Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Blue stain blues

Back when I lived in Montana, environmentalists friends would build houses and remodel with "bluestain" pine because it was beautiful to look at, and only available from small scale local mills. Now the mountain pine beetle epidemic has increased its availability by perhaps one or two orders of magnitude. This NYT article and accompanying video clip is excellent coverage of the problem.

This is just one of the first of the great landscape transformations that will accompany climate change. Embedded in the article we see what will become to be seen as the canonical and characteristic elements of a human systems problem in climate ecology:

1) exponential change, due to positive feedback loops intrinsic to the system;

2) inability of some people to anticipate change or adapt to it, particularly evidenced by the surprise and dismay of some community members who expected either no change or only linear change, not exponential change;

3) the much better adaptability of some others, including the ability to re-organize systems of value around what is really important;

4) tipping points that harbor potentially much greater danger, in this case from catastrophic wildfire;

5) the notion of "assisted migration," in this case by planting other species not affected by pine to provide seed trees for forest biodiversity;

6) the connections, sometimes including positive or accelerating feedback loops, of the local or regional subsystem to the greater global climate system. In this case the dying forests contribute more carbon to the atmosphere than live ones, accelerating change, and wildfire is one potential method for the carbon to be released.

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