Thursday, October 10, 2013

Smell the Earth, Taste the Rain...Hear the Sun Rise and Night Fall

The exquisitely vibrant version of the tangerine maple was taken in Peapack, New Jersey back on October 13, 2010.  It was the prettiest tree I could find that year, when the portentous symptoms of tree decline had been apparent for at least two years.  By the time a summer season of absorbing pollution was coming to a close in autumn, most leaves were already showing visible damage impeding photosynthesis.  That trend has since lurched ahead most inauspiciously.  The second image is the same tree October 11, 2012...while the last and thinnest is from yesterday - October 9, 2013.  In three years the deterioration is nothing short of shocking, particularly considering peak foliage shouldn't even arrive until the third week of this month.  By then instead of peak, most trees will have no foliage.
uVSMKF on Make A Gif, Animated Gifs
The tree to the right of the maple has been removed entirely...and not only are the leaves shed earlier each passing year, but their color is fainter and worse still, they are all marred by pervasive brown spots.
 Above is from 2012, and below is from yesterday.
This stand of maples is on the hill above Wit’s End.  Not so long ago they used to turn the identical gorgeous bright orange as the one in Peapack.
Here the leaves are even more ghastly.
They are shriveling up and falling off before they turn any color at all.
This awful, ugly blight is by no means confined to just maples - every sort of tree, whether sycamore or oak or linden or ash or poplar or any nut such as black walnut or butternut or hickory - has the same hideous brown foliage this autumn.  The difference between how the landscape should look and how it does look is so egregious, you’ld think someone might ask what air pollution has to do with it?  How else to explain why EVERY leaf, of EVERY plant, is damaged, in a year with slightly more than average precipitation?
On Monday a line of thunderstorms moved across the East, knocking trees and branches down, onto houses and cars.  Reporting on tree damages to property and power outages from downed lines has become routine on mainstream media.  It was exceedingly lucky that all the incidents didn’t produce any injuries this time, although there were several very close calls.  I saw on facebook that the Raptor Trust sustained significant damage to the buildings that house rescued birds:
I noticed because a friend had written:  “Had no idea the winds were so bad yesterday, this is pretty nearby to us, and they sustained a lot of damage. Such a shame... I was shocked to see how bad the damage was, had no idea the storm was that strong.”
The Raptor Trust posted:

“Due to significant damage from today’s storm, The Raptor Trust will be CLOSED TO VISITORS UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.”

“Yesterday’s tornado ripped through the Raptor Trust rehabilitation facility. Thankfully, our infirmary and medical facility did not suffer significant damage. Our birds and staff are all okay. Our admitting office and hospital remain open, so if you find an injured bird please bring it to us. However, the remainder of the facility is closed to the public until further notice while repairs are completed.”

“Mother Nature takes her toll,” was the caption to one photo.
Another person observed:

“Omg. I had no idea there was a tornado, yesterday the weather stations reported after the front moved thru that no tornados had occurred. This is awful.”

Small wonder everyone was incredulous - as often happens now, tree damage is so extensive that people who don't understand that they are dying from absorbing tropospheric ozone assume the wind must have been far worse than it was.  CBS News reported:

“A tornado watch was issued for the area during the afternoon, CBS 2’s Lonnie Quinn reported. No tornado ever touched down, but a funnel cloud was spotted over Paterson, N.J., according to AccuWeather and CBS 2 Weather.”
“But while the worst was over as the evening rush arrived, the storms left a path of damage in many areas – particularly northern New Jersey.”
There are several videos at that link showing the many incidents where people, including a baby napping in his crib, narrowly missed being killed or injured when trees fell on their houses or cars.  It's clear in some cases, like the branch lying on the lawn above and the trunk below, that these trees are rotted inside.
A report from the Albany area also recounted many fallen trees.
At first I thought perhaps there was a tornado there after all, which had shot this treetop horizontally into a window (!) but then I read the caption:
“A portion of a tree is caught up in electrical lines on a home on Kenwood Ave. Monday afternoon, Oct. 7, 2013, in Delmar, N.Y.  A powerful storm rolled through the Capital Region.”  Not too surprising that it broke off, since it is a pine tree without any needles at all.  The trees in the photo of Albany below have almost no leaves on their branches, either.
A massive specimen fell in Connecticut, where maximum gusts were a piffling 35 mph - and at least one alert resident obviously had already noticed the tree was dying:
“Fairfield County was under a severe thunderstorm watch for most of the afternoon, and Litchfield County was put under a tornado watch. Several high school sports events in the area were postponed as the bad weather approached.”

“The National Weather Service reported that winds in the area were at about 25 mph for most of the afternoon, with gusts as strong as 35. Nearly a quarter-inch of rain fell on Bridgeport during one hour in the late afternoon.”

“But strong gusts of wind rolling through Bridgeport did take down a large tree on Sherwood Avenue, crushing a pickup truck near James J. Curiale School in the central part of the city. The tree crashed through several overhead wires about 3:25 p.m. and snapped two large utility poles on the street. The top branches of the tree hit one of the school's portable classroom buildings.

The tumbling tree caused Curiale School's lights to flicker and set the school's off fire alarms. Principal Brett Gustafson said the school's K-5 students were evacuated and then dismissed at their usual time, 3:40 p.m. Students in grades 6-8 had been dismissed earlier in the day.”

“Shaneika Dixon was picking up her son, J.J., from Curiale just as emergency crews were taping off the scene. She said she had lived on Sherwood Avenue until last year, and that she had been able to see the tree that fell from her front porch.”

I always knew that tree was going to come down, she said. ‘I just didn’t know when.’”

When did tracking tree accidents become such a spectator sport?  A news clip discusses the concern people have about trees that have been falling in their neighborhoods of New York, and what the Parks Department is or isn’t doing about it.  I was astounded to learn there exists a *311* hotline to call about threatening trees!  For some reason I can't get the video to embed here on recalcitrant Blogger, but you can watch it by clicking here, or read part of the transcript below:

“Critics Say NYC Hasn't Done Enough About Dead Trees, Dangerous Branches”

“Arborist Dr. Carsten Glazer found worrisome conditions along pedestrian and bike paths near Orchard Beach Park in the Bronx after just seconds of searching.  ‘Here we have trees deader than a doorknob. Dead for a long time, too, I would guess,’ Dr. Glazer said.”  In the screenshot below he is pointing to the mushroom while he says indignantly, “What this is telling me is that the tree could snap at the base.”

The sad - a frightening - thing is that one or more “worrisome conditions” - i.e., symptoms of decline such as corroded, splitting and cracking bark, fungus, lichens, broken branches, thin crowns and, especially right now, visibly damaged foliage and yellowing needles - can easily be detected on ANY tree you choose to examine!

Some of those symptoms are attributed to biotic pathogens, which is why it's crucial to understand that air pollution renders vegetation more susceptible to attack from insects, disease and fungus.  For example one textbook states:  “Recent studies show that air pollutants may also make some plant species more desirable to leaf eating insects. According to botanists from Cornell university, air pollution and other stresses cause plants to produce a chemical called glutathione, which protects leaves from pollution but also attracts insects that normally have no interest in these plant species”.

Of course, ozone doesn’t just confine its damage to only trees.  It reduces the yield and quality of annual crops, which is why the USDA pursues research on how to develop genetically resistant varieties (with no success).  So when the New York Times published an article called “A Disease Cuts Corn Yields”, you would think it would occur to someone that if the microbe enters a lesion caused by “hail or other heavy weather”, lesions caused by contact with caustic air pollution might do the same?  Hey, according to the textbook linked above, “Air pollutants severely damage metals, building materials (stone and concrete), paint, textiles, plastics, rubber, leather, paper, clothing and ceramics”.
NYT - “It has come on like a tidal wave, washing across the Corn Belt from Minnesota to the Texas panhandle, a disease that few farmers had seen until five years ago.”

“Known as Goss’s wilt, it has cut some farmers’ corn yields in half, and it is still spreading. This summer it reached Louisiana, farther south than it had ever been identified. Alison Robertson, a plant pathologist at Iowa State University, estimated that about 10 percent of this year’s corn crop would fall to Goss’s.”

“The disease, named for R. W. Goss, a longtime Nebraska plant pathologist, is caused by a bacterium with the formidable name Clavibacter michiganensis subsp. nebraskensis. When a plant is damaged by hail or other heavy weather, the microbe enters the wound and infects its vascular system, scarring the leaves with brownish-yellow lesions sprinkled with black freckles.”

I took this photo of a cornfield nearby.  Here you can see that the trees in the hedgerow have lost most of their leaves.
The following beautiful set of photographs is from a gallery at the UK Guardian, by a dedicated and talented storm chaser.  First, a poem from which the title of this post is drawn:

We must teach our children 
To smell the Earth
To taste the rain
To touch the wind
To see things grow
To hear the sun rise and night fall
To care.

                  ~ John Cleal, 1929 - 2007
That poem was written over thirty years ago, and although I didn’t see it until now, it is how I tried to raise my children.  I think I had some modest success in that endeavor, which gives me pleasure...but aside from that, life is bleak.
I was always something of a pagan worshiper of the marvels in nature, and as I witness its destruction, I find it impossible to enjoy what little remains.  What once gave meaning to life, for me, is dwindling away and I am helpless to affect the velocity and trajectory of this maelstrom even the slightest.
It’s a very different sort of depression - to confront, not merely the death of a loved one, or one’s self, but the death of the future.  As a species, we have never seen extinctions at this magnitude before, never had to seriously contemplate our own extinction.  The existence of future generations is generally accepted without a thought, and their benefit is the motivation, even if unacknowledged, for much of what we do in life.  Maybe the prospect that they won't be there is so apocalyptic that we cannot even admit the possibility long enough to stop the very behavior that will ensure it.
I am personally discouraged.  Does it matter if I paint a picture if no one will be around to look at it?  Does it matter if I write when no one will remain to read?  Should I bother to work in the garden when not only will no one be around to admire the effort, but everything I plant and prune and stake and fertilize is going to die soon anyway?
This is dismal stuff!  And so much more bitter, because we have done it to ourselves.  Indeed the condition I find myself in is so awful, I think it deserves a new word, but I haven’t thought of one that is appropriately abysmal enough to be descriptive.  “Depressed” is wholly inadequate.  Something that connotes a more active, convulsive, vertiginous grief - anaphylactic mourning, perhaps? - is required.   (Being a human, I firmly believe that everything needs a word, or it doesn’t exist.)  Crushed works, but even to me it sounds, so irrevocable...I can't bear to think of myself as crushed, although it may apply.
My friend from Montreal, Michelle, describes the relentless lament this way:

“...every morning, we have to re-face and readjust to the terrible reality:
kill hope, live with death, acknowledge powerlessness, 
go through the motions until the night comes back”
The late Christopher Hitchens, reflecting on his terminal cancer shortly before his death, ruminated regretfully of his sorrowful revelry - “I’m leaving the party a bit earlier than I’d like. Much earlier than I’d like…And not only that, but the party will go on without me, a more horrible thought.”
I think he was lucky to die without having to consider how much more horrible it is to envision death knowing the party will NOT go on.

Professor of Philosophy Samuel Scheffler wrote an essay published in the New York Times on this very topic, and ended:
“Although we normally assume that others will live on after we ourselves have died, we also know that there are serious threats to humanity’s survival. Not all of these threats are human-made, but some of the most pressing certainly are, like those posed by climate change and nuclear proliferation. People who worry about these problems often urge us to remember our obligations to future generations, whose fate depends so heavily on what we do today. We are obligated, they stress, not to make the earth uninhabitable or to degrade the environment in which our descendants will live.”
“I agree. But there is also another side to the story. Yes, our descendants depend on us to make possible their existence and well-being. But we also depend on them and their existence if we are to lead flourishing lives ourselves. And so our reasons to overcome the threats to humanity’s survival do not derive solely from our obligations to our descendants. We have another reason to try to ensure a flourishing future for those who come after us: it is simply that, to an extent that we rarely recognize or acknowledge, they already matter so much to us.”
For anyone who recognizes that our world is in collapse - anyone who is mutant enough to step back from the lemming rush and think objectively - often the blame game arises.  I'm afraid for many it will resolve as religious fundamentalism, ugh!  Equally simplistic though are the liberals/progressives/counter-culture/anarchists who shower their opprobrium onto capitalism and industrial civilization.  I certainly concur that our modern system of extraction and endless growth is destructive of the environment - but it is only a matter of scale, and hardly unique.

Maybe everyone but me already knew the details of the following long ago episode, so I’ll try to keep the description brief:

The Siege of Masada occurred from 73 to 74 CE, and was recorded by Flavius Josephus, a Jew who was captured by the Romans.  Masada is now a National Park in Israel, a forbiddingly steep, flat-topped mountain which looms above the Dead Sea.
The Siege was the culmination of a long series of conflicts in the region.  A Roman legion comprised of some 15,000 surrounded the 960 people in Masada, and over some months constructed a ramp and battering ram.  When the Romans finally succeeded in breaching the wall they found that virtually everyone was already dead, having chosen death over servitude to the Romans.  Since suicide was against their religion, they drew lots and then killed each other in turn, leaving only the last to commit suicide.  Before that, they burned everything except food, which they left as proof that they had freely chosen death.  In the picture below, the massive ramp is more clearly visible.
Although this ancient history may seem unrelated to the topic of trees, and the problematic relationship that humans have with them, it’s indicative of two important ideas.  One, it will tell us how important trees are to us - so important that the Roman army extirpated an entire species as an act of war.  And it will also tell us how wondrously resilient trees are (to everything but our pollution and axes, that is).  The following story, excerpted from wiki, is so astonishing that I can scarcely believe it is true - but it has been reported just the same in many reputable journals as well.

“The date palm was considered a staple in the Judean Desert, as it was a source of food, shelter and shade for thousands of years, and became a recognized symbol of the Kingdom of Judea. It grew around the Dead Sea in the south, to the Sea of Galilee and Lake Hula regions in the north. The tree and its fruit caused Jericho to become a major population center and are praised in the Hebrew Bible possibly several times indirectly, such as in Psalm 92 (The righteous himself will blossom forth as a palm tree does), or date cluster mentioned in Song of Solomon 5:11; 7:7-8.”

“In ancient times, date palms were used for their supposed medicinal properties to cure many diseases and infections, promoting longevity and acting as a mild aphrodisiac. Modern studies have been done in an attempt to confirm their medicinal value.”

“Its likeness was engraved on shekalim, the ancient Hebrew unit of currency. According to historical sources, the taste of them was something splendid. Pliny the Elder, a Roman naturalist of the 1st century AD, wrote that Judæa’s dates were known for their succulence and sweetness.”

When the Romans invaded ancient Judea, thick forests of date palms towering up to 80 feet (24 m) high and 7 miles (11 km) wide covered the Jordan River valley from the Sea of Galilee in the north to the shores of the Dead Sea in the south. The tree so defined the local economy that Emperor Vespasian celebrated the conquest by minting the ‘Judaea Capta’, a special bronze coin that showed the Jewish state as a weeping woman beneath a date palm. The Judean Date is even mentioned in the Quran.”

“The date growing as a commercial fruit export stopped at the end of 70 AD, when the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans. From then, the tradition was lost. Judean date palms were wiped out circa 500 AD. This was the result of a Roman extermination policy, which endeavored to destroy the trees in an effort to cripple the Jewish economy.”

Now comes the utterly amazing part!

“During 1963-1965, excavations at Herod the Great’s palace on Masada, Israel, revealed a cache of date palm seeds preserved in an ancient jar. They had experienced a very dry and sheltered environment for centuries. Radiocarbon dating at the University of Zurich confirmed the seeds dated from between 155 BC to 64 AD. The seeds were held in storage for 40 years at Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, until in 2005, the seeds were pretreated in a fertilizer and hormone-rich solution. Three of the seeds were subsequently planted at Kibbutz Ketura in the Arabah desert in southern Israel.  Eight weeks later one of the seeds had sprouted, and by June 2008, the tree had nearly a dozen fronds and was nearly 1.4 m (4 ft) tall. By the summer of 2010, the sapling stood at about 2 meters tall.”

Can you imagine?  A seed that is two thousand years old was germinated into a tree, and is still alive.  I can’t think of anything more humbling and thrilling than that - or, in light of the ongoing and accelerating extinction of trees from pollution, anything more disheartening.

The next pictures are from an artist whose work is described in “Calicified Animals”.  Since we’ve just been back in ancient Judea, what could be more appropriate to illustrate how we are paralyzed from dread, like pillars of salt?
“There’s a deceptively still body of water in Tanzania with a deadly secret—it turns any animal it touches to stone. The rare phenomenon is caused by the chemical makeup of the lake, but the petrified creatures it leaves behind are straight out of a horror film.”

“Photographed by Nick Brandt in his new book, Across the Ravaged Land, petrified creatures pepper the area around the lake due to its constant pH of 9 to 10.5—an extremely basic alkalinity that preserves these creatures for eternity. According to Brandt:”

I unexpectedly found the creatures - all manner of birds and bats - washed up along the shoreline of Lake Natron in Northern Tanzania. No-one knows for certain exactly how they die, but it appears that the extreme reflective nature of the lake’s surface confuses them, and like birds crashing into plate glass windows, they crash into the lake. The water has an extremely high soda and salt content, so high that it would strip the ink off my Kodak film boxes within a few seconds. The soda and salt causes the creatures to calcify, perfectly preserved, as they dry.
I took these creatures as I found them on the shoreline, and then placed them in ‘living’ positions, bringing them back to ‘life’, as it were. Reanimated, alive again in death.

It’s not just the dying trees that troubles me.  The entire web of life is unraveling, and the evidence is everywhere.

I read an absurd article, where four days of rain are blamed for the deaths of thousands of emaciated swallows.  I don't suppose the fact that the entire ecosystem is collapsing could have anything to do with it?

“Wet and windy weather cause of swallow die-off”

“SALEM, Ore.―The recent wet and windy weather has taken a toll on Oregon’s Barn and Violet-green Swallows. On Monday, veterinarians for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife received multiple calls from Oregon residents about dead and dying swallows. Reports have come from the Port of Saint Helens to as far south as Junction City.”

“Groups of from 10 to 200 swallows were reported dead or near death in barns and other structures where they perch. Mortality appears to be greater closer to rivers and standing water where the birds concentrate.”

“Colin Gillin, ODFW State Wildlife Veterinarian, estimates that thousands of birds have died. ‘This type of mortality event is unprecedented and considered a rare and unusual event,’ said Gillin. ‘The effect on bird populations is unknown.’”
“A number of birds were examined at the Oregon State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and pathologists determined the swallows were thin and had not eaten recently with their cause of death most likely being weather-related starvation. Veterinarians believe that the four consecutive days of rain and wind prevented the swallows from feeding at a time when they would normally be preparing for winter migration. September was the wettest on record for the Willamette Valley.”

“Swallows feed on insects during flight and inclement weather events can have an effect on young and weaker birds that cannot take in enough food to meet their energy requirements. Swallows are seasonal migrants to Oregon and migrate to Central and South America during winter.”

I watched a TED talk by Marla Spivak, professor of entomology at the University of Minnesota, who is researching the cause of bee Colony Collapse Disorder, in which she discussed the potential role of herbicides, pesticides and crop monoculture.  It’s a really excellent overview even if she does end with the absurdly upbeat encouragement to plant native wildflowers as a solution.  She also mentioned that bees deter dirt and microbes in the hives by collecting propolis, which is tree resin, from their bark.  Wait what!  Trees play a role in bee health?  I wrote her to ask if she thought that perhaps the decline of tree health might be linked to the decline in bee health, and she answered cryptically:

Yes I’m aware of this and we take it into consideration in our studies.
Marla Spivak

It’s also known that ozone interferes with the ability of insects to detect volatile organic compounds and therefore to locate flowers, once again confirmed in an article in the LA Times, Honeybees can't smell flowers well amid pollution, study says.

The title of the study (which is not behind a paywall and has a pretty extensive bibliography) is even more scary:  Diesel exhaust rapidly degrades floral odours used by honeybees.

In the audio recording of a press conference, one of the authors, Tracey A. Newman, who is on the faculty of medicine at the University of Southampton, notes first that this is a multi-disciplinary effort.  I think this is crucial because there are so many disparate scientific realms involved in ozone - there is atmospheric physics and chemistry and biology at a minimum.  She also noted that they were releasing only the first part of their research that is available, which is studying what pollution does to the environment of the bee - specifically what happens to the perfume of flowers when it interacts with pollution.  The work they do is painstaking - they laboriously train bees to determine how they react to different stimuli - here's a snippit from the paper:

Proboscis extension reflex (PER)
We used the proboscis extension reflex of honeybees, where a honeybee extends its proboscis when its antennae come into contact with sugar solution, to train forager honeybees to associatively learn the synthetic floral odour blend. Trained honeybees should extend their proboscis when they next recognize the odour blend in the absence of reward. Honeybees were then presented with either the synthetic odour blend, or one of three artificially manipulated blends from which either α-farnesene, α-terpinene or both chemicals were omitted.”

They are ALSO looking into what pollution does directly to the bee, which is going to be quite interesting if we live long enough to find out their results.  Meanwhile, here’s the Abstract:

“Honeybees utilise floral odours when foraging for flowers; we investigated whether diesel exhaust pollution could interrupt these floral odour stimuli. A synthetic blend of eight floral chemicals, identified from oilseed rape, was exposed to diesel exhaust pollution. Within one minute of exposure the abundances of four of the chemicals were significantly lowered, with two components rendered undetectable. Honeybees were trained to recognise the full synthetic odour mix; altering the blend, by removing the two chemicals rendered undetectable, significantly reduced the ability of the trained honeybees to recognize the altered odour. Furthermore, we found that at environmentally relevant levels the mono-nitrogen oxide (NOx) fraction of the exhaust gases was a key facilitator of this odour degradation. Such changes in recognition may impact upon a honeybee’s foraging efficiency and therefore the pollination services that they provide.”

I don’t think it is unreasonable to extrapolate that the same sort of impact might have something to do with the disappearance of other pollinators, most spectacularly among them the monarch butterfly, whose numbers have been tracked for some time and this year dropped to new lows:

“Monarch butterflies appear headed for a perhaps unprecedented population crash, according to scientists and monarch watchers who have been keeping tabs on the species in their main summer home in Eastern and Central North America.”

“There had been hope that on their journey north from their overwintering zone in Mexico, the insects’ numbers would build through the generations, but there's no indication that happened.”

“Only a small number of monarchs did make it to Canada this summer to propagate the generation that has now begun its southern migration to Mexico, and early indications are that the past year’s record lows will be followed by even lower numbers this fall.”
Then, there is the dieoff of the starfish.  Scientists on the West Coast are “baffled” that they are being “completely wiped out”.  It's not that I don’t think Fukushima isn't a hugely menacing, obscene example of extreme energy run amock, which is endangering the entire northern Hemisphere.  I do!  But the hysteria blaming dead animals in the sea on nuclear radiation conveniently ignores the equally ominous deaths of sea mammals on the Atlantic side of the North and South American continents, as can be seen from this testimony in the first article:

“In July, researchers at the University of Rhode Island reported that sea stars were dying in a similar way from New Jersey to Maine, and the university was working with colleagues at Brown and Roger Williams universities to figure out the cause.  The collaboration came about after a graduate student collected starfish for a research project and then watched as they appeared to ‘melt’ in her tank.”

It’s obviously pollution - but much better to blame an isolated nuclear power corporation than the entire over-populated and greedily over-consuming species, Homo sapiens sapiens!

There might be another amplifying feedback or two in the recent State of the Oceans report which goes ...beyond the conclusion reached last week by the UN climate change panel the IPCC that the ocean is absorbing much of the warming and unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide and warn that the cumulative impact of this with other ocean stressors is far graver than previous estimates.
“At the global management level, the key message is  that the current targets for carbon emission reductions are unrealistic in terms of ensuring coral reef survival, especially as there is a time lag of several decades between atmospheric CO2 and levels of CO2 dissolved in the ocean - a factor that appears to be beyond the grasp of most policy-makers.

Put simply, the target to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees C, or remain below 450 CO2e, is not sufficient for coral reefs to survive.

Well, guess what?  Practically everyone has finally acknowledged that we are on the path to 4C - and likely more!  Of the latest bombshell, which says screams Temperatures go off the charts by 2047, cautious, disciplined, reticent climate science hero Michael Mann says, even that *may* be painting a rosy scenario!!!

Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann said the research “...may actually be presenting an overly rosy scenario when it comes to how close we are to passing the threshold for dangerous climate impacts.”

By some measures, we are already there,” he said.
The UK Independent notes “Coral alert: destruction of reefs ‘accelerating’ with half destroyed over past 30 years”

“‘Our oceans are in an unprecedented state of decline due to pollution, over-fishing and climate change. The state of the reefs is very poor and it is continuing to deteriorate,’ said Professor Hoegh-Guldberg, of the University of Queensland.”

“‘This is an eco-system that has been around for tens of millions of years and we are wiping it out within a hundred. It’s quite incredible.’”

Will anything at all be left?  If I had to hazard a guess, I would say fungus, rats, and jellyfish.

The New York Times reported that research in fragmented forests showed that mammals quickly became extinct and the ecosystems are now dominated by rats.  I hear they're delicious.

“Over two decades, Dr. Gibson and his colleagues have tracked the diversity of mammals on the islands. In Friday’s issue of the journal Science, they report that the extinctions have turned out to be distressingly fast.”

“‘Our results should be a warning,” said Dr. Gibson. ‘This is the trend that the world is going in.’

“…Scientists have hypothesized that many species will gradually decline in forest fragments until they become extinct. Reducing a vast carpet of jungle to isolated patches thus creates a so-called ‘extinction debt’ that nature will sooner or later collect.”

Jellyfish are taking over the oceans.  The best article I’ve read so far was in the New York Review of Books, about the newly released, Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Oceans.  I recommend following the link and reading the entire thing, because the myriad attributes of jellyfish that contribute to their dominance are staggeringly inventive, and there a numerous effects ranging from lethal stings to clogging power plant filters to wiping out other species.   Inevitably, there are people who discount some of the more dire pronouncements in it, but then there are plenty of idiots who don't realize that trees are dying, just like the trees in the picture below...coincidentally the illustration at the NYRB!
Caption:  “A moon jellyfish and cross jellyfish floating in a remote channel near Vancouver Island, British Columbia; photograph by David Hall from Beneath Cold Seas: The Underwater Wilderness of the Pacific Northwest

As we’ve all no doubt heard, mammals in the oceans are in dire distress, with the appalling numbers of strandings of whales and dolphins, not to mention their outright slaughter.  This post will end with a time-lapse video about Florida's manatees, which on top of dying in record numbers from toxic algae blooms from of pollution, are simply being harassed to death:

“This video was produced by conservation photographer Cristina Mittermeier and fellow photographer Neil Ever Osborne. It shows just how much human interaction theyre forced to deal with all day, every day. According to Mittermeier, the manatee stampede that happens in the video — which was caused by a loud noise from onshore — occurs several times each day.

In comments, local observers mention the deep scarring on the backs of the manatees from motorboat propellers, and most disgustingly, what a controversy it was to even make that tiny enclosure for them, because people objected that their freedoms to boat were being infringed upon!  These two comments, although not particularly erudite, seem to be perfectly apt nonetheless...and taken together, almost profound:

“Dear humans,
Please stop being a bunch of complete idiots and assholes.
Everything and everyone else in the universe”

“I am surprised at the complete and utter audacity of all the comments here bitching and complain that we humans are utter dicks. As if that is NEWS?
Humans cant be nice to each other. Expecting them to be compassionate to another species that we see and categorize as ‘Animals’ is well.. dumb.”

Manatees Timelapse from Sea Legacy on Vimeo.


  1. Gail, your posts are incredibly poignant, insightful and honest. Ravi and I live nearby in Doylestown, Pa and sadly see confirmatory evidence of everything you point to.

  2. Oh god, that manatee video says it all.

  3. Wonderful exploration of deep issues of ecological and moral collapse.

    We read much of the same material and share many of the same thoughts and feelings, but we don't express them nearly so well!!

    1. Thanks everyone for your visits and taking the time to comment!


  4. "anaphylactic ‎mourning" -- a painfully wonderful description of the gut-wrenching, sometimes debilitating horror of insight.

    Some days I yearn to have been blessed with an inability to imagine consequences.

    Other days I'm glad that I'm not "sleepwalking into extinction" (as the most recent Adbusters describes it), and can take some small solace in working to prevent what seems inevitable.

    And then, on odd-numbered days, in months that don't include the letter "x," I try to forget the paradox, and try to enjoy a full moon, or the breeze carrying the scent of pine and moving water, or the bright flower atop a tall Jerusalem Artichoke signaling the shift of the season, or the sound of a rough rain slapping my house upside the head.

    I try very hard to relish, and even revere, the holiness of the natural world within which I live, whenever I can quell that anaphylaxis.

    Keep up the good work, Gail, and don't forget to walkabout and to love what you behold, for it is holy too, even if likely doomed.


    1. Thanks, Doc Michael - after clouds and drizzle all week, this morning the sun has emerged. It's supposed to be a glorious autumn day so I am headed out to the peak at High Point State Park to get some pictures of less than glorious foliage. But I will bring my binoculars looking for birds, and it will be a lovely outing.

      Take care and thanks for your reminder to keep it all in perspective and remember to cherish the gifts that are still here.


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