Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Are we prepared to lose all of our forests? "Climate Change & Bark Beetles = Billions of Dead Trees"

Happy 2012! My graduate studies are filling most hours of every day, leaving little time for me to focus on anything else. The following guest column by Dr. Reese Halter appeared in the Palo Alto Daily News Weekend on Saturday January 7, 2012. I am re-posting because Dr. Halter cogently presents for us the sobering predicament that we are in regarding climate change and the future of life on this planet as we know it. Are we prepared for what he is saying here? Do people care that there may not be a habitable planet for their great-grandchildren? Is anyone listening? Or is all the evidence being drowned out by the climate change deniers and their paymasters and henchmen who control the fossil fuel industry. . . Let us hope that 2012 is the year that that the scales are finally tipped, once and for all, in favor of saving the planet . . . 

"Climate Change and Bark Beetles equal Billions of Dead Trees" by Dr. Reese Halter:

Recently, one of my colleagues sent me a story that sums up the media's apathetic appetite for covering the environment. It is perplexing and disturbing. 

The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, despite the rhetoric from every GOP candidate. 

Climate change dropped further from the world headlines in 2011 compared to the previous year, even though a vicious one-in-100-year drought in Texas has entered its second year; 70 percent of Mexico is enveloped by its worst drought in 70 years; Australia faced epic flooding costing taxpayers in excess of $5 billion in infrastructure costs; and plants are so confused in their biorhythmic cycles that the white petals of snow drops, normally a spring flower, are now unfurling in the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. 

Clearly, nature is showing climatologists, ecologists, physiologists and oceanographers that the web of life is being brutally dismantled by rising greenhouse gases. Humans are exceptional problem-solvers, so why has the media chosen not to focus on positive solutions? After all, Americans have the highest concentration of brainpower in our colleges compared to any other nation on the globe.

For those who do not believe that anything is going on, walk, ride or fly anywhere across western North America and you'll see vast amounts of dead trees. In the past 40 years across the West, temperatures have risen on average in excess of 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Advertisement Although this number appears to be small it has effectively removed nature's ecological cold curtain, enabling mountain pine beetles an opportunity to speed up their life cycle, invade and decimate high-elevation pine forests across the continent. 

Instead of absorbing carbon dioxide, billions of beetle-killed trees across the West are decaying and stoking the ever-rising pool of greenhouse gases. 

Death rates of Whitebark and Limber pines across the western U.S. are as high as 90 percent. The sentinels of the high country have become the tsunami sirens of global warming, showing scientists that a warming world is irrevocably altering the landscape across the entire mountainous region of western North America. 

It's not just the forests that are disappearing, but also immense amounts of ice that reflect incoming solar radiation. One hundred billion tons of ice melted from Greenland during the blistering warm summer of 2010. This year alone, 50 percent of Canada's millennia-old Arctic ice shelves along the coast of Elsmere Island vanished. 

And far worse, the Southern Ocean, which occupies 22 percent of the total ocean on the globe absorbing 40 percent of Earth's CO2, is acidifying so quickly that by 2030 the sea water will be corrosive to crustaceans, dissolving shells that the animals are making. This amplification will reverberate all the way up the food chain to the whales. 

Data from the Global Carbon Project showed the carbon emissions from our planet had increased 5.9 percent between 2009-2010 -- the largest jump in any year since the Industrial Revolution.

The $17 trillion Albertan oil sands must spend carbon energy and precious fresh water to separate the gooey, toxic oil from the sand. Moreover, by burning this petroleum humans will knowingly raise atmospheric CO2 levels by an astounding 150 ppm. Earth will be uninhabitable for life as we know it. 

If Australia, with its $10 trillion coke-coal industry, can ratify a carbon tax, then surely we in America can set a low-carbon standard that China and India will follow. 

We are running out of time to combat rising CO2 emissions: Earth's forests are dying. 

It's time to embrace innovation and the dictum of cofounder of the London School of Economics, George Bernard Shaw: "Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything." 
Reese Halter is a conservation biologist at Cal Lutheran University, public speaker and founder of the international conservation institute Global Forest Science. Follow him at twitter.com/DrReeseHalter.