One of many recurring puzzles on the climate file is the growing hostility of environmentalists to nature. For instance (h/t Patrick Moore) Bill Gates is helping fund a scheme to bury trees to keep “carbon” out of the air. So now even the natural forest cycle of birth, growth, life, death and decay is a threat to this brittle pristine thing called the “environment” that used to be so dynamic. (But what if buried “biomass” turns into, gulp, oil?) Burying trees to circumvent the disastrous natural cycle is a bit like the plan to electrocute the oceans to make them more alkaline so they absorb more CO2. You can call it a plan to “supercharge the ocean’s role as a carbon sink to help limit global warming” but it comes down to the oceans being all wrong. Wrong in their chemistry, wrong in their role in the carbon cycle, wrong in their biology. And don’t get us started on the proposal genetically to engineer humans to make us allergic to meat, omnivorous primates apparently being another of nature’s greatest mistakes. What is it about the actual environment that you do like, again?
In a similar vein the New York Times emails us that “Forests are no longer our climate friends” and instead, the related article whines, “what is perhaps most striking about this year’s fires is that despite their scale, they are merely a continuation of a dangerous trend: Every year since 2001, Canada’s forests have emitted more carbon than they’ve absorbed.” We need plastic and metal “trees” with vacuum attachments or something. Professor Filostrato, call your office. Especially as NASA’s Kimberley Miner may be unable to speak on the phone as she “reveals how she sobbed from ‘CLIMATE GRIEF’ after learning blue oaks would die in her native California”. Relax. Those wretched oaks were probably killing the planet anyway.
Incidentally her piece is in Nature, whose Editor-in-Chief just lambasted climate scientist Patrick T. Brown for saying he had to exaggerate the role of climate change in forest fires in order to get his research published in Nature. Apparently she can’t understand why anyone would think Nature harbours such biases.
To be sure, apparently you’re no longer cool if you don’t have some climate-anxiety-related syndrome. And we don’t want to spoil anyone’s lugubrious fun. Not even that of the writer in the New York Times who wants us to know “Why I bring up climate change on first dates.” (We will not however be asking her to dinner and a harangue.)
At the risk of appearing indifferent to the misery of others, in this case a climate scientist enduring an emotional crisis over the looming extinction of blue oaks, we have to note that we are not talking extinction. Oh no. Just that:
“it was probably too late for half the blue oaks affected by California’s drought in the region in which we were working. Because of years of ongoing drought, many of the trees would not recover from the long-term water loss and would die. The next morning, I sat outside our science team meeting and cried.”
Her tears, perhaps, will irrigate the ground and save a tree. But even if not, as we have pointed out repeatedly, California has records of alternating massive floods and droughts for at least 200 years, and doubtless has experienced the same for as long as there has been a California. Is drought a new thing for California trees? Hardly. And here we add reassuringly that during those droughts, half the blue oaks in various regions faded to black. Why reassuringly? Because the rest did not, and the species continued to flourish.
Back in 1850, during one of those great California floods, confronted with the ruthlessly amoral implications of Darwinian theory, British poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson lamented this vision of “nature red in tooth and claw”. And also, we could add, blue in storm and flood, brown and crackly in plant, and just plain gross in praying mantis.
The great California floods of 1850-52 gave way to another drought by 1856, then three years later even worse heat and drought, followed by a deluge in December 1859 during which at one point a foot of rain fell in one 24-hour period. But surely scientists, especially those who subscribe to a materialist conception of the cosmos, grasp that not all the little turtles make it to the ocean. Where indeed are the Smilodons of yesteryear?
Unfortunately, it’s all getting to be too much for some people. As Miner recounts:
“A friend sat with me and explained that she had just recovered from an episode of extreme climate grief brought about by studying rapidly changing terrestrial ecosystems.”
OK, we ourselves may have shed a tear for the dinosaurs, and even the woolly mammoth. But back to the science. Stuff dies. Wolves eat bunnies. Or bunnies escape and wolves starve. Even their puppies. Very sad. But not the stuff of nervous breakdowns, surely.
Ah but this time it’s our fault. See “Even within my lifetime, the climate system has changed noticeably”. No, wait. We don’t see. The formidable Dr. Miner (she has a black belt among other credentials) doesn’t say when exactly she got her PhD but it appears to be fairly recent, so her “lifetime” is probably about 35 years thus far.
So at least she’s older than her dog. But it also means she thinks climate change hit back around 1990. And is still hitting. And will hit more. And the blue oaks will get it, along with the penguins.
Unless of course they are adapted to the desert in which they find themselves growing, and while some will perish, others will seed somehow and regrow. Fortunately help is on the way, in the form of information. Bjorn Lomborg recently tweeted:
“Study shows that people who possess more overall environmental knowledge or climate-specific knowledge experience less climate change anxiety (and less knowledge, more anxiety)”.
So he asked “Can we go back to educating our kids instead of scaring them?” Evidently scientists need it to, so we did a bit of research in the hopes of making Dr. Miner feel better. As in we Googled, and Wikipedia gave us this reassuring information:
“Quercus douglasii, known as blue oak, is a species of oak endemic to California, common in the Coast Ranges and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. It is California’s most drought-tolerant deciduous oak, and is a dominant species in the blue oak woodland ecosystem. It is occasionally known as mountain oak and iron oak.”
Whoa, dude. California’s most drought-tolerant deciduous oak. Here we learned something too, as yes there are evergreen oaks as well. But it’s not about us. It’s about assuring the bereaved biologist that blue oak is “a dominant species”. It’s going to make it. Indeed, its conservation status is that happy bright green circle known as “Least concern”. And “Individual trees over 500 years old have been recorded.” We should be so lucky. (Moreover it seems resistant to a disease called “sudden oak death” whose name leaves little to the imagination.)
Further research even suggests that the fire cycle is important to the “recruitment” of new blue oak. Can you imagine? Also, oak trees generally appear to date back at least 55 million years, to the “Paleocene-Eocene boundary” when it was way hotter than today (the Paleocene having “a global average temperature of about 24–25 °C (75–77 °F), compared to 14 °C (57 °F) in more recent times” according again to Wikipedia, for all those journalists prone to writing “hottest ever” without blushing) and there was way more atmospheric CO2. Like many plants, though increasingly few climate scientists, they seem to enjoy warmth and plant food.
So do not cry us an atmospheric river. Nature already has those. And it’s OK. It’s had them since the invention of wind. Nature is blue in oak and water. We’re going to make it.