavity where the ozone molecule can then dissolve in an aqueous layer lining this inner air space of the leaf then proceed to penetrate the cell well. Once inside the plant’s cellular membrane it can react with polyunsaturated fatty acids and begin its destructive oxidation processes. Through the oxidation of plant tissue, ozone can interfere with any of the various processes of photosynthesis."
"Photosynthesis is the process by which plants use CO2 and energy from sunlight to make food. Ozone disrupts photosynthetic processes in sensitive and tolerant plants and can have any number of consequences on the plant, many of which have yet to be documented.  In addition to the effects on growth, biomass and foliar injury, reduced photosynthetic rates can also result in water stress, nutrient deficiency and variations in carbon allocation. Tree age, differential sensitivity among species and site-specific environmental and climatic variables should also be considered as these factors often modify individual study results."

"The most common visible sign of ozone-induced damage to plants is foliar injury. This is generally an indication that antioxidants have attempted to shield vulnerable leaf tissues from the 
oxidation processes of ozone. Proven indicators of ozone induced foliar injury include bleaching, bronzing, flecking, stippling, mottling, chlorosis, necrosis, tip burn and premature senescence.  These visual symptoms of ozone injury are seen in acute to chronic exposure situations and can affect sensitive as well as tolerant species. As such, foliar injury is a good indicator of disruption of photosynthetic processes. However, ozone-induced damage to plant species can occur with or without foliar injury."

"Ozone has been shown to alter both tree growth and biomass production by interfering with 
stomatal conductance, respiration and photosynthesis, as well as reducing CO2 uptake, 
assimilation and fixation.  Plant growth, biomass production and other physiological processes are generally interrelated due to their dependence on optimum photosynthesis; yet damage to one component may not necessarily disturb another. For example, ozone may disrupt a plant’s photosynthetic processes by decreasing stomatal conductance and reducing CO2 uptake. The plant may exhibit signs of foliar injury, but not symptoms of reduced growth, or vice versa. However, when this same plant is grown in a much less predictable competitive environment, height and diameter growth and biomass production may decrease while exhibiting no signs of visible injury. It is therefore, important to note that while ozone-induced damage may take a variety of forms, interactions within and between plant species are highly complex and their countless responses to ozone exposure are not fully understood."

"Impacts to Forest Ecosystems
Estimating ozone risk to forests based on the responses of tree species contained therein is a difficult task. There have been many attempts to do so using techniques such as statistical and simulation modeling, interpolation of surfaces and extrapolation from tree to stand conditions. However difficult to estimate, species-specific responses to ozone can influence forest ecosystem stability by modifying overall forest productivity. Coulston et al. (2003) describe that by directly impacting tree growth, ozone can transform “forest succession, forest composition… and forest dependent wildlife, insects and pathogens.”

"If species are dominant in areas where they are predicted to be at risk, their ecological and economical importance to these areas could be threatened.  For example, Coulston et al. (2003) explain that loblolly pine and sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) are fundamental species that co-exist throughout the Southeast. Loblolly pine is an important commercial product as well as an indicator species in pine and pine-hardwoods stands in the area, which provide habitat for many game and nongame species. Sweetgum contributes to the local foodweb by providing its seeds as a food source to birds, squirrels and chipmunks. Damage to these species by ozone could therefore, affect the biodiversity of southern pine and pine-hardwood habitats as well as world-wide timber industries.  Ecological impacts to forest ecosystems can indirectly influence the economic benefits of that system. Ozone changes to single tree physiology have been noted; height and diameter growth can be reduced, biomass can be lost and photosynthetic processes altered resulting in foliar injury, water stress and nutrient deficiency. Changes to key sensitive species within a community can slowly but eventually alter genetic traits. As this species or even certain genotypes of this species is weakened, more tolerant competitive species may succeed within the forest community possibly eradicating the weaker sensitive species and altering the composition of the community.  Should this happen within an economically important forest ecosystem such as loblolly pine, the timber industry would be greatly affected and much capital would stand to be lost. Similarly, if key forests and their unique habitats decline, revenue generated from recreational activities such as hunting, fishing, hiking and camping would be reduced."
p. 22
"Because loblolly pine is an important commercial timber crop, especially in the Southeast, 
there has been ample research on ozone affects on biomass production. Flagler and Chappelka 
(1995) reviewed and summarized data collected through the Southern Commercial Forest 
Research Cooperative (SCFRC) and compared it to other studies on various southern pine 
species. In the studies reviewed, ozone was found to cause adverse modifications on loblolly 
(and other) pine species, even at current ambient levels. Observed signs throughout the studies 
included decreased height and diameter growth, decreased biomass, especially in foliage and 
decreased photosynthesis and other biochemical functions. The authors noted that the most 
significant finding was that decreased rates of carbon gain in foliage combined with premature 
senescence of needles was responsible for much of the decreased growth observed in these 
studies. Lost productivity resulting from ozone damage can greatly reduce tree longevity and thus, represents a substantial concern to the commercial timber industry in the Southeast

p. 49
"AOT40, or “accumulated exposure over a threshold of 40 ppb”, is a European standard that 
indicates the sum of the differences between hourly ozone concentration and 40 ppb for each 
daylight hour (8:00 – 20:00) when the concentration exceeds 40 ppb (European Environment 
Agency 2004c.). This index was developed to assess ozone exposure potential to vegetation 
across Europe (European Environment Agency 2004d.). In fact, ozone exceedance limitations 
protecting vegetation are nearly half that of those enacted to protect human health (European 
Environment Agency 2004a. & b.)."

Following are images she used in her thesis:  First, badly injured blackberry:
This is described as severely ozone-injured sumac:
Below, "moderately" injured cherry:
Inexplicably, this is designated a "healthy" cherry tree.
Just as oddly, the dead prior-year's needles on this loblolly pine are not seen as evidence of ozone, despite the known evidence that ozone causes premature senescence.  A lack of chlorotic mottling is noted as the reason, although from what I've seen, it depends on the time of year.  The tips turn yellow in fall, and progress through the winter, and then the needles fall off, leaving conifers transparent with tufted branches retaining only the most recent growth.
It's interesting that her early work, like that of another young scholar, Victoria Wittig, draws the starkest conclusions I have seen in any academic papers about long-term impacts by ozone on forest health, and to my knowledge, neither of them ever followed up.

Despite the title of Styers' PhD dissertation - "Urban Sprawl and Atmospheric Pollution Effects on Forests in the Georgia Piedmont" - it contains only 16 references to ozone in over 230 pages, sort of astonishing considering the first sentence in the introduction to her master's thesis which read (remember?) "Tropospheric ozone has been recognized as the most widespread phytotoxic air pollutant in eastern North America"(!)  Only four of those mentions were in the body of the text (one of which merely existed to say "...the data were not regionally distinct enough to be included in these analyses...") while all the others were just parts of definitions or found in the bibliography.  Ozone doesn't even appear in the Abstract, although she ended her Master's with this strongly worded caution:

"The protection of our natural environment is vital to the health of ourselves and many generations of humans to come. Vegetation responses indicative of pollution injury should be a warning sign that the air we breathe is just not healthy. Loblolly pines on Stone Mountain may be tolerant of ozone, but loblolly pines elsewhere and many other species may not. And just because high ozone levels may not be produced in many rural and forested locations outside the city, does not mean that it cannot be transported long distances to get there. Atlanta’s ozone is partially responsible for making the Great Smoky Mountains the most polluted National Park in America. If Atlanta’s ozone can impact forests 250 kilometers away, the ones existing within its bounds will not likely fair any better."

Victoria Wittig in 2008 went so far as to make explicit the connection to a loss of CO2 sink leading to more rapid climate change because of ozone stunting trees, which has to this day not been incorporated in any climate modeling of future temperature rise (that I know of!):

"Ozone is the third strongest greenhouse gas, directly contributing to global warming, and is the air pollutant considered to be the most damaging to plants. But more importantly, it has the potential to leave more carbon dioxide, ranked as the first strongest greenhouse gas, in the atmosphere by decreasing carbon assimilation in trees. Ozone pollution occurs when nitrogen oxides have a photochemical reaction with volatile organic compounds. 'This research quantifies the mean response of trees to ozone pollution measured in terms of total tree biomass, and all component parts such as leaf, root and shoot, lost due to ozone pollution,' said Dr. Victoria Wittig, lead author of the study. 'Looking at how ozone pollution affects trees is important because of the indirect impact on carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere which will further enhance global warming, in addition to ozone's already potent direct impact.' In addition to ozone pollution reducing the strength of trees to hold carbon in the northern temperate mid-latitudes by reducing tree growth, the research also indicates that broad-leaf trees, such as poplars, are more sensitive to ozone pollution than conifers, such as pines, and that root growth is suppressed more than aboveground growth."
Meanwhile, work goes on according to Art Chepulka's home page:

"Nutritive quality of selected plant communities exposed to ground-level ozone
Work by our group (scientists in the School of Forestry & Wildlfie Sciences and Department of Animal Science) has revealed changes in species performance, canopy structure, species richness, diversity index and evenness of an ozone-exposed, early successional plant community containing numerous native species, implying that ambient air in the southeastern US may be having a significant ecological impact on these systems. Given their complexity, economic and non-monetary losses in native plant ecosystems resulting from chronic exposure to ground-level ozone may likely exceed losses to production agriculture. Utilizing various field and laboratory methodologies from the disciplines of ecophysiology, quantitative plant community ecology and herbivore nutrition, our interdisciplinary research team (Drs. Art Chappelka, Stephen Ditchkoff and Russ Muntifering) collected data pertaining to nutritive quality and competitive dynamics of select vegetation of selected native plant communities exposed to potentially phytotoxic levels of ozone. Data collected will allow for assessment of relative ozone impacts on native vegetation in Alabama by various agencies including the US EPA.  Our global hypothesis is that ozone exposure modifies resource acquisition and allocation of dominant native grass species in such a way that interspecific plant relationships, florisitic composition, plant-herbivore interactions, and decomposition and nutrient cycling dynamics of the system are impacted, and that these modifications are further altered by management, thus impacting system productivity. Various field and laboratory methodologies from ecophysiology, quantitative plant community ecology and herbivore nutrition were utilized to specifically: (i) characterize alterations in chemical composition and nutritive quality of ozone-exposed native grasses for herbivores: and (ii) determine whether early-season stress by interspecific plant competition modifies nutritive quality response to O3 in simulated native-grass mixtures. Our  results indicate that ozone is affecting the nutritive quality of selected vegetation and may impact its nutritive value to selected mammalian herbivores. The project was completed in 2006."
"Use of ethylenediurea (EDU) in assessing ozone effects to vegetation
Ground-level (tropospheric) ozone (O3) is the most significant phytotoxic gaseous pollutant in the eastern United States. Plants are subjected to acute and chronic exposures of tropospheric O3 that can cause foliar injury on sensitive plants as well as negative effects on a number of plant processes, including photosynthesis, rate of senescence, water use efficiency, dry matter production, pollen tube extension, flowering and yield. Most of our knowledge about the effects of O3 on natural vegetation has come from studies conducted in controlled field experiments with open top chambers although this method has inherent technical problems and limitations that affect the applicability of results to ambient conditions. An alternative method is the use of protective chemicals such as ethylenediurea N-[-2-(2-oxo-1-imidizolidinyl) ethyl]-N’-phenylurea (EDU). EDU has been widely used to suppress acute and chronic O3 injury on agricultural crops and has been used to detect plant injuries, but comparatively little research has been conducted on native vegetation."

So, what I would like to know is HOW MANY TREES HAVE TO DIE and HOW MUCH RESEARCH DO THEY NEED TO DO before these scientists figure out that the inexorably rising persistent background level of the toxic gas they study is causing the ecosystem to collapse?  Will it not be until the entire world is acidified and colonized by fungus?  oh, wait...
A highly technical paper (in other words, 90% of it is indecipherable to me) from January 2012, investigating ozone sinks in orange orchards in California, gives an indication of how damaging air pollution is to agricultural crops:

Ozone deposition to an orange orchard: Partitioning between stomatal and non-stomatal sinks

1. Introduction
"Ozone is a principal component of photochemical smog and is also a greenhouse gas. In the polluted lower atmosphere it is formed in the presence of sunlight through photochemical reactions of volatile organic compounds (VOC) with oxides of nitrogen (NOx = NO + NO2), which have both biogenic (e.g. foliar and soil emissions) and anthropogenic (e.g. evaporative emissions and combustion processes) sources. Due to increasing emissions of anthropogenic air pollutants, background atmospheric ozone concentration in northern mid-latitudes increased substantially in the past few decades. Exposure to elevated ozone concentrations produces biochemical and physiological changes in plants, with inhibition of carbon assimilation by photosynthesis and decreased plant growth being common effects often associated with visible injuries. These negative effects result in yield losses that are also transformed into economic losses for crops exposed to high levels of tropospheric ozone. A recent global impact assessment for major agriculture crops estimated annual production losses of $US 14 - 74 billion under present air quality legislation."
"Plants are natural sinks for ozone and have therefore been argued to phytoremediate the atmosphere.  The uptake of ozone by ecosystems is attributed to both stomatal and non-stomatal sinks. At the leaf level, stomatal absorption was found to be the major contributor to the total uptake of ozone and considered to be the main uptake pathway responsible for plant injuries, with stomatal opening mainly influenced by environmental variables such as light, temperature and water availability in the plant-soil system."

"Non-stomatal ozone uptake processes include physical deposition to soil, stems, cuticles or any other external surface. Deposition on the cuticles can be limited under dry conditions, but on wet canopies this process may represent a major sink for ozone. Non-stomatal ozone uptake processes also include chemical destruction resulting from gasphase reactions between ozone and biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOC) and nitric oxide (NO) emitted from the ecosystem (e.g. plants or soils). Previous work has reported significant non-stomatal ozone fluxes from forest species owing to reaction with BVOC."
"Citrus species, in particular orange (Citrus sinensis) and mandarin (Citrus reticulata), are among the most cultivated tree crops in the Central Valley of California; they accounted for more than 75,000 ha in 2008. Citrus is also widely cultivated in other countries with Mediterranean climates, such as Italy, Spain, Morocco, and Israel, and citrus orchards are often close to densely populated areas. The warm climates, along with high insolation required for citrus cultivation, are associated with the formation of high ozone levels when anthropogenic air pollution is also present. In particular, hourly ozone concentrations in the San Joaquin Valley (the southern half of California’s Central Valley) often exceed 100 ppb on hot afternoons which is well above the 40ppb phytotoxic threshold generally identified for vegetation. Significant emissions of ozone precursors and the topography, heat, and sunshine in the agriculturally rich valleys of California routinely lead to high concentrations of ozone."

"Previously we have reported on experiments using branch enclosures in greenhouses demonstrating the role of Citrus leaves in removing ozone via stomatal and non-stomatal processes. For the study reported here, we measured ozone concentration and ecosystem level flux over a complete year for a commercial orange orchard in a region with high concentrations of tropospheric ozone, we partitioned the total ozone flux between stomatal and non-stomatal ozone sinks, and investigated the mechanisms controlling each of these sinks."

"Ozone flux to ground was estimated using the sum of in-canopy and ground resistances modeled with standard dry deposition algorithms. These calculations suggest that the ground compartment is a very important ozone sink, responsible for up to 35% of total ozone flux at midday. Ground deposition in our calculation was maximized at midday due to the diurnal concentration of ozone concentration peaking simultaneously with in-canopy resistances reaching their minimum (<400 s m1) due to the higher levels of turbulence which promoted vertical mixing. High deposition rates to ground were expected at our field site, where there was significant open space between trees where the ground was exposed including soil particles, microorganisms, litter, and standing water."
After much measuring the authors arrive at this conclusion:

"We found that the citrus trees removed a considerable amount of tropospheric ozone over the year, similar in amount to that measured in a pine forest, thus suggesting that citrus orchards are
ozone scavengers comparable in magnitude to forest ecosystems.  Further work is necessary though to determine the net impact of orange orchards on regional ozone sources and sinks since this work did not assess the formation of ozone from BVOC emitted by the orchard."

This perplexed my feeble brain.  It was nice to see corroboration for this:   "...the 40ppb phytotoxic threshold generally identified for vegetation" since that is WELL BELOW levels permitted by current EPA regulation (75 ppb!).  And I gathered what they were investigating isn't what happens to orange trees when they absorb ozone so much as trying to determine how much ozone is absorbed by the various sinks, including soil, and trees - because since plants are "natural sinks" for ozone, they are considered to - and I love this new concept - phytoremediate the atmosphere.  Perhaps they are trying to establish a value for orchards beyond producing fruit, comparable to forests.

Following is how one of the researchers kindly wrote back to explain it to me:

"In order to effectively regulate air pollution it is necessary to understand what controls its concentration in the atmosphere. The concentration of ozone in the atmosphere is a balance between photochemical production, photochemical loss, and deposition (removal) at earth's surface. The most practical application of our study is understanding the rate of deposition to earth's surface, whether that deposition is to the plant surfaces, soil, or chemical reactions in the air around the trees, and what controls those rates of ozone removal. Ozone uptake by plants also causes damage to the plants, thus it is important to understand the rate of uptake by the plants themselves."

It was also nice to see in the paper this accurate comment - even if it displayed a slightly imperfect clinical detachment, "Anecdotal evidence for much larger BVOC emissions during this period is also available in the strong and beautiful aroma of the blossoming orange trees."  Though a sorry effect of ozone is to suppress the scent of flowers as well as the ability of pollinators to smell them, I am so looking forward to the peach orchards in Oldwick blossoming soon, and it brought to mind this part of Edna St. Vincent Millay's Renascence, when she is revived from romantically existential doldrums...

I know not how such things can be;

I only know there came to me

A fragrance such as never clings

To aught save happy living things;
A sound as of some joyous elf

Singing sweet songs to please himself,

And, through and over everything,

A sense of glad awakening.

The grass, a-tiptoe at my ear,
Whispering to me I could hear;

I felt the rain’s cool finger-tips

Brushed tenderly across my lips,

Laid gently on my sealèd sight,

And all at once the heavy night
Fell from my eyes and I could see,—

A drenched and dripping apple-tree,

A last long line of silver rain,

A sky grown clear and blue again.

And as I looked a quickening gust
Of wind blew up to me and thrust

Into my face a miracle

Of orchard-breath, and with the smell,—

I know not how such things can be!—

I breathed my soul back into me.
Ah! Up then from the ground sprang I

And hailed the earth with such a cry

As is not heard save from a man

Who has been dead, and lives again.

About the trees my arms I wound;
Like one gone mad I hugged the ground;

I raised my quivering arms on high;

I laughed and laughed into the sky...

Grape growers in Wisconsin have noticed damage from ozone in previous years, and observed that last summer, ozone levels were high.  This photograph accompanied the article.
Ozone Damage to Grape Leaves
October 18, 2012 by Dr. Dean Volenberg
This article is by Dr. Dean Volenberg of the University of Wisconsin’s Door County Extension. It was first published in the Wisconsin Grape Growers Association’s (WGGA) 30th July 2012 Vineyard IPM Scouting Report.

"Ozone contains three oxygen atoms and this makes the compound very reactive to materials that it contacts. In plants, ozone enters through the stomates during gas exchange and then ozone can begin attacking plant cells. In grapes this often results in grape leaves displaying stipples (small darkly pigmented areas). The stippling on grape leaves is confined to the upper leaf surface and the symptoms typically appear on older basal leaves that are located on the exterior of the grape canopy."

"In northeast Wisconsin, ozone damage on grape leaves has been observed for a number of years. Typically symptoms of ozone damage appear latter in the growing season. In Door County, ozone symptoms often appear in late August or early September.  During this time, there is abundant sunshine, and high temperatures which can lead to ozone formation. It is during these so called “Dog Days of Summer” of bright sunshine, high temperatures, and still air that can result in ozone injury."

"Severe ozone injury to grape leaves can result in leaves senescing and dropping from the vine. As of yet, I have never observed severe ozone injury where leaves have dropped from the grape plant. However, this summer, we experienced a number of very sunny days with extremely above normal temperatures that may result in more ozone injury."
"The symptoms of ozone injury could be confused with a disease infection or maybe a nutrient deficiency. Ozone symptoms on the leaf are very patterned and uniform. Ozone injury on the leaf results in the small leaf veins remaining green. In contrast, many grape disease infections results in chlorosis (yellowing) or necrosis (browning) of these small veins. Ozone damage can at times look surprisingly like advanced symptomology of potassium deficiency."

The article was first published in July last summer, so it's anyone's guess whether the leaves progressed on to premature senescence.  Wit's End must be just ahead of the curve (they don't call New Jersey cancer alley for nothing!) because here is what my Concord Grapevine leaves looked like in September of 2009.
This image from, a European website, has leaves that exhibit bronzing and clorosis:
 While this leaf shows a different sort of damage at Wit's End from May 2010:
 This leaf is from June 2011:
And lest anyone say that is NOT ozone injury, here is the leaf shown on the Clemson University Extension website from a 1976 photo attributed to a USDA handbook, with what is described as "shotholing" ozone damage to peach leaves, with a normal unblemished sample on left.  (As an aside, I admit that even being the world's first self-designated Ozonista, I never heard of shotholing before, so I googled it, which has opened up a whole new exciting world of ozone damage! - but I'll save it for a later post.  You're welcome.)
The USDA ozone injury website has this photo of a grape leaf, and describes possible visible symptoms:
"Ozone symptoms usually occur between the veins on the upper leaf surface of older and middle-aged leaves, but may also involve both leaf surfaces (bifacial) for some species. The type and severity of injury is dependent on several factors including duration and concentration of ozone exposure, weather conditions and plant genetics. One or all of these symptoms can occur on some species under some conditions, and specific symptoms on one species can differ from symptoms on another. With continuing daily ozone exposure, classical symptoms (stippling, flecking, bronzing, and reddening) are gradually obscured by chlorosis and necrosis."

Everyone should remember this, because it's spring (isn't it?), and we have a wonderful season ahead of stalking symptoms on leaves.  I especially plan to concentrate on photographing leaves growing on potted plants that are being watered, because I'm sick to death of having drought blamed for trees dying!
An article describes research published in January which "...suggests that using such trees as a biofuel could result in up to 1,400 deaths per year in Europe – per the European Union's 2020 tree planting goal – attributable to increased amounts of ozone in the air, along with $7.1 billion in additional health care costs and crop losses".

Titled "Impacts of biofuel cultivation on mortality and crop yields", the research in the journal Nature Climate Change warns of (yet another!) unexpected consequence of frivolous and wanton energy consumption.  The Abstract says:

"Ground-level ozone is a priority air pollutant, causing ~ 22,000 excess deaths per year in Europe, significant reductions in crop yields and loss of biodiversity. It is produced in the troposphere through photochemical reactions involving oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The biosphere is the main source of VOCs, with an estimated 1,150 TgC yr−1 (~ 90% of total VOC emissions) released from vegetation globally. Isoprene (2-methyl-1,3-butadiene) is the most significant biogenic VOC in terms of mass (around 500 TgC yr−1) and chemical reactivity and plays an important role in the mediation of ground-level ozone concentrations5. Concerns about climate change and energy security are driving an aggressive expansion of bioenergy crop production and many of these plant species emit more isoprene than the traditional crops they are replacing. Here we quantify the increases in isoprene emission rates caused by cultivation of 72 Mha of biofuel crops in Europe. We then estimate the resultant changes in ground-level ozone concentrations and the impacts on human mortality and crop yields that these could cause. Our study highlights the need to consider more than simple carbon budgets when considering the cultivation of biofuel feedstock crops for greenhouse-gas mitigation."
One of the most important things to remember with ozone is that the background level keeps getting worse, and as predicted in one paper from Swedish researchers (among countless others) the level will continue to rise as emissions of precursors increase, and in response to rising temperatures from climate change:

"The increased risk of ozone damage to vegetation is mainly due to rising ozone concentrations and higher temperatures in the future," says Jenny Klingberg at the University of Gothenburg's Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences. "The most important effect on agricultural crops is premature aging, which result in smaller harvests with lower quality."
And so it really shouldn't have been quite so shocking when Obama told Lisa Jackson she could not issue more restrictive air quality rules, since short of draconian reductions in lifestyles and population, it's only getting worse.  There is an excellent summation of the legal and political wrangling over ozone rules written by an "environmental" attorney (even though he is no doubt loathed by herrings and whales, whose status as endangered he successfully thwarted, oh, and trees, after his work for timber companies on carbon offsets) here.  Had EPA been allowed to lower the standard from 75 ppb to between 60 and 70 (based on the tsunami of research indicating 75 ppb isn't a safe threshold) many more areas would have been judged in nonattainment - and the repurcussions can be far more extensive than you might suspect.  For instance:

"A more stringent ozone standard can mean new limits on major stationary sources, but also on regional transportation systems (the Clean Air Act requires that the air quality impact of highway projects and other transportation infrastructure changes be evaluated before they can receive federal funding)."

And we all know how the Obama administration loved to squander those stimulus dollars to pave roads that didn't need paving!

As a case in point and purely for amusement, check out the counties monitored in Indiana.  Here are the numbers for the 2009 summary (there are better resolution of the originals at the state website:

And below, the numbers for 2012.  Not every single one, but most have gone up and more to the point, almost every single one would be out of compliance if the air quality maximum was restricted to 60 ppb.

It gets so much worse!  Anyone who thinks anything will be accomplished at the EPA during Obama's administration should read this gloomy assessment that discusses the DC circuit court where the cases and endless appeals about regulations are decided.  The article focuses (surprise!) on regulations affecting greenhouse gases, but is just as relevant for cases being heard on other pollutants, like ozone.  This year is the regularly scheduled review of air quality regulations, which I predict will come to exactly nothing.  Think - there are FOUR open seats (inexplicably and outrageously, two since Obama came into office in 2009!) on the 11-seat bench which, history has shown (see above) is CRITICAL for regulations to actually be implemented.

"President Barack Obama's [so-called, purported] plan to use federal agencies, and the Environmental Protection Agency in particular, to drive his second-term climate change agenda might be in peril if he cannot fill vacant seats on the federal court that has jurisdiction over major national regulations, legal experts say."

"Obama is the first full-term president in more than a half century not to have appointed a single judge to the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  The court, considered the second most important in the nation, decides cases challenging agency regulations such as those involving the EPA's Clean Air Act and often serves as a feeder to the Supreme Court."

"'If we continue on the current path of invalidating critically important rules, the DC circuit will be the graveyard for all programs, initiatives that are being pushed by the Obama administration and will affect all of us,' said Nan Aron, president of the judicial rights group Alliance for Justice.
'The DC circuit has that much power.'"

One beacon of light that has been shining on the multiple converging forces that are dragging us off the cliff comes from David Ulansey, who has been ringing the alarm since launching a website in 1998 about the Sixth Mass Extinction.  You could listen to a very interesting 45-minute audio clip of his presentation in San Francisco from 2004, in which he discusses the processes underway...or you can take my word for it that back then, he said in order to avoid certain, irreversible catastrophic mass extinctions, five years - or at the most ten - remained for people to have a collective epiphany and reverse course.  Haha!  According to that prediction, the perennially open window of opportunity that just about everyone - or at least, most anyone who wants an audience for their books, movies, TED talks, articles or lectures - swears by, is nearly slammed shut permanently...and does anyone see any such reversal occurring by 2014?  Didn't think so.
There is still much to learn from him anyway, so following are some snips from his observations, (imperfectly transcribed but I tried to be accurate):

"According to the best estimates of biologists, 3/4 of species on earth will be extinct in 100 years....and that isn't counting the myriad impacts of global warming - that will make it worse."

"We are all in the state of the profoundest denial.  I didn't used to take the psychology of denial seriously, I thought it was all psychobabble.  But it turns out it is the most serious thing in the world.  We are living in a pathological dreamworld.  We are utterly out of touch with reality.  And so the question is how to get ourselves back in touch with reality".

"Everybody always asks me - what can I do?  We know what to do.  It's very simple - for a generation, only one child per couple.  No more meat.  No more cars".

"The deeper question is - how do we get people to do that?  It's a problem of human psychology, that's why I'm talking about the psychology of denial".

"We are reeling from the sense that we are living in an alternative universe where dark alien forces have seized the planet - and that is not an inaccurate way to see things."

"We are going to have to make unimaginable sacrifice, bringing into the absolute center of our consciousness the full truth about our situation".

"The environmental organizations have failed us dismally.  They are keeping the truth from us under the rubric of 'we'ld better not frighten people, people freeze up'.  Well, we had better frighten people with the fear that mobilizes...the fear that activates."

"Spread the word.  Tell people...individual people have to wake up to the existence of the problem, a step that has not yet been taken."

"Raising conciousness about this issue is extraordinarily difficult.  People won't believe you and even if they do believe you they will say that they don't care.  So the task then becomes finding the ways to penetrate through that veil of utter denial.  People with children for example, they don't want to know what their children are going to be facing...but if they don't know it they are impotent in doing anything about stopping it.  And it can still be stopped.  We are right on at the cusp.  We have about five years - five, maybe ten at the most - to intervene, to turn the human species around".

Perhaps that is why I can't find any recent appearances or publications from Dr. Ulansey.  Perhaps he has become somewhat reclusive.  After all, he has been "reeling from living in an alternate universe" since 1998, at least, with no improvement in fact, with rapidly accelerating deterioration...and I've only been there since 2008.  It does not seem that the awakening he hoped for is gaining traction and in fact, may be precluded by the most innate and immutable tendencies of our species.

He lists the causes of the mass extinction (HIPPO)

Habitat destruction
Invasive Species
Overharvesting of natural biological resources

Already, by 2004, he had added global warming to that list.

Another point he makes persuasively, is that individual action is not the answer because if you go that route, you instantly realize it will make no difference whatsoever and sink into despair.

Ulansey and the organization he founded, Species Alliance, produced a film titled, Call of Life - Facing the Mass Extinction.  This is a link to watch the entire film (80 minutes) online for free - the short trailor is below.  Even though it ends with the obligatory spiritual/quasi-religious/hopey delerium (as though humans CAN change their psychology, which happens to be genetically hardwired), I highly recommend it anyway - highly.  It does a rare if not unique job of tying in all the converging ecological catastrophes, not just climate change.  Not to be missed is a scene of futuristc, robotic logging equipment that looks as surreal and terrifying as something Stanley Kubrik might have invented for a science fiction movie.  Overall the analysis is a bit shy on the consequences of peak oil - for instance, there's no way human population will approach UN projections.  If not disease and starvation, war - and there's nuclear potential (if not inevitability, to read that analysis) in several contested regions - will intervene with the expected trajectory.
The only other flaw - and what else is new? - is that although pollution is accorded a starring role in mass extinction, vegetation dying from ozone is never mentioned - it is just assumed that a solution is to replenish forests with trees.  Invasive species are included - however, my feeling about them is they may change the balance and reduce diversity (a terrible thing), but at least they are ALIVE.  If we don't do something about ozone, ALL the plants, and then all the animals, will be dead.  I see that as a bit more of a problem.  Of course, when the film was in the making (2007 or so) trees weren't yet in such rapid global decline.  Curiously though, in the still above of a little bird from the movie, the leaves look ravaged.  Nobody notices.

As Dr. Ulansey laments in his talk, it's almost incomprehensible that today most scientists who know better are publicly silent about mass extinction.  They are at least if not more silent about forest decline from ozone specifically and perhaps the film reveals why - it is stated that researchers only get to ask one question per career, by which is implied asking a question of real consequence - like, why are all the trees/frogs/bees/birds/fish/mammals dying...because as soon as a researcher asks that one verbotin question, his or her career is over.  When Dr. Tyrone Hayes, Berkeley biologist, quietly mentions controversy, keep in mind he has been in the vortex of vicious attacks - to his integrity and his funding - from chemical industries for his research implicating endocrine-disrupting pesticides in the worldwide extinction of amphibian species.  Just google him.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

It's The Fragment, Not The Day

The nearest demonstration I could find to join for this week of actions against the KXL pipeline - the proposed vehicle to transport oil from the Canadian tar sands to Texas for refining and eventual export just approved yesterday by our illustrious Senate - was all the way up in White Plains, New York.  I had the usual misgivings about whether the strategy to focus on Keystone is much better than a red herring, a ploy that is more convenient than targeting the underlying problems of excessive population and consumption.  In this case that quandary was exacerbated by the agonizing paradox of driving so far in order to protest pollution.  Meh...there is never a simple, crystal-clear moral path in our compromised existence.  We can only try to have forgiveness and forebearance.
Eventually we numbered about a dozen, mostly students aligned with Hudsen Valley Earth First, as we arrayed for a frigid midday vigil in front of a TD Bank, a major tar sands investor.  One passing driver in an old clunker slowed, rolled down his window and shouted the question "You all protesting that Tarzans thing?"  Upon our enthusiastic, thumbs-up afirmation, he waved approvingly and continued on.  At least he had heard of the controversy, surely a good sign!

The following video gives a good overview of the "tarzans" but also has insight into a lesser-known impact than the obvious contributions to climate disruption, pollution and habitat destruction - which is the nocturnal road transport through Idaho of the unimaginably enormous equipment required to operate the mining and refining operations far north in Alberta.  A local group opposed to this desecration of protected parkland, called Fighting Goliath, has posted videos of nightime clashes with police that result when they attempt to block the roads.  They write that in a recent court decision the US Forest Service was told that, contrary to their preference, they *are* required by law to regulate the permitting of megaloads though a designated wild and scenic corridor.  Oh Gee, you mean the US Forest Service sided with the big extractive polluting corporations?

Going to White Plains had a silver lining, since it turns out that across the busy thoroughfare from the TD branch is a supermarket that almost defies description.  It makes the must luxurious grocery stores anywhere around Wit's End look woefully provincial, catering to what must be a substantial Korean population.  I literally didn't recognize more than half of the produce and packaged goods...but that made it all the more exciting.  It was immaculate, and enormous, and had much better prices than stores in New Jersey.  Such lavish abundance creates in me a massive cognitive disconnect, since I know that fish stocks are being depleted, and agriculture is plagued with erratic weather and utter dependence on dwindling petroleum...but you'd never guess that to look at the bursting cornucopia on the laden shelves at Hmart.  These pictures only represent a fraction of the aisles piled with perfect, unblemished exotic fruits and vegetables, kimchee by the bucketful, tanks of swimming fish, hot chafing dishes with piled with barbeque, and endless varieties of fresh noodles, tofu, and pickled radish.
The tar sands of course are only one of many extreme attempts to extract more fuel to keep industrial civilization humming or at least, stumbling along.  Deep water drilling, arctic exploration, and mountaintop removal are also part of increasingly desperate attempts to produce oil and coal, as is fracking for gas.  To my shock I have learned that several pipelines are proposed to traverse my state, New Jersey, carrying both gas and waste from Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale to the shore.  Already, forests are being leveled in preparation.
How such travesties can be allowed to occur is revealed in a newly forged, unholy alliance described in an article on ABC news:

"In an unlikely partnership between longtime adversaries, some of the nation's biggest energy companies and environmental groups have agreed on a voluntary set of standards for gas and oil fracking in the Northeast that appear to go further than existing state and federal pollution regulations."
"The program announced Wednesday will work a lot like Underwriters Laboratories, which puts its UL seal of approval on electrical appliances that meet its standards. In this case, drilling and pipeline companies will be encouraged to submit to an independent review of their operations, and if they are found to be taking certain steps to protect the air and water, they will receive the blessing of the brand-new Pittsburgh-based Center for Sustainable Shale Development."
"If the project succeeds, it could have far-reaching implications for both the industry and environmental groups. A nationwide boom in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has unleashed huge new energy reserves but also led to fears of pollution and climate change.  Shell Oil Vice President Paul Goodfellow said this is the first time the company and environmental groups have reached agreement to create an entire system for reducing the effects of shale drilling."
"'This is something new,' said Bruce Niemeyer, president of Chevron Appalachia. 'This is a bit of a unique coming-together of a variety of different interests.'"

"In addition to Shell and Chevron, the participants include the Environmental Defense Fund, the Clean Air Task Force, the Heinz Endowments, EQT Corp., Consol Energy and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, and the organizers hope to recruit others."
"…The project will be overseen by a 12-member board consisting of four seats for environmentalists, four for industry and four for independent figures: former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill; Christine Todd Whitman, the former New Jersey governor and Environmental Protection Agency chief; Carnegie Mellon University President Jared Cohon; and Jane Long, former associate director at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory."
First off, I was completely disgusted to see the my former governor and neighbor, Christie Whitman, has endorsed this obscenity.  Further, does anyone suppose that having Teresa Heinz KERRY's foundation (of which she is the Chair of the Board of Directors) support fracking might give some sort of clue as to where her husband, the new Secretary of State, will come down on the KXL pipeline??  And lest we wonder whether the Clean Air Task Force is legitimately concerned about air quality, their website promotes the patently false solution of carbon capture and storage.
Even though I participate in the "TarSandsBlockade" - since it's the only nationally organized opposition to fossil fueldom - I have to wonder why climate activists don't put more emphasis on a ban on fracking and mountaintop removal, horrendous activities taking place right here in the US.  It's not just environmental groups that are complicit, it's been well documented that academia is corrupted by fracking companies too.  In fact this might be a good place to post some excerpts from the latest column by John Stauber, author of "Toxic Sludge is Good For You":
Paid to Lose
The Progressive Movement is a PR Front for Rich Democrats

“...The professional Progressive Movement that we see reflected in the pages of The Nation magazine, in the online marketing and campaigning of MoveOn and in the speeches of Van Jones, is primarily a political public relations creation of America’s richest corporate elite, the so-called 1%, who happen to bleed Blue because they have some degree of social and environmental consciousness, and don’t bleed Red.  But they are just as committed as the right to the overall corporate status quo, the maintenance of the American Empire, and the monopoly of the rich over the political process that serves their economic interests.”
“...After the 2000 presidential election, the Al Gore Hanging Chad Debacle, rich liberal Democratic elite began discussing, conspiring and networking together to try and make sure that no scruffy, radical  political insurgency like the Nader 2000 campaign would again raise its political head.  They generally loved Al Gore, the millionaire technocrat, and they put in play actions which led to the creation of a movement of their own that aped the right wing’s institutions.  They reached out to the well-paid professionals who ran the big environmental groups they already funded and owned,  and to other corporate reform and liberal media operations.    They followed plans drawn up by Democratic Party insiders who wanted nothing more than to win elections, and who saw the need for the tools and groups and campaigns the Right wielded.  They made it clear there would be wonderful financial rewards and career advancements for progressive leaders and their organizations who lined up with them.”

“...This became very visible with the arrival of the Democracy Alliance.  A summer 2005 article in the Washington Post made clear their intent to pour millions into creating and owning a Progressive Movement.  Looking back, someone needs to give these folks an award because the wealthy elitists in the Democracy Alliance succeeded wildly,  mission accomplished!”
“As the Washington Post reported,  'at least 80 wealthy liberals have pledged to contribute $1 million or more apiece to fund a network of think tanks and advocacy groups to compete with the potent conservative infrastructure built up over the past three decades.  …  The goal of the alliance, according to organizers, is to foster the growth of liberal or left-leaning institutions equipped to take on prominent think tanks on the right, including the Heritage Foundation, the Hoover Institution, the American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute, as well as such training centers as the Leadership Institute and the Young America’s Foundation.'”
“The Washington Post explained, 'There has been a flourishing of new, pro-Democratic think tanks and advocacy groups in recent years. Clinton administration chief of staff John D. Podesta established the Center for American Progress … and author David Brock helped create Media Matters for America last year, among others. All these groups are potential recipients of money from alliance partners. In addition, the number of liberal bloggers on the Web has been growing at a fast pace … .  Jockeying for cash among possible recipient organizations has already begun. Robert L. Borosage, director of the liberal Campaign for America’s Future, said the alliance will fund a ‘set of institutions in this city to be in the national debate, and we would like to be one of them.’ ”
“For almost a decade now the funders of the Progressive Movement, the rich Democrats of the Democracy Alliance and their cliques, networks and organizations, have employed and funded political hacks, fundraisers, pollsters, organizers and PR flacks.  Over the past ten years they have dumped more and more money into the big feeding trough shared by the major players of the Progressive movement.  The overall goal and result has always been to bring withering rhetorical fire and PR attacks upon the Republican Right, while creating a tremendous fear of the Right to increase the vote for Democrats.  This has become Job #1 for the Progressive Movement.  No one quite remembers Job #2.”
“Real movements are not the creation of and beholden to millionaires.  The Progressive Movement is astroturf beholden to the rich elite, just as the Democratic millionaires and operatives of the Democracy Alliance intended.  The “movement’s” funding is in the hands of a small number of super rich Democrats and union bureaucrats and advisors who run with them.  Its talking points, strategies, tactics and PR campaigns are all at the service of the Democratic elite.  There is no grassroots organized progressive movement with power in the United States, and none is being built.  Indeed,  if anything threatens to emerge,  the cry  “Remember Nader!” arises and the budding insurgency is marginalized or coopted, as in the case of the Occupy Wall Street events.  Meanwhile, the rich elite who fund the Progressive Movement, and their candidates such as Barack Obama, are completely wedded to maintaining the existing status quo on Wall Street and in the corporate boardroom.  Their well-kept Progressive Movement is adept at PR, propaganda, marketing and fundraising necessary in the service of the Democratic Party and the corporate elite who rule it.”
Not to be missed in that article is the link to an earlier account by the anonymous "Insider", which reveals the source of funding for the Tar Sands Campaign, in which a lot of well-intentioned and passionate participants were made unwitting props for Obama's reelection.  And, the national Sierra Club still refuses to endorse a call to ban fracking, while meanwhile, their local and state chapters are furious.  As Insider quotes:

“'The Sierra Club and our 1.4 million members and supporters share the same vision for America as the president for a prosperous and innovative economy that protects the air we breathe, the water we drink and the health of our families,' said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune in a statement to The Hill that could have come straight out of The Onion.

Conservatives in Tennessee have noticed that mountaintop removal isn't particularly conducive to hunting and fishing, now that state leaders are failing to protect "our God-given" mountains from being sold to the Red Chinese - ha!  Of course, they are unaware that pollution from burning coal in the US is killing all the trees in those "God-given" mountains.

Unfortunately, some analysts don't expect that to change much.  Llewellyn King, executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS, reports:

King Coal Just Won't Leave His Throne; Coal Is the Fuel of the Past and the Future

"Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association, says coal in 2016 will again be the world’s favorite carbon fuel, pushing out petroleum as the world's largest source of energy.
This may seem especially surprising at a time when the use of coal in the United States is in decline, edged out by cheap natural gas and increasingly strict regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency. Yet a rising tonnage of coal is being used for electric generation worldwide."
"The Third World is hungry for coal, as it increases electricity production. In the developed world, nuclear setbacks -- most notably the aftereffects of the FukushimaDaiichi nuclear power plant accident, when a tsunami wave knocked out six reactors -- have helped boost the commitment to coal. The accident has forced the Japanese to burn more coal and the Germans to begin phasing out their nuclear power plants. Other European countries are dithering, and the cost of building nuclear plants is rising."

"If you do not have an abundance of natural gas, as here in the United States, then coal is your default choice. It is shipped around the world in larger and larger quantities. The more the world has resisted the burning of coal, the more it has had to fall back on it."

"Alternative energy, attractive in theory, is yet to make its mark.  Because coal has always had an environmental price, it has always been under attack, and at the same time it has proven stubbornly hard to replace."
"King Edward I of England, who reigned from 1239 to 1307, was the first known major opponent of coal. He banned it in 1306.  Tales of why he did this vary.  One story goes that his mother, Queen Eleanor of Provence, when staying at Nottingham Castle, was so affected by the coal fumes from the town that she had to move out."

"Wood was hard to come by in towns, and it does not heat like coal.  Anyway England was a cold place and wood was in short supply, so the ban was not very effective, despite the fact that the death penalty was standard for disobeying royal orders."
"Two and a half centuries later, Queen Elizabeth I tried to ban coal with not much effect. The prospect of a coal ban was even more draconian then as her father, Henry VIII, had largely denuded the English forests to build his navy and she was even more committed to sea power.
With the invention of the steam engine in the early 1700s (ironically, it was originally intended to pump waterout of coal mines), the supremacy of coal f or was guaranteed. It led directly to the Industrial Revolution and coal’s preeminence as the fuel of the Industrial Age. There was a price in mine disasters, mine fires that burn for decades, and air pollution. But there were also huge benefits."
"Britain led the way both in the use of coal and its environmental costs.  An industrial area in the Midlands was known as the “Black Country.”  London fog was assumed to be just that, fog, but it was smog. The smog was so bad that I can recall, in the winter of 1962, walking in the streets holding hands with strangers because you could not see where you were going. So-called smokeless fuel – usually a kind of coke or other high-carbon fuel -- ended that, and fog in London is now no worse than it is elsewhere."

“'Clean coal' has been the rallying call of the industry for 30 or more years -- and coal is getting a lot cleaner in its preparation, combustion and mining. The trick in combustion is higher temperatures and pressures, described as supercritical and ultra-supercritical, a technology China has embraced that increases the efficiency of coal, from a historical 28 percent to around 50 percent with concomitant reductions in the greenhouse gas per kilowatt."
"Mining, too, has gotten safer in the developed world with stricter regulation and better equipment. Quinn of the National Mining Association says that reclamation after strip mining is better than it ever has been. Yet the scars remain from an earlier time across all the coal-producing states."

"If, like Edward I, Elizabeth I and the EPA, we cannot stop coal use, we better get behind the technologies and regulations that reduce its impact, because King Coal looks set for a long, long reign."

This nonsense about coal becoming cleaner is completely demolished by a New York Times article, which describes the ways in which industries in China prevent the government from enacting stricter regulations, and flaunt existing laws.  Gee, nothing like the US!

"On Feb. 28, Deutsche Bank released an analysts’ note saying that China’s current economic policies would result in an enormous surge in coal consumption and automobile sales over the next decade. 'China’s air pollution will become a lot worse from the already unbearable level,' the analysts said, calling for drastic policy changes and 'a strong government will to overcome the opposition from interest groups.'  The report estimated that the number of passenger cars in China was on track to hit 400 million by 2030, up from 90 million now."

The heedless dependence on coal is corroborated in an assessment issued by the International Energy Agency, as described by Market Playground:
"The big energy stories in the U.S. recently have been the shale oil and gas revolutions and America’s estimated 100-year supply of natural gas. Both trends would seem to be bad news for coal consumption. Yet while coal faces challenges in the U.S. from cheap natural gas, it seems the rest of the world can’t get enough of the stuff."

"The outlook for coal globally as an energy source is stellar, according to a recent report by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Here are five data points from the IEA detailing why king coal, despite its environmental impact, has a long reign ahead:
1)  By 2017, coal will come close to surpassing oil as the world’s top energy source, the IEA projects in its annual Medium-Term Coal Market Report (MCMR). Coal demand will increase in every region of the world except in the United States, where coal is being pushed out by natural gas.
2) Not surprisingly, China and India will power the growth in coal consumption over the next five years. China already represents just under half of global coal consumption and the IEA projects the Asian powerhouse, now the world’s biggest carbon emitter, will easily surpass the rest of the world in coal demand by 2017.
3) The world is expected to burn an additional 1.2 billion tons of coal per year over current levels by 2017, according to the IEA. That’s equal to the combined consumption of two major consumers — Russia and the U.S. — in 2011.
4) Indonesia has become the largest coal exporter in the world, eclipsing long-standing leader Australia as the largest exporter on a tonnage basis.
5) All this is very bad news for projected carbon emissions, which nearly everyone believes contributes to global warming.
"So things may be looking up for these coal producers in the near to mid-term. But for planet earth, not so much. In her introduction to the report, IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven notes that the report’s forecasts are based on a disturbing reality — that carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) will not be available during the bullish outlook period for coal:
CCS technologies are not taking off as once expected, which means CO2 emissions will keep growing substantially. Without progress in CCS, and if other countries cannot replicate the US experience and reduce coal demand, coal faces the risk of a potential climate policy backlash."
The Union of Concerned Scientists lists the impacts of coal:

"Burning coal is also a leading cause of smog, acid rain, and toxic air pollution. Some emissions can be significantly reduced with readily available pollution controls, but most U.S. coal plants have not installed these technologies.
  • Sulfur dioxide (SO2): Coal plants are the United States’ leading source of SO2 pollution, which takes a major toll on public health, including by contributing to the formation of small acidic particulates that can penetrate into human lungs and be absorbed by the bloodstream. SO2 also causes acid rain, which damages crops, forests, and soils, and acidifies lakes and streams. A typical uncontrolled coal plant emits 14,100 tons of SO2 per year. A typical coal plant with emissions controls, including flue gas desulfurization (smokestack scrubbers), emits 7,000 tons of SO2 per year.
  • Nitrogen oxides (NOx): NOx pollution causes ground level ozone, or smog, which can burn lung tissue, exacerbate asthma, and make people more susceptible to chronic respiratory diseases. A typical uncontrolled coal plant emits 10,300 tons of NOx per year. A typical coal plant with emissions controls, including selective catalytic reduction technology, emits 3,300 tons of NOx per year.
  • Particulate matter: Particulate matter (also referred to as soot or fly ash) can cause chronic bronchitis, aggravated asthma, and premature death, as well as haze obstructing visibility. A typical uncontrolled plan emits 500 tons of small airborne particles each year. Baghouses installed inside coal plant smokestacks can capture as much as 99 percent of the particulates.
  • Mercury: Coal plants are responsible for more than half of the U.S. human-caused emissions of mercury, a toxic heavy metal that causes brain damage and heart problems. Just 1/70th of a teaspoon of mercury deposited on a 25-acre lake can make the fish unsafe to eat. A typical uncontrolled coal plants emits approximately 170 pounds of mercury each year. Activated carbon injection technology can reduce mercury emissions by up to 90 percent when combined with baghouses. ACI technology is currently found on just 8 percent of the U.S. coal fleet.
"Other harmful pollutants emitted annually from a typical, uncontrolled coal plant include approximately:
  • 114 pounds of lead, 4 pounds of cadmium, other toxic heavy metals, and trace amounts of uranium. Baghouses can reduce heavy metal emissions by up to 90 percent3.
  • 720 tons of carbon monoxide, which causes headaches and places additional stress on people with heart disease.
  • 220 tons of hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds (VOC), which form ozone.
  • 225 pounds of arsenic, which will cause cancer in one out of 100 people who drink water containing 50 parts per billion."

Meanwhile, last month researchers from Rice University reported on the links between ozone and cardiac arrest:

"Co-author David Persse, Houston Fire Department EMS physician director and a public-health authority for the city, said it's long been thought by EMS workers that certain types of air pollution, including ozone, have significant negative effects on cardiac and respiratory health. 'But this mathematically and scientifically validates what we know,' he said."

Likewise, new research in ten European cities has made an indelible link between air pollution and childhood asthma.  It seems ridiculous that something so obvious needs to be studied, and studied again and again:

"Until now, traffic pollution was assumed to only trigger asthma symptoms and burden estimations did not account for chronic asthma caused by the specific range of toxicants that are found near heavily used roads along which many Europeans live."

"The researchers used a method known as population-attributable fractions to assess the impact of near-road traffic pollution. This calculates the proportional reduction in disease or death that would occur if exposure to a risk factor were reduced to a lower level."

"The new research used data from existing epidemiological studies which found that children exposed to higher levels of near-road traffic-related pollution also had higher rates of asthma, even when taking into account a range of other relevant factors such as passive smoking or socioeconomic factors."

Why can't studies use "population-attributable fractions" to figure out that trees also have higher rates of death when exposed to pollution?  One interesting study would appear to contradict that idea.  I first saw a summary in Science Daily, titled, Amplified Greenhouse Effect Shaping North Into South:

"A key finding of this study is an accelerating greening rate in the Arctic and a decelerating rate in the boreal region, despite a nearly constant rate of temperature seasonality diminishment in these regions over the past 30 years. "This may portend a decoupling between growing season warmth and vegetation productivity in some parts of the North as the ramifications of amplified greenhouse effect -- including permafrost thawing, frequent forest fires, outbreak of pest infestations, and summertime droughts -- come in to play," says co-author Hans Tømmervik, Senior Researcher, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Tromsø, Norway."

Caption:  "Of the 10 million square miles (26 million square kilometers) of northern vegetated lands, 34 to 41 percent showed increases in plant growth (green and blue), 3 to 5 percent showed decreases in plant growth (orange and red), and 51 to 62 percent showed no changes (yellow) over the past 30 years. Satellite data in this visualization are from AVHRR and MODIS. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio"

My initial thought was that there actually appears to be a rather alarming amount of vegetation decline in that image, in addition to greening of higher latitudes from warming temperatures.  Reading further however, the study can be interpreted to support the idea that rising levels of background tropospheric ozone have caused widespread dieback:

"Satellite data identify areas in the boreal zone that are warmer and dryer and other areas that are warmer and wetter," said co-author Ramakrishna Nemani of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "Only the warmer and wetter areas support more growth."

"'We found more plant growth in the boreal zone from 1982 to 1992 than from 1992 to 2011, because water limitations were encountered in the later two decades of our study,' said co-author Sangram Ganguly of the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute and NASA Ames."

Naturally, I wrote to the authors to ask about their discovery that plant growth slowed down in more recent decades, and received a very encouraging response.  Is this a trend?  Probably not - Dr. Potter hasn't responded even though I've written him twice to inquire about this map of declining vegetation growth rates in the eastern US:

In any event, it was extremely gratifying to see some positive response.  Following is the correspondence:

From: Wit's End []
Sent: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 3:26 PM
To: Ganguly, Sangram  (ARC-SGE)[Bay Area Environmental Research Institute]
Subject: your research re:  greenhouse shift

Dear Dr. Ganguly,

I read the following article about your research:

Which quotes you as follows:

"'We found more plant growth in the boreal zone from 1982 to 1992 than from 1992 to 2011, because water limitations were encountered in the later two decades of our study,' said co-author Sangram Ganguly of the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute and NASA Ames."

Could you send me a pdf of the paper published at Nature Climate Change?

Also I have a couple of questions.  If you have time to respond I would greatly appreciate it.

1.  On what basis was it determined that water limitations were the reason there was less plant growth in the latter two decades than 1982 - 1992?

2.  Did you consider that growth may be stunted due to rising background levels of air pollution (tropospheric ozone)?

Thanks so much,

Gail Zawacki
Oldwick, NJ

From: Alan Xu <>
To: Ranga Myneni <>; Wit's End <>
Sent: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 7:29 PM
Subject: Re: FW: your research re: greenhouse shift

Dear Gail Zawacki,

Thank you for your interest in our paper. You can find the pdf version of the paper from the following website (built by my advisor: Dr. Ranga Myneni):

For the question regarding water limitations, you can take a look at some of our cited articles [e.g., Peng et al., 2011 (, or Soja et al., 2007 ( 

We were aware of regional effects of air pollution on the vegetation (Toutoubalina & Rees, 1999), but the global effect of air pollution is worth further investigation. Thanks! 

Best regards,
Xu Liang

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Wit's End <>
Date: Thu, Mar 21, 2013 at 12:49 PM
Subject: Re: FW: your research re: greenhouse shift
To: Alan Xu <>

Dear Xu Liang,

Thank you for sending me your paper and the other links.

I have not been able to find any evidence in the research you relied on, that drought has actually caused vegetation to decline - other than an assumption based on corrolation with some areas.  Since vegetation is dying in places that are getting more precipitation, not less, due to climate change, this would indicate some other influence.  If I have missed causative evidence, please let me know.

Peng's paper reveals forest dieback across the boreal forest in Canada, even though the eastern part of Canada has had more precipitation.  Likewise, the Soja et al paper relies on the IPCC 2001 report, but you can see in the attached maps from page 17 of chapter 2 ( areas receiving historically more precipitation also have forest decline.

This is not unusual as most scientists have no idea that constant absorption of ozone is extremely damaging to trees, most especially to their ability to fend off opportunistic attacks from insects, fungus and disease.

For one study among many, here is the abstract from research published last September (

"Intercontinental transport of ozone and its precursors:"

"The coupling of chemistry with atmospheric transport processes provides a mechanism for local and regional pollution from heavily populated continental regions to influence tropospheric composition at hemispheric and global scales. In this study we use the FRSGC/UCI 3-D chemical transport model to quantify the impact of ozone precursors from anthropogenic sources in the United States, Europe, and East Asia on regional and global ozone budgets and to identify the key controlling processes. We find that the East Asian region has the greatest potential to affect tropospheric ozone due, principally, to efficient vertical transport but that Europe experiences the greatest intercontinental effects due to rapid, short-distance transport from North America. In addition to significant boundary layer ozone production in each region, we find that 25–40% of the total net regional production occurs above 730 hPa in the free troposphere and that on a hemispheric scale, 70–85% of ozone from anthropogenic sources in the upper troposphere, above 400 hPa, is due to in situ chemistry rather than direct vertical transport. Increased surface ozone concentrations over remote continents are largest in spring and autumn at northern midlatitudes; while this seasonality is driven by horizontal transport in the free troposphere followed by subsidence, boundary layer and upper tropospheric chemical production make a substantial contribution. Although the effects are greatest in periodic episodes when meteorological conditions are favourable, there is significant enhancement in background ozone concentrations. We suggest that increasing emissions will significantly impact the oxidizing capacity of the troposphere by leading to greater polarization between ozone production and destruction environments."

Research has indicated that the level above which vegetation cannot tolerate ozone is 40 ppb, which is pretty much the persistent background level now even in remote areas.  Interview with John Reilly of MIT is here: in which he says:

REILLY: Many years ago when some of the first clean air legislation was passed, I think people thought it was very much as just an urban problem. When measurements have extended, people have realized that the ozone actually lives in the atmosphere for a few months, and so over that time it spreads out across the landscape and in fact, over the course of three months you can have a lot of transport around the entire globe. And so that means that ozone can appear at high levels in different places. The actual ozone levels, then, get higher because the background level is higher.

REILLY: Well I was, you know, dramatically surprised that the results were so negative, and we checked them several times. There is a threshold, 40 parts per billion of ozone in the atmosphere, above which damage starts occurring. What really happened here is that the actual ozone levels only increased 50 percent, but when measured above this threshold, the amount of ozone increased by six-fold. So that was a dramatic increase and led to this high damage.

This will have a huge impact on climate as forests die GLOBALLY and become carbon emitters rather than sinks.

If you decide to investigate the regions where vegetation is declining, or the reason that the increase slowed in the last two decades in areas where it had been increasing, I would be very grateful if you remember to keep me up to date.



From: Alan Xu <>
To: Wit's End <
Sent: Friday, March 22, 2013 4:26 PM
Subject: Re: FW: your research re: greenhouse shift

Dear Gail Zawacki,

This is a really interesting topic. You are absolutely correct that some of the existing changes still cannot be explained by our observations (or not included). I have forwarded your opinion to my advisor, Ranga Myneni, and see if it could be in part of the future research. As I am not an atmospheric person, I have no idea if there is a reliable tropospheric ozone global product. But I will definitely dig deeper if there is an opportunity in the future. Thanks!

Best regards,
Xu Liang

After I received this message I found the exact IPCC graph from the referenced paper:
Since Xu Liang couldn't have been nicer, I want to highlight the link that accompanies his signature, which leads to a petition to the UN, asking on behalf of the people of the Earth for protection from climate change.  It's open until April 22, Earth Day - please sign and share!

Meanwhile, the trees around Wit's End are dying off at a truly staggering speed.  Pines have been dropping needles all winter and most of those that remain are yellow or brown.
Many giant old trees like this oak are now standing dead.
This is a young maple, planted in a park.  It still has leaves from last year, which means it didn't have enough energy to push them off in the fall.
The little Japanese maple is still covered with shriveled leaves as well.
It's not just maples, either.  This magnificent copper beech in the village, which is my absolute favorite tree, still has leaves.
It's anybody's guess as to how such trees will be able to produce new growth this spring when they haven't mustered the strength to shed last year's.  Quite frankly, it's a bit terrifying to contemplate.

There's a little bit of an introduction to "Someone in a Tree" before the singing begins...full lyrics here.

It's the fragment, not the day. 
It's the pebble, not the stream. 
It's the ripple, not the sea 
That is happening. 
Not the building but the beam, 
Not the garden but the stone, 
Only cups of tea 
And history 
And someone in a tree. 

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