Year 4, Month 7, Day 25: Because A Fire Was In My Head

The Lexington Herald-Leader (KY) notes the work of local activists, who are planting lots of trees:

Advocates of reforesting surface-mined land in Appalachia hope the Obama Administration’s new push to cut carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could boost their efforts.

Trees suck up and store carbon dioxide, after all, and Appalachia has vast areas where trees could be planted.

“These mined lands are a great potential for sequestering carbon,” said Christopher D. Barton, a forest hydrologist at the University of Kentucky who is active in the reforestation effort.

Barton heads a program called Green Forests Work, which focuses on reforesting surface-mined land in Appalachia. People involved in the program will explore whether President Barack Obama’s emphasis on limiting carbon pollution could mean increased money to plant trees, Barton said.

“We’ve been working every angle that we can to get funding,” he said. “I’m hoping this will open some doors — some additional doors.”

In a June 25 news release about Obama’s plan, the White House said the nation’s forests play a critical role in addressing carbon pollution, removing almost 12 percent of the total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions annually.

It’s a part of what must be done — but only a part. July 7:

As the climate crisis intensifies, it’s increasingly clear that we — all of us — need to develop and implement ways to get the carbon we’ve already burned back in the ground rather than in the atmosphere, where it contributes to the greenhouse effect. And it’s pretty obvious that concerted tree-planting efforts are one of the simplest and most effective ways to go about this. But this vital work must be part of a unified approach that also includes drastic reductions in our greenhouse emissions, or the consequences will be too severe for any number of trees to ameliorate.

Those who call emissions cuts “economically damaging” miss the deeper point: there is only one “economy” that matters in the end, and it’s not the Dow Jones Index. Industrialized civilization’s century-long fossil-fuel binge brought us drastically over the limit on our Bank of Earth credit card, and the bill is due.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 5, Day 24: Born A Poor Young Country Boy

Have you hugged a tree today? The Portland Press-Herald:

Unless people dramatically cut the amount of carbon dioxide they’re putting into the air and water through industry, farming, landfills and fossil fuel consumption, Maine’s largest manufacturing industry will be damaged in ways scientists can only begin to predict.

That’s the conclusion reached by experts who are studying how climate change is likely to affect Maine’s more than 18 million acres of forests.

The nation’s most heavily forested state, Maine is likely to be in for a rude awakening in forestry within the next 20 to 100 years, state specialists predict. Which trees will flourish, and where, will change — gradually over time — and imperceptibly at first to most observers.

Which trees might disappear — literally migrating to reach more congenial growing conditions — and what the survivors will need to protect them from an erratic climate and a host of predators are questions researchers are trying to probe, knowing how difficult such projections can be.

But the implications are huge. In Maine, forests translate into a lot of land, money and jobs.

It’s getting harder and harder for denialists to keep it up…not when there’s real money involved. May 12:

Humanity’s success and prosperity would have been unthinkable without the essentially benign climate which made agriculture possible, setting the stage for our civilization to develop into a complex and planet-wide web. We could not have become who we are without closely cooperating with Earth’s natural cycles over countless thousands of years.

No more.

By releasing eons’ worth of fossilized carbon into the atmosphere in a geological instant, humans have traumatized their environment, with planet-wide consequences, from Maine’s endangered forests, drought-withered Midwestern corn fields, or Bangladeshi farmland inundated by rising sea levels.

These impacts are symptoms of our decision to separate ourselves from the tightly woven fabric of Earthly life. Fighting climate change demands not just that we change our energy economy and find ways to sequester atmospheric CO2, but that we build a relationship with the natural world that is once again based on principles of cooperation, not of competition.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 4, Day 17: Charm Offensive

The Denver Post alerts us to the fire problem:

The hotter, drier climate will transform Rocky Mountain forests, unleashing wider wildfires and insect attacks, federal scientists warn in a report for Congress and the White House.

The U.S. Forest Service scientists project that, by 2050, the area burned each year by increasingly severe wildfires will at least double, to around 20 million acres nationwide.

Some regions, including western Colorado, are expected to face up to a fivefold increase in acres burned if climate change continues on the current trajectory.

Floods, droughts and heat waves, driven by changing weather patterns, also are expected to spur bug infestations of the sort seen across 4 million acres of Colorado pine forests.

“We’re going to have to figure out some more effective and efficient ways for adapting rather than just pouring more and more resources and money at it,” Forest Service climate change advisor Dave Cleaves said.

“We’re going to have to have a lot more partnerships with states and communities to look at fires and forest health problems.”

Reality bites, don’t it? April 4:

Well, 2012 was the world’s hottest year in recorded human history, so it would be a good time for Americans to finally acknowledge the implications of global climate change. The Forest Service’s prediction of increasingly severe forest fires over the coming decades is just one of many ways that atmospheric CO2 is going to impact our lives.

While “global warming” sounds vaguely comforting (everybody likes being warm, right?), the true picture of climate change is one in which dangerous factors are going to be getting worse. Already suffering from droughts? Brace yourself for multi-year water shortages. On the other hand, if you’re already getting rained on, you should brace yourself for massive flooding. And if forest fires are a problem where you live, the next century’s going to give starring roles flames, soot, smoke and destruction.

Climate-change denialists are in a losing battle with the facts of the greenhouse effect.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 6, Day 26: C Is For Conifers, My Kind Of Trees

The Atlantic gives us a long and detailed discussion of the pine beetle and the havoc it’s wreaking:

DILLON, Colo.–Dan Gibbs keeps dead beetles in the back of his beat-up Chevy Silverado. He has a wooden block with beetles impaled on it, each insect about the size of a grain of rice. He’s got vials of embalmed beetles and their larvae. He carries around pieces of wood that show what those tiny beetles do to a mature lodgepole pine: They drill deep into the trunk and infect the tree with a fatal fungus that stains its wood blue.

Gibbs isn’t a scientist. He’s a commissioner for Summit County, a high-altitude slice of Colorado that’s gaining fame as a ground zero, of sorts, for an epidemic that has devastated pine forests across North America. Twenty years ago, the mountainsides around Dillon were a lush green; these days, they’re gray with needle-less trees.

The pine-beetle epidemic provides perhaps the most visual evidence of climate change in the United States. But that evidence, while arresting, remains circumstantial. Scientific studies linking the factors that drove the epidemic to rising global temperatures haven’t convinced everyone, let alone prompted people here to forsake fossil fuels.

It isn’t just the dead trees. Here, near the headwaters of the Colorado River, the snow is melting earlier–and there’s less of it. Summers are drier. Threats of wildfire and water shortages have grown, changing lives and livelihoods in Colorado and across the West.

Still, it’s not simple to draw a bright line from observable phenomena to climate change. For some policymakers, the lack of clarity is frustrating. Mounting evidence that the planet is warming and that human activity is to blame hasn’t generated any sort of political momentum for action, even as, in places like Dillon, forests are dying in plain sight.

The beatings will continue until morale improves. Sent June 15:

The “undocumented aliens” Americans need to worry about are not the Latinos whom Republican politicians so freely demonize, but the invasive species migrating across our borders as a consequence of climate change. The pine beetle is a case in point.

When wildfires ravaged Arizona a year ago, Senator John McCain blamed illegal immigrants. When Colorado’s dead and dying forests inevitably go up in smoke, the real culprit won’t be a lightning bolt or a smoldering cigarette butt, but the exploding population of an insect species that has turned forests into vast stands of dessicated kindling.

If conservative lawmakers were able to admit the existence and causes of global warming, then we might have a chance to combat pine beetle infestations and the other local symptoms of a planet-wide phenomenon. Alas, anti-science ideology has burrowed beneath the surface of the Republican party, replacing common sense with climate-change denial and inflammable xenophobia.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 8, Day 2: O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum

More on the Forests study, this time from the Christian Science Monitor for July 17:

Want to save the planet? Plant a tree.

Or maybe a lot of them. Or maybe don’t cut down so many.

These are the implications of a new study, which found that the world’s forests play an unexpectedly large role in climate change, vacuuming up the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) and storing the carbon in wood, according to research published online Thursday by the journal Science.

That, in turn, helps regulate CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere – and keeps the planet from overheating.

Kind of a clunky letter, but I’m having kind of a clunky day, so it fits. Sent Sunday, July 17, as the expected heat wave starts moving into position.

Extreme weather events are coming faster and faster, harder and harder, all over the planet. It looks like our carbon dioxide chickens are coming home to roost, as emissions from the last century’s fossil fuel consumption accumulate in the atmosphere. A runaway greenhouse effect may not yet be totally inevitable, but it’s definitely on the horizon unless all of the world’s nations take serious and concerted action against climate chaos. Our history of slash-and-burn deforestation has devastated millions of acres of carbon sink — in the name of disposable paper products. Humanity’s survival cannot be assumed in an economic system that assigns value to destroying the ecosystems of which we are a part. The discovery that our planet’s forests absorb more CO2 than was previously suspected is good news, but it comes with an important caveat: we must ensure that forest lands are preserved and expanded over the coming years.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 7, Day 31: The Word for World

The July 15 Chicago Tribune reports on a new study that includes a teensy-weensy bit of good news about the ability of forests to absorb CO2:

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The world’s forests can play an even greater role in fighting climate change than previously thought, scientists say in the most comprehensive study yet on how much carbon dioxide forests absorb from the air.

The study may also boost a U.N.-backed program that aims to create a global market in carbon credits from projects that protect tropical forests. If these forests are locking away more carbon than thought, such projects could become more valuable.


The researchers found that in total, established forests and young regrowth forests in the tropics soaked up nearly 15 billion tonnes of CO2, or roughly half the emissions from industry, transport and other sources.

But the scientists calculated that deforestation emissions totaled 10.7 billion tonnes, underscoring that the more forests are preserved the more they can slow the pace of climate change.

A major surprise was the finding that young regrowth forests in the tropics were far better at soaking up carbon than thought, absorbing nearly 6 billion tonnes of CO2 — about the annual greenhouse gas emissions of the United States.

Maybe we should stop cutting down forests in order to make stuff to throw away? Just a thought. Sent July 15:

The societies that bear the brunt of tropical deforestation reap no benefits from their sacrifice; now it is apparent that the future of the planet as a whole may hinge on these woodlands’ continued good health. Sadly, in a non-localized global economy, those who profit from exploiting a commodity are hardly ever the ones to whom it originally belonged, and there is little motivation for careful long-term forest planning when a quick buck can be turned. How much paper do we throw away every day? How many lives, communities and ecosystems are grievously disrupted satisfying the developed West’s urgent need for disposable packaging? Our grandchildren deserve to inherit a green and bountiful world; the discovery that young-growth forests are hyperefficient absorbers of atmospheric CO2 underscores the importance of sustainable forestry everywhere on earth. Let’s take care of our forests — so that they may continue to take care of us.

Warren Senders