Sunday, November 28, 2010

Death by a Thousand Cuts

Other than a form of Chinese torture, the meaning, according to wikipedia, is:

"Creeping normalcy, the way a major negative change, which happens slowly in many unnoticed increments, is not perceived as objectionable..."
That definition is a perfect description of...just about everything lately.  Our ecosystem is being incrementally depleted and people hardly notice that the trees are dying and the plants are disappearing.  I have come across some intriguing postings on the intertubes, and accumulated a few pictures, so here is everything in a jumble, because...why not?!  If you need an introduction read the Basic Premise.
Roses blooming, frail and withered, at Thanksgiving is beyond absurd.
Even more bizarre is clematis!  It is supposed to bloom in spring or summer...but here it is a few days shy of December, puckered and shriveled - with even more buds surrounding.
Here are maples in front of the Gladstone Tavern almost two weeks ago.  Most other trees had shed their leaves early, but this sickly pair is too weak even to jettison their foliage.
The leaves haven't turned a nice bright autumn color - a few are yellow but most are wilted green going straight to brown.
I actually found an article from 2007 in the mainstream media - MSNBC! - that reports on research from the UK Met Office:  "Plant growth might be stunted worldwide by the end of this century due to air pollution," which should read, if written today:  "Plant growth IS being stunted and trees are dying worldwide due to air pollution."
It says:  "Such damage could cause large economic losses through reduced crop yields," which should actually now read "Such damage IS CAUSING large economic losses through reduced crop yields."
The article is accompanied by links that lead to these two photographs of leaves damaged by ozone.  Oh,  ALL the leaves on everything looked exactly as damaged as these, last summer!
The pictures are attributed to the late Dr. David Karnosky, who worked at the FACE experimental station until his death in October of 2008.  Unfortunately I never got the chance to talk to him about the trees, he passed away a few weeks before I found his webpage.  From his research I think he may have been the only expert who would have had the courage to acknowledge how urgent and widespread the problem has become, and not buried his head in the sand like everyone else.
I stopped to take this photograph of a sycamore because the color of the field struck me as very odd.  It is quite bright for this time of year, perhaps because it is so warm that the grass is trying to grow.  Colors everywhere in the landscape are peculiar.  I think the slightest change in hue of trunks and branches is enough when taken in totality to turn entire hillsides black.
Across the street from that meadow, here is a randomly selected copse of trees.
Each one exhibits the terrible decay that is just about universal.
Bark is falling off of trunks.
Multiple cankers are spreading and growing.
Not only has the color of the woods turned nasty but the whole scope of the landscape is much larger - I can see the contours of distant hills that were obscured until now by the proximate treeline, which has noticeably shrunk.  I do not recognize my home of almost 30 years, it is so changed.
Being able to see sky through a tree is a bad sign.
Yesterday afternoon, a small flock of Canadian geese flew overhead, and that reminded me that in autumns past their loud honking overhead as they migrated south was a daily occurrence for weeks, and this is only the second time I have heard them this fall.  Moreover, they were not in their typical "V" formation, and they were flying northeast, not south, in a rag tag assembly - perhaps it is too much to claim that their honking was plaintive and frantic...but that's how it sounded to me.
For some reason every single tree around this house was removed over two days last week.
Front and back...
not one of five remains.
I wonder how they determined that were all dying.
I came across a cute news clip about some bears in a suburban tree.  I took some screen shots because apparently trees in Florida are dying too.
These transparent crowns are abnormally thin.
The "tufting" of needles at the tips of branches is classic ozone damage, as the older, more damaged inner needles fall.  In the photo below, it is evident that entire branches have been snapping off.
Following are a couple of pictures from a National Geographic photo contest, because I like them!  The trunk in this haunting picture looks streaked with leaking sap.
This supercell thunderstorm tornado in Montana is quite impressive.  I can't imagine how frightening it would be to witness it in person.
Next are two selections from a Guardian UK photo contest - the first is supposed to be pines above beech - it's hard to imagine these treetops any thinner without them being completely dead.
I fear this burning moor is the landscape of the not-too-distant future:
Here's what the UN has to say (all they have to say) about Peroxyacetyl nitrate:  "component of phytochemical smog, injurious to plants at a concentration of more than 0.05 parts per million."   PAN formation is enhanced from burning ethanol, according to this paper from Brazil, which is quite fascinating, since it dates from 1988 and is one of the very few studies I have been able to locate that examines the effects of ethanol emissions.

This entry goes into more depth - I'm going to intersperse passages with photos of our post-Thanksgiving  feast on the Friday after.
Alice is still in her pajamas when she checks the turkey.  A potential blogger?
"Have you ever stepped out on a sunny day in a large city? Spend enough time out of doors, especially in the urban center, and you may notice that your eyes grow irritated and begin to water uncontrollably. While the camouflage of general metropolitan bustle may hide it from notice, you might also note much of whatever foliage there may be is sickly and decayed. These two effects of modern industrialization are linked to a single molecule, forming an essential component of the ominous haze hovering above and around you. Peroxyacetyl nitrate, commonly abbreviated as PAN, is an important contributor to the phenomenon of photochemical smog. As a lacrimator and strong oxidizer, it wreaks general havoc with city residents and plant matter."

"PAN is the most abundant representative of a family of organic compounds called peroxyacyl nitrates. Scientists were entirely unaware of these compounds until the 1960s, when they were first identified among the many components of urban smog. PAN forms in the atmosphere through a series of complicated chemical reactions deriving from hydrogen peroxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides emitted from sources of urban pollution such as power plants, oil refineries, automobiles, lawnmowers, and aircraft. The total reaction begins with the introduction of hydrocarbons or aromatic compounds to hydrogen peroxide (OH) molecules. They form the compound acetaldehyde (CH3OH), which then reacts again with hydrogen peroxide to form CH3CO3and water (H2O). This compound gains a dioxide. In the final step, CH3CO3 reacts with a nitrogen dioxide to form PAN."
"This final reaction is reversible, which means that it can occur in either direction. PAN can degrade into a nitrogen dioxide and acetyl compound as easily as it formed. Which state it occupies depends upon the ambient temperature. In warmer air temperatures, the compound either reacts or breaks down into its components. In colder temperatures, PAN remains stable. As a consequence, the concentration of PAN tends to be greater during the night than during the day. When the sun is shining, convection currents carry those clouds of PAN that don't decompose high into the troposphere, where the colder temperatures allow it a modicum of stability. Due to its constant forming, deforming, and mutation, PAN is easily dispersed from its original point of catalyzation in a smog that extends beyond the city center."
"Chemists have not yet discovered any natural source for PAN; it seems to have arisen only with the introduction of widespread fossil fuel use. Because its only source is pollution and it is the second most abundant molecule, next to ozone, in photochemical smog, measurement of PAN is a good indication of overall smog levels."
"Due to its highly oxidizing nature, PAN is injurious to plants in any concentration greater than 50 parts per billion, a number easily exceeded in the world's most polluted cities. In smaller concentrations, it is still an eye irritant."

The World Meteorological Organization devotes this section to ozone:
"Not considering water vapour, tropospheric ozone is currently the third most important greenhouse gas after CO2 and CH4 [Houghton et al., 2001] and is central to the physics, chemistry, and radiative processes in the troposphere. Tropospheric ozone profile information is available from ozone sonde measurements. Surface (ground-level) ozone significantly influences the formation of photochemical smog, and it is an irritant with effects both on the biota and human health.
Our knowledge of trends in the global distribution of surface ozone is still incomplete and observed trends have varied both temporally and spatially [Oltmans et al., 2006]. The Global GAW stations are distributed relatively evenly, but overall, most surface ozone monitoring stations are still located in northern mid-latitudes. There is a need for more remote stations measuring ozone in the middle of continents (e.g., continental Asia), in the tropics and in the southern hemisphere."
And they have this to say about nitrogen oxide:

"The sum of nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) has traditionally been called NOx. Likewise the sum of many oxidised nitrogen species, both organic and inorganic but excluding nitrous oxide (N2O) and ammonia (NH3), acetonitrile (CH3CN) and hydrocyanic acid (HCN) have traditionally been referred to as NOy. Their measurement in the global atmosphere is very important since NO has a large influence on both ozone and on the hydroxyl radical (OH). NO2 is now being measured globally from satellites and these measurements suggest that substantial concentrations of this gas are present over most of the continents. A large reservoir of fixed nitrogen is present in the atmosphere as NOy. The influence of the deposition of this reservoir on the biosphere is not known at present but could be substantial."
The WMO Bulletin reports:

"The latest analysis of observations from the WMO Global Atmosphere Watch Programme shows that the globally averaged mixing ratios of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) reached new highs in 2009, with CO2 at 386.8 ppm, CH4 at 1803 ppb and N2O at 322.5 ppb. These values are greater than those in pre-industrial times (before 1750) by 38%, 158% and 19%, respec- tively. Atmospheric growth rates of CO2 and N2O in 2009 are consistent with recent years, but are lower than in 2008. After nearly a decade of no growth, atmospheric CH4 has increased during the past three years. The reasons for renewed growth of atmospheric methane are not fully understood, but emissions from natural sources (from northern latitudes and the tropics) are considered potential causes. The NOAA Annual Greenhouse Gas Index shows that from 1990 to 2009, radiative forcing by all long- lived greenhouse gases increased by 27.5%, with CO2 accounting for nearly 80% of this increase. The combined radiative forcing by halocarbons is nearly double that of N2O."
Did I mention I missed the Amwell Valley Hunt Ball to go to the Carbon Pricing Conference??
From this "smog primer," I found the first reference to a "decrease in pollen lifespan," which sounds fundamentally alarming:

"Ozone damage can lead to 10-40% growth loss, premature aging, and a decrease in pollen lifespan."
Almost done...a fantastic montage and interview with Joni Mitchell, featuring "Blue"...

As a footnote, Doc was inordinately pleased with his braid, and later after the dinner we made a wager:  I bet that there will be food riots by July 2011, and he bet there won't.  
If I win, he has to give me a bottle of Chateau D'Yquem, and if he's right, I'll owe him a really nice Margaux.  Given this story at Climate Progress about crop yield reduction from extreme weather, which doesn't even include ozone damage, I'm feeling fairly confident.  That I'll win the bet, that is.  Not confident about much else.

Busted America

Someone linked to this video at a ClubOrlov post, well worth reading, regarding the economic decline of America.  I can't agree with all of it - if anything it's overoptimistic because it doesn't even factor in peak oil and ecosystem collapse, the other two elements of the Trifucta - but I certainly share the urge to escape.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Nostalgia

I remember laughing at this when my kids showed it to me, back in the good old days, when all I had to worry about was the possibility of nuclear armageddon - before I realized...oh, about 2 years ago...that we have been irretrievably committed to catastrophic climate chaos for several decades, at least, whether we become sane and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, or not.
Somehow this led to an instructive if hopelessly corny (geeky scientists star!) video about the Permian Extinction event - which was caused by an asteroid - but is quite enlightening about how global climate change progresses, and how long it took for the earth to recover and stabilize so new species can evolve (a mere 20 million years!).  Puts things in perspective...
What follows is a sad and silly commentary from the perspective of our young people, a spoof which is corny as well, but sort of endearingly so...the worst of which is the almost 2 million views it has received since being posted about a year ago.  Now is not an auspicious time to be inheriting the earth.

Medea

There is a rather stunning column by Johan Hari which I highly recommend in its entirety, about a theory of extinction called Medea:


..."Many of us know, in outline, the warm, fuzzy Gaia hypothesis, first outlined by James Lovelock. It claims that the Planet Earth functions, in effect, as a single living organism called Gaia. It regulates its own temperature and chemistry to create a comfortable steady state that can sustain life. So coral reefs produced cloud-seeding chemicals which then protect them from ultraviolet radiation. Rainforests transpire water vapour so generate their own rainfall. This process expands outwards. Life protects life.
Now there is a radically different theory that is gaining adherents, ominously named the Medea hypothesis. The paleontologist Professor Peter Ward is an expert in the great extinctions that have happened in the earth's past, and he believes there is a common thread between them. With the exception of the meteor strike that happened 65 million years ago, every extinction was caused by living creatures becoming incredibly successful -- and then destroying their own habitats. So, for example, 2.3 billion years ago, plant life spread incredibly rapidly, and as it went it inhaled huge amounts of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This then caused a rapid plunge in temperature that froze the planet and triggered a mass extinction.
Ward believes nature isn't a nurturing mother like Gaia. No: it is Medea, the figure from Greek mythology who murdered her own children. In this theory, life doesn't preserve itself. It serially destroys itself. It is a looping doomsday machine. This theory adds a postscript to Darwin's theory of the survival of the fittest. There is survival of the fittest, until the fittest trash their own habitat, and do not survive at all.
But the plants 2.3 billion years ago weren't smart enough to figure out what they were doing. We are. We can see that if we release enough warming gases we will trigger an irreversible change in the climate and make our own survival much harder. Ward argues that it is not inevitable we will destroy ourselves - because human beings are the first and only species that can consciously develop a Gaian approach. Just as Richard Dawkins famously said we are the first species to be able to rebel against our selfish genes and choose to be kind, we are the first species that can rebel against the Medean rhythm of life. We can choose to preserve the habitat on which we depend. We can choose life."

This link was left in comments at HuffPo.  The audio is grating - better to turn off the sound and read the accompanying poem instead.  My favorite line - you bulldoze trees, then name your streets after them. So true!
I AM THE EARTH. YOU ARE THE EARTH. THE EARTH IS DYING. YOU ARE MURDERERS.

YOU KILL GOOD TREES TO PUT OUT BAD NEWSPAPERS.

IF SOLAR POWER WERE WEAPONS OF WAR, YOU WOULD HAVE HAD SOLAR POWER CENTURIES AGO TO POWER YOUR LIVES.

YOU ABUSE YOUR WORLD BECAUSE YOU REGARD IT AS A COMMODITY BELONGING TO YOU.

YOU BULLDOZE TREES, THEN NAME YOUR STREETS AFTER THEM.

THE INSUFFERABLE ARROGANCE OF HUMANS TO THINK THAT NATURE WAS MADE SOLELY FOR THEIR BENEFIT.

WHEN YOU DEFILE YOUR WORLD YOU MASSACRE A MILLION DREAMS. YOURS ARE NOT THE ONLY DREAMS.

TAKE NOTHING BUT PICTURES, LEAVE NOTHING BUT FOOTPRINTS, KILL NOTHING BUT TIME.

TUG AT A SINGLE THING IN NATURE AND YOU WILL FIND IT ATTACHED TO THE REST OF YOUR WORLD.

EVERYTHING HUMANS TOUCH BECOMES A SORE. IT NEED NOT BE SO.

THE UNIVERSE IS NOT REQUIRED TO BE IN PERFECT HARMONY WITH HUMANS.

HUMANS SHALL REQUIRE A SUBSTANTIALLY NEW MANNER OF THINKING IF YOU ARE TO SURVIVE.

HUMANS HAVE NEVER UNDERSTOOD THAT THEY ARE SIMPLY AN EQUAL PART OF THE WHOLE.

IF ALL MANKIND WERE TO DISAPPEAR, THE WORLD WOULD BE A PARADISE.

WHATEVER BEFALLS THE EARTH BEFALLS ALL ON THE EARTH. IF YOU SPIT ON THE GROUND, YOU SPIT ON YOURSELF.

YOU HAVE BECOME YOUR OWN WORST ENEMY. IT NEED NOT BE SO.

THE HUMAN RACE IS BECOME A CANCER ON THE PLANET. THE TIME FOR SURGERY IS AT HAND.

THERE IS LITTLE TIME LEFT TO STOP HARMING YOUR MOTHER, AND ONLY HOME.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pricing Carbon at Wesleyan U - and the Mournful Tale of a Forlorn, Rejected Fox


By way of introduction on this blogpost, I am going to paste my comment to a link initially provided by Highschooler, about a story that made the rounds on the web last week claiming that an experiment by Dutch researchers indicated that radiation from Wi-Fi networks is responsible for killing trees.  Here's my comment:

NASA, the EPA, and the US Dept. of Agriculture all report that toxic tropospheric ozone (the kind derived from fuel emissions, not the beneficial and naturally occurring stratospheric layer that protects from UV radiation) is the cause of BILLIONS of dollars in crop yield losses annually.

Ozone is poisonous to vegetation, visibly damaging the stomata of foliage.  Long-term, cumulative exposure such as is experienced by trees and other perennial vegetation is gradually, incrementally killing them.

check out www.witsendnj.blogspot.com.  There's a link at the top to "Basic Premise" and a long list of peer-reviewed, published scientific research documenting this topic.

People notice that trees are dying and it's scary.  They latch on to crazy theories like contrail conspiracies and radiation because it's too painful to acknowledge that every day we pour tons of pollutants into the atmosphere to the point where the level is intolerable to the ecosystem.

Oh, the WHO estimates that ozone kills more Americans every year than breast and prostrate cancer combined - more than automobile accidents.  I guess that's the price we are willing to pay to live our cheap-energy-gobbling lifestyle.

Without any more ado, now to our weekend of non-stop fun at the Pricing Carbon Conference, which took place at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.  Anybody who knows me knows I am a timid paranoid driver so it always takes quite a bit of fortitude for me to undertake a long-distance trip.  But I had been working on my tree costume and hand-out for several weeks, not to mention the expenses were piling up between the sonotube and fabric, the printing, registration and hotel, and gas.  Auughh!  The total amount will go with me to my grave. I was committed.  I packed up the fox and left Friday, with spare needle and thread, anxious to explain to people that it's time to look beyond carbon.
So after all that, I'm still in a bit of a state of shock - since, if it weren't for a couple of stalwart friends and the impressive and inspiring presence of many student activists...it would have been a more-or-less unmitigated horror show.  I think I would have gotten a more welcoming reception at a tea party gathering than I received from the carbon cappers.  In fact, that may be my next appearance as a tree.

I asked one of the volunteers if there was some place in the lobby during lunch where I could hand out leaflets and not be in the way.  She took a copy (which is more or less identical to the "Basic Premise" page at the top of this blog, minus the list of links to scientific research) to one of the organizers who, after reading it, approached me with barely concealed outrage.  Here is what he said, staring at me with a withering intensity:

"This is not the appropriate venue for you to be pushing your own agenda."
...Whereupon I thought, a collapsing ecosystem is "my" agenda?  Really?

"This is a serious conference about putting a price on carbon."
Ah that makes me frivolous?...So, so reminiscent of Jim Bouldin telling me that "knowledgeable" people are the only ones deserving to make comments at Real Climate!

And lastly my favorite, pronounced without a hint of irony from the midst of reams of pamphlets and brochures and stacks of xeroxed directions and schedules:

"The University is very conscious of not wasting paper."

It's a safe bet he didn't personally pay for any of that printing, whereas I spent hours perfecting the proof at Staples and paid $.85 per copy x 500 copies = $425.00 to produce that flier...so if anybody thinks those pieces of paper are too valuable to be wasted, it's me!

I successfully resisted a fleeting urge to smack his supercilious, smug, condescending face and inquired as sweetly as I could muster, "Is it okay if I stay outside on the sidewalk...is that university property or a public space?"

He conceded it probably is a public space where he couldn't prevent me from leafletting - but as a courtesy he thought I should let him consult with a University representative first.

I said, fine, that's why I asked in the first place.  To be courteous.

So, we met about an hour later and he had grudgingly changed his tune.  "You can do whatever you like outside," he informed me stiffly.  Somebody affiliated with the university must have told him to stop parading around like a petty tin-pot dictator.  Free exchange of ideas, anyone?  Contrast that to what he might have said, alternatively:

"Gee, that's really interesting.  I didn't realize NASA has determined that ozone causes billions of dollars of damage to crops every year.  If cumulative damage to trees is enough to affect the forest carbon sink, that would have a very significant impact on climate change.  I would like to learn more about this after the conference when I'm not so preoccupied, to see how this information should be incorporated in our strategy.  Meanwhile please stay in the corner so you don't impede traffic."

Instead he kicked me outside on a cold blustery day.  Imagine my dismay, especially because I could have been at that very moment at the Metropolitan Opera with my dad, enjoying the matinee of Cosi Fan Tutte!  Oh did I mention that I could have gone that night with first two daughters to the Amwell Valley Hunt Ball, drinking champagne and dancing the night away, instead of sleeping in a hotel where all my belongings teetered on the teevee because I read that bedbugs can't climb up there?

Anyway...Soon enough I was established on the patio with my tree costume and my fliers and my daughter's stuffed fox, which she had taken to a taxidermist after finding it dead on the side of the road.  Next thing you know, along comes said organizer, to inform me I couldn't keep the fox because an animal rights person was complaining, which was really unfortunate, because the fox got a lot of attention.  People are so unfamiliar with nature these days.

Besides, was that really true?  If so, why didn't he say to that person, "I'm sorry, but this is not the appropriate venue to push your own agenda?"  He had no problem saying that to me, and at least "my" agenda is not tangential, but integrally related to climate change!  For that matter, why didn't he say, "I'm sorry, but I cannot tell her she cannot have a stuffed fox any more than I can tell her she can't wear a fur coat - or for that matter, tell every participant at the conference that they cannot attend sporting leather shoes, belts, wallets, purses or briefcases!"  He should have told them if they have a problem with the fox they could tell me directly about it, and then I would have explained of course, that the fox was roadkill by automobile, much as the trees.

All of this pales in significance of course to the massive failure of the conference, which with a few notable and heroic exceptions was mainly a useless parade of posturing, mewling pontificants, each so wedded to their own approach and branded organizations (not to say funding), that it was readily apparent that nothing significant is going to change despite the more honest speakers at the podium.
The most tragic aspect of all was the lack of anything other than lip service to the ideas presented by the valiant and earnest students - who to my mind had a right to feel chagrined at the glacial (or rather, what used to be thought of as glacial, before they sped up) pace of action.
Some of the speakers clearly understand the imminent enormity of catastrophic amplifying feedbacks, such as the methane from melting permafrost, not to mention the destabilization of society by climate refugees, but others appeared to believe we have decades to convert from burning fuel, and are oblivious to the determination of people to extract every last smidge of dirty fuel no matter the consequences to the environment and climate no matter how much we cajole them.
Luckily after Sunday morning's concluding session, the sky had cleared and it was a beautifully calm, sunny, pleasant afternoon to roam the Wesleyan campus.  This magnificent oak was the sight that greeted us when we emerged from the auditorium.
This institution was established in 1831, and so there are many very large old trees of quite a few varieties, and numerous younger trees planted more recently.  I couldn't take a picture of every single one, but if I had, every single one would exhibit serious, terminal, fatal damage. Following are the photos, one after the other, as I walked along...and some interesting stories that have emerged since my last post at Witsend.
The evergreens next to the big oak have peeling bark.
It is so raw, it is painful to look at.
I really do not know what exact mechanism is causing bark to split, peel, flake, and fall off.
It goes hand in hand with oozing sap - and the loss of needles.
These particular pines have almost none left.
Here's that big oak again.  The almost invisible "evergreens" are right next to it, on the left.
First in our roundup, a brief article from USA Today, contributed by Highschooler, adds ash trees to the near universal list of tree species dying off, of course blaming insects, drought and weather:

Ash trees already under attack by the emerald ash borer are dying at rate much faster than expected in Fort Wayne after a 2008 ice storm and a recent drought.

The Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne reports that city arborist Chad Tinkel expects Fort Wayne to lose 3,000 ash trees through 2013 on top of the normal annual tree deaths of about 500.  That's twice as many as was projected two years ago.

The city's park board was told Monday it would cost more than $5 million through 2017 to remove and replace all of the ash trees along city streets and in city parks. Park officials said there isn't money to complete such a project.
In addition to damaged bark, gaping holes are to be found in almost every tree, old or young.
This maple has it all - holes and splitting bark.
Of course, there have always been trees with holes - where else would owls and flying squirrels live? - but they were centuries old trees, before clear-cutting.



Depending on the species, bark peels in different configurations.  The pine bark falls in patches that look like a jigsaw puzzle.  Maples peel off swirly writhing strips.  I think the vast majority of people have no idea how abnormal this is.



This sad story warns that chocolate trees are under attack.  I eat chocolate rarely, and only when it is very dark and rich.  The best place I have ever found is Woodhouse Chocolates in California.  They are very expensive to have mailordered, but so densely flavorful that 1/2 of one per day is pure unadulterated luxury.  I suggest you splurge now before the impending chocolate crisis hits as described at Alternet:
You can see how huge some of these trees are by comparing this sycamore to the pedestrian on the lower left.   It is truly humbling to see a life form so gigantic and heartbreaking to see them on the wane.
In a world that takes for granted the availability of delicious and affordable chocolate, it's easy to forget that the popular product actually comes from trees - not magical elves of free-flowoing cocoa rivers, sadly.  But, some experts are predicting that in a matter of decades a drop in production due to changing weather and agriculture incentives may make chocolate 'as expensive as gold'. "In 20 years chocolate will be like caviar.  It will become so rare and so expensive that the average Joe just won't be able to afford it," says one researcher...
This is typical of the crowns of trees.  Branches are missing or broken.
Cocoa production also faces competition from other crops which farmers may find more financially appealing, like for palm-oil, driven by an increasing demand for biofuels, and rubber.  Changes in weather patterns, too, have crippled production in places like Indonesia that might normally be there to pick up the slack.
High up, is a large hole.  They start from rot within.
In the last few decades, these factors have already led to higher cocoa prices, but in the coming years they could put chocolate out of reach for the average consumer.
Lovely example of missing bark, and garish green growth.
"Production will have decreased within 20 years to the point where we won't see any more cheap bars in vending machines," predicts Marc Demarquette, a British confectioner who a advised the BBC on a story about the coming chocolate crisis.



This tree has a hole in the very center at the top of this trunk.
Many of the high branches produced no new growth this season.
Highschooler also sent some links about the disappearing Amazon - a story from treehugger that validates the IPCC report:

Thomas Lovejoy, biodiversity chair of the Heinz Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment, as well as biodiversity advisor to the World Bank, says the Amazon is "very close to a tipping point." By 2075 the forest could shrink to 65% of its original size.

Lovejoy says that the tipping point for the Amazon is 20% deforestation, and we are currently at 17-18% deforestation.

Main factors in the decline include climate change, deforestation and fire--sounds mighty like what the IPCC 4th assessment report said.

As for what the forest will turn into: "The forest eventually converts to cerrado (savannah) after a lot of fire, human misery, loss of biodiversity, and emission of carbon into the atmosphere."




The Wesleyan campus is spacious and elegant, but a little to the right of this view of the stadium, the entire row of hemlock and spruce is transparent.
Another study documents the rivers disappearing due to drought.  I have always wanted to go there and see the spectacular waterfalls, but I guess I never will:
In places throughout the Amazon, some stretches of the region's most important rivers and tributaries have dried up almost entirely, reducing the normally flowing waterways to a vast plain of broken clay and mud. For some people who live and work in this part of the world, life has come to a screeching halt amid the worst drought in recent memory. It is estimated that more than 62 thousand families have been affected by thelack of rainfall with over half the municipalities in the region having enacted a state of emergency. And, on the heels of a recent report about the global droughts to be expected due to climate change -- one can only wonder if such scenes will become more common elsewhere.

Whereas this contradictory study from - who else? - researchers with the Smithsonian Institute claims that the Amazon trees can adjust just fine to higher temperatures and CO2.  All the evidence suggests that the SI is hopelessly corrupted by Koch brother financing.  It's interesting how they grasp at data from the past and hazard guesses as to what it means for the future, compared to the stories above that are based on empirical current observations.

It is generally acknowledged that a warming world will harm the world's forests. Higher temperatures mean water becomes more scarce, spelling death for plants – or perhaps not always.

According to a study of ancient rainforests, trees may be hardier than previously thought. Carlos Jaramillo, a scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), examined pollen from ancient plants trapped in rocks in Colombia and Venezuela. "There are many climactic models today suggesting that … if the temperature increases in the tropics by a couple of degrees, most of the forest is going to be extinct," he said. "What we found was the opposite to what we were expecting: we didn't find any extinction event [in plants] associated with the increase in temperature, we didn't find that the precipitation decreased."

Another reader forwarded this horrible article about birds disappearing, in England.  I know they are disappearing here as well.  I miss hearing their delightful songs.  We have taken what was literally paradise and trashed it.  There are more trees that follow, but only little else to say.  Scroll down to the beeches.


I'm not sure, this might be a fraternity.  Below are closeups of the two large trees in the foreground.
This is the maple, on the right.  It is seeping, bark is breaking off, you can see it on the ground.
Here's the tree on the left.  The entire outer layer has already fallen from the trunk.
The peeling is working its way up to higher branches.

Here's another big maple, close up below revealing holes.

The tree below has many small cankers, with suckers protruding from them, a signal of distress.
the high branches are dead.

This tree has a large patch of missing bark, on it's way to developing a big hole.

Lest anyone bring up the tired argument that trees are dying from old age, here's a row of recently planted young trees.
They have gaping holes also.
And their bark is splitting to the same degree as the old trees.
A tree tour just wouldn't be complete with some lichens.
It's interesting that they cluster around lesions.






Oh, perennial geranium is blooming in November but global warming is a hoax!
Many trees are stained in various shades from seeping sap.


This tree has lost the entire center of it's crown.

There is - or rather was - a spectacular collection of beeches in this area of the campus.
Upon closer inspection they are all dying back, the center of the crowns lost.
Cracking bark and below, a nascent canker protrudes.  These are growing on all species at a mind-boggling rate, and are generally from an opportunistic, lethal fungal infection.


This is some sort of fruit - a crabapple likely.  It too has suckers, and is an excellent demonstration of the degradation of bark.  The left limb has smooth bark along the right hand side - that's how it should be.  To the left and on the lower right limb, the bark is heavily corroded and coarsened.
Here is my favorite scene.  The romantic in me can imagine generations of passionate students stealing kisses concealed under the glowing canopy of these two weeping willows in the spring.
Now though, the nearest has cankers clustered up and down its trunk.

And the one on the left, further back, has lost so many branches it is lopsided.
This squirrel was quite annoyed by my camera...or perhaps because the pine tree in the back is almost completely bare.

This has to be the pinnacle - nadir? - of extreme tree bizarro.  Maybe we should have a contest?
Here are more of the pathetic beeches:






When I was heading back to my car for the long journey home, the light was fading and this tree was just a silhouette...so I debated whether it was worth climbing the marble stairs.
I did anyway, and sure enough, there was a hole at the base of the trunk.
 I just so happened to come across a macabre picture of a fallen tree that I rather like, so here it is, and that's all for now, folks...except this reminder:  Zawacki is a verb that means I Told You So.
Oh, and as a footnote, I did send a very rough draft of this post to the organizers of the conference, offering to incorporate their perspective - and have yet to receive a reply.  If they ever decide to respond, I'll update.

Update:  I received an email from the Wesleyan Grounds Manager in  response to my questions in which he stated:

Over the last 30+ years, we've had to take down the oldest trees, some with storm damage and some with terminal disease.  The estimated oldest that we have now is probably only around 150-175 years old.

Update 2:  Tom Stokes sent me an exceedingly kind and gracious response early on Thanksgiving Day morning, for which I am extremely humbled and grateful:

Dear Gail Zawicki,

I read your account of the Pricing Carbon conference,
and regret having caused you such grief. Rather than
trying to once again explain and justify the stance
we took re your efforts to convey justifiable alarm at
what is happening to our trees, I merely say that I
was trying to do a lot of things at once, adhere to
University ground-rules, and respond to multiple
concerns different people had. Had I not been under
so much pressure, overseeing many events at once, I
certainly would have taken more time to listen to you,
understand your cause, and to seek a mutual agreement
and accommodations that might have been more satisfactory
for you and for all of us concerned.

More that the understandable anger you feel toward
me, I regret the part that our interaction had in
contributing to your overall negative impression of
the conference. It was something that many of us worked
on extremely hard (with dedication approaching yours
towards threatened trees), and we remain heartened that
we were able to provide an event that so many found to
be worthwhile (notwithstanding a couple of notable
exceptions!).

In my travels and work, I have often identified with
that forlorn and rejected fox.

A number of the pictures that you posted are beautifully
taken, moving and compelling. I admire your dedication
and wish you well.


Tom Stokes

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