Climate Change and Pine Beetles

Thu, 2008-04-24 17:18Mitchell Anderson
Mitchell Anderson's picture

Climate Change and Pine Beetles

To understand just how complex, scary and immediate climate change is, look no further than the case of the tiny mountain pine beetle.

Populations of this tree-eating insect have exploded over the last ten years due to warmer winters, devastating the majestic forests of western Canada and destroying over $20 billion in timber.

Now comes a frightening study published in the prestigious journal Nature that that the huge swaths of dead trees killed by the beetles are themselves emitting enormous quantities of carbon into the atmosphere as they decompose – further exacerbating our climate problems.

How much carbon? By altering the climate in western Canada, we have un-leased a chain of events that will release of close to one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2020. This is more than five times as much as the annual emissions from all forms of transportation in Canada.

Dr. Werner Kurz of Natural Resources Canada has been researching the devastating impacts of the mountain pine beetle for many years. He says BC infestation is “unprecedented in scale and severity” and at least ten times as large as any outbreak on record.

This rice-sized insect is endemic to western Canadian evergreen forests and makes its living by burrowing into pine trees and eating the soft tissue beneath the bark. Too many beetles can overwhelm a healthy tree and kill it.

For thousands of years none of this was a particular problem. Beetle populations were kept in check by Canadian winter frosts that reliably plummeted below minus 40. Trees and forests lived in chilly equilibrium .

Enter climate change. It has been over a decade since winters have been cold enough to significantly knock back the beetles and their numbers have exploded. Over 130,000 square kilometers of pine forests have been devastated – an area the size of Greece

This epidemic has clobbered the economy of the province, which remains highly dependent on the forest industry. More than 25,000 forest dependant families will be impacted for the next 80 years. Over $100 million of public money has been spent trying to control the spread of the beetle, but all experts agree that the only hope is colder winters.

Instead, it appears that the only thing that will end the beetle epidemic in BC is that they will have no more live trees to eat - something Dr. Kurz believes will come to pass within the next few years.

That will not be the end of our beetle woes however. Having almost exhausted their indigenous food supply, they have already crossed the Rocky Mountains into new habitat and now threaten Canada's entire boreal forest - one of the most important carbon storehouses on the planet.

“I don't want to be alarmist but it is certainly feasible that a future outbreak later this century could go right across the the boreal”, said Kurz. If the same cycle of devastation and carbon release occurs, we will be looking at much bigger eventual release of carbon dioxide than one billion tonnes.

Dr.. Kurz’s research demonstrates the dangerous complexities of playing with the thermostat of the planet. This new source of atmospheric carbon from by decomposing trees is an excellent example of what scientists pedantically call “positive feedback loops ”.

The rest of us might better describe these unplanned accelerations of climate change as the “holy crap factor ”. Besides pine beetles killing forests that later decompose, here are some other “holy crap” scenarios we can expect from global warming in the near future:

- Melting sea ice causes less sunlight to be reflected into space, further heating artic oceans.

- Melting permafrost in the artic releases massive quantities of CO2 from decomposing muskeg.

- Melting tundra also releases large amounts of methane – twenty-five times as powerful a greenhouse gas as CO2.

It’s becoming clear that we really don’t have a good handle on how this planet works. Before we twist any more dials, maybe we should sit down and read the owner’s manual. If we did, I suspect we would find a warning in the first few pages that read: “DANGERDO NOT OVERLOAD THE ATMOSPHERE WITH CARBON DIOXIDE!”

Many more nasty surprises like the pine beetle lie in store for us as we continue our uncontrolled experiment with the plant’s atmosphere, and we ignore these milestones at our peril.

Previous Comments

LOL.
“The Holy Crap scenarios we can expect from global warming in the near future:”

Like the 10 years of no warming and 2008’s blizzards and Cold records.

you guy crack me up.

the Pine beetle migration is a serious problem. To make a joke of it like this sad.

And with BC’s timber industry in trouble, some idiots would like to shut down the Western provences tar sands industries as well just make matters worse.

Good Grief

Good boy, keep repeating it. “10 years of no warming.” “2008 is cold.” “Environmentalists want to ruin the economy.” Again. Again. Again.
What will you say in 2009 after another summer of extreme melt in the arctic, La Nina ends, the ‘98 El Nino is 11 years in the past, and the economy still hasn’t recovered? I’m guessing: “1998 was warmer than 2008; the first half of ‘08 was cold; protecting the environment is too costly.” Eventually, though, that’ll get old and you’ll have to change your netname. I recommend “Redikalus Jirk”.

Good grief. Now they are even denying entomology.

Where is one to start?

What peer-reviewed literature states that we have never experienced a pine beetle outbreak as serious as this one?

Mithcell then goes on to “positive feedback loops”. His definition appears to be a huge stretch and again, provides no actual data proving this assertion.

Also, has anyone actually seen the above mentioned report? All it takes is a press release it appears for the extreme warmers to jump on their high horses making unwarranted claims.

New forests grow much more rapidly then older forests, which pine beetles tend to attack, yet no mention whatsoever is made as to what effect vast new forest growth will have on CO2.

The chain reaction following Western society’s massive use of fossil fuels will ripple out in every direction. We have exported this “way of living” to the four corners of the globe, followed by oil delivery systems. Now every continent is burning oil as fast as it can. To presume that 6.5 billion humans cannot impact the earth’s environment is a unique operating principle. Scientific curiosity is more preferable, and has challenged the beliefs of many, many financial and political elites, in the past and in the present. Scientific data, compiled by thousands of people around the world, demonstrate exactly what our own senses tell us.

The earth’s environment is changing. Only scientists can tell us in greater detail the best hypothesis to explain this. Like all scientists, they began with cautious warnings, which have grown steadily as the evidence mounts. Now, we can see the unintended consequences have resulted in the beetle kill. And like nature’s ironies everywhere, the dead trees are in turn releasing more CO2. Exactly what we don’t need. Amazing how Canada’s major media avoids this topic.

Great article DeSmogBlog. Keep up the great work.

“Scientific data, compiled by thousands of people around the world, demonstrate exactly what our own senses tell us.”

Yesterday, my senses agreed with the scientific data. It snowed, and was -15 Celcius with the windchill. This morning it was also -15.

Be sure to check in with another update tomorrow so we can keep tabs on this whole global warming thing.

This is talking about a time when CO2 is at its highest level in 650,000 years (right?), we’re increasing CO2 concentrations by half a percent each year just by burning fossil fuels, and now non-fossil sources of carbon are being liberated at increased rates (due to higher temperatures). What is the relevance of previous pine beetle outbreaks?

Also, why not go to the library and check out the Nature paper (or get an esubscription)? “No mention whatsoever is made as to what effect vast new forest growth will have on CO2” – did you even read the news article? Kurtz recommends logging the dead trees and replanting young ones to combat the problem. How can you complain about ‘warmers’ jumping on their high horses making unwarranted claims when you spout fallacies about the article and perhaps didn’t even read it?

Have you read the article Steve?

Yes, I read the CBC article in which specific mention is made of new forest growth, contrary to what you wrote. But I asked you first.

So you’ve only read a summary Steve and I’ve read the Nature summary. Accessing the full article costs $32. Seems like nobody has read the full article.

You complain that there’s no mention at all of new forests. I clicked the second link in Mitchell’s post and found it discussed.
Strike 1.
You say you’ve read the Nature article summary. Then you ask what peer-reviewed literature states we have never experienced an outbreak like this one. The abstract of the Nature article states, “The current outbreak in British Columbia, Canada, is an order of magnitude larger in area and severity than all previous recorded outbreaks4.”
Strike 2. (You missed that one badly)
You accuse others of jumping on their high horse prior to obtaining all the information and reading the Nature article. I’m the only person who responded to you, and now you conclude that nobody has read the Nature article.
Strike 3. Oh, okay, foul-tip.
You complain that ‘extreme warmers’ make unwarranted claims on the basis of a press release. First, it appears you didn’t check through the links posted to see if that’s all Mitchell had read. Second, this website is devoted to examining the treatment of AGW issues in the media – blogging about press releases is perfectly legitimate in that regard.
Strike 3. You’re out.
You don’t answer questions I’ve asked you even though I asked first.
Strike 4…

Someone claiming that this pine beetle outbreak is in an order of magnitude greater then previous ones is not evidence Steve. It is simply a statement. And since extreme warmers have often made exaggerated claims before, I don’t accept a statement like that at face value.

As for reading the article, you have not read it either. I don’t think anyone posting here has. Reading the abstract is not sufficient in many cases.

… this website is devoted to examining the treatment of AGW issues in the media – blogging about press releases is perfectly legitimate in that regard.

That’s fine. My criticizing the often over-hyped claims made here is legitimate also.

You could start by reading everything offered to you. The abstract contains a reference (the #4 at the end of my quotation). You don’t have to take the published statement in the peer-reviewed literature at face value – there’s also a reference. But you asked, “What peer-reviewed literature states…?” The abstract is part of the peer-reviewed literature. If you wanted a more in-depth discussion of that issue, you could have asked for it and then given folks a chance to read up (the article came on on Thurs, right?). In the meantime, you can also view Kurz’s email, so you can write to him to obtain that reference or a copy of the article. But instead of doing any of those things, you wrote a bunch of aggressive garbage about others not having enough information, all the while including wonky statements suggesting that you in particular haven’t tried to obtain the information.

The article came out a few days ago and already it is being peddled in the most alarmist terms possible here Steve. That is my point. You hold others to a different standard then you do the warming alarmists. Now why is that?

I do?
“Errors using inadequate data are much less than those using no data at all.” – Charles Babbage. That’s what I believe. But I also think it’s pretty poor form not to try to use all of the information available to you. I think it’s especially awful to bitch about others jumping to conclusions when you yourself have done that (and made false statements) in accusing them. Yeah, I dislike hypocrisy the most.
If you don’t agree with Babbage or me, that’s fine. If your point was that folks should read the journal article before making interpretations, I wouldn’t have called you out. But anyone can look back at what you wrote in “Where to start” and see the unwarranted points you tried to score. You’ve exhibited nothing but troll behaviour on this thread.
Now I could go on and demonstrate how you apply double standards, but I’ve wasted enough time with you for now. Just try reading the post and the links before making untrue claims next time, for a change.

No one has read the actual article yet Steve. It may well be misrepresented here. Yet you have no problem with that. The only conclusion I jumped to is not to overexaggerate a report that it appears no one has even bothered to read yet. That you object to this sensible concept says a lot about your own biases.

Nobody demonstrably mis-represented the accessible information except you. You said there was no mention of new forest growth – that was demonstrably wrong. You can’t demonstrate that anything was misrepresented; all you do is throw about your unfounded accusations. Bye bye.

Whatever Steve. The other thread was simply a piece of warming alarmist agit-prop based on a few short articles. For something that alarmist, the responsibility to report accurately (and read all the relevant information) is upon the poster. Instead, you reverse the onus which is the double standard extreme warmers often fall prey too.

Ever wonder why 650,000 years is cited?
It’s becasue most of the history of the earth has had MUCH higher CO2 levels than today, Except for the last 650,000 years.
The normal level for plante earth is approximately 1500 ppm CO2.
We barely have enough now to keep plants growing.

My understanding is that 650,000 years is cited because it’s hard to get records of CO2 concentration from before then.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4467420.stm
You say there’s 30% more CO2 in the atmosphere than in the previous half million years and the plants are barely able to grow. Uhuh. Plants must’ve gone extinct when there was 30% less! Hmmm, but they didn’t. And it turns out that sea critters are going to have a hard time dealing with higher CO2 concentrations than present levels. http://www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=9779&tid=282&cid=7388&ct=162
Interesting. What say you?

Surely you must have seen the graphs many times:
I have posted them here myself.

CO2 has been as high as 7000 ppm but most of history was below 2000.
Only the last little while has it been so low that plants can barely survive.

At 180ppm we all die by the way.

http://www.globalwarmingart.com/images/7/76/Phanerozoic_Carbon_Dioxide.png

and

http://mysite.verizon.net/mhieb/WVFossils/PageMill_Images/image277.gif

Well then, thanks for posting the links again (I hadn’t seen them). They don’t support your statement that 650,000 yrs is chosen because CO2 was higher before that. It seems 650,000 yrs is discussed because that estimate is based on measurements of CO2 rather than proxies.
Please also provide a source regarding plants barely surviving. (Also, are we in danger of cutting atmospheric CO2 by more than half?) I thought this graph was interesting:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phanerozoic – it seems that biodiversity did pretty well as atmospheric CO2 declined.
Oh please? I don’t see why you’re exasperated. I think we’re actually exchanging information here. This isn’t my area of expertise. I’d be happy if you could explain to me the apparent disconnect between the figures you showed and the experimental work on shelled plankton.

Just haveing fun Steve. Nothing personel.
You are one of the very few that actually seen to want to know what is really going on.

Keep up the search.

I will try to get some time later to answer the questions with better answers.

Steve: While trying to re-find some of the CO2 articles I have read, I ran across this one.
It is (as stated in this thread, more relevent to currtne situation) quite interesting and indicates, among other things, that CO2 is a result, not a driver of temperature.

http://www.biomind.de/nogreenhouse/daten/EE%2018-2_Beck.pdf

Excerpt:
Since 1812, the CO2
concentration in northern hemispheric air has fluctuated exhibiting three high level
maxima around 1825, 1857 and 1942 the latter showing more than 400 ppm.

I’m not sure if you’re just having fun with your last comment. In case you’re serious … I haven’t seen a reasonable response to this fairly thorough rebuttal:
http://tinyurl.com/2t6l4u
I look forward to your other responses which will hopefully be on point.

Ahhh, Ernst-Georg Beck, the German high school biology teacher who thinks he’s an expert on climate science. And published in the illustrious journal Energy & Environment, no less!

See: Curve manipulation: lesson 2
http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/06/curve-manipulation-lesson-2/langswitch_lang/in
And: The weirdest millennium
http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/05/the-weirdest-millennium/

Only an imbecile would take this ‘study’ seriously.

Oh, wait…

Um, I think what’s most relevant when discussing CO2 concentrations is rapid change during a populous, biodiverse interglacial period. Human civilization wasn’t thriving under harsh prehistoric conditions with very high CO2 levels (heck, even higher mammals weren’t). I guess by some people’s logic, the fact that Earth was a baking cinder X billion years ago means that would be just fine & dandy today.

Out of the mouths or babes!

http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=62598

The second place winner was excellent.
Really captures the essence of why CO2 is not the problem.

“What peer-reviewed literature states that we have never experienced a pine beetle outbreak as serious as this one?”

After a comment like that, there is no need for you to answer the question “have you ever looked into even the most basic science regarding this species?”

On April 23, Terence Corcoran wrote about the upcoming pine beetle study in the National Post, saying: “Climate change advocates will probably try to turn this into another scare. “Aha,” they will say, “this just makes climate change even more of a horror story.” Climate change increases beetle activity, and that increases carbon emissions, which increases climate change.”

Thanks for proving him right, Mitch.

And how does this petty oneupmanship make climate change less of a concern?

1. What does ‘climate change advocate’ mean?
2. Let me predict something to show how right I can be: people who think CO2 emissions are problematically out of control will point to examples showing that they are problematically out of control. See what a bunch of opportunistic bastards they are, using real examples to back up their arguments? This just shows their desperation and we can take this as evidence supporting our point that there’s nothing to worry about.

Did Corcoran have anything to say about the study, about the actual science?

A warmer climate increases beetle dispersal, which appears to increase carbon emissions, which of course traps more heat. What would you expect reporters to say?

Another one falls off the wagon.

http://ibdeditorial.com/IBDArticles.aspx?id=293843193434228

Climate Change: A former NASA astronaut says the same solar phenomenon that doomed Napoleon’s army may soon stop Al Gore’s march to glory cold. Prepare for the big chill.

Yah, well, my dad says your mother wears army boots.

Airforce boots to be accurate.
Good one Hugh!
A little humor now and then helps keep dialogue civil.

Have a good weekend.

I just finished watching a news cast about the Global Food shortage.
This humanitarian crisis is NOT the result of some natural disaster or unforeseen economic trend.
No. The responsibility for this horrific situation rests squarely with the environmentalists and the sheeple that followed them.
This disaster was caused by idiots.
Idiots that push AGW.
Idiots with no conception of reality or the consequences of their actions.
Idiot Greenies promoted biofuels as a cure for Global Warming.
Global starvation is the real tangible result of AGW industry stupidity.
Take a bow everyone.
You should all be proud of your accomplishments.

The only idiot here is you.
“Greenies” have been against biofuel from the very start.
They have been sounding the alarm from day one about the danger of diverting food into fuel production.
Corn ethanol is a failure as a substitute for gasoline.
The amount of fuel used to produce the stuff is roughly equal to the amount ethanol that comes out the other end.
The whole process also produces a lot of CO2.
Biodiesel is also a mess. Land clearing in the Amazon for soybeans and more land clearing in Asia for palm oil plantations. Some of the Asian clearing has resulted in huge peat fires producing even more CO2.
The only ones currently pushing biofuel is George W Bush and our own Mr Harper. The European governments have apparently backed off after they started to see the disaster they were creating.
Brazil seems to be the only one able to make biofuel process work, but only by using sugarcane.
Why don’t you wander over to the Greenpeace Canada site and see what they have to say…it’s one of the topics of the day…

Even today’s biofuels (which according to other studies can result in a modest net CO2 reduction) could be used as a supplement (blends with petro-fuels) for enhancing combustion efficiency without huge impacts on food production. But the really important goals should be accelerating development of cellulosic biofuels/other alternatives, and enhancing fuel economy so that they go further.

Cellulosic ethanol is the product I’m rooting for.
Using crop waste, wood chips, etc, is a far better plan than using food.
Garbage sourced fuel might have a future too. Lord knows there’s enough of that stuff.
But corn ethanol? As a supplement to gasoline for emission purposes it’s a lot better than using chemical additives, but as a substitute…it’s a poor idea.

“”Greenies” have been against biofuel from the very start.
They have been sounding the alarm from day one about the danger of diverting food into fuel production.”

BULLSHIT.

“Corn ethanol is a failure as a substitute for gasoline.”

Not only would that industry not even exist as it does today, but guess who not only advocated it, but also rescued it from dying a natural death?

Excerpt from a speech by Vice President Al Gore, December 1, 1998:

“I was also proud to stand up for the ethanol tax exemption when it was under attack in the Congress – at one point, supplying a tie-breaking vote in the Senate to save it. The more we can make this home-grown fuel a successful, widely-used product, the better-off our farmers and our environment will be.”

http://clinton3.nara.gov/WH/EOP/OVP/speeches/farmj.html

It should be pretty obvious by now, that any policy advocated by environmentalists is pure irresponsible idiocy. You disavow all negative consequences after the fact, and lie about it. Now you seek to replace bad policies of tax subsidies with even more bad policies of tax subsidies, based on your latest whims.

Isn’t it time we stopped pandering to fools who pass themselves off as “environmentalists”, and treat them as the capricious, opportunistic ideologues they obviously are?

Gee, all this time you’ve been calling him a non-environmentalist because of his huge house and private jet, etc, etc…..but now he’s a “Greenie” because it suits your purposes.
Al Gore might have dealt the first hand, but George W has a whole mitt full of ethanol cards right now and he’s pushing really hard…..does that make W an “environmentalist” subject to your scorn?

” ‘Greenies’ have been against biofuel from the very start.”

I’ve seen a lot of bullshit on this site but, that comment takes the prize. It marks the first time that I’ve ever read anything here that left me trembling, rapid-breathing angry. Sure, for several months, a few gutless enviros with no compunction about deep-sixing their earlier propaganda have been trying to climb out of the biofuel hole they dug for themselves, but like a lot of other stupid ideas, biofuel originated with the environmental movement. “Mother Nature’s fuel”, “be kind to the earth”, “natural energy”. Puke, puke, puke.

Yes, biodiesel is indeed a mess. So is ethanol. Silly greenies got what they wanted because that gave hard-nosed, pork barrelling politicians the chance to simultaneously cater to them and to producers and sharp promoters. (And bio-fuel is small beer compared to the loot that will roll into the well-connected pockets of carbon traders.)

Anyway, biofuel production will start slowing down because sane people won’t continue to tolerate this goofy combination of technological stupidity, unconscionable waste of food and diversion of taxpayers’ money.

Now, the flavour of the day is to make ethanol from cellulose - a typical urban warmist’s idea - to really rape the land by taking away the straw from cereal crops or, worse, plow up marginal land to grow switch grass.

Wood chips, sawdust, household garbage … Have non-technical greenies even a faint idea of how trivial the production from those sources would be in a world that gulps down 80 million bbl of oil every day? Oh, wait, we could mow down the boreal forest to make alcohol. Hell of a fine idea. Then nobody would notice the piddling little patches that are being bulldozed to access the tar sands. Grrr

Tell me of a “Greenie” group in favour of making fuel from food.
Fuel from biomass, not food.
The only people pushing biofuel from food sources are politicans and big Agriculture. The only others I see making any gain are the smaller farmers who are finally getting some decent prices for their corn and beans.
“Rape the land by taking away the straw from cereal crops…”
Huh?
You sure aren’t a farmer. What do you think a combine does when harvests a field of wheat? It sure doesn’t leave the grain attached to the straw!
You don’t know much about switchgrass either. You don’t have to plough the land to plant it. You can, but that would be pretty dumb in marginal land.
And all that oil that we burn every day is not going to last forever. Some oil experts already say we’ve passed peak-oil.
We need to get alternate fuels, and that only partly includes cellulose ethanol, into the market place to take up the slack and eventually replace oil.
Boreal forest? Gee…I just happen to know where there’s a dead one….

“Tell me of a “Greenie” group in favour of making fuel from food.”

I just posted a big fat quote from the Imperial Wizard of “Greenies”, Al Gore.

What part of that don’t you understand?

And in your two-dimensional world, Al Gore is calling all the shots? Wasn’t it the IPCC that was the culprit yesterday?

What part of my reply did you not understand?

He was an individual when he cast that deciding vote, but I suppose after that vote was tallied he became a member of a “Greenie” group…of sorts….
The United States Government.
If I recall correctly, a Government that was dominated by the Republican Party.
George W Bush is now the head of that Government and has seemingly with great enthusiasm carried on where Al Gore left off.
Does that now make George W the head “Greenie”?

Pages

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Vote-hungry politicians reluctant to act on climate change because they are beholden to the powerful fossil fuel sector just received a poor prognosis from the medical profession.

Climate change is not only happening but it can exacerbate many environmental health risks familiar to clinicians and public health professionals, according to The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Harm from climate change includes respiratory disorders, infectious diseases, food insecurity, and mental health disorders, said the JAMA...

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