Imagine if the death rate in your neighborhood doubled. You’d notice.
Scientists are concerned by the ominous results of a 50-year study of forests in the Western United States that finds the tree death rate has doubled since 1991. But why? For once, loggers aren’t to blame. This isn’t industry. This isn’t like anything that’s happened before – not an isolated incident or something reasonably blamed on a unforeseen event. It’s widespread, it’s conclusive, and all signs point to global warming.
Many of the world’s important forests are threatened by climate change and deforestation. Forests are vital global carbon sinks, making their preservation all the more important in light of global warming trends. For example, the Boreal Forest of North America is so vast, it is considered the “lungs” of the planet.
The scientists, operating with the U.S. Geological Survey, monitored trees for generations, carefully counting them by hand. They found that the death rate of trees increased across species and was not related to other factors, such as normal forest growth patterns, fire suppression, or pollution. Pines do appear to be the most sensitive, however. Equally troubling is the fact that it appears these dying trees release more carbon than they absorb.
It’s another sign of widespread ecosystem collapse, say scientists. Other indicators include:
Early spring arrival, especially in Europe and parts of Asia. This affects people as well as animals.
Spreading disease, such as malaria, in many impoverished areas of the world.
Carbon dioxide levels are at the highest they have been in over 650,000 years. One of the scientists in the study says, -The concern here is that these might be early warning signs of dieback.” Western forests have also been weakened by beetles that typically infest forest tracts in warmer climates.
Says marine physicist Tim Barnett, who studies beetles, “it is perfectly reasonable to assume that this problem is going to get worse, not better.”
Having spent most of my childhood in the Cascades of Washington State and the Siskiyous of Northern California, the thought of these magnificent forests dying is surreal.
What are some things we can do?
– Take overall lifestyle steps to reduce carbon dioxide and methane emissions. Travel less, downsize to a more efficient car, eat meat less often, perform a home energy audit, shop less, buy secondhand, green and/or refurbished jewelry, furniture and electronics, eat local food when you can, and purchase carbon credits when you do travel. You don’t have to give up your SUV or subsist on tofu, but even focusing on reducing consumption helps.
– Petition to protect forests in threatened zones, such as the Heritage forests in Oregon.
– Only buy wood products from sustainably harvested forests.
– Get involved with an environmental group you trust. Whether it’s the Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation or National Wildlife Foundation, take a little time to learn about issues that are important to you, and consider volunteering your time to help.
– Spread the word. If you live in Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico or another western state, send this article to your state representatives and encourage your friends to do the same.