The Sacred Path

Journeys through the mist

Global warming, deforestation and bark beetles

I decided that I would participate in Blog Action Day. Participants have been asked to blog about the environment today, October 15, 2007. Part of the reason I decided to take part was my recent journey that I shared with you in my post titled Consequences, and since I have a strong connection to nature and the nature spirits it seemed only, well… natural.

Note: You can click on any of the images below to enlarge them.

If you type “global warming” (with the quote marks) into the Google search box, it will return about 66 million hits. This will of course bring you the full gamut from pros to cons, from rants to raves, and all sorts of experts (and morons) on both sides claiming their truth is the only real truth, and their scientific god is the only true god. This post isn’t meant to be a comprehensive debate of the pros and cons, but simply some personal thoughts and observations for your contemplation. Neither side knows the full truth (if it can ever be known by man), but until both sides come together and drop the egos, they haven’t a prayer. Right now all aspects of society – at least here in the US – are so polarized that we are virtually going nowhere. You’re either with us or against us goes the mantra of the day. Hopefully it does not become our epitaph.

I don’t think any rational person could seriously believe that human activity is not at least partly responsible for the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, or that those gases trap heat on the earth and prevent it from being radiated back out into space. The chart at left was created by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) and is from Mongabay.com and shows world CO2 emissions starting in 1990 and projected out to 2030. We cannot keep this rate of increase up and survive.

Areas of the deep oceans are approaching temperatures that could produce massive releases of methane – another more potent greenhouse gas – from the seabed and from methane ice on the sea floor. Since relatively little of the seabed has been explored, we really have little idea how extensive and potentially devastating this problem could be.

This summer’s unprecedented high temperatures in the arctic uncovered and thawed vast areas of permafrost which in turn released more CO2 into the atmosphere as the previously frozen plant matter decayed. This is going to continue.Live vegetation takes in CO2 from the atmosphere and converts it to food, and in the process releases life-sustaining oxygen back into the air. Day by day deforestation is reducing the amount of vegetation on the earth and thus reducing nature’s ability to cleanse the air. Right now there is more CO2 – natural and manmade – being pumped into the air than the earth systems can convert. This is the environmental equivalent to deficit spending (a concept the US should be quite familiar with).

14 November 2005, Rome – Each year about 13 million hectares [32,123,699 acres or 50,193 sq miles, roughly equivalent to the area of Louisiana] of the world’s forests are lost due to deforestation, but the rate of net forest loss is slowing down, thanks to new planting and natural expansion of existing forests, FAO announced today.

The annual net loss of forest area between 2000 and 2005 was 7.3 million hectares/year [18,038,692 acres or 28,185 sq miles, a little less than the area of South Carolina] — an area about the size of Sierra Leone or Panama — down from an estimated 8.9 million ha/yr between 1990 and 2000. This is equivalent to a net loss of 0.18 percent of the world’s forests annually. Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N.

In the US the deforestation trend has recently reversed and as reported below there was a net increase in total forest cover between 2000 and 2005, but this (seemingly good) news comes with a “but.”

Between 2000 and 2005, the United States lost an average of 831 square miles (215,200 hectares, 2,152 square kilometers or 531,771 acres) of “primary forest” — defined by FAO as forests with no visible signs of past or present human activities. These forests, often termed “old-growth forests,” have the highest number of plant and animal species and are generally considered a top priority for conservation by environmentalists and government agencies.

Despite the drop in primary forest cover, America still managed to post a gain in total forest cover due to the regeneration of previously cut forests and new forest plantations. These forests are generally considered ecologically inferior to primary forests [that’s the ‘but’] for their reduced biodiversity but now make up [a] major[ity] of American — and world — forests. Overall the United States ranks fourth in the world in terms of total forest cover. Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N.

A little closer to home, for me anyway, there is another factor at work; Dendroctonus ponderosae, commonly known as the pine or bark beetle. The western United States and Canada are experiencing a more natural(?) deforestation as bark beetles are infesting and killing large swatches of conifer forest. As the trees lose their battle with these beetles, which are less than a quarter inch long, they go from being CO2 consumers to CO2 emitters as they decay. With warmer temperatures and less moisture than historic norms, the pine forests are stressed and unhealthy, which is to the beetle’s advantage. Bark beetles have been around for a long time and healthy forests can hold their own by producing large amounts of sap to keep the beetles at bay, but the reduction in yearly precipitation means the trees cannot produce as much sap. Normal cold winters and snowfall also help to keep the balance by killing a portion of the beetles during the cold winter months. Bark beetle photo by: A. Steven Munson, USDA Forest Service, Website: Forestry Images

This image was snapped from the window of my car on one of my trips west over the Big Horn Mountains on highway 14, and is not an isolated instance. The field of gray you see are dead trees killed by bark beetles. All throughout the Big Horns, the Rocky Mountain region and up into Canada you can find scenes like this where large tracts of trees have been reduced to gray ghosts. Because of the shorter summers and longer winters, it takes a long time for forests in these regions to recover. Many of the trees in this photo are probably 50 to 100 years old (and no, I didn’t count the rings).

Add to all of this the fact that our sun is burning brighter and putting out more energy, which increases the temperature here on earth. This isn’t the reason for global warming, it is only one of the reasons. According to an article at the Telegraph UK, the warming has only started recently – in the last 100-150 years.

In my post titled Consequences which I mentioned at the top of this piece, I said that in my journey the spirit of The Patriarch conveyed a sense of urgency to me, and I think that if we have not reached the point of no return, it is close. We are going to have to make some tough choices and make changes to the way we live our lives. We are going to have to live responsibly and with the knowledge that all is connected. Denying that fact does not make it any less true. We cannot continue to “burn the planet at both ends” as we have up until now.

3 Comments

  1. Today is one of those days in which my mind quails at the idea of reaching “the point of no return” it makes me want to cry. I don’t know, that the Ecosystem can recover as it did when the dinosaurs died out. This really frightens me. I wish I had the ability to “wake up” those who are sleeping, who are in power, who can legislate to alleviate this pressure.

  2. Richard,

    Thank you for participating in Blog Action Day.

    I did not participate.

    However, I did write a belated post about an issue that is important to me. As a real estate agent in Minneapolis, I see a lot of people using a product in luxury homes that is very destructive in a number of ways. It may also be contributing to the changes in the environment. Check out this post, please:

    Brazilian Teak Floors, Slave Labor, and the Destruction of the Rainforest.

    You can find this post at: Brazilian hardwood floors. Can you say slave labor?

    Anything you can do to share this link or help promote awareness of this issue will be greatly appreciated. Most luxury home owners are unaware of the environmental and human cost of these products.

    Thank you!

  3. @Kermit,
    Thanks for the heads up on your post, and it is an important one for people to see and think about. Sadly, there are sooooo many out there that I think most of us who are concerned about the environment almost go into overload.
    Thanks for leaving the comment and for including a link to your post.

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