Saturday, March 27, 2010

forests are red

--climate happenings are at the data bank--

A startling piece of information in the data flow is on the partial collapse of western forest ecosystems. The great forest die-off, by Montana-based New York Times journo Jim Robbins, appeared first on 3-16 at Yale's Environment 360. This is what it says:
Across western North America, from Mexico to Alaska, forest die-off is occurring on an extraordinary scale, unprecedented in at least the last century-and-a-half, and perhaps much longer. All told, the Rocky Mountains in Canada and the United States have seen nearly 70,000 square miles [180,000 sqkm], an area the size of Washington State, die since 2000.
Basically all western conifers are threatened, especially mountain pines; Colorado sees also a die-off of aspen. commondreams posted the piece next; comments there (3-21) add more factoids and threaten to spawn an unwelcome gestalt: in British Columbia, conifers are dying faster than loggers can remove them / in Minnesota, ash are dying / in Indiana, elm and dogwood are dying / in Michigan maple and beech are dying / in Appalachia, hemlock and oak are dying / at the west coast, oak are dying.

The huge American injection of GHGs into the Earth System is a main factor driving global warming. Global warming to date has involved greater seasonal oscillations and rising temperatures, which, in the western half of North America, show themselves in warmer winters. Warmer winters let tree parasites such as bark beetles survive easier. Higher winter survival rates cause bigger parasite proliferation in spring and summer. Trees sicken in greater numbers, more intensely, and over larger areas. And die.

This is a causal cascade typical of the emerging realities. Americans drive Dodge Rams and Ford F-150, and oops! forests turn red. The way of Nature is a wave. As long as trees infested in summer have a chance to get clean in winter, they're ready for another round next year, and beetles and trees can coexist. But when trees infested in summer carry the burden over into winter, they weaken come spring and eventually get exhausted. The stress killing them off can also be understood as a symptom of exposure. Like fields and limits, exposure is a concept to explain the phenomena of climate change.

See also

C. Allen et al., "A global overview of drought and heat-induced tree mortality reveals emerging climate change risks for forests," Forest Ecology and Management 259 (2010): 660-684

Meanwhile realclimate ran a thread on the Amazon dieback, with entries here and here. This is another seed of destruction. First one reads about Amazon dieback in pessimistic climate scenarios a la Lovelock--not his most recent book, The Vanishing Face of Gaia, 2009, but the previous volume, Gaia's Revenge (New York: Basic, 2006, p. 30)--and then the topic spreads, like into this 2010 thread.

Relevant papers are

A. Samanta et al., "Amazon forests did not green up during the 2005 drought," Geophysical Research Letters 37 (2010) L05401

which is a response to

S. Saleska et al., "Amazon forests green-up during 2005 drought," Science 318 (2007): 612

and which had already been qualified by

O. Phillips et al., "Drought sensitivity of the Amazon rain forest," Science 323 (2009): 1344-1347
Lovelock, 2006, 30, writes,
R.Betts ... has shown how the great tropical rainforests have to some extent overcome this limitation [of water evaporating faster in heat] by adapting to their warm environment so as to be able to recycle water. The ecosystem does it by sustaining the clouds and rain above the forest canopy, but this ability has limits. He and P.Cox suggest a 4 C rise in temperature would be enough to disable the Amazon forest and turn it into scrub and desert, and it would happen partly from the local consequences of a faster evaporation of rain but also from global changes in wind patterns in a 4 C warmer world.
Betts (Hadley Centre) has done various items on the topic, e.g.:

R. Betts et al., effects of large-scale Amazon forest degradation on climate and air quality
Phil. Trans.of the Royal Society B 327 (2008): 1873-1880

C. Jones, R. Betts, the impact of climate change on major habitats
Met Office PPT, The Linnean Society 27.11.08

A non-technical account of how climate change forces Amazon dieback is in S. Faris, Forecast (NY: Holt 2009), ch. 4 p.114-115

For North America, the upshot is simple: climate change warms winters, and the trees can't take it. For South America, the upshot is also simple: climate change reduces rainfall in the dry season, the trees don't like it, and eventually can't take it either. In the rainforest, it's the old giants that die of thirst first. As they keel over and crash down, they open gaps in the forest. The unbroken rainforest is fire-resistant. The forest with gaps is not. Less rain in the dry season signals what might be called the power-up, the amplitudinal growth of seasonal waves that comes with the change.

Sometimes only a dictionary helps.

The OED defines "poignant" as 1. sharp-pointed, piercing, 2. pungent, piquant, 3. moving, touching, 4. hurtful, 5. keen


Eighty-one months left.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

COP 16 Copenhagen stalls

--climate happenings are at the data bank--

A season has gone by since the Copenhagen climate meeting. How do things look now?

COP-15 ended on a jarring note. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the meeting would be problematic. The way police treated climate activists, and the manner people were left freezing in the cold, unable to enter conference facilities, not even permitted to use restrooms there, spoke volumes of the mismanagement of the conference by the Danish government and the fuck-you attitude of city officials. Chinese diplomats were not invited to a key session of world leaders. Obama flew in with smooth words about a silly emissions cut (17% below 2005 levels by 2020, which is a 4% cut below 1990 levels), which isn’t even law yet and may never be in the Corporate States of America. The four percent gift proved Jim Hansen right when stating in the preface to Storms of my Grandchildren (2009) that “President Obama does not get it.”

On the day of the closing speeches, my wife and I rode the bullet train to take our little nephew from the grandparents in Kaoshiung to his parents in Taipei. Nephew's dad picks us up, and I ask my brother-in-law, well, how did COP-15 end? He tells me it went great. That it was a success. That everyone was happy. And then he smiled. I wanted to believe it. Maybe they turned it around? I suspected that my Rotary Club brother-in-law with his big car was ill-informed.

A clearer reaction came from my Bavarian family. Godmother had tears in her eyes when hearing final news from Copenhagen. Godfather stated his regret over the “unbelievable events at Copenhagen.”

After Copenhagen it was easy to yield to the temptation of glee. Let the gringos screw up the world, so one could think, and let us lean back and watch the spectacle unfold with crossed arms. Let farms be flooded. Or, for that matter, let forests turn red. Soon the car people will be climate refuges. Hopefully they'll get stopped at the Canadian border. The villainy gringos teach / the world will execute. Let the lesson go down hard.

But then again, we should better the instruction. Plus, there is still time. Climate mitigation presupposes civil evolution. Instead of lamenting American Disenlightenment, let's compare COP-3 in Kyoto 1997 to COP-15 in Copenhagen 2009. Things are better now.

Here's why.

First, the US is not a threat anymore. The US watered down Kyoto, refused to sign on in Bonn, and sabotaged Bali. This is now all in the past. One cannot say yet that Americans see the light, but at Copenhagen a bulb flickered on. Instead of fighting the future, they're in doubt. To the world this is an asset.

Second, US Republicans are a lone exception. This isolates them. Disenlightenment creates reality disconnect, which creates political weakness. The Bushist abuses left many Republicans with blood on their hands. That they failed to denazify their party in the past year will tempt historians to judge them as criminals. They're fighting a rearguard action on losing ground. They deserve charges, not debate.

Third, China is getting up to speed. It is greening its technology, leap-frogging to a bullet train network, and producing top-notch solar and wind technology. South Korea next door, meanwhile, gears up its nuclear industry for export. That Beijing vetoed Sichuan Tengzhong's intended purchase of Hummer from GM, and did so for environmental reasons, signals the paradigm shift.

Fourth, Europe has assumed leadership, having pledged to cut GHG emissions by at least 20% below 1990 levels in the next decade. At Copenhagen, Germany became the tip of the green sword, with a pledge of a 40% cut below 1990 levels until 2020. At Kyoto, the EU had pledged to cut emissions until 2012 by 8%, Germany by 21%, aims that will be reached. As part of the decoupling from the fossil economy, German energy productivity has also increased dramatically, by nearly half in seven years.

Fifth, Copenhagen's chaos was also due to a changed planetary configuration of powers. Before decisions can be made, grievances must be aired, and issues settled, especially of who owes whom what. Kyoto was an elite accord of the First World. It became dated with the decline of the US, the rise of the East, and the emergence of the Global South. New questions have to be sorted out for the next protocol. The US destabilized world climate, so when, how, and to what extent should Americans pay up? China tries to industrialize in a warming world, so in what form does China need to take one for the team? The US creates a fifth of world GHG emission per year with a tiny fraction (4.3%) of humankind, which is unfair, but China creates a fifth of emissions with a fifth of humankind, which seems perfectly fair by comparison; what can or should China do? The Chinese haven't helped at Copenhagen. But their help couldn't be expected either, for why should they pay for American free riders? Now the playing field has leveled. This should make COP-16 in Mexico City 2010 easier.

Sixth, COP-15, called a fiasco in The Economist, was not a failure, as has become clear in retrospect. To date (March 21), the Copenhagen Accord has been signed by more than 100 countries, which are responsible for 80% of world emissions together. Crucial in this accord are not only the voluntaray pledges of signatory countries (a quick run-down of outcomes is at Wikipedia), but also the cognitive consensus. And for civil evolution, this matters most.

Thus, seventh, and last, Copenhagen gave us the near-global recognition of 2 C as the maximum temperature rise we can afford without inviting catastrophe. This recognition is right on top; it's Article 1 of the Copenhagen Accord. No matter what corporate media tell car people in the US and the UK (the "Climategate" bluff!), when it gets down to transnational brass tacks, Science wins.

Perhaps my brother, with his smile of success, was right after all.

Still, I wish he quit Rotary and sold his rich man's car.