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!
It’s hilarious to watch you try to disown Gore now, and do your little tap dance, trying to pass the buck.

What a bunch of weasels.

“What do you think a combine does when harvests a field of wheat? It sure doesn’t leave the grain attached to the straw!”

Your ignorance is beyond belief. When a field is combined, the small valuable fraction (that’s spelled g-r-a-i-n) is taken away, the stubble is left as tall as is practicle, and the straw is left to rot, replenish the soil and prevent wind erosion. In years when animal feed is hard to come by, the straw will be bailed as low quality feed but that’s not good farming and is done only when there is real necessity. STUPID, IGNORANT, URBAN warmists want to see the straw removed year after year to feed their ethanol fantasy. That’s “land mining”.

No, I’m not a farmer but I used to be and, yes, I have run a combine. Regular posters here know that in my present life I am a retired engineer and geologist.

“You don’t know much about switchgrass either. You don’t have to plough the land to plant it.”

And your point, if any, is?

“Boreal forest? Gee…I just happen to know where there’s a dead one….”

Great, we don’t yet have an economically viable way to make large volumes of alcohol from green wood but you, brilliant scientist that you are, are going to make it out of dry wood.

I have no personal quarrel with faithful warmists who think that they can save the world by “f***ing” society, but who don’t pretend to be experts in everything. On the other hand, milk-lipped, know-it-all diletantes like you set my teeth on edge.

Oops, “baled”. When I’m flaming angry my spelling goes to hell.

And by the way, switch grass is one tough weed but, if you want to get a good enough initial catch for commercial production, you’ll have to seed it on cultivated land.

I can’t speak for the farming practices in your neck of the woods, but around here we cut the straw as short as possible. As low as the grain head will go without picking up rocks. The straw is raked, baled and guess what? We use it for cattle bedding. As feed it’s poor stuff. That’s what hay is for.
But most farms around here don’t have cattle anymore, so most straw is sold. To hobby-horse farms, the local horse track when the trotters are in town, local construction firms to protect freshly seeded construction sites and a big thing is mushroom farms.
Leave the straw in the field? Yeah you can, but you better disc it in otherwise you’re asking for mould, slugs, low soil temperature and you’re providing cover for rodents. Working it in does help the soil and will help fertilizer costs but it doesn’t break down right away.
But by working it in means you just threw low-till out the window. Low-till and you can plant the next crop right in the stubble.
You were the one who seems to think one has to plough up the land to plant switchgrass, not me and that point seems to sailed right over your head. And the whole idea about using switchgrass is to avoid using cultivated land in the first place. Missed that too.
Dry wood is cellulose, as is dry straw. Who said it had to be green? BioEthanol Japan has a 1.4 million litre/yr cellulosic ethanol plant in Osaka Japan and it uses wood construction waste. You’re an engineer, would you use green wood to build a house?
And be careful who you call a diletante. That’s an assumption you shouldn’t make…ever.

“As low as the grain head will go without picking up rocks.”

“so most straw is sold.”

That’s land mining, NOT farming. Sounds like Manitoba, where some people think that nice thick soil can be abused forever. They still burn stubble there too.

It took the PFRA a generation to teach people that “farming black” wasn’t something to be proud of. I guess that it’s a lesson that has to be learned all over again.

Have you ever actually been near a farm? I doubt it. You seem to have done a bit of reading though.

But I’ve been more than near a farm. My career has been in the transportation industry for over 30 years but when I was a kid, up to my early twenties, summers would find me on my uncles farm if there wasn’t any work with my dad’s equipment. I know what it’s like to work hard clay. Gasoline engine tractors without cabs. Start at first light, hour for lunch, and work through to darn near dusk. Never ploughed that tough clay, nobody but my uncle dropped a bottom in that soil….his rules. Didn’t trust me with a planter either, but everything else I did. He also had cattle and hogs, so I quickly learned which end of a pitchfork to use. That I didn’t mind, but slugging bales was no fun for scrawy kid.
My uncle did something unique. He had a bad year once and out of desperation baled corn stalks for use as bedding. He had a corn picker so the stalks were left standing in the field. The cattle would sometimes ignore the hay in front of them, turn and eat those corn stalks from their stalls. It was hard on that baler, but he baled corn stalks from then on…
My dad had a bit of sand land and it was a joy to work in comparison. Mind you, it really started to annoy my old man when I started turning straighter furrows than he could…
You might call it land mining, but every nickel counts and if selling the straw helps put in the next crop…so be it.
But you are right about the abuse of the soil, since grain farmers dominate around here there are more and more chemicals used to make up for the lack cattle manure and hardly anyone seems to fallow land anymore. Most of the line ditches are gone so bigger and bigger tractors and combines can work. Larger fields mean greater a risk of wind erosion…
I’d do it differently, but I have no say…

O.K., I guess that you’ve “been there” so I retract the “diletante”. It sounds like you must have been raised in the U.S. Midwest (home of the biggest ethanol scams) which is terra incognita to me. I was farm-raised and, for the first 12 years of my retirement I had a cow-calf operation on some of the little virgin grassland still remaining. (River breaks and clay buttes -no wheeled vehicles or machinery used there.)

Big fields are becoming a menace in western Canada too. People will eventually pay for their short memories. Across the line, in Montana, they still do strips (really narrow strips!) and the border stands out like a sore thumb when you fly over it.

“…in the transportation industry for 30 years…”

Not really relevant I suppose but - dirty hands or clean?

I’m curious about that Japanese plant using scrap wood as feed. Since cellulose to alcohol is still a money-loser under even the best conditions, there must be a massive subsidy in there somewhere.

Sounds like it hit a nerve. Ethanol competes a little too much with full-speed oil sales, I guess.

But for once, he is right, whoever ‘zog’ is. The statement below is not based on historical facts. At first it seemed like a great idea, and then later the problems were noted. But, so what?

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

“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.”

Tom, this fact has been pointed out to troll many, many times, but he ignores the correction because it is inconvenient.

So, instead he lies, and repeats the lie again and again and again.

And the wimpy warmists scurry around desperately trying to cover their own shit. You’d get a lot more respect if you stiffened your spines, stood erect and said, “Yes, it was a bad mistake, we promoted a really dumb idea for a couple of decades, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t still believe that a solution must be found for a the AGW problem.”

And posters like this would get more respect if they washed their mouths out with soap. The discussion has gone downhill.

Somehow I doubt ‘warmists’ would get any respect from you no matter what they did.

The test of that is right here and now.

Far from promoting them, most of us have been saying that biofuels are a really dumb idea and a serious mistake from the get go. And what do we get for it from you?

Scorn, derision, and outright lies blaming us for the boondoggle perpetrated by big agribusiness and government corporate subsidies.

Leo Strauss would be proud of your noble lies.

It saves time.

Bait-and-switch
The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Sunday, April 27, 2008

Re: How the green movement backfired, April 21.

Biofuel did not backfire. It was high-jacked. A massive bait-and-switch has been foisted upon many well-meaning people in the name of clean, green biofuels, but environmentalists or greens were not the primary fraudsters, nor the sole victims. Biofuel is only as green as its feedstock and the practices which produce it.

Garbage in, garbage out. Greens have been experimenting with using garbage, used cooking oil and other byproducts for years – ironically waste is a genuine green feedstock, anything produced by petroleum- based fertilizers and fossil or diverted water is “black” biofuel.

There’s a tragedy of unintended consequences here but the big tragedy remains the unsustainable and destructive way that governments and corporations do business. Oh, George W. Bush talked bravely, and perhaps sincerely, of switch grasses – a native plant that could be grown over large areas with little irrigation or fossil fuel-based fertilizer. But when it came down to brass tacks, it was corn that got the money. Corn, sugar and palm oil are not merely nutritional wastelands – they are poster children for unsustainable, monoculture, oil-sucking agro-industry and deforestation. No green advocated the illegal logging and farming of rainforest in Indonesia. No green, nor any nutritionist, has ever called for the planting of more corn, sugar cane, palm oil, for food or fuel. These were choices made by the corporations and their government toadies. You can’t blame greens for this fiasco. It was done in the name of greenbacks.

Where’s your private sector saviour now? What comes of all the talk about “oil independence.” The right wing has been deceived by the lure of greenbacks, while the left wing has been deceived by green-washed fossil fuels.

It is unsustainable agriculture based on fossil fuels and diverted or fossil water that is the real villain in this little morality play – and big agro-industrialists have got fat government cheques to prove it. Follow the money to the culprits.

Brant Boucher, Ottawa

“No green advocated the illegal logging and farming of rainforest in Indonesia.”

Of course not - it’s the old law of unintended consequences at work. Useful idiots (aka warmists) with their ceaseless yapping for biofuel, set the table for the Indonesian land rapists, as well as for U.S. pork-barreling politicians and corn to ethanol promoters. The promoters couldn’t care less that grain-based alcohol is an energy transfer and economic disaster, as long as the good old taxpayer foots the bill.

Food riots in Mexico are a gift from the warmists - especially Al Gore who enthusiastically backed the corn scam when he was still a powerful U.S. politician.

Oh well, the riches accruing to speculators from the ethanol scam are small beer (no pun intended) compared to the billions that will be reaped in the carbon credits racket.

It’s really ironic that the same breed of anti-social chin waggers that virtually destroyed the U.S. nuclear industry 30 years ago (to the delight of the coal industry and Middle Eastern Sheiks) is now out to get BIG OIL. As Dr. Beckmann so presciently said in 1975, “Environmentalists will continue to advocate any form of energy - as long as it is uneconomic and unavailable.” Now, thanks to the ethanol cockup, we can add the adjective, “destructive.”

Happy with gasoline at $1.20/litre? Send a thank-you card to an environmentalist.

noble little adventure in the sand had nothing to do with it. Revisionism at its best.

A warmist shouldn’t use the word “revisionism” when his ass-covering buddies are desperately trying to deny their dippy crusade for “sunbeams in your tank”.

And no, I don’t believe that the Iraq clusterfuck is causing a rise in oil prices. Iraq is still exporting at not far below capacity, and if the U.S. presence in the Middle East is exerting pressure on the Saudis and the Gulf States, (Kuwait, Qatar etc.) it would be to lower prices, not to raise them. The old rules of Imperialism still function in the digital age.

I believe:

First we need to get a good price for the dead wood…whichever final product (eg. sawmill, pulp and paper Mill, particle Board, Log Homes, Aboriginal Art, Furniture…), with a caveat the the infested wood won’t spread to the buyer’s region.

Second we need to make the best use of the land…Replanting the forest maybe a foolish idea because the left over pine beetle population my spread back or come from Alberta or the USA again. Furthermore to get old growth trees in terms of narture’s precious old growth forests would take maybe 80 years…And also by the time the trees grow back enough to support the rare species of flora and fauna, the local population would have left the the PIne Beetle massacre land footprint for 30 years and might even have succumb to extinction.

Therefore I propose that 1. I believe the best idea grow corn, wheat, rice and any and all agriculture based on the huge supply shortage and growing demand - seeming to be long term drivers; 2. we could also use the land for alternative energies, from wind mills to gravity to energy; 2. develop thriving cities depending on our ability to attract business, financial institutions and headquarters enterprises (with sustainable competitive advantages - eg. patented products) as well as manufacturing and technological products and know how… perhaps if we build the infrastructures (airports, roads, sewage, skyscrapers - offices - condos - apartments, wireless backbone, hotels, housing highend as well as affordable for Canadian workers and we (BC) gave rich and skilled new immigrants shortened passport waiting times to settle in the former Pien Beetle Land surrounding central business districts (assuming the immigrants have no crimminal backgrounds). We could actually do a strategic mixture of all these options so that the BC economy is diversified and stable. Allocating based on a long term view eg. the next ten years supply and demand for the various land usages and the prices (especially the ROI to tax payers of BC) they will yield.

A failure of unimaginable proportions is bound up in the the willful blindness, hysterical deafness and elective mutism of so many opinion leaders, economic powerbrokers, politicians and business tycoons who do not speak out openly, loudly and clearly about the world we inhabit as bounded and limited in space with finite resources. Their idolatry of the endless expansion of the global political economy is not only selfish, arrogant and unrealistic; they are also perversely choosing to espouse a “primrose path” to our children, a path to the future that a relatively small planet with the size and make-up of Earth cannot possibly sustain much longer, much less to the year 2050.

At least to me, this failure by my not-so-great generation of leading elders is a “sin of omission” that is tantamount to a passive criminal act against the family of humanity, life as we know it and the Earth God blesses us to inhabit….and not ruin, I suppose.

Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
established 2001

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