Tuesday, September 10, 2013

And Yet It Moves

Unless otherwise noted, the illustrations in this post are from one artist, named Pamela.  Her site not only merits visits for her artwork, but for her thoughtful writing as well.  Here she is, with one of her paintings:
Benjamin the Donkey, Limericist unparalleled, reminded me of the quote that serves as the title, And Yet it Moves - which is attributed to Gallileo.

“ And yet it moves (Italian: Eppur si muove; [ep’pur si ‘mwɔːve]) is a phrase said to have been uttered before the Inquisition by the Italian mathematician, physicist and philosopher Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) in 1633 after being forced to recant that the earth moves around the sun. In this context, the implication of the phrase is: despite this recantation, the Church's proclamations to the contrary, or any other conviction or doctrine of men, the Earth does, in fact, move around the sun, and not vice versa. As such, the phrase is used today as a sort of pithy retort implying that it doesn't matter what you believe; these are the facts.

The trees are, in fact, dying from pollution...since then that ‘pithy retort’ And Yet It Moves  has been popping into my mind several times a day when confronted with the obvious symptoms of their decline - and the ceaseless rote denial that it is occurring.
Last week I went to see Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen's new movie.  Like any real-life individual's tragedy, even if tawdry - or especially if tawdry - the downfall of the lead character can be taken as an allegory for the crash of our global society.  Most critics I saw portrayed the story as the very personal and emotional collapse of one woman, but to me the abject defeat of Cate Blanchett's character was less the inability to accept the loss of luxury and more a metaphor for the sordid despoliation of the natural world likewise based on lies contrived from the most vapid selfishness, replete with twists of bitter revenge.  At least one reviewer picked up on the reference to Madoff and the financial meltdown, even if they missed the deeper connection to the exploitation of the environment:

In case anyone is in doubt as to the purpose of Wit's End, I include my comment to an essay that was published in Australia's periodical, The Conversation, which featured this graph:

Existential risks to our planetary life-support systems

This is what I wrote:

I wouldn't quibble with the dangers of climate change - in fact, I think they are usually grotesquely underestimated because the models do not factor in the exponential speed of amplifying feedbacks. However, I think it's amusing that there is so much attention on climate change even in an article which features the nine boundaries study indicating that the disruption of the nitrogen cycle far exceeds any other category. 
The disruption of the nitrogen cycle is causing profound degradation to the ecosystem. One aspect generally ignored is the inexorably rising concentration of background tropospheric ozone, which is highly toxic to vegetation. Forests are in decline all over the world, a fact which is also not considered in climate models. Aside from the existential threat this constitutes on many other levels (the loss of habitat, nuts and fruits, shade and evapotranspiration, soil anchoring etc.) without vegetation absorbing CO2, climate change will vastly accelerate. 
The damage to trees and also annual agricultural crops from air pollution is being ignored at our peril.
“The human mind evolved to believe in gods... Acceptance of the supernatural conveyed a great advantage throughout prehistory, when the brain was evolving. Thus it is in sharp contrast to [science] which was developed as a product of the modern age and is not underwritten by genetic algorithms.”

~ E.O. Wilson

Our minds also evolved to be herd animals, for whom the worst threat is to be shunned and ostracized by the dominant group.  The inevitable culmination of our potent animal instincts is that we are unable to rein them in even as we recognize they are ultimately self-destructive.  Our over-riding concern with status and slavish desire to conform and fit in with the herd is combined with a pathetic willingness to follow a leader, however venal - as long as he displays confidence.  Like Reagan, or worse.

There is an obscure newspaper from Vancouver Island that has an entire section reserved in the top banner for the all-important “Fishing Maps”, which typically runs articles bearing vital information along the lines of “Proposal would expand parking at Thrifty’s” or reveals high crimes in the neighborhood such as “Thieves targeting bicycles, jogging strollers”.  Yet, in snuck a story of modest brevity with a title - Web of life unravelling, wildlife biologist says - which you would think might garner utter hysteria far and wide...but it would seem has only been shared by a few friends on facebook.  He looks, I'm not sure - perplexed?  dismayed?  catatonically shell-shocked into disbelief?

“Wildlife biologist Neil Dawe says he wouldn't be surprised if the generation after him witnesses the extinction of humanity.

“All around him, even in a place as beautiful as the Little Qualicum River estuary, his office for 30 years as a biologist for the Canadian Wildlife Service, he sees the unravelling of the web of life.’”

Its happening very quickly, he says.

“Indeed, in his 35 years of studying what is supposed to be a wildlife sanctuary, it has almost all changed, and it no longer supports the life it once did.

“It looks green and serene but to Dawe, Its a veritable desert here.’”

“The loss to the food web is a loss to the web of life, he says, and people are a huge part of that web.
‘Indeed, it's an overabundance of people, perhaps by five-fold, which is driving resource extraction and consumption beyond a sustainable planet, he says.

Economic growth is the biggest destroyer of the ecology, he says. "Those people who think you can have a growing economy and a healthy environment are wrong. "If we don't reduce our numbers, nature will do it for us.’”

“He isn't hopeful humans will rise to the challenge and save themselves.

Everything is worse and we're still doing the same things, he says. Because ecosystems are so resilient, they don't exact immediate punishment on the stupid.’”

A veritable desert?  It IS!  We are so busy mining, logging and burying every living thing under concrete, that hardly anybody notices.  If they do, and mention it, they are roundly ignored.

Just about everybody feels the need for hope, but if you're like me, next time somebody - oh, maybe Bill McKibben or Naomi Klein - trys to preach clean energy solutions to you, point them to the book, The Rise and Fall of the Carbon Civilization.  The authors, Dr. Patrick Moriarty and Dr. Damon Honnery, who have stellar credentials in engineering, nevertheless argue that “...technologists must always be ready to point out the limitations of technology, and that society must accept that fundamental changes to the way we live, and not new advances in science and innovation, are our best chance of avoiding environmental disaster.”

I would only add that fundamental changes in the way we live WAS our ONLY, not merely best chance...long since squandered.

Similarly, Ted Trainer from the University of New South Wales writes in Can Renewable Energy Sustain Consumer Societies?  A Negative Case:

“…The general conclusion supported by this discussion is that the capital costs for a totally renewable global energy supply would be far beyond affordable.  This means that greenhouse and energy problems cannot be solved by action on the supply side, i.e., by technical developments which promise to provide quantities taken for granted in energy-intensive societies.  This general limits to growth perspective is that these and the other major global problems can only be solved by action on the demand side, i.e., by moving to ways, values, institutions and systems which greatly reduce the need for materials, energy and ecological resources.

“…This analysis is not an argument against transition to full reliance on renewable energy sources.  It is only an argument against the possibility of sustaining high energy societies on them.  Trainer [113] and [114] detail the case that the limits to growth predicament cannot be solved by technical reforms to or within consumer-capitalist society and that there must be radical social transition to some kind of Simpler Way.  This vision includes developing mostly small and highly self-sufficient local economies, abandoning the growth economy, severely controlling market forces, shifting from representative to participatory democracy, and accepting frugal and cooperative lifestyles…Although at this point in time the prospects for making such a transition would seem to be highly unlikely, the need to consider it will probably become more evident as greenhouse and energy problems intensify.  It is not likely to be considered if the present dominant assumption that high energy societies can run on renewable energy remains relatively unchallenged.
Trainer’s life work is described in an essay on the pages of The Simplicity Institute website:

“For several decades Ted Trainer has been developing and refining an important theory of societal change, which he calls The Simpler Way.  His essential premise is that overconsumption in the most developed regions of the world is the root cause of our global predicament, and upon this premise he argues that a necessary part of any transition to a sustainable and just world involves those who are overconsuming accepting far more materially ‘simple’ lifestyles.  That is the radical implication of our global predicament which most people, including most environmentalists, seem unwilling to acknowledge or accept, but which Trainer does not shy away form and, indeed, which he follows thorough to its logical conclusion.  The Simpler Way is not about deprivation or sacrifice, however; it is about embracing what is sufficient to live well and creating social and economic systems on that basis.”

“…Given the extent of ecological overshoot, Trainer argues that there is no way to sufficiently decouple current economic activity from ecological impact in the tie available, which necessitates moving away from high impact, Western-style consumer lifestyles without delay.  While Trainer is unreservedly in favor of renewable energy, he presents an evidential case that renewable energy and other tech-fixes’ will never be able to sustain energy and resource intensive consumer societies.  This goes against the grain of mainstream environmental thinking which seems to assume that ecological sustainability can be achieved without giving up high consumption, energy-intensive lifestyles.”

“…Even the Transition and Permaculture Movements, which Trainer believes are the most promising eco-social movements at present, are subject to his sympathetic criticism for seemingly trying to build more resilient and sustainable communities within consumer capitalism, rather than focusing on the more radical project of replacing consumer capitalism.”
In a sweeping and fascinating meditation on the concept of Indifference to the Suffering of Others at Laetus in Praesens, (which translates as Joy in the Present...derived from Horace:  Laetus in praesens animus quod ultra est oderit curare et amara lento temperet risu. Nihil est ab omni parte beatum...“Joyful let the soul be in the present, let it disdain to trouble about what is beyond and temper bitterness with a laugh. Nothing is blessed forever.” ~ surely an excellent motto to live by!) I found this more modern quote:

“The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.

 ~ Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden, A Darwinian View of Life, 1996
So while we're on the subject of the (lack of) meaning to life, other than that which we so readily invent, following is an excerpt from THE SPIRIT IN THE GENE: Humanity's Proud Illusion and the Laws of Nature, by Reg Morrison and Lynn Margulis:

[page xiii-xv] “In the introduction to his book The Blind Watchmaker, the distinguished British evolutionist Richard Dawkins was even moved to complain: 'It is almost as if the human brain were specifically designed to misunderstand Darwinism, and find it hard to believe.' Our universal, and therefore genetic, need to see ourselves as separate from the rest of the animal world ensures that most of humanity will continue to be at least suspicious, if not thoroughly antagonistic, to Charles Darwin's heretical propositions. We conveniently contend that we alone of all earth's species are not normal animals, an extraordinary claim that demands extraordinary proof. And none exists.”

“Not the slightest scrap of hard evidence, either morphological or genetic, exists to suggest that Homo sapiens is not, like all other animals, a natural product of evolution. Therefore we, like they, are uncontaminated by supernatural influences, good, bad, or divine. We may well be excellent communicators and toolmakers, and tile most logical, self-aware, mystical, and malicious animals on earth, but overwhelming evidence shows that these distinctions are of degree, not of kind. The only irrefutable argument in favor of humanity's specialness is in fact purely mystical -- and entirely circular. Yet the myth lives on.”
“Is it not strange that our genetic makeup should allow, perhaps even prescribe, such naïveté? I will argue that our peculiar genetic heritage purposefully blinds us to reality to make us malleable and compliant to its demands, and that our habit of assigning ourselves an imaginary specialness is the mechanism that delivers us willingly into genetic servitude. Our purported spirituality is a consequence of 2 million years of painstaking Darwinian selection.”

“Having evolved as a cooperative species, Homo sapiens seems to have retained almost all of those mammalian characteristics we most admire-selfless devotion, compassion, courage, generosity, and wit -- to the point that one of the truly remarkable things about human beings is not how bad we can be but how good most of us are, most of the time -- even by animal standards. Unfortunately we take this goodness for granted and usually fail to note it. When we do, however, we assume it to be uniquely human, an expression of human spirituality. In fact, altruistic behavior is common throughout the animal world, and in other species it seems to be entirely free of tedious sermonizing and self-congratulation. They, like us, simply do what works best for their genetic line. To this end, many species mate for life; feed, protect, and educate their offspring with obsessive fervor; and willingly lay their lives on the line whenever family, tribe, or territory is threatened.”

“The attribution of human motives and emotions to animals used to be considered sloppy science. The underlying fear was that such thinking might erode some of the respect that we felt we were owed as a uniquely sentient and rational species. That particular academic taboo is less rigidly observed these days, yet in a perverse sense it remains entirely sound. Indeed, no animal displays human behavior. Quite the reverse. Humans display only animal behavior. Watch the action without the sound track and this truth becomes obvious.”
“I will therefore argue that our much-vaunted spirituality is a cultural illusion that became cemented into the foundations of early human society by our potent combination of language and imagination. Meanwhile the universality of our fascination with things mystic and spiritual displays its genetic origins as plainly as does our compulsion to communicate with one another. I also believe that our obsessive urge to imbue our existence with mystical meaning was once the Excalibur of our species, the invincible weapon that carried our branch of the hominid line from the brink of extinction to the conquest of the planet. Since mystical beliefs of various kinds have also played a primary role in the catastrophic growth of the human population, the final chapters of the book are devoted to exploring mysticism's present and future impact on our already bruised and destabilized environment.”

“We may not be able to hurl our troublesome Excalibur back into the gene pool from whence it came, but surely it is time we momentarily lowered that dazzling weapon, and for once, with unclouded eyes, saw ourselves for what we are in the only context that ultimately matters: the evolutionary context.”
Or, as posted by the webmaster at Laetus in Praesens, linked to above, If one does not understand how one is part of the problem, one cannot understand the nature of the solution required.

As it happens, glaciers have been melting in Europe since the middle of the 1800's because so much soot was deposited on them.  Although the background level ozone has only in the past decade or so reached a toxic level world-wide, it was quite likely affecting local vegetation long ago.  Peat burning was widespread in Ireland at the time of the potato famine, for example.  From ClimateNewsNetwork

Soot melted Alps glaciers, not heat

“The Alps of central Europe began melting many years before there was any influence from climate change. Scientists now say it was not rising temperatures that triggered the melt, but pollution.

“LONDON, 4 September - Scientists think they know why some European glaciers started to shrink decades before climate change had begun to raise temperatures.

“It wasn't warming that attacked the glaciers, they say in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was soot from industry, steam locomotives and domestic fires.

“Glaciologists have for years been puzzled by the sudden start in the middle of the 19th century of the retreat of the Alpine glaciers, which number around 4,000.

“They had survived in good condition from the 13th century throughout the fairly cool 500-year period called the Little Ice Age. They reached their greatest extent in the mid-1800s, about double what they are now.

“But even though it remained cool the glaciers suddenly began shrinking, leading scientists to believe that the Little Ice Age had ended around 1850.

“Average global temperatures, though, did not rise significantly - until the end of the 19th century. In fact, Alpine climate records - among the most extensive and reliable in the world  - suggest that the glaciers should have continued to grow for another 50 years or more, until about 1910.
Risk of dirty washing

“The scientists acknowledge that other parts of the world may also have been affected, but point out that the decline was well documented only in the Alps.

“However, soot is also a big concern in the Himalayas, at high altitudes in some regions bigger than temperature rises. The burgeoning economies of China and India contribute huge amounts.

“Something gnawed on the glaciers that climate records don’t capture,” said Georg Kaser, a glaciologist at the University of Innsbruck in Austria and a member of the team that identified black carbon, or soot, as the cause.

“A strong decline in winter snowfall was often assumed to be the culprit. But from all that we know, no such decline occurred.”

“Because darker surfaces absorb more heat than lighter, more reflective ones, if enough soot is deposited on snow and ice it can accelerate melting.

“Records suggest that by the mid-19th century the air in some Alpine valleys was laden with pollution. “Housewives in Innsbruck refrained from drying laundry outdoors,” says Kaser.
Gone by 2100?

“Scientists used to think soot was unlikely to have been carried high enough to start the glaciers melting, but they now appear to have been mistaken.

“When Kaser's team looked at ice cores previously drilled at two sites high in the western Alps - the Colle Gnifetti glacier saddle 4,455 m up on Monte Rosa near the Swiss–Italian border, and the Fiescherhorn glacier at 3,900 m in the Bernese Alps - they found that in around 1860 layers of glacial ice started to contain large amounts of soot.

The team measured the effect the soot would have had on glaciers at the time in terms of  equivalent changes in air temperature. They found that the melting effect of black carbon provided a good explanation of the observed glacier retreat.

“Andreas Vieli, a glaciologist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland (who was not involved in the study) said: “...[T]his study offers a very elegant and plausible explanation for the glacier conundrum. It appears that in central Europe soot prematurely stopped the Little Ice Age.”

“Only after around 1970, when air quality began to improve, did accelerated climate warming become the dominant driver of Alpine glacier retreat, Kaser says.

“He says that if glaciers in the region continue to melt at the rate seen during the past 30 years, there is a risk that nearly all of them will vanish before the end of the century.
In another measure of our insanity, The Globe and Mail ran an article deploring the increase is gas flaring:
“Flaring is on the rise in Canada, and also in the United States and other parts of the world, despite global efforts to cut back, given the negative impact on the environment and industry economics. 
The World Bank says there was a two-billion cubic metre (bcm) increase in flared gas in 2011 compared with a year earlier, to 140 bcm from 138, and urged that efforts be ramped up to reduce it. 
The United States, Russia, Kazakhstan and Venezuela were the biggest contributors to the increase, according to the GGFR. It said Russia was the world’s top flaring country, followed by Nigeria, Iran and Iraq. 
The United States came in fifth, driven by an increase from North Dakota where technology has led to new discoveries in shale oil and gas production. North Dakota’s Bakken shale fields are flaring nearly a third of natural gas drilled, according to a study released last month by Ceres, a non-profit group that works with investors on sustainability issues, including tracking the environmental record of public companies. 
The report says the gas being flared is valued at more than $100-million (U.S.) a month, and that flaring has more than doubled in the past two years. It said flaring in North Dakota emitted 4.5 million metric tones of carbon dioxide in 2012, or what it said was equivalent to the annual emissions of a million cars.

So it shouldn't be unexpected to detect a reduction in air quality out west.  One scientist and his team have been tracking the impacts on forests and I was thrilled to discover that I am not the only person who describes ozone as HIGHLY TOXIC to vegetation!  Thank you, Dr. Musselman!

“Preliminary data suggest that ozone concentrations increase with elevation.

“The levels of ozone in Colorado high elevation ecosystems are sometimes near levels that exceed the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (currently 80 ppb for 8 hrs, soon to be 75 ppb for 8 hrs).


Ozone is a pollutant that is highly toxic to vegetation. The amount of ozone in mountain 
ecosystems is largely unknown, because high elevation ecosystems do not have electric power necessary to operate ozone monitors.


“The monitoring of ozone in remote ecosystems is problematic since continuous ozone monitors need electric power to operate. Two solutions to this problem exist. The first is to use passive samplers to estimate ozone loading. Passive samplers utilize a chemical reaction of ozone with nitrite to form nitrate. The amount of nitrate indicates the amount of ozone loading. Nitrite-coated filters are exposed for 1-2 weeks and then analyzed for nitrate. The second method is to use portable battery powered ozone monitors for continuous monitoring.”

concentration at Ajax Mountain, Aspen, Colorado, 2007

Professor Musselman is currently working on a new project for 2012-13, which is described here:

Ozone Pollution Threatens Remote Forests

“Ozone (O3) is the most widespread air pollutant and is highly toxic to vegetation.  It can kill leaf tissue, reduce plant growth, and make plants more susceptible to other stresses such as drought. Ozone is an added threat in high elevation ecosystems where plants already struggle to survive. It can also impact humans by impairing lung function, and is particularly harmful to children, elderly, and those with breathing problems.

“Studies show that oil and gas development in the Rocky Mountains can increase O3 concentrations.  Drilling and pumping rigs that burn fossil fuels produce chemicals that can interact in the air to produce O3.

“Oil and gas wells in the western US are often in or near National Forests and sometimes near Class I wilderness areas where federal land managers are required by the Clean Air Act to protect Air Quality Related Values such as plants, animals, and soils from air pollutants. Yet, little is known about ambient O3 concentrations at many of these remote locations.

“The US Environmental Protection Agency has proposed strengthening the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for O3. New primary and secondary standard levels have been announced and are expected to be approved in early 2013.” [under the Obama administration these stricter standards are actually in rather permanent limbo]
“The EPA has concluded that the primary NAAQS based on an hourly average concentration and used to protect human health are inadequate to protect sensitive ecosystems. The EPA has proposed a new secondary standard that is targeted to protect non-urban and non-crop natural vegetation and ecosystems. The new rule specifically identifies “sensitive forest tree species” for protection and concludes that “This is especially important in the high elevation forests in the western U.S.”

“Station researchers are using a portable battery powered monitor to evaluate O3 at several high-elevation, remote locations in the Rocky Mountain West.

“Findings show:
• Significant year-to-year differences in O3 exist at each site
• Average 8-hr O3 concentrations have exceeded the current primary NAAQS of 75 ppb at several sites and the proposed 70 ppb at additional sites
• The three-month 12-hr W126 proposed secondary NAAQS of 13 ppb-hrs has been exceeded at several sites
• The 24-hr W126 values were often double those of 12-hr daylight values and were sometimes more than twice the value of the proposed standard at several sites, indicating persistent nighttime exposure of vegetation to O3
• O3 was generally highest in late spring, and at high altitude sites (>3000 m)
“Research findings will allow National Forests to determine O3 levels in remote areas where Air Quality Related Values are unknown, determine if O3 at these sites exceed the federal standard, and examine long-term changes in O3 in remote regions.

“Partners/Collaborators: US Forest Service Region 2, Ashley National Forest, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment - Air Resources Division, US Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service, The Wilderness Workshop, Air Resources Specialists.  Principal Investigator: Robert Musselman, Plant Physiologist, AWAE”
It's worth noting this story about the spread of mercury from power plants because it is indicative of how widely disbursed pollution can be, and highlights the trend for more, not less of it:

“As if you needed another reason to cringe at the number of coal-fired power plants operating on our fragile Earth, a new study published in Nature Geoscience links power plants in China and India to the ever-increasing mercury levels of fish in the Pacific Ocean.

“According to the Los Angeles Times, scientists from the University of Michigan and University of Hawaii traced the chemical “fingerprint” of mercury found in nine species of fish present in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, the largest ecosystem on the planet (also home of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch). They concluded that the mercury contamination originated from coal-fired power plant emissions in Asia.

“When mercury is emitted into the atmosphere from these power plants, winds carry it thousands of miles across the sea, where rainfall deposits it in the ocean water. While most of the mercury in shallow water is eliminated by sunlight-driven chemical processes, bacteria found in deep water converts mercury into monomethylmercury, a compound that collects in animal tissue and is highly toxic to humans. Deep water fish like tuna and swordfish, therefore, contain far higher levels of mercury in their systems.
“China and India have a staggering number of coal-powered plants, and Asia as a whole releases nearly 50 percent of global mercury emissions. According to the World Resources Institute, another 1,100 coal-fired plants are planned for construction around the globe, and 76 percent of those plants would be built in China and India.

“Mercury has been known to cause serious health problems in humans and animals. It was discovered to be dangerous in 1956, when over 2,000 people incurred mercury poisoning in Minamata, Japan, after a chemical company leaked huge levels of methylmercury into industrial wastewater. Cats displayed erratic behavior, birds fell from the sky, and fish carcasses floated on top of the surrounding waters. Residents began suffering convulsions, loss of motor and cognitive skills and death.

“While the epidemic was due to severe poisoning, today the FDA still warns of consuming too much mercury. Risks are particularly high for children and pregnant women, but anyone who consumes or absorbs too much is at risk of neurological and respiratory repercussions, among others.

“The study’s findings do not bode well for fish, fishermen or their customers. In Hawaii, the commercial fishing industry sees about a half-billion dollars in annual sales, supplies 11,000 jobs, and exports seafood all over the globe. The recreational fishing industry earns the state about another $700 million in sales. A recent study found that 84% of the world’s fish contain elevated levels of mercury, and the number will only rise. Power plants are popping up across the globe as third world nations develop. So who will blink first, seafood lovers or the coal power industry? Probably neither, so watch what you eat.

The National Resources Defense Council provides a sustainable seafood guide that breaks down mercury levels in commonly-consumed fish.

Below is copied most of the contents of a paper about the effect of ozone on annual crops.  It's not that long considering all it packs in, and for Ozonists and Ozonistas amounts to essential reading.  It includes a good overview of past research, as well as future projections.  There is an emphasis on the Asian region, not because the rest of the world is in better shape, but because it appears that impacts on crops there have been underestimated based on experiments and data from Europe and America.  Emphasis added to the really juicy parts.


~ Lisa Emberson, Stockholm Environment Institute, Environment Dept. University of York, U.K.

“Ground level ozone (O3) is the most important air pollutant causing damage to vegetation including crop yield and forest productivity losses and alterations to net primary productivity.
“A substantial body of experimental evidence exists describing the impacts of ground level O3 on important arable crops grown around the world. Much of this empirical data has been collected from co-ordinated filtration and fumigation chamber experimental studies in North America (North American Crop Loss Assessment Network, NCLAN; Heck et al. 1988) and Europe (European Open Top Chamber, EOTC; Jäger et al. 1998) which provided critical information about dose response relationships. More recently Free Air Concentration Enrichment (FACE) methods, which avoid the artefacts caused by enclosed chambers, have also been used to study the effects of increased O3 concentrations at about 25-50% above current ambient concentrations on soybean (e.g. Betzelberger et al. 2010), rice (Pang et al. 2009) and wheat (Zhu et al. 2011).”

“A number of reviews of the findings from this extensive body of empirical data have been collated. Mills et al. (2007) identified three groups of crops with differing sensitivities: O3 sensitive crops included wheat, water melon, pulses, cotton, turnip, tomato, onion, soybean and lettuce; moderately sensitive crops included sugar beet, potato, oilseed rape, tobacco, rice, maize, grape and broccoli and O3 resistant crops including barley and fruit represented by plum and strawberry. Feng et al. (2008) and Pleijel et al. (2011) performed a meta-analysis specifically for wheat, one of the most studied crops in relation to O3 response.
“Feng et al. (2008) found that elevated O3 (defined as mean concentrations of between 31 and 200 ppb) decreased wheat grain yield by 24–34% and aboveground biomass by 13–24% within a 95% confidence interval. Relative to clean air elevated O3 concentrations significantly decreased photosynthetic rates by 20%, Rubisco activity by 19%, stomatal conductance by 22%, and chlorophyll content by 40%. The impact of O3 increased with developmental stage, with the largest detrimental impact during grain filling.

“These findings were supported by an investigation of the differences between clean charcoal filtered air (which removes O3 concentrations) and non-filtered ambient air by Pleijel et al. (2011); this study found average yield improvements of 9% when average daytime O3 concentrations was reduced by filtration from 35 to 13 ppb.

“Finally, a meta-analysis of staple crops grown in Asia by Emberson et al. (2009) found that at ambient O3 concentrations of between 35–75 ppb 4–8 h growing season means, yield losses for wheat, rice and legumes range between 5–48, 3–47 and 10–65%, respectively. Importantly, these results indicated that Asian grown wheat and rice cultivars are more sensitive to O3 than dose–response (DRs) relationships derived from NCLAN experiments in North America would suggest.”

Regional and global assessments of O3 risk to arable agriculture

“The advantage of co-ordinated studies such as those conducted by the NCLAN and EOTC programmes is that results can be pooled to derive DRs; this allows the use of empirical data to estimate regional and global crop yield losses, both under current and projected future O3 climates. Current estimates for global crop yield losses determined by combining DRs with global chemistry transport models that predict hourly O3 concentrations over the globe predict current yield losses ranging from 2% to 6% for maize, 4% to 15% for wheat, 6% to 16% for soybean, and 3% to 4% for rice, and represent economic losses of $14 to $26 billion.
How might these risks translate into issues for food security?

“Translating these yield losses into crop production losses identified the Asian region, and particularly in the agriculturally important Indo-Gangetic Plain, as being particularly vulnerable to the threat posed by ground level O3. This is in part due to the rapid industrialisation and subsequent increases in O3 precursor emissions that have occurred over recent decades in this region, as well as the socioeconomic systems which affect food accessibility. The O3 induced damage to crops is expected to offset a significant portion of the GDP growth rate, especially in countries with an economy based on agricultural production such as those that dominate the South Asian region.

“How these affects play out to alter food security may depend on how O3 induced supply changes affect consumer and producer-crop price with implications for agricultural livelihoods and consumer accessibility to nutritionally important foodstuffs. It is also possible that the increasing levels of O3 seen in this South Asian region may be an additional factor in the deceleration in the growth of crop yields which has become evident in recent years (Emberson et al. 2009). The threat posed by O3 could have important implications for sustainable agriculture in the region given pressures on cultivated land area e.g. from expansion of crops for bio-energy production, and on agricultural supply given increasing demand from the rapidly expanding Asian population.

In summary there is a large body of empirical data consistently reporting substantial yield losses to staple crops under current O3 concentrations across many parts of the world. Comparing current day estimated crop yield losses in the particularly vulnerable South Asian region due to O3 (commonly ranging between 5-35 %) with those forecast to occur by the end of this century due to climate change (up to 30%, Cruz et al., 2007) suggests that the impacts of O3 may in fact be a more immediate threat to agricultural productivity than climate change in the South Asian region.

“However, these aspects of O3 in relation to food security only deal with O3 induced changes in the supply of crop commodities. There is evidence to show that O3 can also affect crop quality caused by induced physiological stress that can alter the chemical composition of crops and thereby the quality of harvested products (Wang & Frei, 2011).
Ozone has been found to affect proteins, lipids, phenolic compounds and decrease the feed value for ruminant herbivores. For example, the meta-analysis of Feng et al., (2008) showed that elevated O3 increased grain protein concentration on average by 6.8% but decreased protein yield (the absolute amount of protein produced) by 18%. This increase in grain protein concentration is explained by an O3 induced reduction in plant matter causing nitrogen to be more concentrated. A study by Pikki et al. (2008) also found that elevated CO2, which causes in increase in plant biomass, has the opposite effect to O3 i.e. decreasing protein concentration. However, changes in protein concentration due to O3 were not simply offset by CO2.

“Most recently, a more comprehensive meta-analysis for wheat by Pleijel & Uddling (2011) found a change in grain yield of 10% by O3 was associated with a change in grain protein of 8.1% whereas a change in yield effect of 10% by CO2 was linked to a change in grain protein yield effect of 7.5%, it was also found that the change in grain protein under CO2 also occurred in the absence of effects on grain yield suggesting the existence of a process whereby CO2 restricts grain protein concentration.

“Further work is necessary to explore such effects of CO2 and O3 acting on crop quality especially given that these pollutants are likely to both increase in concentration in the future with implications of food security.

“There is also strong evidence for negative effects of O3 on fodder production; primarily such changes are due to a shift in plant species composition with a number of studies showing that legume fractions of productive pastures are reduced by elevated O3 (Fuhrer, 2009), such effects would impair the nutritive quality of grasslands for livestock. In North America, studies have found a variety of impacts on nutritive quality most commonly assessed in terms of altered concentrations of protein and /or cell-wall constituents such as lignin (e.g. Muntifering et al. 2006). From such assessments, the forage value of species and communities can be derived using indices such as relative food value (RFV; Muntifering et al., 2006) and consumable food value (CFV; cf. Krupa et al., 2004).  These show that O3 can reduce digestibility and nutritive food value.
O3 is one of a number of multiple stresses which will interact to cause damage.

“Ozone is unlikely to be the only stress that plants experience during their growth and development, especially given that O3 formation occurs in polluted regions and forms during periods of hot, dry sunny weather. Empirical data have shown that plant response to O3 is modified under other aspects of environmental change that stress plant systems, including other pollutants, atmospheric CO2 concentration, temperature, precipitation (or soil moisture availability).  Some of these interactions are considered below.

O3 and water stress

“It is generally considered that sensitivity to elevated O3 under drought conditions would be decreased as limited water availability would reduce stomatal conductance and hence O3 uptake. However, there is emerging evidence that the relationship between drought and O3 sensitivity may be more complicated with the loss of stomatal control under elevated O3 both enhancing O3 uptake as well as causing greater water loss under drought conditions. Recently, it has been suggested that ethylene, up-regulated by exposure to O3 stress, may reduce stomatal sensitivity to ABA (a plant hormone produced in response to soil drying that causes stomatal closure). Further studies to understand how O3 affects this type of hormonal signalling in response to environmental changes may help to develop new methods of protecting crops from the current and increasing threat of O3 exposure and water scarcity.
O3 and CO2

“The interactive effects of O3 and atmospheric CO2 concentration on plants have received much attention, although understanding is far from complete. Increased atmospheric CO2 concentration reduces stomatal conductance, which subsequently decreases O3 flux into plants. A recent modeling analysis concluded that despite substantially increased future O3 concentrations in central and southern Europe, the flux-based risk of O3 damage to vegetation was unchanged or decreased at sites across Europe, mainly as a result of projected reductions in stomatal conductance under rising CO2. Such reductions in O3 uptake would also lead to increased atmospheric O3 concentration in the boundary layer; in fact a doubling of CO2 concentrations was estimated to increase O3 concentrations over parts of Europe, Asia and the Americas by 4-8 ppb during the crop growing season.

“However, the relationship between stomatal conductance and CO2 concentration may prove to be more complex than often assumed. For example, at the leaf level, elevated CO2 concentrations largely protected soybean from elevated O3concentrations; however, elevated CO2 concentrations may not always protect plants from changes in senescence and allocation caused by elevated O3.

“Further complexity is added when the multiple effects of a number of stresses acting together are considered, for example, O3 can induce losses of net assimilation caused by decreased leaf-level photosynthetic rates and significant decreases in leaf area as commonly found in experimental fumigation studies conducted in the field on soybean, rice and wheat crops. Additionally, in soybean, the coupling of lower stomatal conductance and reduced leaf area index at elevated O3 concentration resulted in an average 10% decrease in canopy evapotranspiration, which has implications for the terrestrial hydrological cycle.
“A further complicating stress interaction is that as climate changes so can the incidence and distribution of pests and diseases. Studies have also shown that O3 can mediate such impacts, either by causing toxicity to the secondary stress or by affecting the abundance and quality of the host plant.  Therefore interactions between climate and O3 on the prevalence of such secondary stresses should also be considered. Rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations may increase plant productivity at the expense of foliar N concentrations and may increase production of C based allelochemicals, both reducing the quality of the host plant.

Unfortunately, data for specific pest, disease and plant species competition interactions are often controversial, complicating efforts to project parasite-host interactions under future environmental change.

What is the future outlook?

Worryingly, projections for future O3 precursor emissions suggest that at least over the next few decades O3 concentrations are likely to increase, especially across parts of South and East Asia; the extent of these changes will be strongly dependant on global and regional O3 precursor emission pathways. There are options to adapt to O3 impacts by the introduction of O3 resistant varieties. However, there is little evidence that crop breeding programmes are producing new strains that are any less sensitive to O3; in fact of the few studies that have investigated O3 sensitivity of more recently introduced varieties, the evidence is that breeding may inadvertently be producing varieties that are actually more susceptible to O3 since the tendency is to enhance gas exchange to increase photosynthesis and yields; this also inadvertently increases the stomatal O3 dose.”
“Adaptation options could also include shifting crop calendars through changing sowing dates, 
applying irrigation and using crop varieties with different growth cycles. Shifting crop  calendars can reduce regional O3 damage for specific crop-location combinations (e.g. up to  25% for rain-fed soybean in India) but has little effect at the global level.”

“Given the fact that elevated O3 concentrations also contribute to damage to other ecosystems (forests and non-productive grasslands); impact human health and enhance radiative forcing thereby causing climate change, options to mitigate O3 pollution by controlling O3 precursors would seem to be the most effective policy option. The gathering of evidence describing the  magnitude and geographical extent of O3 and related stresses on agriculture and food security, especially across Asia, may be seen as providing important scientific evidence that would encourage policy makers to take such mitigation action.”

A 2011 report from the Working Group of Effects of the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution incorporates the work of Lisa Emberson along with much else, and bears a title that begs the question:  WHY is the threat of ozone pollution hidden?

Does this look anything like the produce in your grocery store or garden?
Ozone damage to lettuce on a commercial farm in Greece (a) hydroponically-grown indoor crop and (b) outdoor crop.
It's important to remember three things when reading about such visible injury to annual crops:  1.  Damage to the plant occurs BEFORE symptoms are visible to leaves and 2.  damage is CUMULATIVE to perennial plants and especially trees and 3.  vegetation that absorbs ozone is more likely to suffer biotic attacks.  There is nothing in these reports of crop losses, significant as they are, to indicate they are also quantifying indirect losses attributed to insects, disease and fungus which would greatly exceed direct losses to root growth, drought tolerance, yield and quality, because of pollution.

p. 59:  “Least investigated are the secondary effects of ozone on food and feed quality through changes in the incidence of viral, bacterial and fungal diseases and the impact of insect pests that may occur as a consequence of changes in plant chemistry and leaf surface characteristics.”

Fig. 8.5 - 
The results of this risk evaluation study applied to the local scale clearly show a high risk for potential yield losses during the last 15 years in Central Europe.
p. 78:  “Ozone impacts on crop production may be currently being misdiagnosed by farmers, with additional fertilizers and pesticides being used to try to compensate for lack of vigour or early crop dieback, leading to added farm costs and environmental impacts. Some studies have shown that ozone can render some species more susceptible to insect and fungal attack and there is a growing body of evidence that ozone reduces drought tolerance in crops as well as other plant species.”

With that in mind - farmers are misdiagnosing and using additional chemicals to compensate - it makes me borderline crazy to continually read about crop failures that are being blamed on weather.  Orange juice is going to become nothing but a memory, and it becomes easier to understand why growers are loading up their orchards and fields with pesticides, killing millions of pollinators.  Would it make any difference if they realized that pollution underlies the decline of their crops?  Probably not.  Because no one is about to shut down industrial civilization, which is what would be required to even make a dent in it.

The most recent story of threatened crops - which can be added to coffee, citrus, wheat, cassava and many other staples - is tea.
Guwahati, India - He sniffs, slurps his tea, swirls and spits a jet of orangish liquid into the tumbler.
"Malty, hard," says Parag Hatibaruah, a professional tea-taster. "But not as strong, brisk and creamy as it was once," he adds, shaking his head dismissively. Rows of teacups and packs of dried leaves are lined up neatly in the well-lit tasting room.
Assam tea used to be more pungent and full-bodied and looked like tomato soup, he says, but the unwelcome transformation started 10 years ago. "Even the sheen of tea leaves is lost."
Seriously - the sheen is lost.  That's not from weather or climate, that is from pollution which eats away at the protective waxy coating on leaves and encourages insects and fungus to attack.  Duh!

Remember the conclusion that nutrition in fodder is decreased for ruminants?  I have yet to see a scientist even consider that factor as they are confounded by the “mysterious” decline in moose.
While you watch the video below Where Have All The Moose Gone, notice that almost every shot includes dead trees.
Why are the moose malnourished?
Could it be that the amount and quality of forage is reduced from ozone?
Poor Moose!!!!! (If it doesn't play properly, you can watch it at NBC).  Also, this just in - returning students at Yale have noticed the squirrels are gone.  Some blame it on a blizzard, which is absurd - snow used to be much, much deeper!

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Lately I have been reading up on Leonardo da Vinci, one of the rarest of individuals for whom the word genius was invented, so I wanted to post some of what I found, with a few of his drawings.  I already knew that he possessed an artistic and mathematical fascination for trees.  Recently I discovered that in his later life he became quite the doomer, in a remarkable transformation described at an entry at h2g2, which is a literary salon type of site founded in 1999 by Douglas Adams, author of Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
detail of hands from Virgin of the Rocks, 1483
“Leonardo da Vinci is regarded today as one of the greatest thinkers, painters, scientists, inventors, anatomists, and authors of his time. A Universal Genius, if you will. His paintings are still displayed today in world famous art museums, his drawings have set the basis for many modern day machines; his work on anatomy and the human body was years ahead of its time; and his once ridiculed philosophies are now globally accepted as mainstream works. All of this is good and well, but there was another part of Leonardo’s belief system that few had ventured into: The fact that he was secretly plotting against mankind itself. Leonardo believed that mankind was, and had been destroying nature, and that it had to be punished for its crimes. After this revelation, he then concentrated the majority of his life’s work on one, finding an element of nature with which to punish them, and two, prophesying the downfall of mankind.
Peter Paul Ruben's copy of a section of Leonardo's lost painting, the brutal Battle of Anghiari
Because of this the great forests will be deprived of their trees and an infinity of animals will lose their lives: of metals. (Qtd. In Ladislao 287). Here Leonardo provided us with a glimpse into his mind, displaying his disdain of the human race’s industrial passion, and with that passion, their disregard for the works of nature. This was just the first of Leonardo’s many complaints about humanity, and as he aged, his dark view of mankind and his general pessimism towards mankind only deepened further. (Wallace 170)
from Leonardo's notebooks, the drawing above and two quotes, below 
“Creatures shall be seen upon the earth who will always be fighting one with another, with very great losses and frequent deaths on either side.  These shall set no bounds to their malice; by their fierce limbs a great number of the trees in the immense forests of the world shall be laid level with the ground; and when they have crammed themselves with food, it shall gratify their desire to deal out death, affliction, labors, terrors, and banishment to every living thing.

“And by reason of their boundless pride, they shall wish to rise towards heaven, but the excessive weight of their limbs shall hold them down.  There shall be nothing remaining on the earth or under the earth or in the waters that shall not be pursued, carried away, or destroyed, and that which is in one country shall be taken away to another; and their own bodies shall be made the tomb and the means of transit of all the living bodies which they have slain.  O Earth!  What delays thee to open and hurl them headlong into the deep fissures of thy huge abysses and caverns, and no longer to display in the sight of heaven so savage and ruthless a monster?

Upon the discovery of long-lost manuscripts in Madrid 1966, several studies were published in 1974’s October edition of the UNESCO journal Courier.

One of them, by Eugenio Garin, Leonardo and the strife-ridden Renaissance, gives a fascinating overview of his accomplishments and motivations, in particular original position, that Nature is to be vanquished and exploited for the purposes of man.  Excerpts follow:

“…The legend surrounding Leonardo, as an expression of his own time and a model for all ages, began to take shape almost with Leonardo's death.”
“Its outlines are eloquently drawn by Giorgio Vasari in the first edition of his Lives of the Painters, published in 1550, only thirty years after Leonardo died.”

“Vasari’s Leonardo was a man fascinated by science, a passionate enquirer into the mysteries of science and nature, a man driven by the curiosity of a magician or an astrologer.”

“‘His capricious research led him to natural philosophy,’ Vasari wrote, ‘to study the properties of herbs and to observe the movements of the heavens, the moon's orbit and the progress of
the sun.’” 

“And in this first edition of his Lives, Vasari also added: ‘He developed such a heretical stance that he lost interest in religion of any sort, perhaps more interested in being a philosopher than a Christian.’”
one of many studies of the flow of water
“...For Vasari, Leonardo had been the incarnation of the Ideal man as delineated by the philosophical discussion group centred on Lorenzo de Medici.”

“‘The heavens often rain down the richest gifts on human beings naturally,’ Vasari wrote, ‘but sometimes with lavish abundance bestow upon a single individual beauty, grace and ability, so that, whatever he does, every action is so divine that he out¬distances all other men, and clearly displays how his genius is the gift of God and not an acquirement of human art. Men saw this in Leonardo da Vinci.’”

“The basic premise underlying all Leonardo's work is that the artist, and above all the painter (which is how Leonardo primarily thought of himself), must understand every object he depicts if he is to be worthy of his art, since his task is to represent reality in all its facets.  In other words, he must know the whole world around him: its Innermost secrets, its fundamental laws, its origins and causes.  If we fail to understand this essential fact about Leonardo then we risk missing the point of his life's work.”
“Leonardo himself was perfectly clear on this point. He declared that the painter should be a ‘universal master’, capable of ‘imitating’ through art ‘all the different shapes which are produced by nature.’  The artist must ‘first have a mental picture’ of every form. He must know the reasons for everything. He must use his intellect to master the brute force of the elements, and he must learn how to construct all kinds of machines and devices which will enable him to reproduce reality and triumph over it.”

“‘The painter,’ Leonardo proclaims, ‘is, in conflict and competition with Nature; he is the Lord and Master of Nature.”

“…If an artist wants to render all the possible effects of light, Leonardo reasoned, then he should learn what light actually is, study light rays and the laws governing their diffusion, the structure of the eye and the characteristics, of sight. Before undertaking to carve the human form, an artist should have long practice in the dissection of dead bodies. He should be an expert in anatomy, have a good knowledge of muscular movement, and the whole process of movement in a living body.”

“Similarly, to paint the macrocosm that is, the world around us the artist must study the anatomy of the universe, scrutinize its subtlest fibres and examine its every movement and manifestation.”

“Leonardo's notebooks are the extraordinary fragments of this great new-type encyclopaedia, based not on texts or scholastic disputes, nor indeed on superficial experiments, but instead on studies in depth into the unknown, using calculations, measurements, laws and elementary forms which then make it possible to work back to the surface of things, to phenomena which we can understand and thereby dominate, transform and mould to our needs.”
“…Light, motion and life these are the fabric and structure of the universe.  We see that the chapters of the encyclopaedia fall naturally into place with sections on optics, mechanics, hydraulics, anatomy, biology, physiology and cosmology. Then come the machines which enable man to rival Nature. And finally we have the crown and summit of It all, the science of painting, which Leonardo saw as fundamental and basic to the whole work.  For through art, according to Leonardo, a new world is created inside the world. This is the world of man the ‘creator’ and poet, a world which triumphs over the existing world.”
“...The extraordinary synthesis achieved by Leonardo reached its culmination, as we have pointed out earlier, in ‘painting’, which for him, was charged with very special meanings. Leonardo saw the work of the painter as dominating the process of human knowledge. It was the ultimate goal of scientific enquiry and the starting point of creative endeavour. Creativity and scientific research are not two separate activities but part of the same circular process with the artist standing at the critical juncture. He is the meeting point between knowledge and action. More precisely, where knowledge is transformed into creation.”

“It is no accident if Leonardo extols the painter for he always attributes special importance to the eye and the act of visual perception, as well as anything having to do with the world of images.”
“Leonardo always tended to express his ideas in visual terms: ‘The painter,’ he wrote, ‘should resemble a mirror.’ He should welcome ‘the multiplicity of things,’ not just their external forms, but also their inner properties and essence, and their elementary geometric patterns, which stand at the roots of perceptual experience and allow us to understand it.”

“Hence the primacy of mathematics over the evidence of the senses: ‘no human enquiry can properly be called science unless it passes by way of mathematical reasoning,’ said Leonardo. Hence too the ‘philosophical’ importance of painting: ‘Anyone who feels contempt for painting has no real affection for philosophy . . . Painting itself is philosophy because it captures the movement of bodies through space in their full spontaneity. And philosophy does exactly the same thing ...’”

“These two aspects of human activity, knowledge and action, ‘seeing’ and ‘creating’, cannot, therefore, be separated. The circular process science-engineering-art and seeing-doing is a single unique activity.”

“For Leonardo, the invention an construction of machines underscore a number of important considerations: (1) that technology and science are inseparable, the two being linked by the ‘mathematical’ structure of all things; (2) that the skeletal framework of physical objects can be reduced to a mechanical model; (3) that there is a fundamental connexion between mechanics and real life; (4) that research into models based on visual observation shows that ‘the eye is the least fallible of all the human senses.’”
Leonardo da Vinci
“From all this we can clearly see the perfect unity that existed in Leonardo’s encyclopaedia, in which it is absurd to separate science, technology and art. Vasari's mistake was to break, or rather misunderstand, the close link between these three domains, with the result that he failed to see the real significance of the work, and finally concluded that it was an example of Leonardo's madness and incoherence.”

“‘He perpetrated many such follies,’ Vasari wrote, ‘he studied mirrors and made curious experiments to find oil for painting . . . His knowledge of art, indeed, prevented him from finishing many things which he had begun, for he felt that his hand would be unable to realize the perfect creations of his imagination, as his mind formed such difficult, subtle and marvellous conceptions that his hands, skilful as they were, could never have expressed them ...’”

“…Vasari referred to these activities of Leonardo as ‘caprices’. But in reality they were part of an unending search for the unifying factor in human experience, for a meaning of the created universe, for man's place in the world.  Here was the restless beginning of a new era, a new way of understanding art and science.”
“Each of Leonardos thousands of manuscript pages, with their awesome entwining of fragments of minutely detailed prose and delicately refined illustrations, strange machines and precisely sketched anatomy, not only symbolizes man's perennial dreams and aspirations but also expresses a totally new way of considering man's task on earth as an endless search to master the transient stuff of reality.”

“…All of Leonardo's ‘caprices’ are justified by an awareness that man and his works are fragile. And here perhaps is the sign, and the secret, of Leonardo's relevance for all of us today: the fact that he understood and expressed with superlative skill the enigmatic insecurity of man and the mystery of his destiny and condition, at a time when unforeseen and unforeseeable possibilities were opening up in art and science.”

The following is taken directly from Leonardo's text:
“(Of the Cruelty of Man.)
Animals will be seen on the earth who will always be fighting against each other with the greatest loss and frequent deaths on each side. And there will be no end to their malignity; by their strong limbs we shall see a great portion of the trees of the vast forests laid low throughout the universe; and, when they are filled with food the satisfaction of their desires will be to deal death and grief and labour and wars and fury to every living thing; and from their immoderate pride they will desire to rise towards heaven, but the too great weight of their limbs will keep them down. Nothing will remain on earth, or under the earth or in the waters which will not be persecuted, disturbed and spoiled, and those of one country removed into another. And their bodies will become the sepulture and means of transit of all they have killed.
O Earth! why dost thou not open and engulf them in the fissures of thy vast abyss and caverns, and no longer display in the sight of heaven such a cruel and horrible monster.
From Leonardo's long list of foreboding PROPHECIES I have copied some of my favorites, posted here with a few of his drawings of deluges.  Both his Prophesies and his drawings are remarkable first, because they so accurately predict the violent extreme weather brought upon us by climate change and also, because they remind us that many eras have had their Cassandras.  It makes perfect sense because you have only to step outside the prevalent group-think (admittedly attempted by very few) to see that human society is not, and has never been, ultimately sustainable...at least, not since we started fooling around with fire.

The deluge series is described at the UK Royal Collection:

“A cataclysmic storm was one of Leonardo's favourite subjects during the last decade of his life, in both his drawings and his writings. These were in principle studies towards his never-completed Treatise on Painting, but the obsessiveness with which he approached the subject reveals a deep-seated fascination with destruction. There exist several long passages in which he describes with relish a huge storm overwhelming a landscape, and the futile struggles of man and animal against the forces of nature:

'Let there be represented the summit of a rugged mountain with valleys surrounding its base, and on its sides let the surface of the soil be seen to slide, together with the small roots of the bushes, denuding great portions of the surrounding rocks ... and let the mountains as they are laid bare reveal the deep fissures made in them by ancient earthquakes ... And into the depth of some valley may have fallen the fragments of a mountain, forming a shore to the swollen waters of its river, which, having already burst its banks, will rush on in monstrous waves; and the greatest will strike upon and destroy the walls of the cities and farmhouses in the valley.”
There will be many which will increase in their destruction.

There will be many who, forgetting their existence and their name, will lie as dead on the spoils of other dead creatures.

The East will be seen to rush to the West and the South to the North in confusion round and about the universe, with great noise and trembling or fury.

A great part of the sea will fly towards heaven and for a long time will not return. (That is, in Clouds.)

Those who give light for divine service will be destroyed.(The Bees which make the Wax for Candles)

Dead things will come from underground and by their fierce movements will send numberless human beings out of the world. (Iron, which comes from under ground is dead but the Weapons are made of it which kill so many Men.)
The greatest mountains, even those which are remote from the sea shore, will drive the sea from its place.
(This is by Rivers which carry the Earth they wash away from the
Mountains and bear it to the Sea-shore; and where the Earth comes the sea must retire.)

The great rocks of the mountains will throw out fire; so that they will burn the timber of many vast forests, and many beasts both wild and tame.

(The Flint in the Tinder-box which makes a Fire that consumes all the loads of Wood of which the Forests are despoiled and with this the flesh of Beasts is cooked.)
Oh! how many great buildings will be ruined by reason of Fire.

(The Fire of great Guns.)

The Lion tribe will be seen tearing open the earth with their clawed paws and in the caves thus made, burying themselves together with the other animals that are beneath them.

Animals will come forth from the earth in gloomy vesture, which will attack the human species with astonishing assaults, and which by their ferocious bites will make confusion of blood among those they devour.

Again the air will be filled with a mischievous winged race which will assail men and beasts and feed upon them with much noise - filling themselves with scarlet blood.

Plants will be seen left without leaves, and the rivers standing still in their channels.

The largest trees of the forest will be seen carried by the fury of the winds from East to West. (That is across the Sea.)
Men will come out their graves turned into flying creatures; and
they will attack other men, taking their food from their very hand or table. (As Flies.)

Many will there be who, flaying their mother, will tear the skin
from her back. (Husbandmen tilling the Earth.)

The works of men's hands will occasion their death. (Swords and Spears.)

Men out of fear will cling to the thing they most fear. (That is they will be miserable lest they should fall into misery.)

The Forests will bring forth young which will be the cause of their death. (The handle of the hatchet.)

Men will deal bitter blows to that which is the cause of their life.
(In thrashing Grain.)
The dead will be seen carrying the living (in Carts and Ships in various places.)

How many will there be who, after they are dead, will putrefy inside their own houses, filling all the surrounding air with a fetid smell.

Innumerable lives will be destroyed and innumerable vacant spaces will be made on the earth.

Men will take pleasure in seeing their own work destroyed and injured.
As with everything else remotely subversive, the corporate-owned media has usurped the profound questions raised so long ago by Leonardo's transformation, and made a popularized bowdlerized television melodrama just last spring - I might have known!


  1. Oh Gail, your posts get better each time. This one is a great description and depiction of mankind as ruthless monster, despite our vaunted self-images and because of our oblivious attitudes. Thanks for another great post.



  3. Just on the subject of dying trees:


  4. Thanks PinkPearl! That link didn't work for me but this one does:


    (I'll put it in the next post)


  5. Brilliant as usual. On a related note, I have felt for some time that the only thing that the paper version of The New York Times is fit for is lining birdcages. (I use the online version because the reader comments are often more interesting and true than the stories.) Anyway, last week the paper had a first-page story saying that the Federal gov't was nearing or had reached a consensus that sea levels would rise by three feet. I remember very well that at least a year and a half ago, the same paper reported that the Federal gov't had issued an edict to every city, town and municipality in this country that has a public transportation system to *immediately* start reconstructing them to withstand 3-foot increases in sea levels. I think it was shortly after Hurricane Irene. A little scary that the newspaper of record doesn't consult its own archives but this is hardly the first time. PS (You may already know that Naomi Klein, is, I believe, about to come out with a book on global warming). PPS (Thank you for the California post, those photographs were so telling and so heart-breaking. I no longer enjoy hiking or biking in the country or going to the beach, it just depresses me beyond words. I envy your resilience.)

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. Have you been following the controversy about Klein and Joe Romm among others? So much posturing if you ask me because Klein is as vested in the status quo as anyone. See: http://wrongkindofgreen.org/2013/09/06/yes-logo-the-mckibben-klein-doctrine/ and

  8. Gail, thank you for this.. a great post.

    I think because you honor the most current science - and so your comment and emotional reactions are authentic.

    Unlike Joe and Naomi.. who both seem stuck in the recent past - in a time when much could be done and opportunity and hope was everywhere.

    Images are great.

  9. Another awesome post Gail! I'm still reading through it but bringing in Richard Dawkins! Awesome...A new school year starts and 7th graders must learn about the world and how it works! Thank you for your true (yet scary) viewpoints!!!! MY kids need to know!


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