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Patterns of Climate Change (continued)

Deforestation and Perturbed Insect Populations

The populations of some insects have already been profoundly altered by global warming. No one anticipated the impact of the current warming on the pine beetle population. Record numbers of beetle larvae are surviving through the increasingly mild winter months. These pine beetle pests are now destroying huge tracts of boreal forest worldwide. In the Canadian Province of British Columbia (video), a staggering 80% of all the pine forests are already dead. Similar events are taking place in the boreal forests in Alaska and Siberia.

(From Mount Fraser, British Columbia by Themightyquill)

The red beetle blighted trees in this picture illustrate how insect infestations, along with drought and other stresses, are killing off boreal forests. In a vicious cycle (video), these dead trees are now acting as a major new source of atmospheric carbon.

The pine beetle (video) is also rapidly destroying trees in the Western United States. The trees in beautiful Colorado are now dying or are dead. The pine trees are in collapse in many counties and the Aspen are also dying. A confluence of factors, including reduced precipitation and beetle pest infestation have converged together to destroy forests across the region. The trees at Lake Tahoe in California are dying and the trees across the state are highly stressed and decimated by wildfires.

From the cedars of Alaska to the palms of Florida, from the maples of Canada and New England to the pines and incense cedars of the Sierra Nevada, the incidents of death and decline are increasing at an alarming rate........When we destroy forests, we destroy not only the trees that had occupied the landscape, but possibly future trees as well. Replacement forests of second-growth trees are less able to resist drought and cold, adventitious pests, and diseases, because they grow only in simplified stands, not in the vigorous, complex forest ecosystems that evolved naturally over eons. Charles E. Little

Rapid deforestation in the Amazon is attributed to a combination of clear cutting and climate change. Indonesian and African rainforests are also heading for collapse. This massive deforestation represents a dangerous loss of carbon sinks and now constitutes 25% of the global carbon dioxide emission imbalance.

The sobering reality is that as global average temperatures rise above "safe" levels, an increasing percentage of the planet becomes inhospitable for tree growth. In the tropics, as temperatures rise, many species of trees will struggle and fail to thrive. Some regions now forested in the temperate zones will be reduced to sage brush and other desert plants. The great boreal forests of Canada, Siberia and Alaska are now dying of beetle kill. The rapidity of this event has given the region's trees little time to adapt and they face a very uncertain future as the planet warms.

Catch 22 for reforestation:
Newly replanted trees may not survive for long
as hardiness zones shift rapidly poleward.

With the clear cutting and land-use abuse taking place around the world, there is an urgent need to plant more trees. Keeping newly planted trees healthy will be very challenging as we face ongoing radical shifts in hardiness zones. If you hit the play play button to view the animation, you saw that hardiness zones jumped northward across whole states between 1990 and 2006, a very brief 16 years. A tree that might thrive in zone 4 or 5, might die in zone 6 or 7. Such radical shifts in climate zones over such short periods of time can obviously undermine the health of newly planted trees or forests. A precondition of dealing with deforestation has to be a stabilization of climate change. To achieve that stabilization, we have to begin to seriously limit carbon emission from fossil fuels immediately.

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