Why Climate Change Might Mean Colder Weather

1677 River Thames ~ Abraham Hondius The History Channel

1677 River Thames
~ Abraham Hondius
The History Channel

For a long time I have not used the term “global warming” but have preferred to think in terms of “climate change” as a constant of life on earth regardless of whether man’s behavior effects it or not (though I have to believe that human behavior has its effects for I believe that everything is inter-related).

Last Sunday night my family watched a dvd from The History Channel about The Little Ice Age. This is not ancient history lost in the mists of time. This is history that most of us have learned some portion of in our schooling but I had no idea that sudden and brutal climate change was the underlying factor for so many events that I had other explanations for. I’ve long realized that climate change happens all the time on this planet. I don’t doubt that the behavior of such an overwhelming presence on the planet as human beings are would affect our planet’s overall qualities including its weather related qualities.

It was surprising to know that such diverse occurrences as the Irish Potato Famine, which peoples originally migrated into the United States of American and why, the “Black Death” bubonic plague, the fall of the Ming Dynasty with the breach of the Great Wall by Manchurian invaders giving rise to the Qing dynasty in China, the Salem Witch trails and burnings, the French Revolution, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein book and the deaths of thousands of Napoleon’s troops in the Russian invasion are all effects of a 500 year long “Little Ice Age”.

Napoleon Retreating from Moscow in 1812 ~ The History Channel

Napoleon Retreating from Moscow in 1812
~ The History Channel

It is staggering to realize that it only took a couple of degrees change to bring it on or how quickly such a “flip” in climate can occur. This is not a rare occurrence in the history of the Earth’s climate. In his article, Thom Hartmann describes The Great Conveyor Belt including the Gulf Stream, undersea rivers that move currents of cold salty water from the Atlantic ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Although much of Europe and Scandinavia are at the same latitude as Alaska and permafrost-locked parts of northern Canada and central Siberia, their climate is more similar to that of the United States than northern Canada or Siberia.

That warmth is the result of ocean currents that bring warm surface water up from the equator into northern regions that would otherwise be so cold that even in summer they’d be covered with ice. In the North Atlantic Ocean salty, cool waters settle to the bottom of the sea and then flow south down to and around the southern tip of Africa, where this river finally reaches the Pacific Ocean. The slightly lower level of the Atlantic ocean than the Pacific ocean draws in a strong surface current of warm, fresher water from the Pacific to replace the outflow of the undersea river from the Atlantic. This warmer, fresher water loops around North America where it’s known as the Gulf Stream, and ends up off the coast of Europe.

Map of  The Great Conveyor Belt

Map of
The Great Conveyor Belt

Amazingly, this Great Conveyor Belt is the only thing between comfortable summers and a permanent ice age for Europe and the eastern coast of North America. Only since the 1980s have scientists begun to understand the transition time from icy to warm back to icy. According to Hartmann, in studying ice core samples from Greenland “scientists were shocked to discover that the transitions from ice age-like weather to contemporary-type weather usually took only two or three years. Something was flipping the weather of the planet back and forth with a rapidity that was startling”.

These weather patterns are part of a delicately balanced teeter-totter, which can exist in one state or the other, but transits through the middle stage almost overnight. What brings on these sudden shifts are the warm-water currents of the Great Conveyor Belt shutting down. Once the Gulf Stream is no longer flowing, it only takes a year or three for the last of the residual heat held in the North Atlantic Ocean to dissipate into the air over Europe, and then there is no more warmth to moderate the northern latitudes. When the summer stops in the north, the rains also stop around the equator so that at the same time Europe is plunging into an Ice Age, the Middle East and Africa are being ravaged by drought and wind-driven firestorms.

This is weather that is NOT for the faint-hearted !!! If the Great Conveyor Belt, which includes the Gulf Stream, were to stop flowing today, the result would be sudden and dramatic. Winter would set in for the eastern half of North America and all of Europe and Siberia, and never go away. Within three years, those regions would become uninhabitable and nearly two billion humans would starve, freeze to death, or have to relocate.

Most scientists involved in research on this topic agree that the culprit is global warming, melting the icebergs on Greenland and the Arctic icepack and thus flushing cold, fresh water down into the Greenland Sea from the north. When a critical threshold is reached, the climate will suddenly switch to an ice age that could last minimally 700 or so years, and maximally over 100,000 years.

OK, so what’s the GOOD NEWS ? There is some . . . there is “hope” (except whatever is beyond what human beings are able to control at all – like a giant meteor striking the Earth or a coronal mass ejection from the sun !!). According to a very recent article in New York Magazine by Jonathan Chait, “There is good news. And not just incremental good news but transformational good news, developments that have the potential to mitigate the worst effects of climate change to a degree many had feared impossible.” He goes on to say “The world is suddenly responding to the climate emergency with — by the standards of its previous behavior — astonishing speed.”

Rail Cars loaded with Coal

Rail Cars loaded with Coal

A quick bold print snapshot tells us that Coal usage has declined 21% since 2007 and that the number of operational coal-powered electric generating plants has dropped from 523 in 2009 to 323 in 2015. I recently heard a bit on NPR about the railroads in Kansas City. Only 10 years ago, “… railroads couldn’t hire people fast enough. They couldn’t lease locomotives fast enough. They couldn’t upgrade the infrastructure quick enough. They couldn’t build railcars to haul the stuff quick enough.” according to Zach Pumphery, a train engineer in Kansas City. Since 2008 the rail traffic has dropped by the equivalent of 14,000 train loads for coal production alone. According to Frank Morris, “The big reason is the power plants like this one in Kansas City are switching from coal to natural gas, which is cheap now and burns cleaner.”

More good news ? The cost of a watt of solar power has dropped from $101 in 1975 to $0.61 in 2015. Global solar power installations have grown from 10,000 in 2009 to 65,000 in 2015. China plans to add 18 gigawatts of solar energy capacity in 2015 alone (just compare that to the TOTAL gigawatt capacity in the US of 20). “Clean Energy” has added 125,000 NEW jobs since 2013. And the number of electric cars has increased from 200,000 in 2012 to 750,000 in 2015.

The “Good News” is a long article but well worth reading to avoid despair over the climate change challenges. A link to the full article can be found in the ~ Information Resources at the end of this blog – “The Sunniest Climate-Change Story You’ve Ever Read”.

Good News Clouds

~ Information Resources

“Little Ice Age, Big Consequences” posted by Jennie Cohen, Jan 31, 2013 posted at The History Channel – http://www.history.com/news/little-ice-age-big-consequences

“Napoleon’s Disastrous Invasion of Russia, 200 Years Ago” posted by Jesse Greenspan, June 22, 2012 at The History Channel – http://www.history.com/news/napoleons-disastrous-invasion-of-russia-200-years-ago

“How Global Warming May Cause the Next Ice Age…” posted by Thom Hartmann, Jan 30, 2004 at Common Dreams – http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0130-11.htm

“The Sunniest Climate-Change Story You’ve Ever Read” posted by Jonathan Chait, Sept 7, 2015 posted at New York Magazine – http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/09/sunniest-climate-change-story-ever-read.html

“Fall In Shipping Commodities Threatens Commercial Railroad Industry” by Frank Morris on All Things Considered aired on NPR Sept 2, 2015 – http://www.npr.org/2015/09/02/436944868/fall-in-shipping-commodities-threatens-commercial-railroad-industry


Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer


Natural Predators and an Emerald Prey

Woodpecker-Emerald Ash Borer

In Missouri’s natural rural forest stands, ash trees only comprise about 3% of total trees. This tree makes up a greater percentage of urban trees – 14% for trees lining residential streets up to 21% in urban parks. Visitors to the state’s parks are reminded not to bring firewood into the state from other states when camping out here and to burn whatever they obtain locally and not take it out of state when they leave. These measures act like a type of quarantine to reduce the likelihood of the insect’s arrival into any state employing similar measures.

Tiny Emerald Ash Borers (they are only 1/2″ long or about the diameter of a penny) have killed millions of ash trees since they were discovered in Michigan in 2002. The beetles in their larval form disrupt the flow of nutrients beneath the bark. Over time, they kill the tree. I believe I first became aware about the threat at our Missouri State Fair in 2012. We encourage and support a high degree of diversity for tree planting in our forest as a hedge against any potential insect infestation. In July 2008, a small Emerald Ash Borer infestation was discovered at a Wappapello Lake campground. That discovery put the potential threat in a nearby county to our own forest. Since then, the beetle has been detected in several other areas in the state.

Because the insect is a serious problem in states where it has been identified, concerned citizens and officials have looked for all the possible methods they might employ to eradicate the Emerald Ash Borer that is killing ash trees. Enter natural enemies of the Emerald Ash Borers. These include predaceous and parasitic insects and insect-pathogenic fungi. With the help of bird-watchers, researchers used information from Cornell University’s Project FeederWatch (for which my late mother in law was a long-time volunteer) and the US Forest Service to identify that the Red-bellied, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers and the White-breasted Nuthatch populations grew in areas of known Emerald Ash Borer infestations. This was not an impact caused by birds migrating into the area but a result of local birds flourishing and successfully rearing families because they had happily discovered an abundant new food source. Fortunately, BOTH bird species are natives here in our Missouri forest and that is reassuring for our own ability to come through the latest threat with our forest still in a good condition.

According to Walter D Koenig from Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology, the birds “can depredate quite a surprisingly high percentage of Emerald Ash Borer larvae in some forests” but that “It’s unlikely that this would be enough to stop the invasion, but it could certainly slow it down, at least in some areas.” We should not discount the tenacity of the most predaceous species on our planet, human beings, to continue to look for every way possible to turn back the tide of the latest invasive species to drawn our concern.

The arthropod predators of insects and mites include beetles, true bugs, lacewings, flies, midges, spiders, wasps, and predatory mites. Insect predators can be found throughout plants, including the parts below ground, as well as in nearby shrubs and trees. Some predators are specialized in their choice of prey, others are generalists. Some are extremely useful natural enemies of insect pests. Unfortunately, some prey on other beneficial insects as well as pests. Insect predators can be found in almost all agricultural and natural habitats. Each group may have a different life cycle and habits. Although the life history of some common predators is well studied, information on the biology and relative importance of many predatory species is lacking.

While research has found that commercial chemicals can be effective in controlling emerald ash borer infestations, “you just can’t afford to do that in the woods,” said Andrea Diss-Torrance, a forest entomologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. And some of us (this blog’s author and her husband definitely included !!) PREFER NOT to use chemicals on our land.

Chinese Stingless Wasp ~ photo credit  U.S. Dept of Agriculture

Chinese Stingless Wasp
~ photo credit
U.S. Dept of Agriculture

Two kinds of wasps are being used that will insert their egg-laying appendage through the bark and lay eggs in tunnels on, or in, emerald ash borer larvae. Once the eggs become larvae, they will eat the larvae of the beetle, Diss-Torrance said. Another species of wasps released at a different point in the seasonal cycle lay their eggs on or inside the eggs of the emerald ash borers when they are laying their eggs on the bark of ash trees. Once the larvae develop, they will eat emerald ash borer eggs.

The process will be invisible. “They are very tiny, and a lot of their work will be done inside or on the bark of a tree,” said Diss-Torrance. Entomologist Ken Raffa of the University of Wisconsin-Madison said that “these wasps have undergone intense scrutiny by the USDA to safeguard harm against native species.”

Sometimes, biological controls have interesting consequences. We have experienced the swarming of Asian lady beetles that will crawl into crevices of homes and that look alot like a native ladybug. These are believed to have first arrived in the United States in 1916. Southern farmers reintroduced them in the 1980s to control pecan aphids. We once captured the lady bugs emerging indoors here in Springtime and relocated them to a treasured replanted live Christmas tree that had developed an aphid infestation.

The wasps are reared in a US Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service laboratory in Brighton, Mich. To date, 180,000 wasps have been released in nine other states, including Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota under permits granted by the inspection service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The first wasps used in a field trial were in Michigan in July 2007. Tiny wasps have been used to control gypsy moth populations.

Traditional Potawatomi Black Ash Basket ~ Nancy Krogmann of Whitepigeon Baskets

Traditional Potawatomi Black Ash Basket
~ Nancy Krogmann of Whitepigeon Baskets

The Potawatomi Indians of Michigan have been on the front lines of the battle against the Emerald Ash Borer. Their native tradition includes making a cultural style of basket from Black Ash trees. For generations the Potawatomi Indians have used wood from Black Ash trees to weave baskets, teaching the skill to their young. For the tribe there is much more at stake than a side source of income. “Baskets made from Black Ash played a huge role in our tribe’s life and history. Back then, the baskets were like money. You traded for it, and got the things your needed to care for your family” says Jamie Brown a part-time basket weaver who is part Potawatomi.

She learned basket making from her parents. Her mother learned the skill from her uncle. So there are at least three generations of her family that have made these baskets. She adds that “It’s part of who we are. It’s cool to carry on the tradition and share it with the next generation.” The USDA Forest Service research team has discovered that the Potawatomi Indian’s traditional method of storing Black Ash logs by submerging them in rivers can effectively preserve the logs for basketmaking while simultaneously KILLING the Emerald Ash Borer larvae lurking under the bark which then prevents the emergence of adult beetles in spring. A study concluded that submerging the logs for 18 weeks during winter or 14 weeks in spring killed the insects and retained the wood’s quality for basketmaking.

Thus the arrival of the insect onto their lands was taken quite seriously by the tribe. While the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi tribe has used insecticide on its trees in the Hartford and Dowagiac regions, they are participating in the introduction of wasps as predators in their battle against the decimation of their ash trees by the Emerald Ash Borer.

Rachel Carson with Silent Spring bookcover

There are many potentially invasive insects listed at the Missouri Dept of Conservation’s page for the Emerald Ash Borer. Interestingly, they are all types of beetles from Asian Longhorn to June Bugs to Lady Beetles and more. A healthy and diverse forest with a healthy and diverse wildlife contingent will help any forest to survive the occasional arrival of undesirable insect guests. As Rachel Carson pointed out repeatedly, graphically and so very well in her 1962 book Silent Spring – natural deterents to such threats are the best approach and chemicals should be used only sparingly or not at all because any lethal chemical will have impacts beyond the intended targets. We have noted that after a large swarming of Lady Beetles here that over the years the quantity has naturally diminished to a point where their presence is less disagreeable. Just like the weather, insects have natural cycles that will seek balance with their environment over time.

Often too, the role of the beneficial predators has not been adequately studied. The use of chemicals is motivated by profits and easy availability. However, surveys of agricultural systems give an indication of the potential number and diversity of predators in a crop. For example, over 600 species of predators in 45 families of insects and 23 families of spiders and mites have been recorded in Arkansas cotton. Eighteen species of predatory insects (not including spiders and mites) have been found in potatoes in the northeastern United States. There may be thousands of predators per acre, in addition to many parasitoids. Although the impact of any one species of natural enemy may be minor, the combined impact of predators, parasitoids, and insect pathogens can be considerable.

It is also worth noting that the efforts of bird-watchers truly make a difference in helping to advance science. According to Koenig, data from Project FeederWatch and similar efforts “play a critical role in almost any attempt to assess the populations of animals at large geographic scales as well as the ecological consequences of an invasion such as that of the Emerald Ash Borer. Given the increasing prominence of such phenomena, citizen science projects such as FeedWatch and eBird are likely to play an even greater role in the future!”

~ Information Resources

“Emerald Ash Borer Management” posted at the Missouri Dept of Conservation website – http://mdc.mo.gov/your-property/your-trees-and-woods/tree-diseases-and-pests/emerald-ash-borer-management

“Emerald Ash Borers vs Woodpeckers (And Nuthatches) posted 07/21/14 by Meredith Mann at 10,000 Birds – http://10000birds.com/emerald-ash-borers-vs-woodpeckers-and-nuthatches.htm

“Biological Control – Predators” posted at Cornell University – College of Agriculture and Life Sciences – http://www.biocontrol.entomology.cornell.edu/predators.php

“Natural U.S. Predators Discover the Emerald Ash Borer” posted 08/21/13 at Wood Acres Tree Specialists – http://www.woodacrestree.com/blog/natural-u-s-predators-discover-the-emerald-ash-borer.html

“State to send wasp hit squad after emerald ash borers” by Lee Bergquist posted 05/05/11 in the Milwaukee-Wiscondin Journal Sentinel – http://www.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/121358734.html

“Pokagon Band uses wasps to save its trees, tradition” by Landa Bagley posted 08/28/15 in the South Bend Tribune – http://www.southbendtribune.com/news/local/pokagon-band-uses-wasps-to-save-its-trees-tradition/

“Basketmakers’ Tradition of Storing Black Ash Logs in Water Effective in Killing EAB” posted 07/18/15 in Native News Online – http://nativenewsonline.net/currents/basketmakers-tradition-of-storing-black-ash-logs-in-water-effective-in-killing-eab/

“Submergence of black ash logs to control emerald ash borer and preserve wood for American Indian basketmaking” posted 06/27/15 by the USDA Forest Service Research Station in Lansing MI available from Wiley Online Library – http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/afe.12122/pdf;jsessionid=0AADC6B0F5BCE545F153F2306C8EB2DA.f01t02

Information about volunteering to participate in Project FeederWatch is avaialable at The Cornell Lab – http://feederwatch.org/

eBird uses global tools to report and make information about birds accessible – learn more at eBird – http://ebird.org/content/ebird/about/


Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer