Sunday, October 25, 2015

Fallen Leaves That Jewel the Ground

October 29, 2010
This fall, there have been just enough bright colors to serve as a cruel reminder that I will never again see a sight as deliriously sublime as the pond in Peapack when I saw it, in 2010.
October 25, 2015
Five years since then (less four days) and the inexorable, accelerating decline of trees presents us with ever more fading of the former glory that was autumn.
Even leaves on the brightest maples are damaged, pale ghosts of what should be flaming scarlet.
I can find a few bright areas, but right next to a spray of fiery leaves on the same tree are too many shriveled, burnt branches.
Even worse, many more leaves, like these honey locust, have remained obdurately green as of today.
They have become limp, turning grey or brown, and then fall onto the ground without even the feeblest nod to the vibrant colors we expect in autumn.
I planted this katsura in front of the chicken coup about fifteen years ago.  It started as little more than a twig and it's now at least 30 feet high.
Every fall for at least five years it has been shedding leaves early - turning yellow even in the summer.  But this year, they didn't even get that far.  They just turned brown.
One author wrote, in 2011, of his first discovery of the katsura, "...the aroma originated at a beautifully shaped tree with magnificent apricot-yellow foliage".  Although the lollipop scent if anything is even more pungent than usual, leaves on the entire crown of the kasura are leathery and dessicated.
They will not be turning "magnificent apricot-yellow" ever again.  Interestingly, the smell is supposed to occur only in fall as the leaves reach the end of their life cycle, stop photosynthesizing, and produce maltol, a sugar - but I can smell it all summer long.
And so too the redbud, a larger heart-shaped leaf, which shows no sign of ever displaying the contrasting purplish and orange hues it is known for.
Ironically, these two species both made the top ten list of fall plantings for bright color in This Old House Magazine, in an article published at least five years ago.
Not any more, unfortunately.

Following are the haunting lyrics from the Incredible String Band's October Song.  You can listen to the recording after a collection photos, which will be followed by the latest futile letter to the scientists.

October Song

I'll sing you this October song
Oh, there is no song before it
The words and tune are none of my own
For my joys and sorrows bore it

Beside the sea
The brambly briers in the still of evening
Birds fly out behind the sun
And with them I'll be leaving

The fallen leaves that jewel the ground
They know the art of dying
And leave with joy their glad gold hearts
In the scarlet shadows lying

When hunger calls my footsteps home
The morning follows after
I swim the seas within my mind
And the pine-trees laugh green laughter

I used to search for happiness
And I used to follow pleasure
But I found a door behind my mind
And that's the greatest treasure

For rulers like to lay down laws
And rebels like to break them
And the poor priests like to walk in chains
And God likes to forsake them

I met a man whose name was Time
And he said, "I must be going
But just how long ago that was
I have no way of knowing

Sometimes I want to murder time
Sometimes when my heart's aching
But mostly I just stroll along
The path that he is taking.

               ~ Robin Williamson, 1966

The other day I was stopped in the car at a red light, and someone in the vehicle next to me was listening to music so loud that I could feel it throbbing through both our closed windows.  It was some pop music that I couldn't name but recognized as silly, but happy.  I thought about how I rarely listen to music anymore, though it was once a joyful part of my life.

In fact, I avoid anything that triggers happy emotions.

Raw happy feelings bring up so much regret and grief in their wake, that I guess that, without deliberate intention, I have become practiced at numbness.  Which isn't to excuse it, let alone recommend it.  But the pine trees I see no longer laugh green laughter - they are fried and burnt and bare.  The fallen leaves no longer "...leave with joy their glad gold hearts..In the scarlet shadows lying..." - instead they shrivel up and turn brown and hang limp on the branches, without even the energy to turn color.  They are victims of poisoning that never was imagined in 1966 - when that exquisite ode to autumn was written - and are still almost universally ignored today.

Losing nature is as excruciatingly painful as losing a lover forever.  In that circumstance, it is better to forget than be overwhelmed by regret.  It is too painful to remember being breathless at the deep timbre of his voice on the other end of the phone; recall the anticipatory shivers when his footsteps reverberated late at night as he walked into the house; echo the melting felt at a glancing touch. Similarly, it is safer to push away memories of walking outside marveling at lush gardens full of scented flowers and butterflies, of climbing mountain trails through cool shady forests luxurious with ferns, of digging toes into gritty clean sand on a beach that smells of briney clean abundance in the sea.

My heart is constantly aching, wanting to Murder Time -  but there is nothing left but to stroll along.

I recently learned via a friend on FaceBook that there is a fabulous view to be found from the top of Bowman's Tower, a commemorative structure built in the 1930s in Washington Crossing State Park, located in New Hope, PA.  This past Friday was clear and sunny, so I decided to take the stairs to the top where I could record the condition of the trees.  I was reasonably confident that I would be able to find pictures from past seasons for comparison on the web, since it is a popular spot for tourists.
Sure enough, I later found lots of pictures and was able to match them approximately to mine.  This photo was taken on October 25, 2010:
Compare those vibrant colors to the empty crowns and dull foliage of October 23, 2015.

A staggering percentage of trees completely lost their leaves weeks ahead of normal.

This photo was undated, but was published in March of 2009, so it had to have been taken no later than the autum of 2008.
Here is what it looks like now, when it should be peak color:
I don't know when this photo was taken, but I do know it will never look like this again...
Because already the leaves are falling off, going from green to brown, before they ever turn those bright hues:

This photo is reliably dated -  as October 24, 2010
Here is a similar vantage I took on October 23 this year:
Another view from the same October 24, 2010 set:
Compare it to October 23, this year:
This photo was featured as Bucks County Fall Photo of the week in November, 2011:
In the intervening years the view has become more and more drab, earlier and earlier in the season, as shown in my picture from the 24th:
Does it look the same?  It's not!  Zoom in - today, almost half the branches are already bare.
From the tower, far below, it is possible to see the historic Thompson-Neely House, which is part of the park and open to the public for tours.  It retains the original pre-Revolutionary wide board floors, beautiful hand-made moldings, and of course the iconic stonework.
I decided to visit it, as long as I was there, and discovered to my non-surprise that it doesn't retain many of the trees that once graced the property.  There are stumps everywhere.

This is an earlier, undated photo which shows a large tree in front of the house, with a tall sycamore beyond.
Here's another view of it from days gone by.
 Well, that tree is no longer there.
 And the sycamore is rotting inside, as evidenced by a gaping hole in the trunk.

Here's the content of my latest missive to the following scientists:

Craig D. Allen, David D. Breshears, Nate G. McDowell,
A.K. Macalady, H. Chenchouni, D. Bachelet, N. McDowell, M. Vennetier, T. Kitzberger, A. Rigling, D.D. Breshears, E.H. Hogg, P. Gonzales, R. Fensham, Z. Zhang, J.-H. Lim, J. Castro, N. Demidova, G. Allard, S.W. Running, A. Semerci, and N. Cobb

cc:  Daniel Bishop, Timothy Sullivan, Gregory Lawrence, Colin Beier

Dear Authors and Editors,

I am writing in reference to the following papers you have published:

On underestimation of global vulnerability to tree mortality and forest die-off from hotter drought in the Anthropocene” in the ESA journal Ecosphere“A global overview of drought and heat-induced tree mortality reveals emerging climate change risks for forests”, in Forest Ecology and Management.

I am concerned that the emphasis on drought from climate change (although I do not dispute climate change or its ultimate impact on forests) is neglecting a crucial factor in forest decline.  The contribution of tropospheric ozone and related excess nitrogen deposition could explain why tree mortality and forest die-off corrolated with drought and climate has been "underestimated".

The role of pollution is critical for two reasons.

First, as vegetation dies off, less CO2 will be absorbed, thus accelerating all the effects of climate change.

Second, if the underlying influence of ozone is not addressed, there will not be migration of species in response to climate change, there will be mostly extinction.

Research about the impact of ozone on plants has been conducted for decades.  Given the pernicious damage from ozone, the background level of which is inexorably increasing around the world, it would be surprising if forests weren't dying off, with attendant wildfires and landslides as a result.

I would be delighted to hear back from any of you with your thoughts.  I have many, many more links to research in substantiation - following are a small sample.  Another summary with more corroberation can be found on my blog, Wit's End  Thank you so much for reading.


Gail Zawacki
Oldwick, NJ

1.  When they absorb ozone, plants and especially long-lived species such as trees first lost root mass, making them more vulnerable to drought and wind.  See attached photo of a controlled fumigation experiment from - left, filtered air, center, ambient polluted air, right, elevated ozone.  And that difference is from just one season.  The US EPA has determined that damage is cumulative.

2. Plants also lose immunity to opportunisitic biotic attacks from insects, disease and fungus.  See the report, "Ozone Pollution: Damage to Ecosystem Services" from the ICP Vegetation Programme.

3.  Precursors to ozone circumnavigate the globe so that even remote places have injurious levels of background ozone.  The Southern Hemisphere is also encountering high levels due to agricultural burning and wildfires.  See Dr. Jack Fishman's lecture to the Max Plank Institute "Are We Creating a Toxic Atmosphere?".

4.  Trees are dying in areas that are not drier, but are wetter or within natural variation.  A focus on western US and other areas of drought misses the equally dramatic death of forest on the East Coast, in the UK and the tropics.

5. Crops and nursery trees and even tropical ornamentals in pots that are being watered are also suffering damage.  Trees at their northern range of habitat are dying just as fast as those at the southern range.  See this article about sugar maple decline which scientists cannot explain by acid rain or climate change:
The issue has been known for years but has been swept under the rug:

6.  Ozone has been harming sequoias long before the drought achieved historically unprecedented proportions:

7.  The Permian-Triassic extinction (265 mya), the worst of the past big five and the only one in which trees and insects died off significantly, is a closer analog to the current 6th extinction, which is usually compared to climate change in the PETM event (65 mya).  The earlier extinction also was precipitated by massive poisoning of plants, from erupting traps, leading to the same spread of fungus/algae (rampant lichen) that can be seen today.  Now, humans are erupting prodigious amounts of toxic aerosols.

8.  There isn't a place on earth that isn't experiencing tree dieoff.  Examples are as plentiful as places and tree species.  A few:

9.  Pollution both interferes with rain directly, and indirectly as it injures foliage and reduces tree evapotranspiration.  Thus drought is as much a result of tree damage as a cause.

10.  Ozone both reduces the scent of flowers and the ability of pollinators to detect the scent, resulting in impaired reproduction of plants.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Sick and Sad

Two videos, not in that order.  The first is a nicely executed compilation of apocalyptic landscapes with fabulous music.  The second is sheer genius, with a disclaimer - Any similarity between the character's voracity and typical human behavior...or the contents of the toilet to the general condition of the, I'm sure, purely coincidental and unintentional.


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Death's Prisoner

Following is the transcript, with links and illustrations and more extended comments, from my contribution to Extinction Radio this week, where it will be archived, or you can listen to it live today at 3 pm ET.

Welcome to the 16th Dispatch from the Endocene.  I’m calling this, “Death’s Prisoner”, after the following quote from On The Heights of Despair, published in 1934 by Romanian Emil Cioran, which reads:

“One of the greatest delusions of the average man is to forget that life is death’s prisoner.”

I once wrote an essay about the genesis of the Obama campaign slogan, the Audacity of Hope, which I called the Paucity of Hope.  I might just have well written about the Mendacity of Hope, because it blinds us to reality even to the point where it ensures our self-annihilation.  The death throes of the biosphere have become nothing short of a grotesque convulsion, and yet still people remain oblivious to what is directly observable.

For instance, an article in the Washington Post tells us that scientists say they are detecting the beginnings of the third global coral bleaching event.  The first, in 1998, caught experts by surprise, but now they can predict where it will occur using temperature-sensing satellite measurements.  One of the scientists quoted in the article said “...half of the world’s reefs have already been lost due to causes ranging from bleaching to pollution in the last 50 years”.
Another added that “Coral reefs are the underwater equivalent of rainforests, and by removing the corals, you remove the trees of that underwater world”.

When oceanographers try to warn about coral bleaching using as analogy the hypothetical death of forests, it's always an ironic comparison, because they seem unaware that the trees of the world are in fact dying, too, at least as fast if not faster.

It has been a balmy autumn here in New Jersey, where a serene sky is mirrored in the cerulean morning glories that are improbable late bloomers on my patio trellis.  Coral reefs turning into cemetaries seem so far away.  So do the elephants in Nigeria that poachers poisoned with cyanide-laced oranges to steal their tusks.  All that and irreversible Antarctic melt seem abstract and surreal.

What is real, though, are the trees dying right before my eyes.  Every fall since 2008 I have documented faded colors, scorched foliage and early leaf drop, but this is the most desolate season by far.  You can find an extended version of this Dispatch, with videos and photos, from Arkansas to Maine, and links to all of the topics in this episode, on my blog, Wit’s End.

For several years I have been following a series narrated by a Vermont reporter named Sharon, who starts a televised journey from the Canadian border in late September, following the southward march of peak autumn colors.  Each year it is harder for her to pull off the charade, as she tries to put a brave front on the increasingly ugly and barren landscape, searching for the sort of magnificent scenery that is no longer in existence.
She has to continue the pretense, of course, because tourism is a significant source of income in the New England region, and also advertising for the media outlet that employs her.
So despite how ludicrous her efforts to locate some vibrant color when the camera is stubbornly revealing mainly dull greens, browns, and grey skeletal crowns, Sharon continues her valiant effort to project cheery optimism that a gorgeous red maple will turn up around the corner.
Yankee Magazine has a interactive map on the web where fans of autumn upload pictures, seemingly unaware that most are of sickly trees and shriveled or injured leaves, like those above from Caledonia County, Vermont, designated peak on October 6.  You can see a comparison to healthy leaves in the past, such as these from October 18, 2007 in Ontario, in Spill the Scarlet Rain, a post named for Emily Dickinson’s 1862 poem:

The name - of it - is Autumn -
The hue - of it - is Blood - 
An Artery - upon the Hill - 
A Vein - along the Road -

Great Globules - in the Alleys - 
And Oh, the Shower of Stain - 
When Winds - upset the Basin - 
And spill the Scarlet Rain -

It sprinkles Bonnets - far below - 
It gathers ruddy Pools - 
Then - eddies like a Rose - away - 

Upon Vermilion Wheels -

This year, the rusty tone has become so noticeable that even the Concord Monitor published a story admitting that the once glorious brilliance is dimming.  Terminally, permanently.

The parade of stories about this or that dying species of tree has become a stampede.  Cactus and olive trees are in the news, as are giant sequoia.  As usual, clueless foresters and scientists enamored of climate change point to drought - unless like, with pumpkins, they blame a poor harvest on too much water, despite seasons with more rain a decade or so ago.

Incredibly, in Denver, a frost last November is held responsible for trees dying today - and meanwhile, in Texas, where 300 years of tree-ring data indicate a drought in the 1850’s was far more severe even than the infamous Dust Bowl, mass tree death is blamed on caterpillars.  As for the demise of the village of Granville, Ohio’s beloved Christmas blue spruce at the untimely age of only 45, the causes range from insects, to fungus, to pruning, to exhaust from traffic.

Ah, finally, the crux of the matter - the fumes.

At long last the EPA enacted stricter ozone standards, but only marginally, caving in to intense corporate lobbying.  Grist ran a scathing critique of the Obama administrations tepid decision.  But in all fairness, it’s a measure of how difficult, really impossible, it is to reduce background levels and still maintain modern civilization.  A toxic atmosphere is simply a byproduct of incinerating anything, whether it is diesel for Volkswagens, fire from agriculture in Indonesia, or volcanic emissions. While the PETM extinction is looked to as an analog for contemporary global warming, I am afraid our Endocene more closely resembles the Permian-Triassic 250 million years ago.  It was the only mass extinction that included plants on a large scale, as well as insects.  Basalt eruptions would have emitted sulfur oxides creating poisonous acid rain - and I can’t think of any reason there wouldn't have also been copious amounts of nitrous oxides as well, the precursor, along with methane, to ozone.

A study in 2009 points to fungus eating forests due to chemical conditions:

In the wake of the world's worst mass extinction 250 million years ago, life on Earth was nearly nonexistent. All across the supercontinent Pangea, once lush forests lay in ruins, the corpses of trees poking like matchsticks into the poisoned air.

In their place fungus ruled the land, according to a new study. It feasted on defunct wood, spreading across the planet in an orgy of decay.
What we're looking at is a lot of plant die-offs concentrated in time,”  Peter Roopnarine of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco said.  We're most likely looking at episodes of intense greenhouse warming, and chemical changes in the atmosphere that made it unsuitable for the huge, massive forests living at the time.

…The finding has important implications for the Permian-Triassic extinction, which wiped out a large majority of life on the planet. If the fossils had turned out to be algae, it would've suggested a soggy, swampy world dominated by gradual changes in climate and the environment.

But in this ancient murder mystery, fungus fits. Modern forests ravaged by acid rain are covered in the stuff, and scientists generally believe that the titanic eruptions of the Siberian Traps, a large volcanic province in Russia, choked the atmosphere and blighted the land with acid rains. The harsh conditions lasted for hundreds of thousands of years.
Deniers indulged in an orgy of mockery over an ill-advised tweet from someone who probably no longer works at the EPA, which read:  “Think sunny days are good for plants? Not always. Sunlight causes #ozone to form, which harms foliage, weakens trees”.  This inspired  rejoinders like “So sunlight is bad, but the country would be moving exclusively towards solar power” and so forth, which of course completely ignores the core issue, which is that ozone is catalyzed by UV radiation - and ozone is really, really bad for plants.

Listen to what the EPA still has on its website, which was written in 1997!

How does Ground-Level Ozone Harm the Environment?
  • Ground-level ozone interferes with the ability of plants to produce and store food, so that growth, reproduction and overall plant health are compromised.
  • By weakening sensitive vegetation, ozone makes plants more susceptible to disease, pests, and environmental stresses.
  • Ground-level ozone has been shown to reduce agricultural yields for many economically important crops (e.g., soybeans, kidney beans, wheat, cotton).
  • The effects of ground-level ozone on long-lived species such as trees are believed to add up over many years so that whole forests or ecosystems can be affected. For example, ozone can adversely impact ecological functions such as water movement, mineral nutrient cycling, and habitats for various animal and plant species.
  • Ground-level ozone can kill or damage leaves so that they fall off the plants too soon or become spotted or brown. These effects can significantly decrease the natural beauty of an area, such as in national parks and recreation areas.
  • One of the key components of ozone, nitrogen oxides, contributes to fish kills and algae blooms in sensitive waterways, such as the Chesapeake Bay.
You might wonder why is everyone so quiet about how ozone is toxic to trees when it has been established since the 1950's.  I have come to think the answer is deceptively simple - it’s because natural levels are incompatible with industrial civilization.  Most scientists continue to harbor hope, however faint, that technology can save us from CO2.  But there is no antidote to the pure poison of acidifying the earth.

VW exposed themselves (and it emerges they are by no means the only car manufacturers) to the outrage caused by the recent scandal, just to evade pollution controls:

“The software was designed to conceal the cars’ emission of the pollutant nitrogen oxide, which contributes to the creation of ozone and smog. The pollutants are linked to a range of health problems, including asthma attacks, other respiratory diseases and premature death."

It is only fairly recently that it has been known that pollution circumnavigates the globe, and many people remain unaware of the impact of long-distance transport on places still considered pristine, because they are remote.

One study published in August in Nature Geoscience, Ozone Pollution Near and Far" says: “Tropospheric ozone is generated from precursor pollutants, but can be blown far afield. Satellite observations show rising ozone levels over China — and almost stable levels over western North America despite stricter regulations.”

Another in the same journal titled, “Rapid increases in tropospheric ozone production and export from China” concludes that the increase in China has offset efforts in the US to reduce levels according to government air quality policies.”

Right now, Southeast Asia is smothered in a toxic cloud from illegal burning of drained peatlands in Indonesia for agriculture.  Flights and sporting events are being cancelled and schools closed in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

In a sad way, the conservatives who object to EPA stricter rules are right, as one study title phrases it, “Background ozone a major issue in US West".  The September NASA release found that, ...on average, background ozone sources generated about 48.3 ppb, or 77 percent, of the total ozone in the study region of California and Nevada. The findings are particularly important in Northern California and Nevada, where wildfires and ozone transported to the region from abroad can cause background ozone to exceed 60 ppb.

40 ppb is the level at which plants experience damage.  So when we read estimates such as one that was published last month, that 3.3 million people - about 6% of all annual deaths - die every year primarily from air pollution, its important to remember that plants are even more sensitive.  And yet despite a global decline of forests, most scientists continue to fixate on climate change and drought.

What is so amazing about these determined attempts to tie tree death in with carbon emissions is that severe droughts have occurred many times in the prehistorical past - and the way they are documented is using tree rings.  So obviously, trees survived past episodes.  One study sampled white oaks in Iowa going back to 1640 and found that prolonged droughts such as that of the 1930’s occur about twice per century.

A recent reconstruction of tree ring data in California, where some of the trees are thousands of years old, prompted headlines saying that 2015 registered the lowest snowpack in 500 years.  Then came the caveat:

“But the scientists also said the uncertainties in Monday’s tree ring data indicated that a few years, mainly in the 16th century, might have had snowpack lows even lower than the 2015 numbers.”

What is certain is that trees began dying before this year, and prior to just this year, the snowpack levels were much higher than many years in the past, according to their own graph.

An announcement from UC Santa Barbara quoted scientists there as saying “record heat and drought are taking a deadly toll on California’s native trees" and that “Oaks and conifers haven't had good water since 2011" - but they were dying well before that.

Recently there have been a slew of articles about the danger to the Sequoias in California, now that scientists have finally noticed they aren't actually as resilient as thought.  Typically, they are blaming drought, from both lack of precipitation and low snowpack.  However, so far the drought is not unprecedented - and the trees managed to live through past natural episodes.

Here's the way the account reads from The Guardian, last month:

Last September, US Geological Survey ecologist Nate Stephenson hiked into Sequoia National Park’s Giant Forest to look for dying seedlings. California was suffering through its third year of severe drought, and trees were dying in the park in greater numbers than usual. The roadside leading up to Giant Forest was pincushioned with trees faded brown – dead oaks, sugar pine, fir, incense cedar. But the forest’s namesake trees, which are among the world’s oldest and largest, were faring better. They’re tough – they have to be to live for thousands of years – and tend to grow in the wettest parts of the landscape.

Still, Stephenson thought the effects of the drought might have started to become visible on sequoia seedlings, which are typically more vulnerable to environmental fluctuations than mature trees. He searched the forest floor, but found nothing out of the ordinary. It was only when he looked up that he was startled: he saw a towering old sequoia loaded with tufts of evergreen foliage turned brown.
The tree wasn’t dead, but such foliage die-back is an uncommon sign of stress. “I’ve been studying sequoias for 35 years or so and had never seen anything like this,” Stephenson says. He deployed a field crew to hike through Sequoia and its sister park, Kings Canyon, to document the die-back. About half of the more than 4,300 trees they surveyed had lost 10% to 50% of their foliage, while 1 in 100 had lost more than 50%.’”

Contrast Nates surprise to this excerpt from a story from the AP, which ran in several outlets in May of 2012, which compared the pollution levels in America's parks:

“California's Sequoia National Park garnered the top spot, with nearly a quarter of the year, or 87 days, recording dangerous smog levels.

“Smog is so bad that signs in visitors centers caution guests when it's not safe to hike. The government employment website warns job applicants that the workplace is unhealthy. And park workers are schooled every year on the lung and heart damage the pollution can cause.

“Ozone also is to blame for weakening many stands of the park's Jeffrey and ponderosa pines, leaving telltale yellowing of their long needles. Instead of absorbing carbon dioxide, they soak up ozone through the stoma in their needles, which inhibits photosynthesis. Ozone also stresses young redwood seedlings, which already face challenges to survival.

Is it any wonder the forests are burning?  OF COURSE they are.

So how come Nate Stephenson just noticed sequoias having problems last September?  Who knows? - especially since I wrote to him nearly six years ago to point out that ALL species of trees were in steep decline from air pollution.   The article says he has colleagues mapping the standing dead by climbing trees, and fly-overs.  I wish they would come to the East Coast forests, because they would find the condition of the forests are no better here despite plentiful rainfall.  Color me cynical but then, if you acknowledge that pollution is the problem, I don't suppose it would be quite as much fun or justifiable to swoop around in your fancy high-tech plane, which is “equipped with instruments that capture the chemistry of individual trees across entire landscapes, generating colorful 3D maps that allow land managers to identify hotspots of stress or resilience.

Scientists are also striving to connect drought to ash tree beetles.  A NYTimes article reviewed research which stated:

“This may be why the beetle never caused much alarm: In East Asia, it left healthy ashes alone. 'It’s going to kill already dying trees, said Caterina Villari, a postdoctoral researcher at Ohio State and an author of the new study...Dr. Villari and her colleagues don’t know precisely how drought makes Manchurian ash trees vulnerable to the insects.”

That might be because pollution, and not drought, is the pre-disposing factor.
 [A reader from the Ozarks sent these photos, the pine taken in September and the persimmon, below, in August - the area has had 5 inches more rainfall than normal this season.]

Another article in the UK Guardian has the title, Mass tree deaths prompt fears of Amazon “climate tipping point” and quotes tropical forest expert Simon Lewis, at the University of Leeds, and who led the research published today in the journal Science. Lewis was careful to note that significant scientific uncertainties remain and that the 2010 and 2005 drought - thought then to be of once-a century severity  – might yet be explained by natural climate variation.”  So in other words, the tree-dieoff leading to fears of a tipping point in the Amazon might have nothing to do with drought, which has been a feature in the past.

A survey conducted by Los Alamos National Laboratory, of 38 forests around the globe, claims that large trees suffer most from drought, but actually, all it really found was that older trees are dying off at a faster rate than younger trees.  The idea that older trees would suffer more from drought than younger trees is silly - they have deeper roots, and more stored energy to tide the over dry spells.  The real problem is that large older trees have been through more seasons of damage from pollution, which according to research endorsed by the EPA, is cumulative. Furthermore, controlled fumigation experiments have proven over and over that the first impact from absorbing ozone, even before damage is visible on foliage, is a reduction in root mass. This makes trees more susceptible to drought that they would otherwise withstand.

There are more heartwrenching - and terrifying - stories in the news about people being injured and even killed from falling trees.  Just recently a the head of the New Jersey Cancer Society died when a tree fell on her Mustang - there was no bark on the trunk that snapped.

a fallen oak trapped a Connecticut college student for hours in her bed,

the broken branch from a chestnut tree, clearly full of black rot, injured a pedestrian in Berlin,

and a sycamore snapped and injured five patrons, two seriously, at a sidewalk bistro in Manhattan's Bryant Park.
 It is one of several described in the media as having fungal rot visible at the base.

And while I am being a full-blown Ozonista, how about this study from last month in New Phytologist Journal titled, “Ozone degrades floral scent and reduces pollinator attraction to flowers.”  The abstract states:  “The combined results of chemical analyses and behavioural responses of pollinators strongly suggest that high ozone concentrations have significant negative impacts on pollination by reducing the distance over which floral olfactory signals can be detected by pollinators.”

This week Smithsonian Magazine featured an upbeat story about the Archangel Tree Archive, which is cloning the world’s largest trees, in order to save them - based on the theory that they have the most genetic resilience.  The nonprofit was started by a nurseryman, Jake Milarch, who had given up on his business because he had determined the trees he was growing weren't thriving because of pollution.  But like just about everyone else who knows - the authors of “An Appalachian Tragedy”, the retired scientist just interviewed by the Concord newspaper, the professor who wrote "Acidification of Earth” and the one who published the book "Global Alert - the Ozone Pollution Crisis” - he hardly ever talks about that anymore - even though this is what he said during an NPR radio interview in 2012:

Weve been in the shade tree business in northern Michigan for several generations. And 20 years ago, our trees that we were growing for the cities and nurseries started to die and we didn't know why. Well, after a couple of years and a lot of research, we found out it was due in large part to the decline in air quality. So, we were trying to find an answer of trees that could be stronger, hardier, could take the increase in temperature as well as the increase in toxins in the air.

After dwelling on our tragically blighted earth, and our reluctance to recognize it - let alone rectify it through personal sacrifice - I think it is difficult to find meaning in life when contemplating extinction. It helps me to remember that life has never had meaning, other than that which we invent. Once you recognize the human desire for immortality, it becomes possible to accept that it is just a dream - and simultaneously, go about creating meaning for yourself - while knowing, as Camus says, it is all an absurd paradox.

I just watched the movie “Creation”, which is about Charles Darwin’s personal emotional struggle to reconcile his confidence in the theory he articulated in the Origin of the Species with the overwhelming social pressure to believe in religion or indeed any sort of spirituality.  His agonizing strife makes clear that any such notions of direction, intention, or infinite souls are simply incompatible with the theory of evolution - which is at its very essence random and purposeless and primarily accidental.  People who claim to reconcile the two are stretching the constraints of one or the other or both.  There is no life after death, there is no "greater consciousness”.  There is only the beauty that you can find now - it’s up to each of us to make the most of it.

Thanks so much for listening.

Links below the trailer:

The Paucity of Hope:

Coral bleaching:

elephants poisoned

Antarctic melt:

Autumn leaves in Vermont:
Yankee Magazine:

Concord newspaper story about leaves:

Maine autumn -

Trees dying:

Olive trees:




Drought in Texas:

Christmas Tree:

EPA enacts new ozone regulation

Permian-Triassic extinction, acid rain:

EPA twitter

EPA website about ozone:

VW emissions scandal

Ozone from Asia

3.3 million deaths annually from air pollution

Toxic cloud in Southeast Asia

Iowa drought reconstruction through tree rings

Extreme droughts in the past:


Sequoias Unhealthy:

video -

snowpack -

UK Guardian, Nate Stephenson

Wit's End post about Sequoias and link to AP article

NYTimes article about drought, ash dieback:

drought Amazon

large trees die faster

root damage from ozone:

UC Santa Barbara, dead oaks

Deaths and injuries from falling trees
Bryant Park, NY:

China forest massacre article:

Pollinators cannot detect flower scents from ozone

Archangel Tree:

Archangel Tree Archive, interview with Milarch:

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