Rising temperature in concert with drought weaken trees. In turn, these stressful environmental conditions enable indigenous bark beetle populations to soar.
Water-starved spruce, pines and Douglas-firs cannot make gooey pitch, the natural defense mechanism against bark beetles. The stressed trees become sitting ducks as beetles feed, breed and kill millions of Californian trees.
Over the past 15 years or so, bark beetles have feasted on more than 30 billion trees across western North America. The once carpeted mountains across the West are no longer. Instead of billions of trees removing rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the dead trees across the West are adding to the heat-trapping atmospheric gases as they decompose.
With the loss of over 100 million mountain trees in the central and southern Sierra Nevada, and in the northern counties of Lassen, Modoc, Plumas and Siskiyou, one immediate concern in California is fresh water.
Mountain trees attract and hold winter snowfall. They slowly release spring melt water, which recharges valleys, rivers, watersheds and deltas. That forest-fed springtime melt is of paramount importance for the sixth biggest economy on the globe and its annual $47 billion agriculture business. California’s nuts, fruit and vegetables are crucial; they feed Americans each night.
The climate in crisis and its droughts and rising temperature are wreaking havoc elsewhere around the globe. In particular on the lungs of the planet, the Amazon rainforests, the largest remaining tropical rainforests on the globe.
Since 2005, the Amazon has experienced three, one in 100-year droughts. Not only have billions of trees died, but also the forest’s ability to create massive daily rain clouds has been compromised. That means the rainforests reflective shield, that helps keep Earth’s temperature regulated, is declining as dead, burnt-over forests are absorbing more solar radiation, giving off more heat, which, in turn, contributes to a rising global temperature.
Forests are invaluable living carbon dioxide warehouses. For every metric ton of ancient wood, the trees removed 1.5 metric tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They simultaneously released one metric ton of oxygen.
Globally, trees account for more than one of every three breaths of oxygen that 7.4 billion people and the Animal Kingdom need to breathe.
The recent loss of billions of pollution-filtering, oxygen-bearing trees, in combination with rising fossil fuel emissions has lead to 90 percent of the world’s population breathing polluted air. According to the World Health Organization, it is a public health emergency because heart attacks, strokes and lung cancer can all be caused by increased air-borne pollution, which is also known to cause acute respiratory infection.
In order for the human race to survive to mid-century, fossil fuel emissions must immediately come down.
The single biggest thing you can do is to switch your diet to a plant-based one. It’s healthy, water-smart, easy and compassionate. Animal agriculture contributes 18 percent to the climate-altering greenhouse gases. That’s more than the entire global transportation sector.
Tree scientist, Earth Doctor Reese Halter’s upcoming book is “Save Nature Now.”