Friday, July 19, 2013

In Forest They Smiled

"A human population approaching 7 billion can be maintained only by desolating the Earth. If wild habitat is given over to human cultivation and habitation, if rainforests can be turned into green deserts, if genetic engineering enables ever-higher yields to be extorted from the thinning soils—then humans will have created for themselves a new geological era, the Eremozoic, the Era of Solitude, in which little remains on the Earth but themselves and the prosthetic environment that keeps them alive."
~ John Gray
Sometimes it seems like just about everyone in the world has gone insane.  The more the signs appear that we are trashing our only home, Earth, the more frenetically we trash it.  Even when it would be effortless to respect nature, our species perversely, at the mere suggestion we curb our appetite, becomes even more virulent.  Here are some examples:
"Rocks and cliffs are covered with graffiti near Sapphire Falls, in California's Cucamonga Canyon, on June 23, 2013. In response to the rampant graffiti problem that has plagued the Angeles National Forest in recent weeks, the city of Rancho Cucamonga is denying access through non-national forest land. Spray-painters, if caught, will be issued $250 citations. The illegal doodling has gotten so out of hand that officials have closed the historic Barker Dam and the popular Rattlesnake Canyon hiking area of the Wonderland of Rocks in Joshua Tree National Park."
"British environmental activist Sharon Johnson is painting branches for an eco-art installation called Blue Trees in London, which aims to highlight the importance of urban forestry. To answer your first question, no, the trees in the installation are not at all being harmed; Johnson says that the paint will wash off in a few months."

This hubris is in no way excused by "artistic license".  Hasn't she ever seen Goldfinger?
I guess not, maybe she's too young.  Meanwhile the mangroves are dying out.
"Firmly entrenched at the intersection of land and sea, mangrove trees are vital to human survival for two big reasons. First, in acting as natural barriers, they protect...the coasts from hurricanes, cyclones, tsunamis, and tidal waves....because of overdevelopment and the shrimping industry, the world’s mangrove forests are in retreat, dying off in unprecedented numbers—20 percent have perished since 1980, leaving only about 150,000 square kilometers of them left on the entire planet."
"In the Indian city of Ahmedabad, young boys row through the polluted waters of the Sabarmati river. They’re retrieving coconuts, thrown in as offerings by locals after the immersion of idols of the Hindu elephant god Ganesh, the deity of prosperity."
"Pictured is the aftermath of the Black Forest Fire in Black Forest, Colorado. Hundreds of firefighters worked to stop the blaze, which had already destroyed some 360 homes, from roaring into the outskirts of Colorado Springs after it billowed overnight into the most destructive fire in state history."

Of course - this is only one of so many raging right now.  As predicted at Wit's End, long ago when I first realized pollution is killing trees, the wildfires are going to become a nightmare and extend far beyond traditional locations.
"An aerial photograph shows the construction site of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam at Pimental, near Altamira in Para State, November 15, 2012. After years of gains against destruction of the Amazon rainforest, Brazil appears to be suffering from an increase in deforestation as farmers, loggers, miners and builders move into previously untouched woodland, according to data compiled by the government and independent researchers."

It turns out that deforestation isn't the largest threat to forests in the Amazon, which is saying a lot.  NASA has discovered that a hitherto unsuspected huge number of understory fires are raging...which they naturally blame on climate change:

"Using an innovative satellite technique, NASA scientists have determined that a previously unmapped type of wildfire in the Amazon rainforest is responsible for destroying several times more forest than has been lost through deforestation in recent years."

"In the southern Amazon rainforest, fires below the forest treetops, or 'understory fires,' have been hidden from view from NASA satellites that detect actively burning fires. The new method has now led to the first regional estimate of understory fire damages across the southern Amazon."
"A firefighter prepares to extinguish smoldering grass on May 28, 2013, in the hills north of Santa Barbara, California. Somehow, someway, this lonely tree found a way to duck and dodge the flames. The blaze, which is now 80 percent contained, has burned more than 1,800 acres since Monday, May 27. Last year, the U.S. experienced its third worst fire season ever, with 9.2 million acres burned. On average, wildfires now burn twice as much total land each year as they did 40 years ago, and the burn season is almost three months longer than in the 1970s."
"Men bathe in an industrial waste-foam polluted section of the Yamuna River, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India on May 24, 2013. The river, holy to Hindus, traverses various urban centers like Delhi, Mathura, and Agra. These highly-populated megalopolises draw fresh water from the river and, in turn, disgorge almost one hundred percent of their liquid waste into its  meandering coffers. The foam is most likely created when the fresh water mixes with phosphate and phosphorous, two ingredients found in industrial detergent. The photo is a stark reminder that, globally, 1.1 billion people don't have access to clean water."
"A woman stands on the lip of the Darvaza gas crater in Turkmenistan. Known as the Door to Hell, the hole is 20 meters deep and 60 meters wide. While the crater is fueled by natural gas preserves tucked away just beneath the surface—it's been on fire for the last 38 years—its origin is not natural. It exists as the result of a Soviet gas exploration accident that occurred in 1971."

"Pollution hovers over the eastern sector of Santiago, Chile, on July 30, 1999. The pollution hangs in striking contrast to the snowcapped Andes Mountains in the background. Local authorities have long battled high levels of pollution in the Chilean capital, home to 5.5 million people."

Desdemona featured a report on the pollution that results from the garment industry in Bangladesh, where the water turns purple or magenta from the dye, and children vomit in adjacent schools from the vapors.
I came across an egregious article that started red flags waving all over my kitchen.  This is research based on satellite data that proclaims the wondrous effect of rising levels of CO2, which is an increase in the "greening" of deserts.  Following is the news release:

"The image below is satellite data that shows the percent amount that foliage cover has changed around the world from 1982 to 2010. Note the biggest increases are in the arid regions of western North America, Africa and western Australia. Image courtesy of CSIRO."

"This process, also known as CO2 fertilization, occurs where elevated CO2 enables a leaf during photosynthesis, the process by which green plants convert sunlight into sugar, to extract more carbon from the air or lose less water to the air, or both, according to the CSIRO press release."

"The elevated CO2 causes individual leaves of a plant to use less water, thus plants in arid regions will respond by increasing their total number of leaves, according to the report."

Sounds terrific, right?  But what I wondered is, why are they trumpeting a "greening of the desert" without mentioning that all of those orange, red, and especially vast areas of yellow represent 0 to 20% or more of vegetative LOSS?  Shouldn't that be of concern?

Of course the ridiculous canard that CO2 is good for plants, so we shouldn't worry about climate change is an oft-repeated assertion of professional deniers, but this article pretends to prove it - and doesn't.  So, as is always a good idea when confronted with something that smells like complete bullshit, it's generally a good idea to check the source.  As it happens, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation is the national government body for scientific research in Australia, which sounds like impeccable credentials until you read their wikipage .

There you will discover that not only are there strong links between the CSIRO, its CEO and the Australian coal industry (gee, sounds just like the US and Canada!), they are a tool of industry -including Monsanto:  "Employing over 6,600 staff, CSIRO maintains more than 50 sites across Australia and biological control research stations in France and Mexico. The primary roles of CSIRO include contributing to meeting the objectives and responsibilities of the Australian Federal Government and providing new ways to benefit the Australian community and the economic and social performance of a number of industry sectors through research and development."

It wouldn't be the first time "reputable" scientists have given assistance to fossil fuel industries by claiming that plants are growing faster thanks to higher levels of CO2.  Several years ago, some scientists at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center published research (funded by HSBC) claiming just that.  Since their plot in Maryland was conveniently on the way home from a protest in Washington, I stopped by to have a look at the forest and discovered they were flat-out lying (but be warned, that's another long post!).

As yet another rebuttal to the CISCO study, someone left a link on Facebook to an indispensable gizmo which you may want to refer to from time to time - The Worldometers calculate statistics in real time, everything from births to emissions to creeping desertification.  It's great fun to watch the numbers whiz by.

Then again, the Disaster Report has a wonderful interactive map where you can mouse over an icon for more detailed information.  As so-called natural disasters proliferate, it will no doubt come in handy.
For instance, they have links to stories about power outages from falling trees - around the world!  This is from Typhoon Jelawat last fall in Japan - my, don't those rotting limbs and lichen look familiar:
More recently this month, storms in Australia knocked down many trees as well:
No doubt when such things happen, the following comes into play for most people...who thank God for sparing them when they survive the tornado/flood/landslide/wildfire but never wonder where God was when the storm started up in the first place:

"The just-world hypothesis (or just-world fallacy) is the cognitive bias that human actions eventually yield morally fair and fitting consequences, so that, ultimately, noble actions are duly rewarded and evil actions are duly punished. In other words, the just-world hypothesis is the tendency to attribute consequences to, or expect consequences as the result of, an unspecified power that restores moral balance; the fallacy is that this implies (often unintentionally) the existence of such a power in terms of some cosmic force of justice, desert, stability, or order in the universe."
Of all the barbaric things we do to the planet, this next may not be the most egregious, but originating as it does in a wealthy country with a highly educated citizenry, it has to be up there among the most obtuse and pigheaded policies.  As I mentioned in my last post, the UK has earmarked £1.1m for research into a deadly oak fungus causing acute decline, which is only one of many pathogens that are rendering just about every species of tree there onto the verge of obliteration, and has people from all walks of life perfectly frantic.  At the same time, they're planning to cut them down.  I can't think of a better example of the crazies.
From the Guardian UK - The Hermitage quarry has been allowed to extend into 32ha of the ancient woodland in Oaken Wood near Maidstone in Kent, 12 July 2013. 

Following is the article, with photos and captions taken from the Hands Off Our Land campaign - which is probably going to be about as successful in preserving the countryside as the anti-fracking and anti-Keystone XL campaigns in the US - in other words, utterly futile.

"The first major test of controversial planning reforms in England has led to the approval for a stone quarry to be excavated in 80 acres of ancient woodland in Kent, leading campaigners to declare 'no green space is safe'".
Oaken Wood in Maidstone is threatened by plans to expand a quarry into ancient woodland.
"The development of Oaken wood, near Maidstone, has been the subject of a fierce planning battle and Eric Pickles, secretary of state at the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG), granted final approval on Friday."

"The site hosts rare lady orchids, firecrests and nightingales and a wildlife survey found six bat species, 37 bird species, as well as lizards and important plants."
Hedley Hall Wood is looked after by the Woodland Trust, that is campaigning against the planning reforms.
"…In Pickles's letter granting permission for the new Oaken Wood quarry, he writes: 'The very considerable need for both crushed rock aggregates and dimension stone, together with the eventual biodiversity improvements, and the ongoing socioeconomic benefits, would clearly outweigh the loss of the ancient woodland and the other adverse effects of the development in this case.'"
Trevone in Cornwall is under threat from a housing development.
"Holden said: 'We are extremely concerned now that this outcome could define the level of protection given to ancient woods and indeed all irreplaceable habitats in all future planning decisions across England. With just 2% ancient woodland cover remaining, we can not afford to lose any more. Ancient woodland is irreplaceable and, as such, no mitigation exists for its loss.'"
The Cotswolds could be damaged by the building of a major new motorway service station on the M5.
These pictures of the idyllic countryside in the UK illuminate the thoughts I was trying to express to a blogger named Mark, who writes at Call of the Wilderness.  He observed quite astutely that it's always been foolish to waste the limited, precious time we have on this earth waiting...waiting...waiting for life to begin - in anticipation of the next material good that promises fulfillment, a stance which leaves us in perpetual, unsatisfied limbo.
The Missenden valley in Buckinghamshire is under threat from HighSpeed2.
But once consumerism is rejected and the reality of new term extinction emerges, such paralysis can convert into an upside-down quagmire as well - by compulsively tracking each worsening disaster as it occurs in the converging catastrophes that characterize our new era of economic decline, ecosystem crash, and violent weather.  By way of defense, a new facebook friend writes (only partially facetiously):  "I keep up with the news just to reassure myself that we will finish ourselves off in the not too distant future."  Besides in a way, knowing about what Paul Gilding designates "The Great Disruption" and I less optimistically call "The Great Convulsion" has grounded me in the quotidian more than I ever was in the past.  
The Wye Valley is under threat from a polytunnel development.
The other thing Mark pointed out is also valid to a certain extent - that grieving over the degraded condition of the ecosystem is misguided, because the conditions we grew up in would look abysmal to people who lived in the past...and to people in the future, what we have now will look splendid by comparison.
East Coker in Devon, immortalised in TS Eliot's poems, is under threat from development.
That assumes of course there will be people in the future.  Aside from that though, for me it glosses over the fundamental essence of what is substantively different now than anything that has occurred before.  To wit, nature is not merely changing, it is being murdered.  These scenes of pastoral views don't resemble anything like primeval wilderness and haven't for many hundreds of years.  And yet all that time they were alive.  The fields and coppiced hedgerows and paddocks and livestock were well tended and thriving, meadows were homes to certain species of butterflies and birds that only are found in mowed places. 
Kent Downs is threatened by the planned expansion of Lydd Airport.
Indubitably, there are some vestiges of life left – I still like to watch the birds at the feeder and walk by the sea, when I can get there – but it is all so paltry and depauperate from what it once was that it is more like wandering through a cemetery. Sure, there is still life – fungus and other decomposers breaking down the corpses. But…anything to celebrate?  Is it possible to love a decayed cadaver?
The Forest of Bowland is threatened by an onshore wind farm.
In my view what is occurring before our disbelieving eyes goes far, far beyond prior human interference with the biosphere such as agriculture or deforestation or overfishing or mining or building dams, heinous as those activities are.  It goes even beyond climate change (which will kill just about everything but hasn’t yet). It goes beyond the short-sighted introduction of invasive species disrupting the ancient harmony of ecosystems.
New energy generation capacity, both on-shore and off-shore, threaten the Suffolk coastline.
What bothers me about our contemporary predicament, and seems impossible to escape, is the poisoning. It was only a few years ago that I could plant flowers and have them thrive. The night sky in summer shimmered with fireflies and the pond water was clear, you could see the fish. Obviously small farms aren’t the same as virgin timberland, which never wholly recovers once clearcut...but even on farms there was abundant life that established its own rhythm and balance and relationships. The life was potent and verdant and powerful.
The development of 90 new homes threatens greenfield site Cranborne Chase, Wiltshire.
I can’t find that anymore, not around Wit's End in New Jersey, or in California or the Olympic Peninsula or Costa Rica. Everywhere I have looked (even in many of these photographs, look carefully at the valley in the next one), trees are wretched shadows of what they should be, and consequently everything that depends upon them – which is almost everything on land from soil microbes to owls to bats and moose – is suffering an excruciating and rapid decline as well. It’s inevitable that they will - and indescribably painful to witness.  There is no recuperation, no redemption.
A planning application has been made for three 80m high wind turbines near Nidderdale, Yorkshire Dales.
The exact same thing can be said for life in the ocean which if anything, is in an even faster death spiral.

It’s putrid, it’s vile, it’s tragic, and it’s all our fault. ALL our faults – not just privileged white men or capitalists or Mongols or Pharaohs or Nobel Savages. Anyone who ever took more from the earth than they returned shares some responsibility for the degradation of the biosphere - so that includes just about anyone who burned wood, let alone dug fossil fuels out of the ground.
A new incinerator plant proposed at Chieveley, with 85 metre high stacks, threatens the North Wessex Downs in Berkshire.
In the past we had species come and go even as humans drove some extinct or introduced invasives. But there were substitutions – other species expanded or replaced those we hunted into oblivion. Nature abhors a vacuum.

Now we have transcended Nature. Our pollution is creating dead zones - vacuums - and if anything does survive, it won’t be anything like the diversity that existed in the past. It’s a state shift, an incomparable loss, far more permanent compared to transitions in the past. It is barrenness, a loss of fecundity which is, for me, much more profoundly depressing than an alteration in species composition.

Next is a photo, not of England but Umbria, Italy - I suppose there are many places all over the world where such scenery can be found, places where homes cluster in a village surrounded by lush growth.  I do realize even those lifestyles don't represent true sustainability, because over time they have often been maintained by shipping out too many grown children to conquer other lands.  Still, I particularly like this view.  If I decided to take up oil painting again instead of writing this useless blog, it is the sort of landscape that would inspire me.

Embedded below is a uniquely delightful film, with lyrics to the closing song beneath.  It isn't long at all, but save it for some time when you can quietly appreciate its magic.  I don't want to spoil the plot, but I will say that a tree plays a brief, but pivotal, cameo role...and that although the movie and the song both are manifestly about two people saying goodbye to each other, without much of a stretch you could also look at it, as I do, as humanity's more subtle farewell to life on earth.

And the thing is, there isn't any good way to do that.

Hey That's No Way to Say Goodbye
~ Leonard Cohen

I loved you in the morning, our kisses deep and warm,
your hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm,
yes, many loved before us, I know that we are not new,
in city and in forest they smiled like me and you,
but now it's come to distances and both of us must try,
your eyes are soft with sorrow,
Hey, that's no way to say goodbye.

I'm not looking for another as I wander in my time,
walk me to the corner, our steps will always rhyme
you know my love goes with you as your love stays with me,
it's just the way it changes, like the shoreline and the sea,
but let's not talk of love or chains and things we can't untie,
your eyes are soft with sorrow,
Hey, that's no way to say goodbye.



  2. Love your site ,please do not feel it is for nothing ,you have been a human being that has helped opened my eyes to reality ,think of your self for those of us who read you as the red pill in the Matrix.

  3. Just received phone call from eldest son in Vancouver. From time to time, he calls to ask me how to continue to live with all the death around us. What can a mom say? Besides «I am sorry.» And it is true. I am so sorry and in pain, but I still feel that I have to be as courageous as I can towards the beings I directly brought into this mess. I try terribly hard. Dog bless me for my abortions!

  4. And so it is time for unmitigated grieving, sharing our grief verbally and in expressive art forms with others, holding on to each other and sobbing, and sucking every last drop of beauty out of everything around us yet leaving it alone, just as it wants to be. I revert to my friend Derrick Jensen: "We're fucked, and life is really, really good."

  5. Thanks Gail, I have noticed the trees. I have 16 acres of old woods in central Illinois. I wondered why so many dead and failing trees. Hickory's snapping in half halfway up the trunk, dropping blackened leaves in the middle of summer. Oaks struggling. I wondered if it was farm chemicals. Now I know, now I see them everywhere. Its better to know.

  6. Mark, I'm sure farm chemicals and herbicides are very bad and persistent - in particular the DuPont Imprelis which is now off the market. But it had very specific symptoms almost the opposite of ozone - ozone damage shows up on the oldest needles and leaves first, whereas Imprelis causes a very characteristic withering of the tips esp. of pines. Sometimes people will blame things like road salt or even acid rain, both of which are nasty too...but the damage is, when you look at the big picture, far too even. The middle of National Parks where there is no agriculture nearby are often the worst if they are downwind of power plants and cities. It's far too uniform to fundamentally be related to anything other than the composition of the air.


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