Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hell in a Handbasket

Lately I wonder more and more whether it matters that evidence continues to mount demonstrating that trees are rapidly dying from absorbing air pollution - when the world is being consumed by floods and hurricanes and droughts.  But when I saw this video of fire in California, I decided it was time to revisit the subject.  All the high-tech special effects in Hollywood could not create a bleaker dystopic scene than the terrifying reality today in Weed, California.

To the extent that the background concentration of ozone in the atmosphere means we are losing crops to feed people, a critical CO2 sink, and face an increase in the frequency and ferocity of wildfires (which, aside from being horrific for trees, wildlife and people, represents another amplifying feedback to climate change - from soot darkening albedo on ice and snow far away, adding aerosol pollution to the atmosphere and making even MORE ozone)...yeah, it matters.  People should know.
Following are some recent stories that are relevant.  There are lots more, but these should suffice.  The macabre but beautiful "embalmed" flower pictures are courtesy David Lange in Oregon, where the air pollution is worse than government monitors reveal.
The leaves are from a nursery in western New Jersey, taken on September 2.  I stopped there because these trees are being watered and STILL, even after a very mild summer, every species has leaves that are damaged - and many of them were already on the ground.

 It would be absurd for fall color to have already begun emerging on the 2nd of September.
 Except it isn't really fall color anyway - it is burning, scorching, singeing and shriveling.

headline reads:  Ozone Pollution in India Kills Enough Crops to Feed 94 Million in Poverty

I left the following comment:

This is a very important study. Not enough people are aware of how damaging ozone is to annual crops, and in fact the problem is far worse even than depicted in this research for numerous reasons.
1. Damage is cumulative, so that ozone is causing longer-lived species such as trees and shrubs to die prematurely all over the world.
2. Ozone decreases the ability of vegetation to ward off biotic attacks, leading to epidemics of insects, disease and fungus on every species you can imagine, globally. This is a far more pernicious effect of ozone than the direct reduction in yield production referred to in the study.
3. Even before a reduction in growth or injury to foliage is observed, root systems suffer a depletion. This increases vulnerability to drought and windthrow.
4. The loss of wild plants is having ripple effects throughout the natural ecosystem, affecting insects, birds, and mammals.
5.  The loss of a major sink for CO2 is going to vastly accelerate global warming.
Yet another person is killed by a falling tree, this time a Chicago actress riding a bike.  Add her to the growing list of direct victims that no one is officially keeping track of.
Ozone levels are also higher than expected in the Colorado mountains...oh wait isn't that where climate change is making the trees die?

Researchers say they're surprised by how much harmful ozone and ozone-causing chemicals are drifting into the Colorado mountains from urban and rural areas below. 
Scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and NASA say an intensive examination of pollution along the populated northern Front Range found ozone all the way up to the mountainous Continental Divide.
They say mountain ozone levels were similar to or greater than levels at lower elevations in some cases. 
Researchers gathered data from aircraft, balloons and ground stations from the Denver area to Fort Collins, about 60 miles away, from mid-July through last week. 
The scientists stressed they are in the early stages of reviewing the data and were hesitant to offer many specifics. They expect to start making data public by the end of the year.
The Union of Concerned Scientists and the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization issued a joint report, "Rocky Mountain Forests at Risk".  Myriad articles about the release of the study had titles like this one:  "Trees Are Dying From No Obvious Cause".
Within the entire report, this was the sole mention of any influence of pollution:  Air and water pollution can stress trees, making them more vulnerable to other stresses such as droughts and wildfires.  The footnote for that leads to a study reported at the US government's Climate website, with the preposterous assertion that eastern forests are increasing their carbon uptake, based on this nonsense:  The shift toward earlier spring leaf out is due to warming in the U.S. East, and has been mirrored by a delay in when trees drop their leaves in autumn.

Here's a very typical tree on September 2:

I wrote the authors of the Forest at Risk report the following letter (no reply as yet):

Dear Mr. Funk, Mr. Markham, Mr. Saunders and Mr. Easley, 

There is no doubt that climate change will kill trees, as they cannot migrate fast enough.  However, that is not what is killing the trees around the world right now.  And there actually IS an obvious reason they are dying prematurely - it is from ordinary but invisible air pollution derived primarily from nitrous oxides and also methane, the precursors to ozone.  The background level of ozone is inexorably rising, and it is even more highly toxic to vegetation than humans.
In addition to shrinking roots, making plants more vulnerable to drought and wind, ozone causes a loss of natural immunity to biotic pathogens such as insects, disease and fungus, which have become epidemics globally, not only in the American west.  In fact bark beetles are killing trees in the southeast US, which has become cooler and wetter from climate change.  Every species of tree is now in decline from an onslaught of attacks because they are weakened from pollution.
Although this has been well-researched, it is rarely discussed because the only way to stop it is to stop burning fuel. The scientists who study bark beetle in the west and attribute tree decline to drought are confusing correlation with causation.  They should look around in other places not in drought, where the foliage is showing visible symptoms of exposure to pollution.  On the east coast, leaves are shriveling and turning brown instead of the glorious colors of fall.  Autumn has been increasingly disappointing for several years - 2014 will be an epic wipeout.
The loss of forests globally due to pollution should be of urgent concern to climate change scientists and activists, because without them absorbing CO2, global warming is going to accelerate far faster than current models predict.

Update:  I forgot to mention that scientists are puzzled as to why there was such a jump in the level of CO2 this past year.

"...preliminary data in the report indicates that the jump could also be attributed to “reduced CO2 uptake by the Earth’s biosphere” – the first time the effectiveness of the world’s great carbon sinks has been scientifically called into question.Scientists said they were puzzled and extremely concerned by prospect of reduced absorption of the world’s oceans and plants, which they cannot explain and which threatens to accelerate the build-up of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere if the trend continues.
“That carbon dioxide concentrations continued to surge upwards last year is worrying news,” said Professor Dave Reay, of the University of Edinburgh.
“Of particular concern is the indication that carbon storage in the world’s forests and oceans may be faltering. So far these ‘carbon sinks’ have been locking away almost half of all the carbon dioxide we emit,” Professor Reay added.
“If they begin to fail in the face of further warming then our chances of avoiding dangerous climate change become very slim indeed.”
The plants and the oceans each typically absorb about a quarter of humanity’s CO2 emissions every year, with the other half going into the atmosphere, where it can remain for hundreds of years.
The last time there was a reduction in the biosphere’s ability to absorb carbon was in 1998, a year in which extensive forest fires and dry weather killed off lots of plants, dealing a blow to the world’s carbon sink.
But Dr Oksana Tarasova, chief of the atmospheric research division at the WMO, said this time it is much more worrying because there have been no obvious impacts on the biosphere this year.“This problem is very serious. It could be that the biosphere is already at its limit, or it may be close to reaching it. Or it may be that it just becomes less effective at absorbing carbon. But it’s still very concerning,” said Dr Tarasova.

Meanwhile, the article is illustrated with this photo, captioned Thick pollution from a factory in Yutian, 100km east of Beijing, China  - but...NO OBVIOUS IMPACTS


  1. Thanks for the update, Gail. My echinacea looks exactly like the photo you have posted here. This got me wondering about the impact on seed production in herbaceous species. All my trees (non fruit or nut) produce seed in spring, while the leaves are still looking green. I haven't read anything about the impact of pollution/CO2 or ozone on seed production in later seeding plants. Will go google it now and see if anything pops up.

    1. Let me know what you find! Certainly when trees are stressed (aka dying) from whatever reason, they will overproduce an abundance of seeds/cones/nuts for a season or two before they expire. At this time of year you can see evergreen trees with huge amounts of cones on them; in spring I have seen amazing amounts of seeds on deciduous trees. I read about the echinacea that when the seeds are mature, the cone is high and pointed - so, in that photo, the center flower looks like it has mature seeds, but the others are still flat and immature, while the petals are already dead. In general, I just see far fewer wildflowers than I used to.

  2. Hi Gail:

    Here in Virginia, the large cherry tree in the back yard of our townhouse has already lost almost all its leaves--as you said they just turned brown and fell off. I used to have to rake them up in mid-to-late October, but it looks like they will all be ready to go by this weekend. Sad.

    1. OMG Bill Hicks you are blogging again! I am so glad, I missed your rare voice of sanity more than I can say!!! Now off to catch up with your recent postings....happy day!!!! http://billhicksisdead.blogspot.com/

  3. Gail, great post and photos, as usual. However, I found it interesting that you start with "Lately I wonder more and more whether it matters that evidence continues to mount demonstrating that trees are rapidly dying from absorbing air pollution...." I have come to the conclusion, actually a "few" years ago, that mounting evidence, from any and all disciplines, regarding the decline and imminent collapse of the biosphere actually "matters" less and less with the progression of time. It has become increasingly evident with the unfortunately simultaneous unraveling of national "economies" that a preponderance of the populace, of all nations, is more concerned than ever about the mother-fuckin' money. (You'd find that last term funny if you were familiar with the work of Matt Stone & Trey Parker, some of which is the most profoundly poignant reflection of "our" culture I've ever seen.) A capacity to "override" one's programming and beliefs requires an "awareness" that seems utterly absent in far too many "humans." While I can't, personally, say with any certainty that homo sapiens sapiens will be extinct before any given date, I am utterly certain that less than 1% of that species (as well as many, many other lifeforms) will be around to "celebrate" New Year's Eve on 31-Dec-2039. While it has often been written/discussed how few understand the "exponential function," I find it even more dismaying how many fewer still understand that we're witnessing a geometric progression in a "step function." (Imagine how electrons "jump" orbital shells in atomic valence changes.) Moreover, those who may happen to survive beyond 1-Jan-2040 are most certainly not going to consider themselves "lucky."

    I apologize in advance if you have seen the following lecture since I may have found it in one of the articles/comments on this site. However, I dare say, it is worth repeating for those who may not have seen it and, judging by the counter, those "people" are legion.

    Tropospheric Ozone in the Anthropocene: Are We Creating a Toxic Atmosphere?

    1. You are correct in all you say, Colin. I'll look up Stone & Parker; they are new to me. For those few of us who do seem, from whatever bad luck, to be able to accurately observe our self-inflicted omnicide, do we have a moral responsibility to rage against it - or warn others? I wouldn't presume to say others do. But I feel compelled, even knowing it is meaningless and futile, to bear witness. So I'm going on Monday to #floodwallstreet, not because it will do any good but because it might have, if we'd done it 40 years ago. Nah. Probably not then either. You may have seen the Fishman lecture as I posted it here: http://witsendnj.blogspot.com/2014/07/there-goes-neighborhood.html - he sent it to me himself after I read his book, Global Alert, and wrote him with some questions.

  4. Hi Gail - great post! The video was amazingly scary and this burning phenomena won't just be due to forest fires or confined there. As we get more and more methane and hydrogen sulfide concentration we'll see more and more explosions and fires all over the place combined with people becoming sick and dying from the poisonous atmosphere we're creating in addition to the vegetation dying and crop production plummeting.

    I watched the presentation on tropospheric ozone - the professor/scientist doesn't deliver the punch line very well:

    "And, ah, you know, it's ah, just going to, um kinda keep getting worse - but I really want to thank Paul for all your help there buddy, allowing this report to be delivered here tonight and um, that's all folks . . .. He should try stand-up or spoken word - he'd slay 'em i'm sure ......

    Colinc: great observation and I agree with your analysis. My time frame is shifted about 5 or so years sooner due to interacting parameters causing catastrophic collapse or a sink-hole effect on global population at certain points (for example: when health establishments are over-run and critical medicines can't come on line soon enough at needed levels, toxic gases killing entire towns through asphyxiation, fire and explosion, combined with panic, desperation and mass insanity when there's no food or the electrical grid fails for good and spontaneous fires and explosions becoming the norm). Other than that, we're just witnessing the decline in real time - the end of the folly of civilization.

    I had a horrible thought the other day: what if all the trees just started keeling over for no reason, one by one at first, and then more and more at the same time all over the place.. .. ..


    1. I can't fault your shifted time-frame, Tom, or anything else in your comment. In fact, I pretty much agree with all you have noted, I guess the "optimist" in me still wants to assert itself! :) Furthermore, your parentheses enclosed "for example" is precisely the sort of mass, chaotic death-blows I fully expect. The global droughts, predominantly in the largest food producing regions of every major country, won't just be affecting "crop" yields, it doesn't matter what any power-plant "burns" for the heat, when there's no water, there's no electricity and the "seams" of society will burst like an over-inflated balloon.

  5. colinc says: …the work of Matt Stone & Trey Parker, some of which is the most profoundly poignant reflection of "our" culture I've ever seen….

    From 2002(!):

    “Global warming is going to kill us all.”

    (from 0:13 to 0:15)

    1. Thanks for the "alternate" link, Ben, even though it didn't really "work" for me. I just checked the "main" link, www.southparkstudios.com, which I haven't been to for a number of months, and see where it, too, is "powered by Hulu." I wonder if they still show ALL the episodes for free and uncensored. (Well, except for the 200th & 201st which seem to have gone straight to censorship hell the moment they were finalized.) Otherwise, yes, the global warming episode was seriously fuckin' funny. I've seen every one, many of them multiple times (and they're still hilarious), and I can only think of a mere handful that were only "so-so." The quote I'd referenced earlier was from the episode "Butters Bottom Bitch" in which "innocent" little Leopold Stoch becomes a pimp and learns that "it's all about the mother-fuckin' money!!" :) In a similar vein, "Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset," in which Paris Hilton wants to dress Butters as a little bear and buy him from his parents (who are willing to sell for right price) after her chihuahua blows its brains out with the chauffeur's pistol is equally gut-busting, albeit in a much cruder manner.

    2. colin, yes, I too am a South Park freak. I haven’t looked at the online episodes for awhile either, but it looks like the Hulu site sucks, compared to the previous one.

      I missed the mother-fuckin’ money reference. Now, if you had said “It’s all about the game,” or “Yes. I. know. what. you. are. saying,” I think I might have gotten it!

    3. Sparkle, sunshine! :) ("The List," S11E14) My wife (retired Elementary & Reading Recovery teacher) just "loves" Butters and giggles incessantly at his pimp-persona (as well as many others) and frequently responds to me with that last quote!! I still haven't explored the link you posted but did check out the new interface at southparkstudios.com, which actually seems to have improved (a bit) in navigating to specific episodes (200 & 201 still unavailable). "Butters' Bottom Bitch" is season 13, episode 9 and is uncensored. However, the "screen-size" has been shrunk ("full-screen" is available but I didn't try it), the video and audio were often slightly out of synch, there were more than a few "extra" commercials (10 yrs ago there were none) and they now appear to allow comments on each episode. The dozen or so comments I read ALL exclusively slammed the "merger" with Hulu and the increase in commercials. (I guess Matt & Trey have also become all about "the mother-fuckin' money!") For the "uninitiated but curious," the global warming episode Ben referenced, "Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow," is season 9, episode 8 and "Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset" is S8E12. Lastly, as it MAY have some relevance beyond mere evolution and the currently espoused "reasons" for the woes of this world, I suggest "Cancelled" (S7E4) especially if your prefer "unusual" aliens. Note, I do not now have, nor ever had, any "relationship" with the series, its creators, Comedy Central or Viacom beyond enjoying the levity I experience watching the trials and tribulations of the show's characters. Apologies to Gail for being way off topic.

  6. HA-HAAH! You two are great admirers of South Park like my oldest son - so, though I don't see it often enough, I occasionally catch the referenced lines (he and I also trade Caddy Shack quotes when then apply). Thanks for the laughs, guys.

    i'll look into the ones you've described.


  7. Replies
    1. Yes, that one is definitely one of my top 5, it's really difficult for me to say any one episode is my absolute "favorite." Nonetheless, I again tried the link you provided with the "Global warming is..." quote, which I had mistakenly believed to be "on" Hulu. This time it worked and, being a little more attentive this time, found that 1) it was a clip from a different episode (S5E5, a "semi-funny" one in my book) than the one I had referenced later (no wonder I couldn't recall the quote) and 2) the address actually seems to be on their "new home" and southparkstudios.com is the alias!! I'm looking forward to the new season (starts Wed., 24-Sept) and hope they keep up(?!) their "standards" I'm still disappointed with the reduction of episodes to a "single" season, though. Yet more "evidence" that the "money" quote takes precedence, even in "art."

    2. Colin, yes, I agree it’s hard to pick just one.

      Dunno where you live, but Comedy Central South Park marathon till 5 a.m. tomorrow starts here in a few minutes (at 4:07 Pacific Time)!

  8. Gail: here's about a 15 min. one for you from Alberta (the woman clearly doesn't know about ozone pollution, but the evidence is awful)




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