"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

”Unprecedented” Polar Melting &”Global Weirding” Intensifies As Climate Disruption Denial Goes Wild.

In Uncategorized on January 11, 2017 at 5:09 pm

(Photo: Unsplash; Edited: LW / TO)

Oldspeak: “While the infotainment networks breathlessly cover The Trump Show reporting fake news about who he pissed on; a 2000 square mile iceberg is about to break free from the rapidly collapsing Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica. An ice island the size of a small U.S. state would then be afloat in the Southern Ocean… Not only would a loss of Larsen C change the map of the Earth itself; the shelf holds back glaciers capable of contributing about 4 inches of global sea level rise over time. Global warming is creating vicious feedback loop: a wildfire ‘death spiral’ in alpine areas, where forests are failing to regrow, that will “…have significant consequences for carbon sequestration [such as attempts to absorb carbon from the atmosphere by growing trees or plants], water supply and biodiversity.” The thawing Arctic is turning oceans that should be nurseries for sea ice in to graveyards. The most fascinating news in Dahr Jamail’s latest dispatches from The Extinction, is that of “TeleconnectionActivities in one region of Earth can disturb or alter the climate equilibrium in another, very far away.”When trees die in one place, it can be good or bad for plants elsewhere because it causes changes in one place that can ricochet to shift climate in another place, the atmosphere provides the connection.” Imagine the implications of this knowledge. Basically more confirmation of “The Butterfly Effect“. Makes moots these green capitalist fantasies like bioenergy plus carbon capture and storage, green economy,  renewable energy, etc, etc, etc. All of these techno-fixes require fabrication of tremendous amounts of resources that are rapidly depleting thanks to  still going strong; if slowing down, disposable, planned obsolescence based way of being. It’s become all too obvious that our rapacious hyperconsumption has created imbalance all throughout the ecology.  All is connected. Consuming more will have grave consequences for life on Earth. There’s really no way around that anymore.” -OSJ


Written By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

There was a moment in early January when it was colder in Seattle (27F) than it was on the North Slope of Alaska in the Arctic town of Barrow (30F).

On the day that this occurred, Barrow, whose normal high temperature for that day was negative 5 degrees, saw a record high temperature of 33 degrees above zero.

This unprecedented phenomenon sums up the direction of this month’s dispatch: a turn toward “global weirding” on all fronts.

As Truthout reported in mid-December, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) concluded in their annual Arctic climate report card, “The Arctic is unraveling.” Record-breaking heat in the north has clearly pushed the region into uncharted climate territory.

In late December, the heating trend continued, with temperatures at the North Pole spiking to near melting point, a stunning 50 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, despite being the darkest time of the year, with literally no sunlight.

Antarctica saw equally shocking developments. Recent NASA photography revealed a 300-foot-wide rift along the Larsen C ice shelf, signaling the now imminent demise of the massive ice shelf, which will send an iceberg the size of Delaware into the southern ocean.

Words like “unprecedented” and phrases like “we haven’t seen anything like this yet” are no longer uncommon among scientists studying the ice in Antarctica, where a break in the Pine Island Glacier has now revealed yet another mechanism for collapse. (That glacier, along with so many other massive glaciers in the Antarctic, is melting due to warmer sea water from below.)

Simultaneously, in East Antarctica, a region of the ice continent assumed to be relatively intact and, thus far, impervious to the impacts of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), two recent scientific reports have exposed some seriously troubling warning signs. The studies, each of which focused in on a different East Antarctic ice shelf, showed that major melting is already occurring both from above and below that could eventually release the ice shelves — and thus release all the ice above them on the continent. Given that East Antarctica contains roughly two thirds of all the ice on the continent, this is troubling news indeed: The entire region’s stability is now under threat.

It is worth noting that by November, the Arctic and Antarctic had both hit record low sea ice coverage, and NASA recently released imagery showing how stunningly fast glaciers around the world are melting. Given that glaciers hold approximately 69 percent of all the fresh water on the planet, the implications for humans, coupled with sea level rise, are obvious.

Of course, President-elect Donald Trump’s impending inauguration looms over all of these developments. A man will occupy the White House who says, “Nobody really knows if climate change is real.” Last month, Anthony Scaramucci, an advisor from the executive committee of Trump’s transition team, went on CNN and forcefully denied ACD — while stating that the Earth is 5,500 years old.

Buckle up.


When one thinks of ACD’s impacts on forests, droughts and wildfires generally come to mind. However, we would do well to recognize a lesser-known ACD-related impact on forests: bugs. A recent study predicts that insects will leave at least 63 percent of US forests at risk by 2027, and are already one of the single largest threats to biodiversity in the US. Surging beetle kills caused by ACD-driven warming temperatures and droughts, along with invasive species introduced via global trade, are two examples. “They are one of the few things that can actually eliminate a forest tree species in pretty short order, Harvard University ecologist David Orwig, who participated in the study, told the media. “Within years.”

A recent study published by scientists from UC Davis and the US Forest Service showed that, disconcertingly, forests are failing to regrow after ACD-driven wildfires that have become larger, hotter and more frequent across the country. The study shows how recent fires have killed so many mature, seed-producing trees across such vast swaths of land, that forests are unable to reseed themselves. Study coauthor Kevin Welch, a forest researcher at UC Davis, said, “We aren’t seeing the conditions that are likely to promote natural regeneration.”

And when dramatic ACD-impacts are causing forests in the US to suffer, trees halfway around the world are simultaneously impacted, according to another recent study. When drought, insect infestation, heat or exploitation cause a significant number of trees to die in one area, the climate in forests in distant lands is also altered. Hence, according to the researchers, if enough woodlands are burned in North America, the consequences of this are felt in Siberian forests. If enough tropical rainforests are cleared in the Amazon, conifers in Siberia experience drought and greater cold, due to what the study describes as a “teleconnection”: Activities in one region of Earth can disturb or alter the climate equilibrium in another, very far away.

“When trees die in one place, it can be good or bad for plants elsewhere because it causes changes in one place that can ricochet to shift climate in another place,” Elizabeth Garcia of the University of Washington, who worked on the study, told the Climate News Network. “The atmosphere provides the connection.”

Meanwhile, another recently published study showed that some plant species in the Himalayas, like the rhododendron, have shown indications that their spring blooming season has been moved three months forward by ACD.

Not surprisingly, wildlife continues to display distress signals from ACD impacts as well.

Another study shows that hundreds of species around the globe — land, as well as marine — are already experiencing localized extinctions, and researchers affiliated with the study said that this is just the beginning.

Not surprisingly, another study, this one coming from the University of Edinburgh, shows that ACD is already driving birds to migrate earlier as global temperatures continue to increase across the board. When the birds arrive at their breeding grounds earlier, however, they often miss out on food sources and starve to death.

In the far north, reindeer are physically shrinking, primarily due to an increasing lack of food. Their weight has gone down considerably since the 1990s.

Plus, the world’s largest herd of reindeer, located on the Taimyr Peninsula of Russia, is plummeting in size, according to another report. The herd of wild reindeer has lost 40 percent of its population since just 2000, due to warming temperatures and human encroachment, and the numbers continue to decline rapidly.

Another warning sign from the north comes from steller sea lions, whose populations in the western Aleutian Islands continue to fall. Scientists blame ACD-driven warming waters that are causing food shortages and other health issues.

More distressing news from the north comes in the form of an expected change in the food chain: Experts warned recently that polar bears are likely to become prey to killer whales and Greenland sharks. Polar Bears are already the iconic species threatened by ACD, since they have increasingly had to swim further for food due to dwindling sea ice. This leaves them much more exposed to potential attacks from the killer whales and sharks. Meanwhile, the whales and sharks are eating the seals on which the polar bears rely for food themselves.

Canada’s Hudson Bay, normally considered the “polar bear capital of the world,” was as free of ice this past November as it was on a typical summer day. This indicates that, if trends continue, polar bears there could well be extinct by 2050.

Lastly in this section, the thawing of permafrost in Alaska and the Yukon has been shown, according to a recent study, to be literally changing the chemistry of the fabled Yukon River. “Essentially, what we found is, a lot of the common kind of minerals, and some of the nutrients in the Yukon River, and the Tanana River, had greatly increased over those 30 years,” Hydrologist Ryan Toohy with the USGS Alaska Climate Science Center, told Alaska Public Radio. Impacts of this include declining numbers of salmon returning to spawn in the Yukon River, which hurts tribes that rely upon the fish to put food on their tables. The reductions in salmon populations also affects the culture of tribes that practice subsistence living.


As usual, the most obvious ACD impacts are making themselves known across Earth’s watery realms.

An amount of polar sea ice the size of India (or two Alaskas) has vanished amidst record-high ocean and atmospheric temperatures, according to climate scientists. It’s not surprising, given that parts of the Arctic were 20 degrees Celsius (36F) above normal on some days during last November.

Another study showed that ACD-driven warming is sending mountain glaciers “off a cliff,” and called these retreating glaciers “categorical evidence” of ACD, noting that the glacial retreat provides “sobering perspective on how far out of equilibrium these glaciers are.”

A 2015 winter research expedition in the Arctic left researchers shocked by how thin and weak the Arctic sea ice was, in addition to being stunned by how early a summer phytoplankton bloom arrived. They attributed the bloom to the warmer-than-normal Arctic waters.

A recently published study brings more bad news for Greenland. The study showed that the Greenland Ice Sheet will likely be melting much faster than previously believed, which is also bad news for sea-level increase around the world.

New research has confirmed what has been known for quite some time now: that ongoing melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet is bringing us closer to an inevitable long-term consequence of collapsing the Atlantic Ocean’s circulation, which would bring catastrophic climatic shifts to Northern Europe, North America and beyond.

Down in the Antarctic, things are no better. Recently released long-term satellite observations have revealed that dramatic ice loss is spreading rapidly up glaciers in the Antarctic, some of which are losing more than 20 feet of height per year.

ACD has been linked to massive changes taking place in the food web of the US Great Lakes region, as the base of the food chain drastically transforms. Warming water temperatures are causing an algae that forms the food chain’s base to increase in number, which will have unforeseen impacts on everything else in that ecosystem.

If you live in Miami, New Orleans or New York, a recent report shows that you are in one of the top US cities already experiencing sea-level rise, which is expected to increase dramatically in the coming years.

More scientific research shows that the Everglades’ water is now at risk from sea-level rise, which means the fabled “river of grass,” as the area has long been referred to, is going to be inundated with saltwater.

Across the Atlantic, a recent study suggests that the only reason coastal communities in Britain have survived sea level rise and extreme weather events thus far has been luck. The study found that the winter of 2013-2014 saw storms generate the maximum recorded sea level at half of the tidal measuring sites around the UK, as well as the largest number of extreme sea-level events of any season in the last 100 years. However, troublingly, the study showed that none of those serious flooding events happened during a severe storm, which means that things could have been far, far worse. Hence, it is only a matter of time for an ACD-fueled extreme storm to coincide with a high tide, which will bring widespread destruction to wherever it lands on Britain’s coastline.

Lastly in this section, recent research shows that the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, which was hammered by a coral bleaching event not long ago, is not likely to survive at all if oceanic warming continues, which it most assuredly will. The study projects that by the year 2050, more than 98 percent of global coral reefs will be afflicted by “bleaching-level thermal stress” every year.


The American Meteorological Society’s annual attribution report released mid-December showed that ACD-driven heat was the key factor in Alaska’s 2015 fire season, which was the second worst on record, in terms of the total area burned. The report also cited “snowpack drought” in Washington State that resulted from high temperatures as another factor that led to wildfires in that state, and indicated that in both places, rising temperatures will continue to predispose the areas to increasing frequency and duration of wildfires.

More than 100 active wildfires in South Africa, burning amidst conditions of warmer than normal temperatures, lack of rainfall and dry conditions fueled by ACD impacts, were burning at the time of this writing.


Soon, 2016 will be deemed the warmest year recorded on the planet since record-keeping began. This is certainly true in the Arctic, where autumn temperatures soared to 36F above normal and even higher in some places. Jennifer Francis, a research professor at Rutgers University, explained to Yale Environment 360 that a rapidly warming Arctic will have profound implications on global weather in many ways, such as a shifting jet stream, more persistent and prolonged droughts, and heavy flooding, all of which will dramatically impact food production.

Last month, Climate Central produced this excellent graphic, which gives one a clear, visual perspective on how much warming occurred in the continental US during 2016. In summary, 2 percent of US weather stations reported colder-than-average temperatures for the year, 98 percent of them reported warmer-than-average temperatures for the year, and 10 percent of them reported temperatures that were the hottest on record.

Meanwhile, scientists in Vietnam point to ACD as the cause of an increase in vector-borne diseases like malaria and dengue fever, due to rising seawater levels and warmer temperatures creating conditions favorable for mosquito reproduction and transmission of diseases.

Denial and Reality

With an incoming Donald Trump presidency — including a cabinet that amounts to an environmental demolition team — we can expect this denial section to become quite lengthy in future dispatches.

The Center for Media and Democracy published a leaked transition team memo that outlined Trump’s disastrous energy agenda. The plan will essentially lay waste to most federal environmental regulations that are left, and will halt efforts toward developing clean energy and addressing ACD, scant as they may be. It includes, but is not limited to, the following steps: withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, increase federal oil and natural gas leasing, lift the coal lease moratorium, give states greater say on energy leases on federal lands within state borders, expedite approvals on LNG [liquefied natural gas] export terminals, move full steam ahead on pipeline infrastructure, amend the Renewable Fuel Standard and relax federal fuel economy standards.

Conveniently, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson was named Secretary of State, despite the fact that investigations have been underway to look into Exxon’s climate science disinformation campaigns.

Just as conveniently, Chris Shank, the deputy chief of staff to Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and a vocal ACD denier, was selected to head the NASA transition team. It is clear that most money slated for NASA to study climate/earth science will be slashed.

Australian climate scientists have already slammed Trump’s plans to scrap NASA’s climate science work, as outrage at the president-elect’s anti-environment stance mounts around the globe.

Some of the environmental Cabinet picks read like a sick joke: Trump also picked Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a staunch ally of the fossil fuel industry and ACD denier, to head the EPA. Both Pruitt and Trump have been blatant opponents of the EPA itself.

In total, at least nine senior members of Trump’s transition team deny the existence of ACD while demonstrating a completely pro-fossil fuel agenda. Deniers have been chosen to lead every single agency that deals with ACD.

As a result of all of this, US climate scientists are frantically copying, backing up and storing abroad any and all US climate data out of fear it could be scrubbed under the incoming Trump administration.

The Guardian recently published an excellent piece that outlines what it calls the “booming conspiracy culture of climate science denial” that is happening alongside (and along with) the incoming Trump administration. The article shows how conspiracy websites and outlets, such as Breitbart, are working to create massive online audiences who believe that ACD is a “hoax.”

On the reality front, thankfully, there is some good news.

Divestments from the fossil fuel industry now represent at least $5.2 trillion, which is certainly heartening. That means that a record number of investors have agreed to withdraw, or already have withdrawn, money from the fossil fuel industry and are investing in renewables.

NASA satellites, scientists and super computers recently produced an amazing 3-D view of how CO2 flows through the atmosphere.

The single largest science event on Earth took place in San Francisco in December, when the American Geophysical Union convened for its annual meeting. There, with more than 20,000 earth and space scientists present, it was proclaimed that “the time has never been more urgent” for their work to continue.

And for the rest of us, “the time has never been more urgent” to bear witness to what is happening across the planet, and to act on the planet’s behalf.

Is Wood A “Green” Source of Energy? Scientists Are Divided

In Uncategorized on January 10, 2017 at 1:24 am

Wood pellets

Oldspeak: Wanna know why we’re fucked?  We’re fucked because we’re debating questions like this in 2017. “Biomass” consumption is all the rage as the world burns. This, while forests worldwide die off EN MASSE due to a variety of threats, we’re debating stupid fucking questions like this… We have people that see cutting down trees and burning them as fucking fuel, the exact behavior that has contributed to the  destruction of the environment,  as good for the environment. Then again, in world where there is a Christmas Tree throwing championship, this shit makes sense.  I don’t understand this. MADNESS.” -OSJ

Written By Warren Cornwall @ Science:

It took half a century for an acorn to grow into the 20-meter-tall oak tree standing here in a North Carolina hardwood forest near the banks of the Northeast Cape Fear River. But it takes just seconds to turn the oak into fuel for the furnace of a European power plant.

A logging machine—a cross between a tank and a one-armed crab—grabs the tree with a metal claw. With a screech, a spinning blade bites through the trunk. Ultimately, the thickest bits of this tree and hundreds of others from this forest will be sliced into lumber. But the limbs from large trees like this, along with entire small or crooked trees, go to a specialized mill to be squeezed into tiny wood pellets. Shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, they will likely end up fueling a giant power plant in the United Kingdom that supplies nearly 10% of the country’s electricity.

Over the roar of the logging, Bob Abt, a forest economist at North Carolina State University (NC State) in Raleigh, explains why this trans-Atlantic trade in wood pellets is booming: a push by policymakers, industry groups, and some scientists to make burning more wood for electricity a strategy for curbing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Unlike coal or natural gas, they argue, wood is a low-carbon fuel. The carbon released when trees are cut down and burned is taken up again when new trees grow in their place, limiting its impact on climate.

The idea is attractively simple, says Abt, a member of an expert panel that is studying the concept for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “Another tree will grow here and sequester carbon again. So we’re just recycling carbon.”

Yet moves by governments around the world to designate wood as a carbon-neutral fuel—making it eligible for beneficial treatment under tax, trade, and environmental regulations—have spurred fierce debate. Critics argue that accounting for carbon recycling is far more complex than it seems. They say favoring wood could actually boost carbon emissions, not curb them, for many decades, and that wind and solar energy—emissions-free from the start—are a better bet for the climate. Some scientists also worry that policies promoting wood fuels could unleash a global logging boom that trashes forest biodiversity in the name of climate protection.

Some trees cut from a logging site in Duplin County in North Carolina will be squeezed into wood pellets, to be burned in power plants.

© Katie Bailey

“It basically tells the Congo and Indonesia and every other forested country in the world: ‘If you cut down your forests and use them for energy, not only is that not bad, it’s good,’” says Tim Searchinger, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C., who has studied the carbon impacts of wood energy.

Oak trees in North Carolina are heading for a U.K. power plant largely because of a single number: zero. That’s the amount of CO2 that European power plants can claim they emit when burning wood. It’s not true, of course, and in some cases wood-burning furnaces actually puff more CO2 from their smokestacks per unit of electricity produced than those burning coal or natural gas. (In part, that’s because wood can have a higher water content than other fuels, and some of its energy goes to boiling off the water.) But under the European Union’s ambitious 2009 plan to produce 20% of its electricity from renewable resources by 2020, regulators endorsed an earlier decision to designate wood as a carbon-neutral fuel for the purposes of emissions accounting.

In response, some countries—including the United Kingdom, Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherlands—have built new wood-fired plants or converted coal-fired plants to wood. The United Kingdom has been one of the most enthusiastic, with the government providing subsidies for wood pellets that make them competitive with fossil fuels. At the country’s largest power station, a 4000-megawatt behemoth in North Yorkshire, owner Drax Group has converted half of the furnaces to burn wood pellets.

For fuel, Drax and other firms have been eyeing forests around the world. Those of North Carolina and other states in the southeastern United States, filled with fast-growing pines as well as hardwoods and just a short freighter trip from Europe, have become a major source of wood pellets. U.S. exports, nearly all from the southeast, grew from zero in 2005 to more than 6.5 million metric tons in 2016, according to Forisk Consulting, a firm in Athens, Georgia. Pellet exports are expected to grow to 9 million metric tons by 2021.

The boom has caught the attention of U.S. policymakers. Lawmakers in Congress, with backing from parts of the forest products industry, have proposed legislation that would follow the European Union’s lead and declare wood pellets a carbon-neutral fuel, which might encourage U.S. power companies to shift to wood. So far, those proposals haven’t made it into law, in part because of skepticism from the Obama administration.

But they have alarmed some environmental groups and divided scientists. This past February, 65 scientists, many from major universities, penned a letter to Senate leaders warning that the carbon-neutral label would encourage deforestation and drive up greenhouse gas emissions. But a month later, more than 100 scientists took the opposite view in a letter to EPA, stating that “the carbon benefits of sustainable forest biomass energy are well established.”

Economist Bob Abt has been examining the economic and ecological implications of wood fuels.

© Katie Bailey

Abt and his colleagues on the EPA expert panel are trying to sort out those starkly different perspectives. The son of a forester for a Georgia logging company, Abt can deftly switch from talking about machinery with a logger to describing the complex computer models he builds to simulate what might happen in a world with more wood-fired power plants. The bottom line, researchers say, depends on multiple assumptions about forest ecology and the economic behavior of landowners, as well as on the time horizon of the calculations. “There are four or five different approaches that you can use in order to measure the greenhouse gas implications of forest biomass energy,” says Madhu Khanna, an environmental economist at the University of Illinois in Champaign, and chair of the EPA expert panel. “There are huge differences in the answers you can get.”

One species of model focuses on the biological picture, tallying how much carbon is emitted when biomass is burned, and how long it will take for an ecosystem to reabsorb that carbon. The calculations are relatively straightforward. But the details—such as what kinds of trees are cut, and whether the new trees are fast-growing pines or slow-growing hardwoods—can influence how big that initial carbon debt appears to be, and how long it will take to pay back.

Because of the lag between emissions and uptake, studies taking this approach often find that widespread use of wood fuel will cause emissions spikes that could last for decades, hastening the pace of global warming. Researchers working with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental group, concluded that a wood-burning plant would have higher net carbon emissions than a comparable coal plant for the first 4 decades or more of operations. A similar study in the Journal of Sustainable Forestry in 2013 found that greenhouse gases from a power plant fired by wood from New England forests would outrank emissions from a similar coal-fired power plant for nearly half a century.

The bottom line for climate can shift depending on how far into the future researchers peer. The EPA panel on which Abt and Khanna sit has endorsed a long view. In its latest draft, the group recommends doing carbon accounting over a 100-year timeframe, based on research suggesting that it takes that long for the planet to feel the full impact of cumulative greenhouse gas emissions. Such long tallies give new forests plenty of time to mature and recapture carbon, making wood appear closer to carbon neutral.

But some scientists object that such long timescales gloss over the risk that the near-term spike in emissions produced by large-scale wood burning will cause damage that can’t be undone. “If we melt Arctic ice in the next 20 years, that’s not going to come back,” says William Schlesinger, a biogeochemist and president emeritus at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York, who sits on EPA’s Science Advisory Board.

Such issues suggest policymakers should proceed with caution, says Sami Yassa, a forestry scientist with NRDC in Kittery, Maine. “Our belief,” he says, “is that these uncertainties need to be resolved in favor of avoiding damage” to today’s forests.

Meanwhile, Abt and some other researchers are pursuing modeling approaches that attempt to take into account the important role that economics and human behavior play in shaping future forests. At one extreme, logged forest might be converted into farmland or housing lots, never getting a chance to regrow and soak up carbon. Or a booming pellet trade could have the opposite effect: encouraging farmers to plant trees where crops or pasture grasses once grew, amplifying the carbon benefits.

One study using Abt’s approach has offered a counterintuitive conclusion: that an expansion of the southeast’s pellet industry might offer a net benefit, in terms of carbon, in the long run. That’s because it could prompt landowners to plant more trees, leading to more carbon storage. And shipping pine pellets to Europe to produce electricity can make both economic and environmental sense, Abt and Khanna concluded in a 2015 study in Environmental Research Letters. Compared with coal, wood fuel cut carbon emissions by 74% to 85% when they took into account the entire life cycle of both fuels, including emissions from production and transportation, and possible land-use shifts. The point, Abt says, is that “you can’t just tell a biological story. My thesis is that ignoring markets gives you more of a wrong answer.”

That’s a view seconded by Tommy Norris, a North Carolina timber supplier in Rocky Point. His company, Tri-State Land & Timber LLC, bought the rights to log the Duplin County site. Demand for wood, he says, creates incentives for landowners to manage forests for the long term, and can prevent them from being converted to other uses. “If you don’t have markets,” he says, “people are just going to ignore their forests.”

Roughly 160 kilometers northeast of the logging site, NC State ecologist Asko Noormets is investigating what he believes is another important—and often overlooked—part of the wood fuel puzzle. It’s right beneath his feet. Under loblolly pines on a plantation owned by timber giant Weyerhaeuser, Noormets crouches next to a white plastic pipe embedded in the forest floor. A motor whines as a mechanism drops a small plastic dome over the end of the pipe, and a sensor takes a deep breath of the CO2 inside, rising from the soil.

The measurements, taken every 30 minutes for the last 11 years, have Noormets worried. They suggest that logging, whether for biofuels or lumber, is eating away at the carbon stored beneath the forest floor. Every square meter of this forest is losing roughly 125 grams of carbon annually into the atmosphere, the data suggest. Over time, he predicts, logging could wear this fertile, peat-based soil down to the sandy layer below, releasing much of its carbon and destroying its long-term productivity.

When he has looked at emissions from other managed forests around the world, he’s found similarly elevated rates of soil carbon loss. Noormets isn’t certain what’s driving the losses, but he suspects that by disturbing the soil, logging alters the activity of soil microbes that release CO2.

The soft-spoken scientist tends toward technical jargon. But he says that when he first saw the numbers a few years ago, “I was terrified.” That’s because soil carbon accounts for a significant portion of the total carbon stored in forests, so over time a decline could have major implications for the climate.

Other studies of managed forests have found less worrying carbon losses, or little evidence of long-term declines. Still, if Noormets’s findings are upheld by further research, they might force a rethink of wood-fuel accounting, which often assumes no soil carbon loss, Abt says. “Then just modeling the aboveground carbon is going to give you a wrong answer.”

The pellet trade could also have more immediate ecological impacts. In the Roanoke River National Wildlife Refuge near Williamston, North Carolina, Adam Macon strolls down a dirt path past oak trees so thick he couldn’t encircle one with his arms. Towering cypress trees splay their roots into the boggy soil. It’s a textbook example of a bottomland hardwood forest, says Macon, who works for the Dogwood Alliance, an environmental group based in Asheville, North Carolina. It hosts dozens of plant species, more than 200 kinds of birds, and mammals including muskrats and black bears.

As a wildlife refuge, these trees are beyond the reach of the saw. But just a few kilometers away it’s a different story. Unlike forests in the western United States, which are mostly owned by the U.S. government, more than 80% of southeastern forests are in private hands. Macon fears that if demand for wood pellets keeps growing, it will create yet another incentive for landowners to log relatively diverse hardwood forests—which already account for approximately a quarter of the pellets coming from the South—and convert them into less diverse but faster growing pine plantations.

A recent study in the journal Global Change Biology Bioenergy concluded that increased demand for wood fuel could cause some North Carolina hardwood ecosystems to shrink by about 10% by 2050. A companion study found that some species living in those forests could decline as well, including the cerulean warbler, a little blue songbird whose populations have fallen by nearly 75% since the mid-1960s. “We see this biomass industry as one of the biggest threats, if not the biggest threat, to these forests,” Macon says.

Officials in the wood products industry say the fears of sweeping habitat destruction are unfounded. So far, predictions of a huge surge in European demand for wood pellets haven’t been borne out, says Seth Ginther, executive director for the U.S. Industrial Pellet Association in Richmond, Virginia. Only a handful of European countries are subsidizing wood pellets, he says, and a number of proposed U.S. pellet plants have never materialized. “The way the market has shaken out, there’s just not that much demand,” Ginther says.

Overall, pellets consumed 3% of the wood cut in the southeast in 2013, far less than what goes to pulp or lumber. Still, at least seven new pellet plants are expected to start operating in the region over the next 5 years, according to Forisk Consulting.

Both boosters and critics of labeling pellets as carbon-neutral now wonder how the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump might view wood fuels. With the Republican Party soon to be in control of both Congress and the White House, NRDC’s Yassa predicts that industry groups and politicians from timber-rich states will again press their case that a carbon-neutral designation for wood would be good for the economy. But with Trump and his appointees vowing to dismantle domestic climate rules and withdraw from international agreements designed to promote the use of climate-friendlier fuels, it’s not clear just how much cachet a carbon-neutral label will carry in the United States.

Elsewhere in the world, however, wood appears to be winning support. Demand for pellets is increasing in Japan and South Korea as those nations seek to meet renewable energy quotas. And at the end of November 2016, the European Commission recommended extending the European Union’s existing wood-fuel policies until 2030, with some minor changes. Such policy decisions suggest the debate over wood and climate is far from over.

We Have Released A Monster: Previously Frozen Soil Is “Breathing Out” Greenhouse Gases

In Uncategorized on January 4, 2017 at 7:48 pm

Katey Walter Anthony, a leading scientist in studying the escape of methane, at her research site where methane is collecting beneath the ice, in Fairbanks, Alaska, on October 21, 2011. With temperatures warming across much of that region, which scientists primarily believe is because of the rapid human release of greenhouse gases, permafrost is also warming, and signs are emerging that frozen carbon may be destabilizing. (Josh Haner/The New York Times)

Oldspeak: “Microorganisms in soil generally consume carbon, then release CO2 as a byproduct. Large areas of the planet — such as Alaska, northern Canada, Northern Europe and large swaths of Siberia in Russia — have previously been too cold for this process to occur. However, they are now warming up, and soil respiration is happening there. As a result, these places are contributing far, far more CO2 and methane to the atmosphere than they ever have….This means that even if all human fossil fuel emissions were halted immediately, soils would continue to release approximately the same amount of CO2 and methane emissions as the amount produced by the fossil fuel industry during the mid-20th century.” –Dahr Jamail

“Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick….. with each passing day, more and more of these previously sequestered carbon stores are released into the atmosphere. The Greenhouse gets hotter. Nothing humans can do will change this reality. Halting human fossil fuel emissions won’t change it. Switching to a global economy based on renewable energy will not change it. Marches and “direct actions” will not change it. Recycling won’t change it. Global “Climate Agreements” won’t change it. We’re “fighting” irresistible forces here. We’ve set in motion feedback loops that don’t stop for a long long long long time with all our activity and exponentially growing energy & resource consumption. We need to start considering doing less. Degrowth is the only sane path forward for humanity.  We are spending more and more time with each passing year  in ecological overshoot,  as explained by the World Footprint Network;

Today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.6 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste. This means it now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year. Moderate UN scenarios suggest that if current population and consumption trends continue, by the 2030s, we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support us. And of course, we only have one. Turning resources into waste faster than waste can be turned back into resources puts us in global ecological overshoot, depleting the very resources on which human life and biodiversity depend.”

This is unsustainable. We can’t keep consuming more and breeding more indefinitely. We don’t have 2 Earths.  Yet industrial civilization plunders on. Unrelentingly. Distracted. Self-absorbed. Mechanically. Obliviously. Disconnected from reality. There is only so much longer business as usual anthropocentric hegemony that has no regard for our Great Mother’s energetic balance can continue.” -OSJ

Written By Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

A study published in the journal Nature has revealed an alarming new climate feedback loop: As Earth’s atmosphere continues to warm from anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), soils are respirating carbon — that is, carbon is being literally baked out of the soils.

Microorganisms in soil generally consume carbon, then release CO2 as a byproduct. Large areas of the planet — such as Alaska, northern Canada, Northern Europe and large swaths of Siberia in Russia — have previously been too cold for this process to occur. However, they are now warming up, and soil respiration is happening there. As a result, these places are contributing far, far more CO2 and methane to the atmosphere than they ever have.

This phenomenon is already evidenced by a recently released study led by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which Truthout reported on recently.

This means that even if all human fossil fuel emissions were halted immediately, soils would continue to release approximately the same amount of CO2 and methane emissions as the amount produced by the fossil fuel industry during the mid-20th century.

Another Tipping Point

The study showed that the uptick in soil respiration is set to add between 0.45 and 0.71 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 to the atmosphere each year between now and 2050.

Disturbingly, humans are already adding between 3.2 to 3.55 ppm of CO2 to the atmosphere as of this year, which is the first time CO2-increase rates have broken records two years in a row.

The amount of CO2 that soil respiration will add to the atmosphere — on top of what humans are directly adding — is significant.

Climate feedback loops, sometimes referred to as positive feedback loops, runaway feedback loops, or amplifying feedback loops, are important to understand if we are to truly comprehend the nature of ACD. Many feedback loops are already in play, and more are coming into being on a regular basis.

For example, when atmospheric warming caused by fossil fuel emissions leads to the melting of Arctic sea ice, the reflectivity lost by disappearing sea ice allows more solar radiation to heat the Arctic Ocean, which then causes more sea ice to melt. This is perhaps the most well-known climate feedback loop.

The discovery of the soil feedback loop intensifies concerns about our rapidly warming climate. Increasing soil respiration — also known as “the compost bomb” — is set to add between 30 and 55 billion tons of extra CO2 to the atmosphere over the next 35 years, as Earth’s temperature warming approaches 2C.

Moreover, the study categorizes its findings as conservative estimates. In fact, the Earth could well see as much as four times the amount of CO2 (2.7 ppm) from soil respiration alone if the phenomenon becomes more wide-ranging than expected. And given that scientific predictions rarely keep pace with how rapidly the planet is changing, it would not be surprising if the prevalence exceeds expectations.

Catastrophic for Humanity

Dr. Thomas Crowther, the lead researcher on the soil study, told The Independent that, given that ACD is happening more rapidly than expected, the impending climate-denying Trump presidency could well be “catastrophic for humanity.”

He is not exaggerating: A lot can happen in four years, when it comes to climate disruption. In fact, every year makes quite a difference. The study shows that at a minimum, 0.45ppm of CO2 will be leached from northern soils every year between 2016 and 2050, with about 1C worth of atmospheric warming during that period.

The study also shows that if Earth is warmed to 2C above preindustrial baseline temperature levels by 2050, which is essentially a certainty in the best-case scenario, then an average of approximately 0.71ppm of CO2 will be released from soils every year through the year 2050.

The Earth has already warmed by more than 1C above preindustrial baseline temperatures. It is unlikely that human civilization can survive warming of 3.5C or higher, as humans have never lived on a planet that warm. However, we are currently on track for a minimum warming of 5 to 7C, or worse, by 2100.

“It’s fair to say we have passed the point of no return on global warming, and we can’t reverse the effects,” Dr. Crowther told The Independent when the study was released. “But we can certainly dampen them.”

Other climate scientists emphasized the importance of using the soil study to inform measures to mitigate the damage of ACD. Professor Ivan Janssens with the University of Antwerp called the study “very important,” because the response of soils to ACD could well be one of the largest sources of uncertainty in climate modelling.

“We urgently need to develop a global economy driven by sustainable energy sources and start using CO2, as a substrate, instead of a waste product,” Dr. Janssens told The Independent. He suggested that if significant progress is made on this front, it may still be possible to avoid catastrophic warming.