Year 4, Month 11, Day 20: More Than A Few Bugs In The System

There’s a problem at the site of Flight 93, out there in the wilds of Pennsylvania:

PITTSBURGH (AP) – The grove of hemlock trees around where United Flight 93 crashed on Sept. 11 is being attacked by an insect that wasn’t there 20 years ago, and some scientists say it’s an example of how climate change combines with other factors to cause environmental damage.

The problem at the Flight 93 National Memorial in southwestern Pennsylvania doesn’t involve superstorms or melting polar icecaps, but rather hemlocks battling the slow, deadly spread of a tiny creature that has only one natural predator in eastern forests – extremely cold winters.

The hemlock wooly adelgid is about the size of a match head, and for thousands of years it didn’t exist on the East Coast. Native to Asia, the insects lay their eggs on the underside of hemlock branches, and the young insects feed on the sap of the trees, often causing them to lose needles and die within five to 10 years.

Left to their own devices, hemlocks can grow to over 150 feet tall, and the dense evergreen branches create a cool, shaded environment that some liken to a forest cathedral. The tree has long flourished from the Carolinas to Maine, but after the first adelgids were discovered in Virginia during the 1950s, some areas suffered heavy die-offs.

I did a version of this letter a year or more ago, making the same point WRT pine beetles in Colorado. November 10:

Conservative politicians and their media enablers expend a lot of energy demonizing “illegal aliens”, but their ire would be better directed at the undocumented visitors who are doing genuine and profound damage: the non-native species which cross our borders in huge numbers as a consequence of climate change. The wooly adelgids now ravaging hemlocks at the site of Flight 93’s crash are a case in point.

If Republican lawmakers could overcome the anti-science biases of their tea-party constituents, they might be able to recognize the existence and causes of global warming — and we might have a chance to combat adelgid infestations and the larger climatic forces which trigger them.

What has happened to the GOP? After nurturing these parasitic ideologies for decades, America’s erstwhile “party of business” is now infested with virulent xenophobia and anti-intellectual hysteria, leaving our nation paralyzed in the face of grave and profound threats.

Warren Senders

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