Thursday, September 27, 2012

From Darkness Into Light

For my birthday-in-exile, my friends Peter and Catarina went to Wit's End to send me pictures of the poor lonely pets I have abandoned while I stay on Cape Cod with my parents.  They captured their idiosyncratic personalities with irreproachably clever perfection.
 CoCo is conspicuously irate, with whiskers curled in haughty opprobrium.
 River is mournfully censorious.
Simon is wistfully perplexed, while Bird, who was generously described by my friends as "overly agile" was actually being his usual psychotic self, racing madly around and no doubt shrieking excitedly.
To call it piercing decibels, well, it's more like ear-splitting.  The jungle must be a noisy place.
Running back and forth from the hospital along the traffic horror of Route 6 for weeks, I snuck in some brief side trips to the National Seashore.
Weddings seem to be popular on the beach on the Cape, no matter how blustery the wind.
But I like a more desolate vista, which is not hard to find after tourist season is over.
There are a number of cemeteries along the way to my parents' house.  I love reading the inscriptions.
So soon our transient comforts fly,
And pleasure only blooms to die.
It should be pretty clear that the trees there are dying.
Many have been removed, their stumps left adjacent to the buried corpses.
There are so many stones that mention they are in memory of men lost at sea.  Life has always been treacherous.  There are very few people over the age of 70, and many from age of less than one, to their forties.  I find it fascinating that when their age is carved into the tombstone, they count not just the years they were alive, but the months and the days.  Every day is precious.
I have no family tree to reflect upon - I have always wanted to be a member of a legacy that would warrant a nice resting place among a big tribe like this!
I got a solicitation from the Sierra Club for a tour package to drive around looking at fall foliage.  Well, of course, the fall foliage is going to be ghastly this year, worse than last which was worse than the one before.  For the most part, the pictures on this post, taken between Cape Cod and New Jersey, should amply illustrate that unfortunate fact.
The entire premise of cruising around for the sole purpose of admiring trees dying from auto exhaust seemed so painfully ironic that I left the following comment on their director's blog, who happened to be rejoicing prematurely that the Sequoias have been saved from logging (even though they haven't anyway):
The greatest threat to Sequoias, like other trees, is tropospheric ozone.  Trees all over the world are dying because they are absorbing air pollution.  Ozone damages their foliage, causing them to devote more energy to repair, and less to roots.  Shriveled root systems make them more likely to blow over and more vulnerable to drought.  Their immunity becomes weakened and they are finished off by attacks from fungus, disease, and insects.
Much of the ozone comes from autos.  The last thing the Sierra Club should be doing is promoting travel to look at fall foliage, as you do on the front page of the newsletter I just received.  The color is going to be terrible anyway, because the stomates of leaves are increasingly injured by rising levels of ozone, so most of the leaves are turning brown.  It's just wrong to urge people  who appreciate our forests to participate in the very activity that is destroying them.
It's been known for decades that ozone is also diminishing the yield and quality of agricultural crops, which we can ill afford on top of weather extremes from climate change.  It's also reducing the amount of seeds, nuts, berries and other food for wild animals, which is why the food chain is collapsing and they are starving and dying out.
The time has come for "green" organizations and scientists to stop pretending we can avert catastrophe without any shared sacrifice, first and foremost, elimination of non-essential energy waste.  A book with links to scientific research on this topic can be downloaded for free from dropbox here.
When I came home for two days, this was the view from the little dirt road that leads to Wit's End.
Every year that goes by, the trees lose leaves earlier in the fall.
People don't look closely enough to see that the newer leaves are still green, and the older leaves are damaged.  This isn't the way the change in color in the fall is supposed to occur.
This was once the most beautiful scene I could imagine, it gave me joy every time I saw it.  I made the quick trip home to visit my critters and mostly because I had a court appointment for my arrest at Occupy Wall Street.  For the 17th, the OWS one-year anniversary, I had already returned to the Cape and so I watched the live-stream of police ruthlessly arresting people for no good reason - telling them to move from the sidewalk to make way for pedestrians - as though they weren't pedestrians themselves!
 It was gratifying to see a great turnout for the Environmental Working Group.
I think it's so important to make the connection between financial inequality and the concurrent - and ultimately more dangerous - pillaging of the ecosphere by the 1%.  Still, I doubt anyone there noticed how thin the trees were for mid-September.
Returning to the Cape, I had stopped at the Yale Art Gallery to see an exhibit of photographs by Robert Adams, titled The Place We Live, having read a review in the New York Times.  In addition to many landscapes, there are lots of photos of trees - stunted, damaged trees - and the desolation left by logging.  He writes about air pollution a bit, but I doubt he did so with an understanding of the direct connection between ozone and dying forests.
Old Growth Stump, Coos County Oregon 1999-2003
The sculpture garden was closed to visitors, but the guard allowed me step outside and take a photograph of the huge old trees in the courtyard.  The iconic granite Harkness Tower is just visible on the right.  This picture was taken September 11 - far, far too soon for leaves to be falling, or shriveling up, which they were everywhere, anyway.
It is better to contemplate the statuary in the classics gallery.  This makes me think of one of the funniest books I ever read, Thorne Smith's The Nightlife of the Gods.  I read it back in the days before I knew that humans really do think we are godlike, and all those myths warning of hubris and other foibles have stern lessons.
I would like to be frozen in such sunlit serenity.  Instead I am wracked with ancient emotions I would have preferred to let sleep forever, and frustrated because I am surrounded with people who shall remain nameless (although you can no doubt guess who they are) whose attitude can best be summed up as "Après moi, le déluge" taken as either of its interpretations, whether predictive or indifferent...both equally offensive.
There's a very good reason people have long been predicting the coming of the four horsemen or some version of the equivalent.  You don't have to read a lot of books (although there are some good ones) to know that it's obvious that Progress is a Myth - all you have to do is put aside faith and belief as human constructs and you will understand that anything else is wistful dreaming.  Ah well, I am plotting my escape from familial obligations.
In honor of my birthday no doubt, the Arctic sea ice extant hit its record low minimum extant on the 16th of September, heralding many warnings of extreme weather from the disrupted jet stream, and others more hysterical about the potential for methane release, across the blogosphere.  An article in the Guardian quoted Prof. Wadhams as follows:
A state park beach in Connecticut
"In an email to the Guardian he says: "Climate change is no longer something we can aim to do something about in a few decades' time, and that we must not only urgently reduce CO2 emissions but must urgently examine other ways of slowing global warming, such as the various geoengineering ideas that have been put forward.  These include reflecting the sun's rays back into space, making clouds whiter and seeding the ocean with minerals to absorb more CO2."
What's infuriating is that Wadhams is advocating geoengineering which, as we all know, aside from black swans emerging therefrom, won't do a thing about pollution, or overpopulation, the root causes of climate change.

If scientists are getting so desperate that they are willing to publicly advocate geoengineering, why not go all the way with something that would actually be effective, like demanding the rationing of fuel and a reproduction lottery?
Here's an example of just how ludicrous are such plans, from Reuters:

Planes or airships could carry sun-dimming materials high into the atmosphere for an affordable price tag of below $5 billion a year as a way to slow climate change, a study indicated on Friday.

Guns, rockets or a pipeline into the stratosphere would be more expensive but generally far cheaper than policies to cut world greenhouse gas emissions, estimated to cost between $200 billion and $2 trillion a year by 2030.
Transporting a million tonnes of particles to at least 18 km (11 miles) above the Earth every year to form a sunshade is "both feasible and affordable", U.S. scientists concluded in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The strategy, called "solar radiation management", broadly imitates a volcanic eruption. The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, for instance, blasted out a haze of sun-reflecting particles that slightly cooled the planet.
The authors did not examine whether such "geo-engineering" of the planet was a good idea. Other studies show it might have unwanted side effects, such as changing rainfall patterns.

"One attribute of solar radiation management is that it is quite inexpensive," co-author Professor Jay Apt of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh told Reuters.

"That doesn't mean it's the preferred strategy."
Of course it's going to become the preferred strategy, if it's cheaper and easier and more politically acceptable than cutting emissions!  At least, it will be perceived as cheaper if you don't count the other effects of industrial civilization, like ocean acidification, and dying trees.  As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in 1831, (although if contemporary he might have added at the end, in the next financial quarter"):

As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?
Just launched is a new report detailing the costs of climate change from the independent international organization, DARA.  The Climate Vulnerability Monitor has a section on forestry which includes the loss of forestry products such as timber from the "carbon economy" which I guess is a euphemism for industrial civilization - losses not from climate change but instead, specifically from emissions OTHER than carbon.

The report is about climate change but contains near total vindication for an Ozonista, and notice, in the forestry section they are measuring losses to commercial forestry independent of climate change, and also not including the even greater losses to the unmanaged, wild forests, such as the much vaster boreal and tropical forests (not to mention trees in commercial nurseries).  Typically, just like the implications of coral reef collapse and phytoplankton loss from ocean acidification, the existential threat of dying forests is only obliquely implied and not really presented as clearly as it should be.
from the forestry section of the DARA report
For instance this map titled "carbon" vulnerability is specifically gauging the vulnerability of the forestry industry to NON-carbon emissions, mainly ozone and acidification.  Following are excerpts of the section on forestry losses, and notice they are only talking about commercial forestry - not wild unmanaged forests which are likely in worse shape, i.e., they are dying off.  The risk calculation is based, not on how many trees are dying or going to die, but on how much forestry accounts for the GDP accounts for any given country.

Commercial forestry in countries and regions with high levels of toxic emissions is experiencing productivity losses
Ozone and acid rain impacts primary productivity and the growth rates of commercial forestry, generating losses in output
Heavily forested nations especially in Africa and Southeast Asia suffer these effects disproportionately because of the relative significance of their forestry industries
The earth’s plant life is susceptible to environmental pollutants released into the air as a by-product of economic activities. Trees are by no means spared these effects, with losses already observable due to problems such as toxic ozone emissions at ground levels (Reilly et al., 2007).

Studies have shown how ambient levels of ozone (O3) in the atmosphere have already reduced tree productivity and will continue to do so rapidly as O3 continues to rise. Critically, this would reduce a major global carbon sink (Wittig et al., 2009). Likewise, acid rain also affects tree productivity, especially where soil acid buffering is low (Likens et al., 1996).

In order to significantly reduce the losses these effects produce, particularly for the forestry sector, major economies would need to make synchronized efforts to curtail the heaviest forms of industrial pollution, such as sulphur and nitrogen dioxide emissions generated by coal power and other substances that lead to the production of O3. Trees are more resilient to heightened levels of ground-level O3 and other pollutants than most staple crops, if anticipated losses in other segments of the agricultural sector are taken as reference (Holm Olsen and Fenhann (eds.), 2008).
HAZARD MECHANISM

Emissions like sulphur and nitrogen dioxide and other ozone precursors lead to acid rain and high concentrations of O3 at ground-level, which have long been shown to be toxic for the growth of plants, including trees (Wentzel, 1982; Mustafa, 1990).  These effects directly impact plant and tree productivity, harming the growth of trees and forestry sector outputs (Reilly et al., 2007; Likens et al., 1996). In optimal conditions, higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere might also favour growth and expanded output (IPCC, 2007).
IMPACTS

The global impact of the carbon economy on forestry, independent of climate change, is estimated to currently cost 30 billion dollars a year. The level of impact is expected to grow modestly as a share of global GDP over the next 20 years, with losses of 80 billion dollars a year in 2030. Some 25 mainly forest countries in the tropics are acutely vulnerable to these effects and will see the most significant impact. Africa and Southeast Asia are generally worst off, with important concerns for poverty reduction efforts that might be compromised through declining agroforestry productivity.

The US, China, Mexico, India and Japan are estimated to incur the largest total losses all at or in excess of one billion dollars per year in 2010, and growing rapidly by 2030.
THE INDICATOR

The indicator measures the impact of air pollution on the forestry sector focusing in particular on the extent to which ground-level ozone (O3) and acid rain affect forest productivity. It relies on an ecosystem valuation approach to translate losses into GDP (Reilly et al., 2007; Wentzel, 1982; Costanza et al., 1997).

Limitations relate to uncertainties over emissions leading to O3 and acid rain and the regional aggregation of O3 concentrations used (OECD, 2012).

Also, research on the effects of acid rain on forests is very out of date. Further investigation is needed since coal energy, heavy in sulphur and nitrogen emissions, is poised to continue to be the world’s leading global fuel for power generation well into the 2030s (US EIA, 2011).
Yet another section considers impacts on biodiversity:

Natural resources support businesses, communities and economies but are rarely accounted for in company balance sheets or GDP calculations
Emissions of greenhouse gases, especially toxic ground-level ozone and acid rain, are causing significant losses to biodiversity, much of which will add invisible costs to businesses and economies around the world
Countries with the richest ecosystems will suffer these effects the most
Reducing emissions of sulphur and sources of ozone as a priority in the energy, transport and agricultural sectors forms the basis of any plan for stemming these losses
Further details are elucidated in the pdf:

Industrial or transport-related emissions, such as high-sulphur-content acid rain and ground-level ozone, are toxic for plants and have a negative effect on primary productivity, affecting plant growth and health. That negative effect is transferred to the whole ecosystem and damages the abundance and quality of ecosystem services generated.

"That negative effect is transferred to the whole ecosystem"  - of course it is!!  Other creatures rely on the abundance and nutritive quality of plants for food, not to say habitat.
Then alas! - there is this completely insane section on agriculture, an example of delusional fantasy at its finest:

Air pollution harms people and has damaging and toxic effects for plants, impairing agricultural productivity
Not all emissions are toxic: CO2 is a natural ingredient in photosynthesis, and enhances plant growth in optimal conditions
The positive effects of “carbon fertilization” are often cancelled out by negative effects of localized/regional air pollution
Net losses are substantial; but as CO2 levels climb, so do positive effects on plant growth, and by 2030 will far outweigh harmful concerns linked to localized pollution, making the effect for agriculture the largest positive contribution of the carbon economy
Specifically, they are ignoring the significance of their own statements:

The fourth effect, referred to as “carbon fertilization,” is the only one considered to be positive and differs from the other concerns in that it can be felt globally, since CO2 is evenly dispersed in the earth’s atmosphere.  As a result, its benefits are more widespread and significant than the counteracting effects of ozone, acid rain, and dimming, but may only be gained up to a certain point (not surpassed by 2030); plants only receive the full benefits under optimal conditions, since accelerated growth requires more moisture and nutrients to sustain (Van Veen et al., 1991; Long et al., 2005 and 2006; IPCC, 2007).
"CO2 is evenly dispersed"...but, so is the background level of ozone (so is dimming for that matter).  The peaks of ozone are local, but the persistent background level is rising everywhere.  Then there's this:  "...plants only receive the full benefits under optimal conditions"...uh, we aren't exactly going to have optimal conditions!  There will be far, far less moisture, not more; and the only nutrients we can add to the depleted soil are, um, petro-fertilizers derived from fossil fuels.  Peak oil, anyone?  In a footnote, they admit:  "Recent research is less optimistic regarding the potential benefits of CO² fertilization than presented here (Ainsworth et al., 2008; Leaky et al., 2009)."  Duh.
There is no safe threshold for ozone, which only rarely is hinted at and certainly isn't part of the regulatory array, which considers anything under 50 ppb to be "good" air quality.  Following are excerpts from a publication by the CEC - the Commission for Environmental Cooperation between Mexico, Canada and the US...even though it's several years out of date.

Actually, it seems they have accomplished so little the past few years, I wonder if they have thrown in the towel after a good start.  I skimmed through their most recent summary of their annual meeting, and I was unable to find anything of substance even though the board consists of high-level cabinent officers like Lisa Jackson.  If you want to be really bored, see if you can find much other than welcomes and thanks and other formalities in the notes from 2010, a tedious ordeal that must have lasted for hours.
Be that as it may, some years ago the "The North American Mosaic - an overview of Key Environmental Issues", produced an excellent four page report called Ground Level Ozone:

Ground-level ozone has deleterious effects on human and animal health and the environment. Despite reduction efforts by the three countries, it still exceeds national air quality standards in some areas of North America.
Effects of Ground-level Ozone

Ground-level ozone, a key component of smog, is considered a “nonthreshold” problem because even very small amounts in the air have deleterious effects on human health, especially the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Exposure to ozone has been linked to premature mortality and a range of morbidity outcomes that include hospital admissions and asthma symptoms.

After analyzing the air pollution and mortality data of eight major Canadian cities, Health Canada estimated that in these cities almost 6,000 deaths a year could be attributed to air pollution of which ground-level ozone is a major component. According to the Ontario Medical Association, air pollution costs Ontario citizens more than C$1 billion a year in hospital admissions, emergency room visits and absenteeism. In the United States, studies of 95 major urban areas by researchers at Yale and Johns Hopkins revealed that an increase in daily ozone levels was associated with more than 3,700 deaths each year from cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses.
Vegetation, crop productivity, flowers, shrubs and forests are also damaged by groundlevel ozone. Moreover, it can deteriorate cotton and synthetic materials, produce cracks in rubber and accelerate the fading of dyes, paints and coatings.


Transport of ozone and precursor emissions extends beyond North America’s borders. North America is a source of groundlevel ozone for Europe just as Asia is for North America. More widely, ground-level ozone levels are rising across the planet and have created “background” ozone concentrations, even in remote areas that are not directly affected by human influence.

Retrospective analysis of eighteenth-century data from Europe suggests that ozone concentrations in the Northern Hemisphere may have doubled over the past century in response to the massive industrialization that has taken place. Current “background” ozone concentrations in North America are about 30–40 parts per billion.

[Note:  now the background level is higher and inexorably increasing]
Particulate Matter (p. 4)

When nitrate, an oxidation product of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), is combined with other compounds in the atmosphere, such as ammonia, it becomes an important contributor to the secondary formation of fine particulate matter (PM2.5). VOCs are also a precursor pollutant to the secondary formation of PM2.5.

Ozone and PM have some common precursor gases, and reductions in any one of these precursors can have complex, and at times negative, results for concentrations of ozone or PM. Efforts to address and reduce concentrations of ozone and PM are often integrated in air quality management programs to avoid negative air quality results.
I have never really liked Cape Cod because it's very flat, and I had the idea that the trees are uniformly stunted and scrubby.
But in fact, there are some very large old trees...they just aren't doing very well.
I found one place on the Cape I love.
It's the Fort Hood Historic District - a tiny cluster of antique homes along a tiny lane, yielding to vast deserted saltmarshes, dunes, and sandbars.
Even in this dying autumn, the subtle colors are gorgeous.
At least, at a distance.  Closer, and the bareness is painful.
This gigantic tree is losing its leaves too:
From the front of the house, it is enormous.
Acidification

Nitrogen oxides are formed primarily from the nitrogen liberated during combustion processes. Nitrogen oxide emitted during combustion quickly oxidizes to NO2 in the atmosphere. The NO2 then dissolves in water vapor in the air to form nitric acid (HNO3), and interacts with other gases and particles in the air to form particles known as nitrates and other products that may be harmful to people and their environment. Both NO2 in its untransformed state and the acid and transformation products of NO2 can have adverse effects on human health and the environment, harming vegetation, buildings and materials, and contributing to the acidification of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.
Eutrophication

Nitrogen releases not only contribute to the formation of acid depositions, but also can act as a nutrient in ecosystems, resulting in eutrophication or overenrichment of soils and waters.

The interactions of pollution have apparently been a neglected force in the study of ocean acidification as well, according to a story in UnderWaterTimes titled:

NOAA:  Study Finds That Ocean Acidification is Accelerated in Nutrient-Rich Areas

Research by NOAA's William G. Sunda and Wei-jun Cai of the University of Georgia points to the process of eutrophication - the production of excess algae from increased nutrients, such as, nitrogen and phosphorus -- as a large, often overlooked source of CO2 in coastal waters. When combined with increasing CO2 in the atmosphere, the release of CO2 from decaying organic matter is accelerating the acidification of coastal seawater.points to the process of eutrophication - the production of excess algae from increased nutrients, such as, nitrogen and phosphorus -- as a large, often overlooked source of CO2 in coastal waters. When combined with increasing CO2 in the atmosphere, the release of CO2 from decaying organic matter is accelerating the acidification of coastal seawater.
Sunda and Cai used a new chemical model to predict the increase in acidity of coastal waters over a range of salinities, temperatures and atmospheric CO2 concentrations. They found that the combined interactive effects on acidity from increasing CO2 in the atmosphere and CO2 released from the breakdown of organic matter were quite complex, and varied with water temperature, salinity and with atmospheric CO2.

"These interactions have important biological implications in a warming world with increasing atmospheric CO2," said Sunda. "The combined effects of the two acidification processes, along with increased nutrient loading of nearshore waters, are reducing the time available to coastal managers to adopt approaches to avoid or minimize harmful impacts to critical ecosystem services such as fisheries and tourism."
Sunda and Cai found that, given current atmospheric CO2 concentrations and projected CO2 released from organic matter decay, seawater acidity could nearly double in waters with higher salinity and temperature, and could rise as much as 12 times current levels in waters with lower salinity and lower temperature.

These model predictions were verified with measured acidity data from the northern Gulf of Mexico and the Baltic Sea, two eutrophic coastal systems with large temperature and salinity differences, which experience large-scale algal blooms. The observed and modeled increases in acidity from eutrophication and algal decay are well within the range that can harm marine organisms.

In Scotland, a blight is blamed for the death of pine forests, with an emphasis on the loss to the lumber industry.

URGENT action is needed to halt the spread of a devastating tree disease which could threaten Scotland’s pine forests, it has been claimed.
The disease, known as dothistroma needle blight, is one of the most significant diseases threatening coniferous trees throughout Britain and has already spread throughout Scotland, notably in the north and north-east. It causes needle loss and tree deaths in Corsican pine, lodgepole pine and Scots pine.

Trials of aerial spraying are due to begin next year in a bid to prevent the further spread of the blight. But Alison Johnstone, the Green MSP for Lothian, said more must be done to prevent the spread of a disease which is putting Scotland’s important forestry economy at risk.

She said: “The Scottish forestry sector supports over 13,000 jobs and is worth almost half a billion pounds to the economy, so the threat posed by needle blight must be taken seriously. Woodlands are an important part of our natural and cultural heritage, and are vital public spaces that promote wellbeing and exercise.”
Meanwhile, you'd think perhaps someone might connect that with the following information:

GLASGOW is the most polluted city in the UK – and the fifth worst in Europe – for key traffic-related emissions, according to a new report.

It was the only city in Britain, except Leicester, shown to be failing European standards on nitrogen dioxide, which is caused by exhaust fumes and industrial pollution.
The report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) ranked Glasgow at No 5 for the toxic gas out of nearly 400 cities assessed.

It is one of only ten places that breached the NO2 limit in 2010, the year it was supposed to be met.The deadly dioxide exacerbates lung disease and related respiratory problems, and also reacts in the atmosphere to produce ground-level ozone, a major component of smog.
The EEA warned that poor air-quality levels were wiping two years off people’s lives in the most polluted cities.
The farce that is regulation was definitively revealed when the Ninth Circuit judge decided to "displace" the Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Climate Change Liability Case.  You see, the fact that there are EPA regulations is actually shielding the corporations from being held accountable for the damage done by their greenhouse gas emissions.  In actuality, regulation is a method by which polluters are granted the license to pollute within certain perimeters, and not at all a means protection for people and the environment.  For those of us who once thought legal remedies might save us, it should be clear by now that this is just another failure on the part of people to stop the ravaging and exploitation.
After I reading through the DARA report that came out today feeling so vindicated by their assessment of the threat of ozone - thinking in the beginning, at least finally somebody gets it -and then to find they totally negated everything they said with the delusional claim that CO2 would increase crop abundance, it brought me straight back to what I was originally planning to write about on this post in the first place.
I have lost patience with discussions of how fast catastrophe will happen, and thus didn't regret spending the better part of several days reading Nature Bats Last...following the links and then reading the comments and following all the other links in comments.  For the most part, those people are having a conversation not about the timing, and certainly not whether collapse is already occurring - but rather how do rational minds react to it?
The metaphor of being in the proverbial smoky theater has become as worn out as the inevitability of the sinking Titanic, and the blind appeasement and delusion prior to WWII.  But there is a reason for that - raising the alarm in a crowded theater a particularly apt, and multi-layered way to examine our predicament, where virtually the entire audience is still entranced by the show they are watching, too engrossed to pay attention to the acrid smell that fills their nostrils, too transfixed to heed the cries of warning.
In recent years, if the intertubes are a reliable indication, there are increasing numbers of patrons who realize there is a spreading fire.  They are still far, far outnumbered by the rest.  Some are shouting warnings, some sit stoically with the crowd that is genuinely oblivious, pretending to be as mesmerized as their neighbors so as not to be condemned, some hide, picking at the impenetrable walls with their car keys or ball-point pens, hoping to escape unnoticed.
Then there are a few others who have realized there is no waking up the crowd until it is too late so why bother to scream fire?  They know that the theater doors are locked, the walls too thick to breach, so they cluster (on blogs mostly) and ask each other, what can we do?  We know we are doomed, what does that mean?  How should we spend our last days?  How to prepare, is there any moral obligation to warn the denier zombies, and what to do when the smoke gets so thick that the circus unfolding before the dazed audience is obscured and there is nothing left for them but to go berserk?

That's the question that interests me now.
Most scientists remain, at least publicly, obstinately overoptimistic.  It's always "there's still just barely enough time to avert total catastrophe."  But...there are no known mechanisms that will halt warming, until the earth reaches a new and very high temperature equilibrium of energy exchange with the sun. In human time scales, the trajectory of heating is irreversible. This is part of the paleoclimatic record, brilliantly described in “With Speed and Violence” by Fred Pearce.
The initial forcing (in this case, humans burning fossil fuel but in others, volcanism, orbital perturbation, asteroid hit) is the least of it. Far more powerful are the amplifying feedbacks and tipping points, which cause rapid acceleration. They are clearly (arctic ice melt, methane release, forest dieback, phytoplankton dieoff) already well underway, and unstoppable.
The scientists and activists like Bill McKibben must know this at some level, but for the most part they are still stuck in anthropocentric solutions – political action, market adjustments, and clean energy.  They are bargaining with an implacable poker player, Mother Nature.  Climate change scientists are limited by focusing only on CO2, which is but a symptom of the larger and utterly intractable (because of human nature) problems of overpopulation, resource extraction and habitat destruction, and pollution. Ecology, in other words.

Another conversation, a response to this conundrum and one which is being seen more and more as disillusioned, well intentioned environmentalists walk away from it all, is in an essay called "Why We Cannot Save the World" - posted on a blog called "How We Can Save the World"!
"And then more recently I overcame the second denial — that this collapse can, with great effort, be prevented or mitigated, or transitioned around. And it was if a great weight was lifted off my shoulders. We cannot save the world. And suddenly I realized how precious this life and my time was, and how life that is not lived to the full every moment, presently, is no life at all, but rather like a story I’m watching on a screen, as if I were a passive spectator. And that every moment is an eternity and every moment wasted in anxious ‘clock’ time is an eternity lost. That there is only here, and now. And that everything my culture had told me, taught me, was an unintended lie. The wild, feral creature I had always been began to be liberated from civilization’s grasp."

Here are excerpts from two of the comments at Nature Bats Last that I especially liked:
BC Says: 

Max, long before climate change (the planet has been warming for centuries and for millennia since the last ice age, of course, and humans for millennia have been impacting local and regional microclimates) gets the bottom 99%+ of us, the banksters and their police-state and client gov’t war machine will destroy the existing mass-consumer division of labor and system of debt-money credits, the social welfare sate, and income and purchasing for the vast majority of us.
The banksters literally want it all, and since ’08, and with the assistance of the debt-money printing press they own at the Fed, they’re going to get it all.

Consequently, for the first time in human history, we have today a de facto militarist-imperialist, rentier-oligarchic corporate-state dictatorship complete with a growing surveillance and police-state apparatus from which there is no hiding nor escaping.

“Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.”
- Benito Mussolini
From George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”
Part 3, Chapter 3, excerpts:

“The proletarians will never revolt, not in a thousand years or a million. They cannot. I do not have to tell you the reason: you know it already. … There is no way in which the Party can be overthrown. The rule of the Party is for ever. Make that the starting-point of your thoughts.’ He came closer to the bed. For ever! he repeated. … You understand well enough how the Party maintains itself in power. Now tell me why we cling to power. What is our motive? Why should we want power? Go on, speak, he added as Winston remained silent.
Winston … knew in advance what O’Brien would say. That the Party … sought power because men in the mass were frail cowardly creatures who could not endure liberty or face the truth, and must be ruled over and systematically deceived by others who were stronger than themselves. … That the party was the eternal guardian of the weak, a dedicated sect doing evil that good might come…
Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. … We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me? …
You know the Party slogan: ‘Freedom is Slavery.’ Has it ever occurred to you that it is reversible? Slavery is freedom. … The second thing for you to realize is that power is power over human beings. Over the body but, above all, over the mind. … How does one man assert his power over another, Winston? Winston thought. By making him suffer, he said.
Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing. Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? … A world of fear and treachery is torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself. Progress in our world will be progress towards more pain. The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy, everything.
Already we are breaking down the habits of thought which have survived from before the Revolution. We have cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman. No one dares trust a wife or a child or a friend any longer. But in the future there will be no wives and no friends. Children will be taken from their mothers at birth, as one takes eggs from a hen. … There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. … If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — for ever. The espionage, the betrayals, the arrests, the tortures, the executions, the disappearances will never cease. It will be a world of terror as much as a world of triumph. … That is the world that we are preparing, Winston.”
They’ve won. The future has arrived: a civilization based on fear and hatred; a world of terror; war without end; empire and triumphalism; no trust, no wives, no children, and no friends; boots stamping on faces; progress of increasing pain; and a Hobbesian “war of all against all”.

And who created this world unfit for humans and non-humans alike? We did, you and I. All 7 billion of us acting upon our evolutionary programming, the force of desire and will to power, and procreative imperatives.

We have met our creator and our destroyer, s/he who created the world in our image, and s/he is us. We are the cause of our suffering and its ending. If a person or civilization is suicidal, there is very little one can do to prevent it.
“Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.”
– Toynbee
Paul Chefurka Says: 

Thank you, Guy. This is, I think, a very realistic and even satisfying place to rest.

I have no ability to affect the outcome. Any efforts I’ve made have been more than easily counterbalanced by all the oil/coal/gas being burned (along with all the activity that enables) by the other 6,999,999,999 people in the world.
I used to think that Peak Oil would break civilization, and that Climate Change would be a medium term effect. I now realize that I was wrong. Climate impacts on the food supply are here now, and will get worse as time goes on (look north to the ice…)

However, it’s going to be the convergence of problems that fractures civilization: problems with the food supply, energy supply, water supply, money supply and governance in the face of massive refugee movements – all coming to a head over the next decade or two.
Actually I’ll go further than just saying, “I have no ability to affect the outcome”. I don’t WANT to affect the outcome. I actually want to see what happens over the next two or three decades: global warming, species extinctions, food/water/energy shortages, ocean acidification, chemical pollution, overfishing, deforestation, desertification, overpopulation, social breakdown – the whole nine yards.

We are in the unique position of living through the real life manifestation of every dystopian SF novel ever written, and I really want to see how it turns out. I feel no particular concern about the fact that I’ve decided to take my shoulder off the tinker’s wheel and instead devote my energies to the things I want to do, the things that I have decided are more important in this situation.
I used to want to change things; I hoped to help put out the “fire on the roof of the world” or at least show people how that might be done. Then I wanted to wake people up to the fact that the roof was on fire in the hope that *they* would act. Both of those have turned out to be forlorn hopes. Now I I have turned my attention and energies inward instead. My involvement with the outer (physical) world has shifted to simply watching. And sometimes I remind people that there’s no shame in being a witness.

I mentioned my idea of a Kubler-Ross Stage 6 (“Looking for the Gift”) in a comment on another thread. Once we stop screaming and bargaining we can begin look for the gift in all these upheavals. Examples of that “gift” might be:
* Understanding that humanity is a special animal, and that both our specialness and our animal nature must be a factor in all we do;
* Realizing that we are a part of nature, not apart from her.
* The awareness that our sense of control is an illusion born of fear;
* Recognizing our personal and collective limitations, and reorienting our action within them;
* Awakening to the fact that change is not the enemy, but the nature of reality;
* Realizing that what humanity faces is not a set of physical problems, but the turmoil that always accompanies a transition from adolescence into adulthood.

It’s time for us to stop thinking in terms of “fixing” things (especially when what’s broken isn’t just the climate and the oil supply, but a couple of dozen interlocking wicked problems – including tipping points we’ve demonstrably passed already.)
It’s time to think about the best ways we can come up with to live happy, caring, cooperative, altruistic, mindful, joyous, and even sacred lives in the midst of a world we have defaced forever..
There is a very good reason why the concept of “Surrender” is at the core of all the world’s sacred philosophies. Unlike the defeatist Western interpretation of the word, this form of surrender means accepting that there are some things that can’t be done, and choosing instead to do the very best of those things that can be done. We’re about to find out for ourselves that the opposite of surrender isn’t victory, but final defeat. I don’t like the idea of defeat, frankly, so I’ve chosen to surrender to What Is.

Grant me this day
The courage to change those things I can,
The serenity to accept those things I cannot change –
And above all, the wisdom to know the difference.
I'm not so sure about the sacred part, and to me any notion of a gift implies a giver and a recipient, which I question.  But I can see the wisdom of Surrender...
 This tree is a classic example of the widespread decline.
 Blight of one form or another moves in when immunities cease to function.
scilicet haud nobis quicquam, qui non erimus tum,
accidere omnino poterit sensumque movere,
non si terra mari miscebitur et mare caelo. (3.840-842)

Certainly then, when we do not exist, nothing
at all will be able to happen to us nor excite our senses,
not even if the earth mixes with the sea, and the sea with the heavens.

~ Lucretius

"The Latin poet Lucretius (99-55 B.C.) wrote his didactic poem De rerum natura in order to diffuse, under the clothing of verse, the Epicurean philosophy through Rome. One of the postulates of Epicureanism is that the human soul is mortal; therefore, one need not fear death, since once dead we will no longer have either consciousness or sensory perception. Lucretius, in order to convincingly express this notion, argues that we will feel nothing once we are dead, even though enormous cataclysms might occur. These cataclysms consist in the earth mixing with the sea, and the sea with the heavens." [from the aforementioned link, about the quote attributed to Louis King of France XV: Après moi, le déluge.]
Snails!
So perhaps we need not fear extinction, either.  I think I shall start to think of myself as an Epicurean, and merely chronicle the the carnage as it continues, such as this instance...For supposedly mysterious reasons, there has been an "irruption" of snowy owls from their normal home closer to the Arctic.  Various speculations are made as to why thousands have descended to the northern US, but the article ends with an observation from the head of the Owl Research Institute of Montana, who has studied them for two decades:  "...snowy owl populations are believed to be in decline possibly because a changing climate has lessened the abundance of vegetation like grasses that lemmings rely on".
My comment:  A lack of grasses due to climate change?  Nonsense!  The northern latitudes are warming much faster than the lower latitudes - why do scientists persist in attributing dying plantlife to climate change when it's well known that vegetation is highly sensitive to ordinary, invisible but toxic air pollution.  In a study by David Lobell et al of Stanford in 2011, it was found that:
"The research indicated that those specific regions [crop producing regions for corn, rice, maize, and wheat during the growing seasons] in the U.S. have not seen the same warming trend evident in global average temperatures over the past 30 years."  Dr. Lobell didn't consider ozone in his research about precipitation and temperature, but he found that in America up to this summer (which of course smashed records for heat and drought), crops in our country were not growing in significantly warmer temperature with less rain than in the past.
And yet in a debunking of Fox's distorting this research to apply to average temperatures around the entire globe, Media Matters printed this:

Dr. Jacqueline Mohan of the University of Georgia's Odum School of Ecology explained in an email that "modern crops and the vast majority of natural ecosystems are fundamentally different." She explains that annual crops used in agriculture "do not "track" climate as closely as perennial plants which have much longer lifespans" and are more vulnerable to changes in climate. Mohan also points to recent research on ecosystems in North America that "has shown profound responses to changing climate."
Annual plants also don't get exposed to ozone season after season, suffering cumulative damage, which is the only explanation that makes sense in areas that haven't been experiencing temperature rises and drought for years.  The degradation of "natural ecosystems" and trees is nearly uniform amongst regions and habitat - whether high or low altitude, wet or dry, in the ground, wild or irrigated, or even potted flowers.  What do all those plants that are "showing profound responses" have in common?  The atmosphere, of course!
Another study of a crash in the lemming population blames less snow:


Lemmings don't commit suicide by running blindly off cliffs—that's a myth. But lemming populations in their Arctic tundra home can rise and fall dramatically in just a few short years. And the sudden collapse of a lemming population can mean hard times—or even extinction—for their predators, a new study shows.

Populations of collared lemmings—rotund rodents with small ears and short legs—are driven by predators and snow conditions. Their numbers follow a characteristic 4-year cycle, rising and falling with such regularity that the pattern has long fascinated scientists. 
But at the turn of the millennium, the lemming cycle collapsed in northeastern Greenland and has not recovered, most likely due to the increased warming of the Arctic, scientists report today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. And as lemming numbers have dwindled in the region, so have those of their predators; in fact, some populations are likely facing local extinction
As a result, the authors note, the warming of the Arctic is not only causing some species to shift their ranges northward, but is even adversely affecting those that stay put. The discovery is one of the first to suggest how extensive the ecological effects of global warming are apt to be—with entire communities of animals and plants subject to change as the loss of a keystone species is felt throughout a food web.
Schmidt and his colleagues have not yet fully determined why the lemming cycle has collapsed, but they suspect that changing snow patterns and conditions are largely to blame. Lemmings thrive during long winters under thick, stable layers of snow—beneath the snow's protective cover, they can move safely and raise their young. Since 2000, however, there have been generally "shorter periods of snow cover," Schmidt says, "and that could be a reason for the lemmings' low numbers."
"The study nicely confirms what had been previously suspected—that the collapse of the lemming population cycles in some parts of the Arctic may have very serious consequences for the specialized predators of the tundra," says Gilles Gauthier, an ecologist at Laval University in Quebec City, Canada.
The effects are likely to extend far beyond these particular predators, adds Kyrre Kausrud, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Oslo. "There is some evidence already that this is affecting the multitude of migratory birds that breed in the short Arctic summer; they become alternate prey," mainly for the Arctic fox, he notes.
Losing the lemmings could lead to a "substantial transition in the entire ecosystem, including the vegetation," says Chris Thomas, an ecologist at the University of York in the United Kingdom. "It is a beautiful, if worrying, example of how a subtle change to the interactions between species may suddenly cause a switch in an ecological system from one state to another." With the Arctic experiencing record levels of snow melt this summer, the plight of the lemmings—and an ecosystem that depends on their numbers—is not likely to improve soon.

"Hope? Oh yes, there is hope - infinite hope. But not for us." ~ Kafka
So Pass Our Friends
From Darkness Into Light
On the other side of the world, another news story from Hawaii demonstrates another "beautiful, if worrying example of how a subtle change to the interactions between species may suddenly cause a switch in an ecological system from one state to another".  From thriving interdependence to collapse, that is.  The narration barely communicates the full dimensions of the disaster unfolding among the coral reefs there, but you can read the transcript and watch the news clip by clicking here...or better still just watch the following two youtubes made by the marine biologist they interview...and see even more on his webpage.  These are slightly longer than the teevee segment but do a better job of betraying, in his non-alarmist sciency way, just how freaking alarmed he is.  Interestingly, although in the videos only a bacterial infection is referenced, the news article contains this quote:  "The Kauai outbreak is believed to be due to a type of cyano bacteria and fungus which has compromised the health of the reef, according to researcher Thierry Work."  Do we remember that study, "Invasive Fungi Wreak Havoc on Species Worldwide"?



The next video is heartwrenching.  The turtles are going blind and are covered with tumors...they resemble the trees, covered with lichen and cankers.  This is what collapse looks like, this is how fast it goes, this is what is happening right now.  But, just so you won't sob into your pillow all night, I also added a happy scuba video by the same marine biologist, from the Philippines, at the end.  Notice that he doesn't mention ocean acidification in this list:  "Our marine environment in the Hawaiian Islands is suffering from problems related to rising sea levels, salt water intrusion, sediment run-off, development, bacterial growth and pollution."  Maybe because if you want to stop that, the tourists he is appealing to won't be able to fly to remote Pacific islands, and take motor boats out to the reefs.


Enjoy!

10 comments:

  1. Thanks again Gail for your determined look at future world...As a Science teacher I totally understand the mechanics behind everything you write. I just feel hopeless against the wealthy 1% which does not care. We live in really scary times! As much as I can I inform my students but the crusdae against teachers and public school does not make this easy! Thanks again...Ignorance is NOT bliss!

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  2. http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/forests/news-most-colourful-tree-earth

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  3. http://b.asset.soup.io/asset/3240/7483_3a90_898.jpeg

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  5. Thank you all for comments and lovely links to beautiful imagery and poetry.

    Art after all is what triumphs over oblivion, and I'm including the music and literature and fine arts from our species as well as the exquisite constructs of other species. Wait till you see the nests...

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  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ueWVV_GnRIA&feature=youtube_gdata_player

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  7. http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15749

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  8. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUu08iSV35g&feature=youtube_gdata_player

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  9. hi gail,
    i just scrolled down your post looking at the skies. Almost always veiled.
    I have also been following NBLast lately, just left a comment there following the essay on geoengineering:
    September 29th, 2012 at 11:12 am

    some hunter-gatherer groups had to move quite swiftly at this time of year under certain latitudes, carrying belongings, babies and children, available prepared food, and whatnot (sacred objects, herbs, ???). some of these groups could not afford to carry old and sick people. so they would let them there to die and the group would start its fall migration, following the river of life. well, with a discal hernia and not able to walk, I would be left behing this week or the next.

    concerning the essay, global dimming is very bad (and complex), but when the veil lifts (when grid goes down), the light will be sudden and blinding. most have already forgotten in their minds (but not in their hearts) what a bright day is. here is 24 hours of planes in the sky in one minute http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fz76-PIKg74. imo, we did not need any more geoengineering than that to profoundly disturb the atmosphere that has sometimes in the history of this planet been a comfortable blanket for our oxygen hungry forms of life that can only live in a very narrow range of temperatures.
    I am not a scientific, I do not even really understand what science is. actually, my expertise is not recognized in most fields that i studied for lack of diplomas. so this is really my opinion, considering that not all opinions have the same value.

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