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I Think That I Shall Never See...
By Ernest Stewart
The Southwest is going to be a grassland, with the occasional rare tree.. It's going to be a different place. And there's reason to think that's the same for big chunks of the world." ~~~ Nate Mcdowell
The epidemic is even threatening the oldest white oak tree in America: a 600-year-old giant in New Jersey that predates Columbus' visit to the Americas.
The effect is particularly apparent in mountain states like California, where 66 million trees have simply disappeared from the Sierra Nevada range since 2010. The Forest Service blames the years-long drought in the area and the spread of pine beetles.
In Northern California, the ominously named "Sudden Oak Death" is infecting hundreds of different plants, from massive redwoods to backyard oaks. The disease is transmitted through water, so it can easily be spread by wind and rain over long distances. In fact, the spread already spans more than half the length of the state. Back when I was a child, Detroit was known for its Elm-lined streets; now they're as scarce as hen's teeth!
The presence of so many dead trees would be a tragedy anywhere; but in the mountains of the West, it's particularly dangerous -- because the trees provide fuel for forest fires. It's impossible for forest workers to chop down and remove millions of trees; so the majority of them are still standing. The end result is that year after year the California wildfires keep getting worse and worse!
In some cases, death and disease have overtaken entire mountainsides, making the area look like it's been clear-cut! Some researchers estimate that, "we could lose all needle leaf evergreens in the Southwest U.S. within the next hundred years."
In Hawaii, the islands are losing their once-abundant ohi'a trees at an alarming rate. Over the past six years, the big island has lost nearly 50,000 acres to a previously unknown disease that causes rapid death over the course of just a few short weeks. Because it's unlike anything scientists have ever seen before, researchers are unsure how to treat it. While the plague is affecting only a limited area now, locals worry it will spread and collapse the entire native ecosystem.
The disease is caused by a fungus, which grows through the vascular system of the trees, preventing them from drawing water from the ground. Though researchers have examined other plant fungi in an attempt to trace the disease's origins, it appears to be an entirely new strain. There's still no cure for the fungus; so right now the priority is containing the spread of the disease rather than treating it.
And it isn't just the Western U.S. that's been affected by the epidemic. In recent years, reports of dying forests have come in from every part of the country. Throughout New England, for instance, hemlock trees have been slowly dying from invasive insect infestations, forever altering the composition of local forests. Again, climate change seems to be enabling the spread of the pests in a way ecologists have never seen before. Let us not forget another cause that also contributes to global warming is acid rain, doing a pretty good job of wiping out forests throughout the eastern US and Canada. This is caused by the folks that pull the climate deniers strings, i.e., BIG COAL!
Of course, this phenomenon isn't limited to the U.S. similar stories are playing out in forests all over the world. And that's a terrifying thought.
Forests are one of the Earth's most important protections again climate change. The trees themselves act as carbon sinks, sequestering nearly a quarter of carbon dioxide emissions from the air. When they die, that carbon is released back into the air making global warming even worse.
As Richard Birdsey of the U.S. Forest Service explained it in Rolling Stone, "If the carbon sink in forests fails, a simple speculation is that global temperatures would increase proportionally to the increase of CO2 concentration, so about 25 percent above current climate projections."
Oh, and one more thing for you climate/reality deniers, this September was the hottest September since modern record-keeping began, according to researchers at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS).
In addition, it was the 11th month of record-high temperatures in the past year, according to the GISS, which began collecting data in 1880.
04-29-1929 ~ 10-16-2016
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03-27-1921 ~ 10-18-2016
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(c) 2016 Ernest Stewart a.k.a. Uncle Ernie is an unabashed radical, author, stand-up comic, DJ, actor, political pundit and for 14 years was the managing editor and publisher of Issues & Alibis magazine. Visit me on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter.