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. 


  1. Got to yell at John Kerry here in DC Monday.

    Loved you grocery store pics (you have a great eye). I was stationed in Korea for a year, long ago and acquired a taste for the food. I recently checked the base where I had been stationed on Google maps, The beautiful small village outside the gate is now the site of a 20 lane toll plaza. Pave paradise put up a parking lot.

    John Cartmill

  2. A commenter at an arctic sea ice blog I frequent made an interesting point that I felt sort of parallels my feelings on the tree decline situation.

    He said something to the effect that while he would not hope that we set another record for ice loss this coming melt season, that failure to do so would be trumpeted as "recovery" in denier circles and allow the public to continue their slumber and inaction on the issue. Whereas another record ice loss, while foreshadowing dire consequences, may finally startle them into some sort of action.

    I feel the same about the trees. While the die-off is startling and rapid to those of us actually paying attention, it is simply not even close to fast enough for the general public to actually wake up and take notice. At this rate it is allowing them to psychologically adjust each year to a new baseline.

    Of course if the die-off happened as fast as required to actually cause the general public to take action, it would almost assuredly be too late to matter. Though it almost surely already is too late.

  3. Thanks John!! Loved your blog post too.

    Anon - it's not too late for the trees from pollution as long as some still live and we have seeds and nuts. Plants are incredibly robust. It's too late in the long run with climate though, because the amplifying feedbacks are underway and unstoppable (aerosols notwithstanding). But if we stopped polluting the air, we could buy a lot of time by planting more trees, and they would absorb some of the CO2.

    You are right about the ever-shifting baselines and I get very discouraged (to put it mildly) that more people don't see what is happening to trees...on the other hand, more do seem to be catching on. For several years I could count on people looking at me like I was insane if I mentioned it, and now often, people nod their heads slowly in sad agreement.

    And it's also possible that this spring and summer it is going to be so terrible that no one can pretend it's normal anymore. We'll see.

  4. Gail,
    You say your local maples and copper beeches still have leaves on them because they, "...didn't have enough energy to push them off in the fall." My studies of similar foliar anomalies of West Coast trees tells me something more than low energy levels are the cause of the problem. More likely, the foliage has suffered a rapid and thorough embalming, similar to a leather tanning process, where cellular proteins, sugars, carbohydrates etc., and their structural strength, have been fixed or denatured so completely that the twigs and leaves stay erect and attached to the branches etc. Abscission has been halted, and chlorophyll has been overcome by the tanning process.
    These rapid herbicidal actions are likely the result from very strong toxic chemical reactions, and something stronger and denser that ozone. The likely culprit and source, is airborne contamination from traffic pollution and coal burning.
    It is the rapidity and thoroughness of this herbicidal process that is most startling and ominous.

  5. Thank you for this post and all of the others, Gail, even though they make me feel almost suicidal.

    I could write at length about the mainstream environmental organizations and Keystone and many of the issues you've raised, but it would be nothing more than an elaboration on nails you have already hit on the head.

    ~ M

  6. PS (Re Kerry and the influence of money in what passes for politics in this accursed country, you may want to read "Throw Them All Out", it's a short easy read that spells out just how much money Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, et. al. get from the monied interests in this country, and how . . .)

    ~ M

  7. Thanks, I'll check it out...Please don't feel suicidal! The only response is to be glad for all the remaining morsels. (although sometimes I think, Can this really be happening? I must be insane!!)

  8. Thanx Gail. Strong report. And I will now refer to them as the "Tarzans" of the boreal forests.

    Also I understood that coal combustion actually releases a significant amount of radiation.

    So says Scientific American

    and the EPA

    Thanks for all that you do.

  9. Interesting points, RPauli! I'll send those links on to Bobby1.


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