Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Our Dying Forests

(I posted this in a slightly different form at Daily Kos yesterday.)

Subhankar Banerjee has a post up on Huffington Post in support of Barbara Boxer's re-election campaign in California.
Banerjee's post is a good one, but the best part was sending us to his new website.

After the U.S. Senate killed the climate bill in late July, many of us were disappointed (but not surprised). We pointed our fingers to what went wrong and why our climate movement failed, but then we got to work to figure out how to move forward. Just a few days ago I founded that you can check out.

What a gifted writer! And what a story he has brought together about our dying forests, both here in North America and around the world.

The first post on this site is an essay by Banerjee, entitled 'Could This Be A Crime? U.S. Climate Bill Is Dead While So Much Life On Our Earth Continues To Perish'.

He begins by describing pinyon pine mortality around Sante Fe, New Mexico, over the last decade.
...In many areas of northern New Mexico, including Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Española, and Taos, 90 percent of mature piñons are now dead.

Under normal climate conditions, bark beetles live in harmony with their environment, laying their eggs in dead or weakened trees. However, when healthy trees become stressed from severe and sustained drought, they become objects of attack: the beetles drill into their bark, laying eggs along the way, and killing their host. Milder winter temperatures have ensured more of them survive the winter, and warmer summer temperatures have reduced the life cycle duration of the beetles from two to one year, and subsequently their numbers have exploded in recent years.

...During my childhood in India, I was fascinated by the detective stories of Satyajit Ray’s Feluda series. Because of the forest devastation I witnessed daily, I took on the role of a self–assigned visual detective of a geographic region bound by a 5–mile radius around our home. I walked again and again the same three paths, each no more than 2 miles long.

Banerjee provides a link to a photo journal of the 'scene of the crime' from these regular walks, and also describes pinyon decline in prose. He's particularly eloquent in describing Native American use of pinyon pine nuts, and in reviewing the plight of pinyon forests in the last century. In addition to the threat from climate change, pinyon-juniper forests were threatened by development in the late 1800's and 1900's. P-j forests were cleared for ranching, an act which he calls 'ecocultural vandalism.'

Banerjee writes with similar eloquence about his travels to forests in the western U.S., in the Yukon, and the Siberian taiga. He adds notes about forest declines in India and Spain that he's heard about from colleagues and friends. The thread that binds these far-flung places is that decline of forests around the globe can be attributed to the same factors that led to decline of the pinyon-juniper forests in the southwest U.S.: drought and increasing temperatures as effects of climate change intensify.

He points out that our 3 largest global carbon 'sinks', the forests which sequester carbon in their growth [Siberian taiga, North American boreal forest, and Amazon rain forests], are declining in their ability to function.

He concludes with this thought:
Global warming is a crisis: for all lands, for all oceans, for all rivers, for all forests, for all humans, for all birds, for all mammals, for all little creatures that we don’t see... for all life. We need stories and actions from every part of our earth. So far, global warming communications have primarily focused on scientific information. I strongly believe that to engage the public, we need all fields of the humanities. It is to this end that I founded ClimateStoryTellers.
Climate Story Teller indeed. Please give him a read.

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