Great reasons to heed warnings about global warming!

bcb77(7b)June 8, 2006

Climate Change: The View From the Patio

By Henry Fountain

The poison ivy plant has been shown to produce a more toxic poison when exposed to higher levels of carbon dioxide.

(June 4, 2006) -- Scientists had some sobering news last week about the potential impact of climate change, and it didn't come from the foot of a shrinking glacier in Alaska or the shores of a tropical resort where the rising ocean is threatening the beachfront bar.

It came from a North Carolina forest, at an experimental plot where scientists can precisely control the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air. Duke researchers discovered that when exposed to higher levels of CO2, the greenhouse gas released in ever-increasing quantities from human activity, poison ivy goes haywire.

The researchers found that the weedlike plant grew much faster under CO2 conditions similar to those projected for the middle of the century. The plant also produced a more noxious form of its rash-causing chemical: a more poisonous poison ivy.

"We were surprised to find it," said William H. Schlesinger, a Duke professor who took part in the study.

While much of the discussion of climate change focuses on the big picture of rising sea levels and increasing global air and ocean temperatures, the Duke finding helps explain the smaller picture. Climate change may be a real nuisance in the backyard.

Poison ivy is only the latest entry on a growing list of pests, both plant and animal, that may be nurtured. Japanese beetles, a voracious eater of turf and trees, live longer under higher levels of carbon dioxide. The ranges of other invasive insects, like fire ants, are expected to increase as the planet warms. Disease-carrying ticks have already been shown to have moved northward in Sweden. Mosquitoes could fly farther, too.

Poplars and birch trees are flowering earlier in New England, and some global warming forecasts predict that the region's sugar maples will eventually disappear. Elevated carbon dioxide has been shown to cause ragweed and certain pine trees to produce more pollen. "It's not a pretty picture," said Paul R. Epstein, associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School.

While there is still disagreement over the extent of global warming and its potential to reshape the environment, Dr. Epstein noted that many of the changes that he and other scientists are tracking fall outside that debate. "They're just a result of carbon dioxide stimulation, something that no one disputes is rising," he said.

Poison ivy isn't the only plant whose growth is encouraged by additional carbon dioxide. In the Duke experiments, Dr. Schlesinger said, the trees themselves show an increase in growth under carbon dioxide concentrations roughly 50 percent higher than current conditions. "If you're a timber products company, you look at that favorably," he said.

Dr. Epstein, who has studied ragweed growth under increased carbon dioxide, said, "There are some side effects for public health as well as ecology." More cases of hay fever are likely to result from the additional pollen from ragweed and pine cones; a study at the same Duke forest showed that both plants produced more pollen under higher levels of CO2.

Increases in asthma have already been detected, Dr. Epstein said, as pollen and other airborne allergens combine with particles from truck and bus exhaust to reach deep into the lungs.

Jonathan Patz, of the Nelson Institute and the department of population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin, summed up the situation. "The bottom line is that there are many major health outcomes that are highly sensitive to climate change," he said.

But climate change, Dr. Patz said, involves more than just temperature. Extreme weather harsher droughts on one end, and heavier rainfalls on the other  is expected to become more common.

That could lead to more outbreaks of disease. Dr. Patz led a study of episodes of waterborne disease in the United States in the second half of the 20th century and found that most of them followed periods of very heavy rainfall. One of the worst cases was an outbreak of parasitic infections in 1993 that sickened 400,000 people in Milwaukee. This was preceded by the heaviest rainfall month in the city in 50 years.

More intense rainfall "is something that water managers are going to have to take seriously," Dr. Patz said.

Extreme dry conditions can lead to disease as well. Dr. Epstein said that the 1999 outbreak in New York of West Nile virus coincided with a severe drought. The mosquito that transmits the virus between animals and humans finds partly evaporated, filthy pools of water more suitable for breeding.

Other insects flourish in the seesawing between extreme wet and extreme dry conditions, Dr. Epstein said. "That's exactly what the bugs love," he said. "They like it dried out, and then rain that floods an area" and creates pools of standing water for breeding. "In the Northeast, that's what gives you outbreaks of equine encephalitis," he said, referring to another mosquito-borne disease.

Mosquitoes are pests, of course, as are Japanese beetles, ticks and poison ivy, for that matter. "It's not at all surprising that pests get pestier" because of changing environmental conditions, said May R. Berenbaum, head of the department of entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who was involved in the Japanese beetle studies. "They have this opportunistic life history."

Thomas E. Lovejoy, president of the Heinz Center, a Washington research group on environmental policy, said: "When you're sending ripples through the ecosystem, I think what you do is tilt the balance a bit in favor of the pests. It begins to sound sort of biblical."

Mr. Lovejoy said that the increase in nuisance species, and the potential disappearance of other, much-prized species, may help raise awareness of climate change.

"The really strong reaction in the New England states about the prospect of losing the sugar maple is a great example of that," he said.

"Part of that is that it is a fall tourist magnet, and it gives us a little bit of syrup in the spring. But the reaction also is, 'Hey, this is part of where I live, and it won't be there.' "

Copyright © 2006 The New York Times Company.

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RANT !! I'm not one to stick my head in the sand and totally dismiss global warming, but I don't believe all the science has been accumulated and digested. Back in the 1960s, scientists were reporting in "THIS WEEK" magazine, the precursor of the Sunday "PARADE" magazine, that we were going into another ice age. There were several other articles during the same period predicting another ice age. This was back in the days before the EPA and air quality alerts. I sometimes believe the theory of global warning is a ploy by the ultra-environmentalist, tree hugging eco-terrorists to stampede us into stricter environmental protectionist laws. There was a mini-ice age from about 1400 through 1830. How do we know we aren't in a temporary warmng cycle which is just exacerbated by industral pollution. SUPPORT NUCLEAR POWER!

    Bookmark   June 8, 2006 at 11:32PM
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LOL! Wow, Terry, I didn't intend to post this to get ya all riled up. I'm a Yukon driving, gas swilling rebel myself, so I don't have any room to talk about global warming.

I was just heebed out at the thought of being overrun with poison ivy, japanese beetles, fire ants and ticks!!

    Bookmark   June 9, 2006 at 2:13PM
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bama35640(Z7A AL)

Well I just looked at the June data and only 1 record high for the month of June has been set since 1955 and that was in 1985. Record lows 18 of 30 have been set since 1955 so hummm! Now if it would only rain.

Bob in Morgan County

    Bookmark   June 9, 2006 at 4:51PM
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Carol Henry


    Bookmark   June 10, 2006 at 6:07PM
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Bcb77, a lot of my rant wasn't really a rant. It was my feeble attempt at some tongue-in-cheek humor. I'm just so tired of the hearing and reading the tree-huggers who are disseminating so much propaganda based on unfounded science. Sadder still, is that so many people accept the BS as truth because some celebrity said it on Access Hollywood or on Oprah. People have become too lazy to research and think themselves. Unfortunately, it seems as though the most gullible are the better educated among us. These are the folks who are destroying bio-habitats on the beach by buying condos there, and driving their 12 mpg SUVs to the beach. Do you think the colleges are teaching liberal tree hugging environmental theory? OMG, Al Gore has produced an environmental movie. Is he running [again] against Hillary? BTW, my SUV gets 23 mpg. LOL!

    Bookmark   June 11, 2006 at 10:50PM
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The poison ivy is coming to kill us all!!

I'm sick of the politics associated with "global warming" and don't understand why this is even a partisan issue. I'm in favor of using our technology and ingenuity to do a better job with industrial pollutants, even if they aren't contributing to global warming. You can't convince me that over 100 years after invention of the automobile that we couldn't have implemented cleaner and more efficient technologies to fuel them. We can do a whole lot better and be a whole lot cleaner than we are, while still having our SUV's! :) I believe we can have our cake and eat it too...

Not to mention the little minor benefit of advancing our fuel technologies -- we wouldn't have to care so much about the Middle East!

    Bookmark   June 12, 2006 at 3:16PM
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catbird(z7 AL)

Don't forget that plants give off oxygen, so all those plants that are stimulated by the increases in CO2 will give off more oxygen to counter the CO2 and give us more O2 to breathe. Nature has a way of balancing things out and there's an awful lot we don't understand yet. We certainly don't need to rush out and hamstring our industries to prevent something we're not sure is happening and of which we don't understand the cause anyway. Let's try sensible moderation.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2006 at 9:36PM
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catbird(z7 AL)

Actually, I should have said that all those plants will CONSUME more CO2 and produce more O2 and thus, perhaps, help swing the balance back the other way.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2006 at 9:44PM
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