Dying forests jeopardize “the future habitability of the earth”

Posted October 3rd, 2011 in Blog, Featured 8 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

I know that my headlines do not always bolster my ‘ecological hope’ theme, or the fostering of it, but there it is. I still believe we have to confront reality or else our hope is based in fantasy.

So Saturday, the NY Times had this amazing 3-page spread, starting on the front page with a dramatic photo, about the dying of the forests in our American West and how this poses an enormous threat to “the future habitability” of our planet. The dying is due to climate change and other human behaviors that have changed how the forests behave in response. Of course, this is not only a problem here, it is worldwide, from the Amazon rainforest to Alaska to Siberia.

Photo: Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Government of British Columbia

We have written about this before – how a tiny pine bark beetle that used to die off in the extreme cold of winter in the Canadian Rockies doesn’t die off anymore because of global warming. And so the little critter is free to reproduce exponentially, traversing south through the forests into the US mountain west where for several years now pine forests have been turning red-to-brown from Montana through Wyoming and Colorado, killing millions of ponderosa and lodgepole pine trees.

Those forests are a main carbon sink, crucial to absorbing a large percentage of the carbon emissions that we humans are spewing into the atmosphere. So not only are we losing that sink, but precisely because the forest stores so much carbon, as they die they become susceptible to massive forest fires – as we have been seeing in recent years in Arizona and Texas – and when that happens, massive amounts of carbon are released into the atmosphere.

So, I just want to offer this article up to you for your quiet reading. If this doesn’t beg the need to bring down industrial society for the sake of our kids and grandkids, I don’t know what does. Really, does the lifestyle and global marketplace to which we have become accustomed really matter more than this? Or do we just not want to believe that it really is this serious? Are we up against some psychological resistance, a wall of protection, behind which we keep trying to push this information, a dark closet in our psyche where we can keep it under lock and key?

The choices we face are getting to be so stark. I know that is uncomfortable. I know that for many of us it means we can’t just settle into the future we had tied to plan for ourselves, that we have to throw our expectations and even many life goals out the window. But, really, isn’t the weight of our responsibility beginning to get to us even a little bit – perhaps enough to motivate us to the scale of change that this crisis requires of us?

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8 Responses

  1. Steven Earl Salmony

    “We’ve doubled the world’s food production several times before in history, and now we have to do it one more time,” said Jonathan A. Foley, a researcher at the University of Minnesota. “The last doubling is the hardest. It is possible, but it’s not going to be easy.”

    Please consider the following questions about the statements just above of my facebook friend.

    What do you think John means by the words, “The last doubling”? If “last” means the last in a succession of doublings, then how many more doublings of world food production do you believe the Earth can sustain? Or does his deployment of the word “last” mean the final doubling of world food production because he recognizes already that a planet with the size, composition and ecology of Earth cannot reasonably and sensibly be expected to sustain any more doublings? When John reports, “The last doubling…is…not going to be easy.”, does he express doubt about the Earth’s capacity to sustain even the doubling he believes is possible? What is the probability the Earth cannot sustain the doubling John believes is possible?

    What is the probability that the effort made to “double the world’s food production\” beginning now will lead to the radical dissipation of Earth’s finite resources and irreversible degradation of Earth’s ecology to the extent that our planetary home will be made unfit for all children to inhabit?

    How is Earth to be protected from the consequences of doubling the world’s food production: from outrageous per capita overconsumption and excessive individual hoarding of natural resources; from soon to become unsustainable overproduction leading to suffocating pollution and uncontrollable climate destabilization; and from unbridled overpopulation activities. All of which are adamantly advocated and recklessly pursued on our watch by many too many ”movers and shakers” (aka, One Percenters, masters of the universe, little kings in pin-striped suits proclaiming they do God’s work)?

  2. Margaret

    I don’t know what Mr. Foley means. I know this: every time we have drastically increased the production of food we have also fueled exponential population growth. I know that we are at this very moment rapidly losing arable land across the planet because of bad agricultural practices, declining aquifers (due to overuse), and climate change which is bringing about aridification and desertification in large swaths of the world.

    I don’t see how we double food production. And if we try to do it through genetically modifying crops or through industrial scale mono-cropping, we will only bring about more permanent losses.

    I don’t know what he means unless you can find his explanation for how he believes we can do this.

  3. hombredelatierra

    I suspect Foley is still locked in the “Old Paradigm”:

    – man as center of the creation (the “little god of the earth” or “God’s chosen species”),

    – cheap and available energy (fossil fuel),

    – the Cult of Progress (and its sub-text, the superiority of Western Civilization)..

    Within this framework, doubling food production does makes a certain kind (cock-eyed)of sense. You could envisage, for example, capturing CO2 from thermal power plants, cement works, foundries and other large scale industrial operations and “fixing” it via photosynthesis in algal cultures (prehaps genetically modified for maximum output of desired products: proteins, biofuel oil or hydrogen..)

    My scepticism to such thinking arises from a failure to assess the real, longterm impact of Peak Oil. Peak oil deletes such options, I believe, by reducing the TIME available for development of viable green technologies.

    However, this lack of time to develop “transition technologies” may, ironically, be a blessing (after the dust settles and the dead buried). The high tech route (centralized, corporatized, heavily capitalized in expensive infrastructure)will be defavorized in the emerging Postpeak Oil economy. Low tech and medium tech options will be favorized. Low and medium tech includes “no brainer”, clutzy, DECENTALIZED, LIGHT TO MODERATELY CAPITALIZED, LABOR-INTENSIVE – “unsexy” – stuff like public transport, bike transport, rail versus truck transport, relocalization of agriculture (eat from within 100 miles of residence..), composting, recyling, passive solar architecture, super-insulated buildings equipted with air / waste water heat exchangers, solar domestic and commercial hot water production, solar pond electrical power generation, cogeneration, heat pumps, geothermal heat, wind power, wave power, relocalized production of goods, etc, etc, etc

    As Jeremey Rifkin suggests we may be living through a golden opportunity to implement an economy which is more participatory, democratic and egalitarian. As always, the problem is getting there from here.. But at least we have a glimpse of a VIABLE, emerging alternative mode of doing things: walk lightly upon the earth – and carry a big schtick..

  4. hombredelatierra

    Typo: 2nd to last para: .. clutzy, DECENTRALIZED :-0

  5. Margaret

    We do seem to have what I believe is a false confidence that great science and technology will manage to get us through the tough times without a lot of major catastrophe. Of course, ramping up energy and food production, which means tapping into more and more diminishing water sources as well(solar power, for example, requires a whole lot of water), just sounds to me like the old definition of insanity.

    But this insanity is not just doing the same thing over and over again, or doing stuff based on the old paradigm of economic expansion and techno-solutions, hoping for different results. It is more fundamentally the inability of the market-dependent human species to even think outside this box. We keep looking for solutions within the box that has so entrapped and enslaved us within the market.

    The hard leap comes with realizing that there is no energy source that can replace the energy sources that gave us this industrial/technological world. It’s that world we have to let go. The hard leap comes with accepting the earth’s actual limits and learning again how to live within them.

    One day, it will indeed be a better world than this one – but sadly we have given ourselves a pretty terrible journey to travel to get to that world. Meantime, though, we have to show that it is possible to travel it with grace, compassion, solidarity, and even joy. We have to make it inviting enough that we can attract more and more company along the way.

  6. Steven Earl Salmony

    We face a colossal, human-induced global predicament. Emerging and converging ecological challenges we have chosen to ignore rather than acknowledge during my lifetime is in large part the result of the way silence is employed by ‘the powers that be’ and their minions to prevail over science. Hysterical blindness, willful deafness and elective mutism of knowledgeable human beings with feet of clay rule the world every bit as much as malignant narcissism, pathological arrogance and extreme foolishness of greedmongering masters of the universe rule the world. This pernicious situation is as intolerable as it is dangerous to future human well being and environmental health.

  7. Margaret

    While many of the ‘powers that be’ choose ignorance about our predicament, I think many of them know it as well as you or I. I think part of the energy driving the concentration of wealth is that this is how the rich elites are preparing for the shortages to come – by hoarding more and more of the shrinking available resources and wealth for themselves.

    I wish I did not believe this was true.

  8. Steven Earl Salmony

    Please consider that during my lifetime, when human numbers exploded from less than 3 billion to more than 7 billion worldwide, many experts may not have known enough about what they were talking about when they spoke of human population dynamics and all causes of the human overpopulation of Earth. Their research appears not to be scientific. What I have been trying to communicate regarding the human population does not issue from ideological or totalitarian thinking, or from group-think consensus for that matter. It is not derived from what is politically convenient, economically expedient, socially agreeable, religiously tolerable and culturally prescribed. I have wanted to openly discuss the best available science. That is all. It appears the generally accepted thinking of a surprisingly large number of so-called experts in the field of population dynamics appears to have an unscientific foundation. Their preternatural thought and theorizing about the population dynamics of the human species appears to be both incomplete and mistaken. Most disquieting of all, a widely shared and consensually validated theory about a demographic transition four decades from now is directly contradicted by unchallenged scientific research. As a consequence, and it is a pernicious consequence, woefully inadequate thinking and fundamentally flawed theorizing has been broadcast during my life cycle and continues to be broadcast everywhere by the mainstream media as if it is not only science but the best available scientific evidence. The implications of this unfortunate behavior, inasmuch as it appears to be based upon a colossal misperception of what could somehow be real regarding the human population, appear profound. This failure of nerve has served to slow momentum needed for a confrontation with a formidable global predicament that appears to become more difficult to overcome year by year.

    In their elective mutism regarding an astonishing error, are first class professional researchers with expertise in population dynamics behaving badly by allowing the “ninety-nine percenters” to be misguided and led down a primrose path by the “one percenters”? The power of silence on the part of knowledgeable human beings with feet of clay is dangerous because research is being denied that appears to shed light upon a dark, non-recursive biological problem, the understanding of which appears vital to future human well being and environmental health. Too many experts appear to be ignoring science regarding the human population and instead consciously through their silence consenting to the leviathan scale and unbridled expansion of global overproduction, overconsumption and overpopulation activities that are being adamantly advocated and relentlessly pursued by greedmongering masters of the universe, the tiny minority among us who are primarily responsible for ravaging the Earth, ruining its environs and reducing its fitness for habitation by the children. If this assessment of human behavior is indeed a fair representation of what is happening on our watch, then the desire to preserve the status quo, mainly the selfish interests of ‘the powers that be’, could be at least one basis for so much intellectually dishonest and morally bereft behavior. Could it be that the outrageous per capita overconsumption, large-scale corporate overproduction and unrestricted overpopulation activities of the human species worldwide cannot continue much longer on a planet with the size, composition and ecology of a finite and frangible planet like Earth?