Nick S. writes: This article about the forestry challenges of responding to and mitigating climate change is worth reading. It's long, and occasionally lays it on a little thick, but was a sobering reminder of all of the work implied in the term, "adaptation."
There have been a couple of articles recently about the political challenges of reducing carbon usage and I've been seeing more comments along the line of, "thankfully technology may save us."* I am very glad that there are reasons for optimism, and this article is a good reminder that the challenge we face is not only being able to sustain infrastructure for humans but every other species:
Left to their own devices, forests migrate on a near-geologic scale. But people have been moving trees for our own purposes for thousands of years. We've done this in small doses, such as planting trees in city gardens or backyards for shade and aesthetic delight, or planting a wall of cypress along a tract of farmland to block the wind. We've also moved trees on a far more substantial scale, to a range of outcomes. While apple trees originated in Central Asia, early settlers brought seeds to the Americas and infamously scattered them throughout what is now the United States, where apple pie is now both a signature dessert and a cultural symbol.
Such interventions haven't always panned out so well: In 1895, the emperor of Ethiopia ordered the planting of fast-growing eucalyptus trees imported from Australia so people would have abundant firewood. But the thirsty eucalyptus crowded out existing trees, and parched once-fertile farmlands. (Eucalyptus trees are also invasive transplants in California, though they have also become critical nesting habitat for the threatened monarch butterfly--the web of interconnectivity is a tangled one.) And in 1904, US foresters began planting Japanese chestnuts to cultivate for wood, which brought chestnut blight to their North American cousins ill-equipped to fight the fungus; by 1940, most adult chestnuts were gone. The movement of trees, scientists caution, must be done with extreme care--and based on history, many are hesitant to do it for fear of throwing off the delicate balance of an existing landscape.
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So how to safely move a population to a new habitat--and to know how far to do it, and how fast? "If I knew the answer to that," Forest Service scientist Kas Dumroese told me, "I'd have the Nobel Prize." To find out which plants are best suited to which environments, scientists tend to use something called the Common Garden Study, which, like the artificial forest I visited in Oregon, plants flora from a wide range of locations--and thus adapted to a range of conditions--on a single plot to study their response and growth patterns. What scientists have found in most assisted migration garden studies is that the trees that do best are those whose parents and ancestors thrived in similar terrain.
If you move a population of trees adapted to a particular climate too slowly, it's bound to succumb to the hotter, drier conditions brought on by climate change. But move it too fast to a colder, wetter climate, and the trees might fall victim to too much frost, or to root rot in damp conditions that make them vulnerable to pests. Shifting trees that can handle midcentury climate projections--so new forests are adapted to the temperatures of roughly 2040 to 2070--seems to be the Goldilocks balance that will ensure a population's survival.
But there are other important considerations, including the symbiotic relationship between soil fungi and trees. Simard, the author of the recent bestselling book Finding the Mother Tree, explains that, while trees will likely find some symbiotic mycelium as long as they are moved within their species' existing range, that mycelium might not be the best adapted for their needs. Trees can't be seen as growing in isolation, but need to be considered in terms of the overall health and relationships of a larger ecosystem. "There's a lot we don't know," she told me. Assisted migration "is risky, but, you know, we also have no choice. We have to start experimenting with this. We have to start moving things around and watching and seeing how they do."
* For example, "But then technology came in and changed the game. Scientists and engineers worked very very hard and made solar power, wind power, and batteries a lot cheaper and better. As a result, decarbonization no longer involves a large amount of economic sacrifice -- just a lot of willpower and investment."
Heebie's take: This is a tough one for me to focus on without becoming overwhelmed and emotionally flooded. So no take for you!
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This is intended to be our system for checking in on imaginary friends, so that we know whether or not to be concerned if you go offline for a while. There is no way it could function as that sentence implies, but it's still nice to have a thread.
Episode Kobe one.
So, Bay Areans*, what's an atmospheric river and why do you have one? And are you staying safe and dry?
*Took all my willpower not to write Bay Aryans, but I didn't want to offend on top of a bomb cyclone.
Ace has some reading app that they use at school. She told me that they read pairs of fables - the original old fashioned version and then a modern version of the same story. Then she said she had two questions.
1. One story only had a modern version and she wanted to know the old fashioned version. Two girls are walking down a street and a red shiny sports car pulls up, and offers to give them a ride. One girl declines and thinks it's a bad idea. The other girl gets in. Later that night, the safe girl is told that the driver has been kidnapping children. Fortunately the other girl was able to escape. Hooray, the end!
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What on earth?! There's no old-fashioned version, right? Ace thought the moral was something like, "Don't judge a book by its cover." I thought it was "Be sure to perpetuate frightening urban legends to children in quasi-sanctioned ways."
(I mean there are certainly plenty of grim Grimm stories where children get eaten or eviscerated or whatever. But this particular flair just leads me to believe that the old-fashioned fable was actually an '80s episode of Unsolved Mysteries.)
I said something to the kids about "Why on earth are we making kids read scary stories about someone collecting kids just to murder them?
Ace and Pokey both responded, "No one got murdered! They were just kidnapped!" which reminded me how little context kids have for the folklore and panics of previous generations. They had no concept of ransom or death or anything beyond "Sometimes adults take children just to have them, for their collection."
2. The old-fashioned version: A cat and a monkey are roasting nuts. The monkey tells the cat to go get them out of the fire. The cat gets them out. The monkey eats them all and the cat has burnt its paws.
The modern version: Two kids are taking a test. One kid tells the other one to go carry out some sort of task. While that child is away, the first one takes a photo of the second kid's test, and then uses the photo to cheat off them.
So, Ace asked, what was the moral? I have no idea! But lo, the fable exists and goes roughly as she explained. (I am guessing most of you know this fable because you've read everything already.)
Wikipedia on the lesson to learn:
No more are the princes, by flattery paid
For furnishing help in a different trade,
And burning their fingers to bring
More power to some mightier king,
ah, okay. Maybe you have to learn it as a child in order to really get it.
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I think this line (from this otherwise unremarkable article) hits on the heart of things:
These mandates may be making it possible for those people previously frozen in fear to cross the line, but in a face-saving manner.
It is so important to give people an exit strategy when you want to backing them into a corner. Incentives are good but not always better than getting a path to save face. (Not Republican officials in a race to the bottom. Just regular people who have odious views.)