Yesterday Guin and I went snowboarding in Vail, Colorado. We took highway I-70 west from Golden towards all the slopes and through the heart of the Colorado Rockies. I’ve been making this trip countless times throughout the years but more often during the winter snow season of course. Normally we’ve been fortunate to see beautiful snow-capped peaks with long mountain slopes that are draped in deeply colored evergreen trees. For several years now this deep green cover has been holding steady against the mountain pine beetle, with the occasional patches of dead trees here and there. Yesterday, on my first drive of the season with clear weather I was appalled to see huge patches of orange dead trees and that this rich ecosystem is losing the battle against the destructive little insect called Dendroctonus ponderosae. For thousands of years the evergreen forests of Colorado and Wyoming have been protected by this highly destructive little pest by bitter cold temperatures in the heart of winter that killed off most of the pine beetles every year. With the milder temperatures of winter that these forests have experienced in the last decade, the pine beetle has been able to survive winters to spread and proliferate and kill incredible numbers of trees.
In 2006 it was estimated that the beetle had already killed 1 million acres of trees in Wyoming and Colorado and in 2008 that number is estimated to stand at 2 million acres. From Wikipedia entry about the pine beetle:
Climate change has contributed to the size and severity of the outbreak , and the outbreak itself may, with similar infestations, have significant effects on the capability of northern forests to remove greenhouse gas from the atmosphere.
So not only is Climate Change at the heart of this sea-change in American evergreen forests, but the effects of this blight will further exacerbate the impacts of Global warming. When driving through the mountains and seeing these huge expanses of dead and dying trees I can’t help but fear that the scenery will become completely barren in the years to come. If a few degrees of milder weather in the winter can have such devastating effects here in the middle of the USA, I can only imagine what wide reaching effects a few degrees can have on tropical coral reefs and marine habitats in general, especially coastal ones.
There is a strong culture of denial in western society: the spherical shape of the earth was scoffed at, Galileo was persecuted for saying the earth is not at the center of the universe, cigarettes are good for you, American schoolboards still object the teaching of evolution and now less than half of the American public believes that global climate change is related to human activities despite the mind-numbingly huge quantities of carbon dioxide we all produce each year. I don’t understand how we all love science when it delivers technology like the cars, the web, gene therapy and high powered reef aquarium lighting but a subset of our culture throws science out the window when it is trying to warn us of impending dangers. I can look around my local environment and see how a tiny warming is having a huge impact, one that is dramatically altering the landscape. Regardless of what you believe, the science of global climate change caused by human activity is stronger than it’s ever been.
I make no apologies for sitting on top of this soap box this morning however we will promise not to make a habit of it. Normally we really try to steer clear of politically charged topics but once in a while I feel it is important to bring these world changing topics to light. No one is asking anyone to completely change their way of life. However, we all have some room to improve the efficiency of our reef aquariums. Whether it’s using a little lower powered lighting, running the lights for 10 hrs instead of 11, doing a water change every 5 weeks instead of four, getting locally grown frags instead of having them shipped across the country. Although there has long been a movement to make our livestock more sustainably produced, there is a whole other aspect of reefing that has a lot of room for improvement. If we all begin making baby steps in a more energy efficient direction, our efforts in the hobby can trickle up to our daily lives, making our local and global environment all the better for it.