Saturday, June 14, 2014

Naked Hearts in Caged Isolation

Last week I went to Manhattan, to meet up with some friends and look at art.
First we went to MOMA.  Coming down the escalator I ran smack into the repulsively gory “Hide and Seek” (Cache-cache in the French) by Russian-born painter Pavel Tchelitchew.  Since it depicts a tree, and Wits End is of course about trees, I felt obliged to take a picture of it, much as I disliked it.  But there...dimly reflected and nearly lost in the sinews, veins, protuberances and myriad visages of children, shrieking in what looks like fear and dread  - was proof I exist, so why not?

After returning home I was gratified to discover I was not alone in my revulsion towards it, as one acerbic critic described it as “...the ludicrous “Hide-and-Seek” (1940-1942), a pseudo-surrealist horror show that once graced the cover of the EP ‘The 13 Frightened Souls’ (1992) by the death/thrash metal band Deceased.  The Tchelitchew can be viewed only as a novelty today, but it is instructive to note that, according to the wall label, it was snapped up by MoMA the year it was completed, and that an unnamed critic described it in 1970 as ‘by far’ the Museum’s ‘most popular painting.’ This could suggest that the curators use the corridors’ wall space as an arena for institutional self-critique, a public demonstration of the vicissitudes of taste in the building of MoMA’s collection.”

Indeed MOMA in its infinite wisdom had removed it from view for a number of years, leaving it to languish in storage.  A recorded lecture at the museum website describes how curators disdain it for a variety of reasons - but I guess they finally relented to the mobs who adore it.

It takes all kinds.  One viewer enthused “This painting is beautiful...Another reason I love this painting is that there is so much detail happening. Your eye can travel around the painting forever, catching all the hidden imagery and following the most slender twigs off the tree...Perhaps one of the most cliche reasons I love this painting is because the main subject is of a tree. I realize that there are many paintings and photographs of trees and people just love the idea of trees in art because they can symbolize so many things.”

The main purpose of our visit was to see the special exhibit, Metamorphoses, of drawings, etchings, paintings, and sculpture by Paul Gauguin...who apparently thought of himself, accurately, as a bit of a beast.  Here is his lovely Pastorales tahitiennes.
We waited in the rain to see the Degenerate Art show at the Neuegalerie, where I was delighted to also find the lushly glowing Adele portrait by Klimt, which is on permanent display, and indescribably luxuriant.  No reproduction can do it justice, but here is one anyway.
Despite all the detours, the original purpose of the trip was to go to the opening of Angelique Brickner’s show of sculpture, to admire her ingenious clay figures that I had only seen before in pictures.  That earlier work consisted of women trapped in boxes, so I was intrigued to see that she has since moved on to couples, divided by plexiglass that reflects the anguish of their painful isolation.
In her artist’s statement, she quoted Tennessee Williams, a writer who exposed the essence of the human condition with searing precision:

“Nobody sees anybody truly but all through the flaws of their own egos. That is the way we all see ...each other in life. Vanity, fear, desire, competition-- all such distortions within our own egos-- condition our vision of those in relation to us. Add to those distortions to our own egos the corresponding distortions in the egos of others, and you see how cloudy the glass must become through which we look at each other. Thats how it is in all living relationships except when there is that rare case of two people who love intensely enough to burn through all those layers of opacity and see each other’s naked hearts.”
We did have some beautiful weather for a stroll down the High Line, the reclaimed elevated railway which is now a park.
And we went gallery hopping in Chelsea, where there were some amazing exhibits of ecopocalyptic themes.  So before I get to the latest on trees dying from air pollution, here is a description of the works that will be featured later to illustrate this post.
At the Kleinsun Gallery, Chinese artist Jiang Pengyi explores the decay of urban landscapes by constructing and photographing miniature dioramas set incongruously inside abandoned spaces such as faded wallpapered rooms, or a cracked bathtub, or a dusty corner under a grimy window.
Most of the pictures are from the Yancey Richardson gallery, where several rooms were full of the work by the ingenious duo, Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick.
They have collaborated for more than twenty years in a variety of formats, including Dadaist performances, staged elaborate visual narratives which they photograph, paintings, drawings, and sculptures.  Their art reflects global converging catastrophes, at the same time dark and humorous.
This project features the fictional Truppe Fledermaus (Bat Troupe), an antique traveling cabaret that warns of ecological collapse and extinction.  The photographs in the installation are collectively titled “100 Views of a Drowning World”.  These images from the art shows will accompany articles and research about trees and pollution to follow - but first it is time to update one of the tragic aspects of their decline, which is that more and more people are being injured and killed as they fall.  This is an expected and inevitable outcome, and despite the fact that I lived my entire life without ever hearing of such an incident until just a few years ago, such occurrences have become staples of news shows, particularly when there are storms...and even when there are not.

It’s important to remember that trees are meant to live very long lives.  Those considered old often aren’t old at all - it’s just that humans have clear cut most places on earth, so trees that are at their peak maturity are rare indeed.  We can hardly imagine anymore the immensity that was normal before we started poisoning the air, rain and soil.  One of the few remaining intact hardwood forests is the Joyce Kilmer Park in North Carolina.  I wanted to stop there while on the way home from Florida, but after I read that the Forest Service dynamited a number of the huge dying trees so as not to leave their hulks standing to offend the tourists, I just couldn’t go.  Here is my favorite copper beech up in the village last year, June 19, 2013.  Behind it is a house that dates from the early 18th century, so my guess is, the tree does too.  That puts it in mid-life.
The gaps are growing, the crown becomes more sparse every year.  I took this photo last week:
Wiki has a list of the worlds oldest trees, which shows many that can range into thousands of years.  The very oldest is a bristlecone pine considered to top 5,000, while the oldest clonal colony, of quaking aspen, is estimated to be over 80,000 years.  Its really worth looking at the list, which is phenomenally impressive. There is a website that accumulates statistics and photos of large specimens that managed to escape being logged, called Monumental Trees.  Perusing it will give you an idea of the size trees should be able to attain, but now almost never do.
The sycamore above is in America (obviously!) and the one pictured below is in France.
The number of casualties and damaged property from falling trees and branches continues to mount relentlessly.  Some of the deceased are given features in the news - others get a paltry line or two. Following is an assemblage of often lethal events, starting with the St. Jude storm in the UK last October.  This was a terrific wind event - nevertheless, some of the photos of fallen trees reveal the rot inside.  I believe that virtually all trees have begun to rot (see Spill the Scarlet Rain for links to Invasive Fungus Wreaks Havoc on Species Worldwide as well as the Yale School of Forestry study finding 80,000 times ambient levels of methane in trees, diseased at only 80 - 100 years old).  The BBC reported:
A man and a woman have been found dead at a house in Hounslow, west London, following a suspected gas explosion caused by a falling tree; 
Note the crackled bark on this tree, like a jigsaw puzzle.  NOT normal.
Network Rail says the damage has been worse than expected’’, with more than 100 trees on the lines, but some train services have resumed; A teenager died after a tree fell on the mobile home where she was sleeping in Kent, and a man in his 50s was killed when a tree landed on a car in Watford; [worse than expected because the wind cannot alone account for the trees down.]
East Sussex County Council tweets that it has dealt with 60 fallen trees overnight; A man has died after a tree fell on a car in Lower High Street in Watford, Hertfordshire, East of England Ambulance Service says.
There is a phenomenal amount of lichen smothering this branch - lichen that thrives in high levels of reactive nitrogen for which London is infamous:

Last month, TIME reported:  London Is a Worse Nitrogen Dioxide Polluter Than Beijing

British tabloids may lash out at Chinese smog all they want, but when it comes to one important pollution indicator, the U.K. capital actually outpollutes even Beijing.

A European Union–wide shift to diesel, in order to curb CO2 emissions, has sent London’s nitrogen dioxide levels through the roof, Bloomberg reports. Not only are they the worst in Europe, reaching twice the E.U. limit, they also surpass the Chinese capital’s by a whopping 50%.

“Successive governments knew more than 10 years ago that diesel was producing all these harmful pollutants, but they myopically plowed on with their CO2 agenda,” Simon Birkett, founder of the nonprofit Clean Air in London, told Bloomberg. “It’s a public-health catastrophe.”

In many other incidents, there was no wind whatsoever to blame.  Last December 30, in Victoria, Australia, it was reported a little girl died in a park - and despite the very obvious rotted condition of the tree plainly visible in the video, everyone who commented professed to be mystified as to why it split.
Police said the child, aged four, was fatally injured just after 5.20pm in Rosalind Park. The girl’s mother, 31, was seriously injured with a fractured leg, head injury and possible spinal injury and was taken to The Alfred hospital in a stable condition...The tree that struck the girl and her mother was inspected by senior City of Greater Bendigo arborists on September 19 and showed no outward signs of concern. It was removed from the park overnight.  “We did however make the decision to remove the tree – the balance of the tree was potentially compromised,’’ Mr Liacos said.

In South Carolina, on February 19, neither the reporter nor the arborist interviewed remark on the painfully unhealthy condition of this stand of pine trees where a branch fell and killed a man.
Needless to say they don't question why the branches are smothered in lichen, either.
The Dorchester County Coroner's office says a 43-year-old man was killed on Wednesday after a tree limb fell and struck him on the head.

Coroner Chris Nisbet says Jason Couch was doing yard work at his home on Pristine Court in the Legends Oaks neighborhood when a tree limb fell out of a tree and struck Couch.

Nisbet says an autopsy Thursday morning showed the cause of death to be brain injury due to blunt force trauma to the head.

Officials say Couch was by himself when the incident happened, and was found by his wife when she arrived back home with their two children at 4:30 p.m.

Its not really odd, they do it a lot. They basically get heavy and some of them do snap,’’ said Chuck Lester, owner of the Big Head Chucks Tree Service.

Lesters company will be cutting down the tree where a branch fell onto 43-year-old Jason Couch killing him in his backyard.

Lester said, I guess you don't hear about many people getting injured from it.’’

Why no, you didn't USED to hear about many people getting injured from falling trees and branches, because it was incredibly rare - but NOW it is a common feature on the nightly news.  
Again in Australia, on February 21, another little girl died at her school.  The headline reads:

Pitt Town:  Schoolgirl, 8, dies as huge gum tree branch falls on students, teacher

A large branch from a 50-year-old gum tree fell and landed on top of three students and a teacher on Friday afternoon at the small school in semi-rural north-western Sydney.
Eight year-old Bridget Wright, a horse lover and high-achieving year 4 student, was pinned beneath a limb of the towering tree and died after being rushed to Westmead Hospital.

Hawkesbury Local Area Command Inspector Bill Slatford said weather played no part in the tragic accident.

In California, on March 10, a young woman was hit while driving in her car with disease, not weather, blamed for her death.

VACAVILLE — A falling tree hit and killed a woman driving Sunday afternoon on westbound Interstate 80 near Cherry Glen Road.

The California Highway Patrol responded to the incident about 1:55 p.m. just west of the overpass, where a woman was found dead in a car about 1/4 mile past a fallen tree.

CHP officer Todd Fetterly said branches from a diseased tree fell on top of a Toyota Camry in the slow lane and crushed the driver, a woman in her early 20s.

A day later, on March 11, two men were killed in separate events in North Carolina.

A 55-year-old Chapel Hill man died Wednesday evening when a tree fell on him as heavy rain, strong winds and thunderstorms moved through the Triangle, police said.

According to investigators, William Randolph Morris was standing on the back deck of his home on Roper Lane at about 6:45 p.m. when the tree fell, killing him instantly.

The street is in Chapel Hill city limits but located in Durham County.

Damaging straight-line winds with gusts up to 60 mph were reported in the Triangle, resulting in multiple downed trees and power lines, WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said.

No other information about Morris death was released.

Another falling tree killed a person in Winston-Salem. Police said Justin Cardwell died when a pine tree fell on his car as storms rushed through the Piedmont. 

A tree also fell onto the back of a home on New Bern Avenue in Raleigh, but no injuries were reported.

Back in California, on March 30, a driver was killed on a windless day, causing other accidents to occur.  In the video, a huge chunk of the tree trunk, blackened by rot, is shown as the rescuers stare at it stupidly, wondering why it fell.
Citrus Heights CA - A driver, whose identity has not been released, was killed when a large oak tree fell on the vehicle he was driving.  Police said a passenger was also injured and was taken to a hospital.

The driver of a minivan was also injured and taken the hospital after the minivan hit a utility pole and overturned, according to officers.

Police said a total of three vehicles were involved in the crash with the fallen tree.  Greg Antonucci lives next to the crash site.  He said there wasnt any wind at the time of the incident. He ran outside when he heard a loud crash.

When I saw him, we couldnt do nothing (for him). So we called 911,’’ Antonucci said.

Officers were not sure how old the tree was. A section of the fallen tree was saved by investigators so it could be analyzed by an arborist.

In North Carolina, on April 16, there is a brief mention of a man killed by a fallen tree.

A man was reportedly killed when a tree fell on him in Weddington on Wednesday morning.

According to sources, the tree fell on the man along Elstead Circle in Weddington before 11:30 a.m. Wednesday morning.

From WBTV's Sky 3, you can see crime scene tape around a section of land with a white sheet on the ground near a fallen tree.

There are other large trees nearby that have been cut down and trimmed of their branches. There is also several pieces of large machinery in the area.

Again in South Carolina, on April 21, an elderly man was crushed in his house by a willow oak.  Oaks are among the longest lived trees, certainly of the hardwoods.  According to a neighbor, who described it as yet another freak accident” (in other words, there was no wind) it took rescuers three hours to stabilize the ceiling and floor, and he died of his injuries later.

HANAHAN, SC (WCSC) - A 72-year-old man is dead after a tree fell on a home in Hanahan early Monday morning, according to the Berkeley County Coroner’s Office.
According to an incident report, Hanahan and North Charleston Fire Departments were called out to assist crews on Leone Court, near Otranto Boulevard just after midnight after a giant tree fell on a home.

Neighbors are in shock after the tree fell onto the home killing 72-year-old William Carl Klein. 

Berkeley County Coroner Bill Salisbury says Klein was in his upstairs den sitting in a chair when the tree fell, destroying the upstairs floor and pinning him down between the tree and the dining room floor downstairs.

While pinned in a chair he was comforted by a 17-year-old who put her life in danger to help. 

Last thing I heard her say to him was, oh you were in the Navy for three years? She was trying to keep him calm,” said Kim Davidson, mother of the teenager.  

Davidson says her daughter bravely ran into her neighbors home after the tree fell thru the roof trapping Klein inside. 

The top of a palm tree snapped on May 17 in East Los Angeles.

Family members said 49-year-old Tony Calderon was near Dozier Street and Record Avenue about 8:30 a.m. waiting for a ride to his uncles funeral when the massive crown fell on him, trapping him underneath.

Witnesses said Calderon was crushed, but alive and screaming for help. Bystanders were unable to lift the tree chunk off him, which fire officials said weighed up to 2,000 pounds. Firefighters used a crane to hoist it.

Calderon, a father to a 7-year-old child, was pronounced dead.

Family members said the owner of the property in which the palm tree stood had been asked numerous times over the years to cut it down.

Theres been an issue with a few people around here saying that they need to cut it down, said the victims brother, George Gonzalez. Its been going on for 15 years already and it wasnt taken care of.

Lisa Smith, a certified arborist, tree-risk assessor and palm tree expert, said the piece of tree that fell on Calderon came from a Canary Island Date Palm.

This palm didnt have any outward signs, she said. It had a lot of live fronds. Thats how palms can fool you.

Smith recommends palm trees be inspected once per year by a certified arborist.

Did you catch that?  Trees will fool you.  If you are a certified arborist, that is.  The people on the street knew for 15 years the tree was in decline so, since she says that particular palm had no outward signs, what would be the point of having her inspect it every year?

On May 24, a small article announced another death in South Carolina.

The Abbeville County Coroner's Office has been called to an address in Calhoun Falls to investigate a death, according to Coroner Ronnie Ashley.

Ashley said a deputy coroner was called to 1340 highway 81 South just after 6 p.m. Saturday.

Ashley said reports from first responders indicated a tree had fallen on the man.

No other details were immediately available.

In an online news video it was reported that one woman died and twelve people were injured on May 28 in Texas in severe weather.  Winds were 60 mph - but the tree that fell on her had no roots.
On May 30, it took rescuers an hour to extricate a man pinned in his car after an oak tree crushed it and trapped him inside.  No mention of a storm in Duluth, GA at the time, and in the agonizing aerial video of the rescue, there is no wind or rain.  Once again it was described as a freak event, that it spontaneously fell - and bad luck that the roots dislodged just as he was driving underneath.
This is a driver who is driving into town, unsuspecting. This large tree comes down,’’ said Capt. Tommy Rutledge, spokesman for the Gwinnett Co. Fire Department. Its one of those freak situations that happens.’’
It must have been a horrific wait for the victim, who was in surgery at the time of this report, while the rescue crew propped up the weight of the tree with pallets and inflatable balloons.
 The bark of the oak displays a common symptom of decay, which is that it is splitting and breaking.  Here, a forgotten shoe:
On June 8, a valuable Toyota was destroyed by a falling tree while the driver miraculously escaped with only minor harm.
One headline reads 100-foot rotting tree takes out Asian beauty.  I might tend to look at the tree as being the Asian beauty, but car lovers around the world mourned the loss.

Toyota only built a handful of the delightful 2000GT, so it’s a sad day when one gets crushed by a massive tree. The extremely rare, million-dollar coupe was being driven down a road in Toyoama prefecture, Japan, when a 100-foot tall tree collapsed on top of it.  According to the report, which contains footage of the aftermath, the tree was rotten inside but as a protected species could not be chopped down. Thankfully the driver suffered just minor injuries, which is pretty incredible considering the flattened state of his once-stunning ride.

An online news report is rather interesting even though it is in Japanese, because it shows the base of the tree, which was barely a shell, and yet like many of these trees it had leaves.  I get a feeling there are many trees that are rotting and hollow inside, but since they still have some leaves, no matter how few, they are assumed to be fine.

In Arkansas on June 5, two men were killed by trees in separate incidents.

The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management says one man died when a tree fell on a van, while another man was killed in nearby Jonesboro when a tree fell onto his home. Their names haven't been released.

The same day it was reported that a tree fell on a car killing one woman and injuring three others.

Shortly after noon on Thursday, storms in Lawrence County caused one death and created widespread damage across the entire county. Fire Departments were busy all afternoon with trees across power lines, trees on houses and damage caused by high winds. Unofficial stats from the National Weather Service placed the winds in excess of 80 Mph.
At least two accidents with injuries were reported during the storm to the Lawrence County Dispatch, Ravenden Police and Fire work an accident with three injuries along with a fatality in Black Rock where a tree fell on a vehicle occupied by it’s driver, killing her.

It was a rough storm, but photos published indicate that trees that came down were rotted.
Thousands were left without power in a recurring theme of trees collapsing onto power lines.  So many fell in Sandy - millions - even though it was no longer a hurricane when it made landfall, that people were out of power for weeks.
This tree looks black where it broke, and many of the branches are stubby and bare of leaves.
On June 10, in wild weather no less than six people were killed in Germany.

Six people have been killed in violent storms which battered cities in western Germany overnight.

In the worst incident, three died when a tree fell on a garden shed in Duesseldorf where they had sought shelter, emergency services said.

Cyclists were also killed by falling trees in Cologne and Krefeld.

[How windy could it have been if people were out bicycling?]

A storm on June 11 in North Carolina left property damaged.  Readers were encouraged to upload photos.
Some showed the same rampant growth of lichen.
Others indicated the ubiquitous interior rot.
This tree fell with no roots to speak of.
On June 12, no injuries were reported while trees were knocked over in yet another storm in Arkansas.  From a local station:

Strong winds caused substantial damage throughout Cross County, according to Cross County Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Rusty McClain.

According to McClain, several people are without power in Cherry Valley and Hickory Ridge after high winds blew through the area. Heavy rain also drench the area.

McClain said trees are on top of homes, cars and power lines in Hickory Ridge. The storm also blew the roof off a home....In Paragould, strong winds blew over trees across the city. One tree fell on a car. Numerous limbs are down across Paragould.

This reader photo clearly shows the rotted interior of a dying tree, which even so still has leaves fanning out in what remains of the crown in the background.
I suppose I could spend all day, every day dredging up stories of deaths and injuries from falling trees, but let's move on to WHY the trees are exacting such brutal (and well-deserved) revenge on the human race and its possessions.
Every time I see the advice to plant trees because they clean the air a wave of fresh rage engulfs me - because never, ever is it accompanied by the slightest pause to wonder what damage that pollution does to the trees that absorb it.  The most recent example of this is even more infuriating than usual, because it unveils the truly sickening, unholy alliance between The Nature Conservancy, the “biggest environmental non-governmental organization in the world” - according to an exposé in The New Yorker - and the worlds biggest, most polluting corporations.
What can you expect from a group that chooses as its leader a former partner from Goldman Sachs, Mark Tercek - whose share when the firm went public was $30m, who with his wife and four children has taken so many “nature trips” to places like Belize and the Galápagos Islands that their travel agency used their family photo on a brochure, who as head of TNC makes nearly $700k/year...and counts Cargill Dow - by some measures the largest privately owned company in the world with the possible, debatable exception of Koch Industries - DuPont and Georgia Pacific and Coca-Cola among its sponsors and partners, giving them an annual budget of $600m?  Can we say power corrupts?
So their new project has made me even more berserk than usual.  I had heard of the “New Conservation” when I read reviews of a book called The Rambunctious Garden, which takes the position that Nature is so debauched already that we need a new way - “eco-pragmatism” - to approach goals of conservation, which move away from preservation of long-since-defiled purity for the sake of biodiversity, and instead monetize ecosystem “value” and “services” for human benefit - such that corporations can be persuaded to do somewhat less atrocious damage.  I had decided then to more or less ignore all this frantic floundering because it is ultimately amounts to nothing but blather and pontificating - since the Sixth Mass Extinction has already begun, is irreversible, and will ultimately include us.
Until I read this headline:  Fighting Pollution in Smog-Choked Houston With an Unlikely Weapon: Trees

Here are the first few paragraphs:

Once home to expansive forests of pecan, ash, live oak and hackberry trees, this region along the Texas Gulf Coast is now a huge megalopolis of densely packed skyscrapers and sprawling suburbs, all connected by a network of smog-choked highways that today rank near the top of the most polluted in America.

Those trees that once naturally purified the coastal air coming in from the Gulf of Mexico are no more, wiped out by Houston's early settlers in a rush to clear land and build communities. Now one of the nation's largest chemical companies and one of its oldest conservation groups have forged an unlikely partnership that seeks to recreate some of that forest to curb pollution.

The plan drafted by Dow Chemical and the Nature Conservancy is only in its infancy and faces many hurdles. But it envisions a day when expensive machines used to capture industrial pollutants might be at least partially replaced by restoring some of the groves of native trees that once filled the land.
So this disgusting piece of propaganda has a couple of outright lies (in addition to the major lie of omission - that pollution is killing the trees so there is no point planting them if you plan to keep polluting).  First of all, the trees that were clearcut never “naturally purified the coastal air coming in fro the Gulf of Mexico” - what was there to purify? The air was already clean!

Lie number two -its not an “unlikely partnership” - its a business-as-usual, routine, typically putrid collaboration between the leadership of The Nature Conservancy, (which has become transparently venal), and the profit-driven interests of big BIG business - which also, in addition to the horribly noxious emissions from that particular Houston facility (which ranks in the 10th worst of national sources emitting bromine, chlorine, cumene, and hexachloroethane) happen to include fracking, biofuels, dam construction, GMO food, and nuclear energy.

The article continues:

Trees with the biggest leaves and the widest canopies capture the most pollutants (** remember this for later!), especially nitrogen oxide, a common byproduct of combustion that can irritate lungs and contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone...Scientists used a complex model from the U.S. Forest Service that considers everything from wind patterns to the size of tree leaves and the overall canopy to estimate the air-quality improvements that might come from 1,000 acres of forest.
But...wait!  A study published last July drew on thirty years of field data at the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve in central Minnesota and determined that “...declines in ecosystem productivity are fueled by nitrogen-induced species loss”. 

According to the authors, previous studies have underestimated the impact of biodiversity on ecosystem functioning...we found that the most common species were lost under fertilization, creating a substantial decrease in productivity over time.
I dont intend to go into The Nature Conservancy can of worms too much further, because unfortunately theres no bottom to it.  The feud between them and more traditional biologists can be construed to a certain extent as merely a turf battle, one that has been fulminating for a couple of years. Anyone who is interested in the positions on either side of the rift can read that New Yorker article above, or directly compare biologist Michael Soulés position (who incidentally, authored an excellent essay about how the foibles of human nature have enabled ecocide) with the shabby spectacle presented by TNCs Chief Science Director, Peter Kereiva in a video at this link titled “Failed Metaphors and a New Environmentalism for the 21st Century”.  He makes such mean-spirited swipes at the founders of the movement, and exhibits such unseemly appropriation of concern for poverty as though environmentalists dont care about displaced indigenous people, that I could not watch the whole thing.  Worse, he jeers at the notion that nature is fragile, which is absurd since after millions of years of evolution, species are inextricably entwined.
Just a couple of recent stories will serve to demonstrate that fundamental characteristic of the web of life.  One report of a study demonstrates the extent to which nitrogen pollution has led to a 90% decrease of seagrass since the 1930's in the waters from Long Island to Maine - according to a scientist who, ironically, works at TNC.  I guess he didn't get the “nature is resilient” memo.  At their page recounting the collaborative research with Woods Hole, it is mentioned that “The loss of seagrass may be linked to major declines in both finfish and shellfish populations” because, according to the first article, it provides “critical habitat”.
Finfish and shellfish are also directly impacted by sewage and agricultural runoff as well, which brings us to the next, particularly tragic story, about the inability of puffin parents to feed their chicks.  In the usual obsession with climate change the lack of appropriately sized fish is attributed to warming waters with nary a mention of pollution, or the loss of “critical habitat” in the form of sea grass.  This year the webcam is trained on a “puffin loafing ledge” rather than a nest - probably because last year, in what must have been a memorable experience, schoolchildren watched the baby starve to death.
When you read the story, remember the film posted earlier, Sea of Slaughter and realize that this population is just a tiny, tiny part of puffins and other species that have already been long since extirpated, not by pollution or global warming but by direct mass extermination for feathers, fat, meat, eggs, and fishing bait.  I have almost finished my used copy of the book the movie is based upon, which is beautifully written and has a staggering wealth of documentation that should be required reading for anyone advocating the New Conservation and pandering the false reassurance of the robust ability of nature to adapt such grotesque defilement.
Either of these stories give the lie to the notion that nature is resilient. In fact, like any complex system, it is terribly fragile, and that is why it is collapsing.  This year, the fireflies that used to dance all the way to the tops of the trees in huge sparkling multitudes are nearly completely gone, which is incredibly sad, and also missing are the merry hordes of little crested nuthatches that used to jostle around the bird feeder.
The final word about the irrelevant tempest comes from Dr. Sian Sullivan who wrote about 2013s Inaugural “World Forum on Natural Capital” from a psychoanalytical perspective, in which she scornfully pinpoints the agenda underlying the motivations of the “New Conservation” that “...offsets, and the market structures on which they are based, are functioning as fetishised substitutes for genuinely pro-environmental behaviour”:
In Edinburgh over the next two days the inaugural World Forum on Natural Capital claims that ‘a revolution is taking place in how businesses and governments account for natural capital’, and that ‘there has never been a better time for senior decision makers to exercise leadership for the benefit of business and the planet’. Meanwhile, the counter-Forum on Natural Commons, held by an array of social movements and civil society organisations, believe that this ‘revolution’ ‘is the first step to creating financial markets in water, air, soil and forests’ thus ‘effectively privatising nature’. This seems to be a pivotal moment in contemporary struggles over how nature is best valued, managed and allocated.
Dont worry that you missed the Forum, another is scheduled for 2015 which is all about “sustainable development” - you can sign up now and find out how to mitigate your travel to Edinburgh - by paying for trees to be planted - seriously!

Aside from the self-serving inanity of carbon offsets, the trees are not going to grow if we continue to release toxic emissions into the air.  In a video talk in May at the University of Exeter Transformational Climate Science presentation, Corinne LeQuéré, one of the IPCC authors, wonders at about eight minutes in if there is sufficient evidence to be concerned about ocean acidification.  She questions whether it is equivalent to reduced terrestrial production of vegetation such as results from ozone, of about a quarter, or whether it is more comparable to desertification.  The astonishing sanguine acknowledgment that annual growth is suppressed by 25% is only matched by her apparent ignorance that such damage is cumulative for trees and other perennial plants, particularly when considered together with opportunistic attacks from insects, disease and fungus.  A deeply troubling story from California features two of those - insects and fungus (video at the link - following is the transcript).
Tree-killing beetles attacking Californias forests

Now you can add a legion of seemingly unstoppable beetles to the list of threats facing the regions forests.

Theyve already invaded hundreds of tree species, and they are showing no signs of slowing down.

“ We have lost numerous trees,’’ said Jim Folsom, director of the Huntington Botanical Gardens outside of Pasadena, Calif.

“ On the property, in these 200 acres, we have over 700 species of large tree, woody tree. Of those, fully one-third, over 200 different kinds, different species of tree have proven to be invaded or impacted by this borer," Folsom said.
The polyphagous shot hole borer is a tiny, grain-sized beetle first discovered in the area two years ago.

It drills a hole into the heart of the tree and deposits a fungus that it carries in its mouth. That blocks water and nutrients and in many cases kills the tree.

“ We have no known treatment,’’ Folsom said. “ We have no capacity to fend it off.’’

University of California, Riverside, plant pathologist Akif Eskalen first discovered the pests in avocado trees.

They have since spread to 280 different species in Southern California, and he fears they could be unstoppable.
“ The main problem is this is an invasive, exotic beetle, which means we don't have any established, natural enemies that could keep this population down in Southern California,’’ said Eskalen.

Eskalen and his colleagues tracked the bug to southeast Asia but are still unsure how it got to the U.S.

While the infestation is a concern at Huntington Gardens, it has the potential to create a nationwide crisis as the beetles spread into residential neighborhoods, tinder-dry forestland and, most worrisome, agricultural plants.

“ If we cannot stop it, it can go as far as the beetle and fungus can survive,’’ Eskalen said.
The article states that the insect came from southeast Asia, but the University of California page it directs to actually says:

The PSHB seems to have originated in South East Asia or Africa. At first, researchers identified it as the Tea Shot Hole Borer (Euwallaecea fornicatus), which it very closely resembles, but DNA evidence points to it being a new, as yet unnamed species in the same genus. The symbiotic fungus may also be a new unnamed species, in the genus Fusarium, which is commonly associated with ambrosia beetles.

...It attacks a wide range of native, ornamental, and horticultural trees, and has caused severe damage in avocado groves in Israel...

How absurd to imagine that although people have engaged for centuries in intensive global trade, suddenly, within the last two years, an obscure invasive alien beetle - and a new UNNAMED species of fungus - threatens the entire country?  In all the shipments of live nursery stock and manufactured goods, all the food and packing, the beetle only just arrived?  This exceedingly disturbing report, of hundreds of species being vulnerable to one beetle, should be a huge wake-up call to all the foresters, nurserymen, and other professional “experts” that something much more insidious and collossal is going on beyond random occasional invasive species.  It needs to be taken in the wider context of California, of live oak thousand canker disease and the blight on the Monterey cypress.  Also it is occurring in the backdrop of global epidemics of biotic attacks, which are occurring everywhere you look - from palms and citrus in Florida, to coffee in Central America, the massive bark beetle kill - blamed on temperatures in the American west - Sudden Aspen Decline, blamed on a fungus, bark beetle attacks also in Texas, and the Southeast which, according to scientists, is the one region in the US that has actually cooled, not warmed, from climate change, the wooly adelgid decimating hemlocks, the emerald ash borer in the Midwest working its way east.  The list for the UK and Europe, Asia, and Australia is endless, ini fact, it's impossible to find any species anywhere that is not being threatened with devastation - and the question is WHY?  Nothing - nothing - is consistent...not warming or cooling, drought or more rain - in all the places that trees are dying...nothing except the background level of tropospheric ozone.  It is the one constant that is KNOWN to be poisonous to plants.  It is no surprise that the area around LA is being hit so badly and so rapidly - thanks to heat, weather, the car culture and geography, historically it has had the highest levels of ozone in the world, for the longest, and was the first place - at least as early as 1963 - where research was first published about trees dying because ozone weakened their resistance to beetles.

This is as good a time as any to dredge up part of a quote from a post two years ago, Hysteresis and the Vile Conspiracy to Blame the Bugs, from the “father of permaculture”, Australian George Mollison, way back in 1981.  It is relevant to the story from California, and even more so for the observation attributed to Richard St. Barbe Baker in light of the Houston story which stated - Trees with the biggest leaves and the widest canopies capture the most pollutants - Remember??

“There is still another factor. It would be bad enough if it were just our cutting that is killing forests. But since the 1920s, and with increasing frequency, we have been loosing species from forest to a whole succession of pathogens. It started with things like chestnut blight. Chestnuts were 80% of the forests that they occupied. So a single species dropping out may represent enormous biomass, enormous biological reserve, and a very important tree.  Richard St. Barbe Baker pointed out that the trees that are going are those with the greatest leaf area per unit. First chestnuts, with maybe sixty acres of leaf area per tree. Then the elms, running at about forty. Now the beeches are going, and the oaks, the eucalypts in Australia and Tasmania. Even the needle leaf trees in Japan are failing. The Japanese coniferous forests are going at a fantastic rate. So are the Canadian shield forests and the Russian forests.”
“Now we come to a thing called the phasmid conspiracy...Really, is it these diseases? What are the diseases? Phasmids are responsible for the death of eucalypts. There is the cinnamon fungus. In elms, it's the Dutch elm disease. In the poplars, its the rust. And in the firs, its also rust. Do you think that any of these diseases are killing the forest?  What I think we are looking at is a carcass. The forest is a dying system on which the decomposers are beginning to feed. If you know forests very well, you know that you can go out this morning and strike a tree with an axe. Thats it. Or touch it with the edge of a bulldozer, or bump it with your car. Then, if you sit patiently by that tree, within three days you will see that maybe twenty insects and other decomposers and ‘pests have visited the injury. The tree is already doomed. What attracts them is the smell from the dying tree. We have noticed that in Australia. Just injure trees to see what happens. The phasmids come. The phasmid detects the smell of this. The tree has become its food tree, and it comes to feed.  So insects are not the cause of the death of forests.  The cause of the death of forests is multiple insult. We point to some bug and say: ‘That bug did it. It is much better if you can blame somebody else. You all know that. So we blame the bug. It is a conspiracy, really, to blame the bugs. But the real reason the trees are failing is that there have been profound changes in the amount of light penetrating the forest, in pollutants, and in acid rain fallout. People, not bugs, are killing the forests.”


  1. Gail, you are amazing!

    Very uplifting post, BTW! :D


  2. This is wonderful... cultured, visually informative, thank you so much for all that you do.

  3. Gail - spectacular post! Your wit shows through-out!


  4. When I tell people that one of the benefits of shade vines is that the vines can't fall on your head and kill you, they look at me like I'm nuts.

  5. Missed opportunity:

    1. Catman my dear husband made this comment a year before he died