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Josh Schlossberg is an investigative journalist, horror author and former environmental organizer who lives in Denver, Colorado. He is also the editor-in-chief of the Biomass Monitor, a subscription-supported publication that bills itself as “the nation’s leading publication investigating the whole story on bioenergy, biomass, and biofuels.” In early September 2018, I was visiting Colorado and met up with Josh. We talked biomass, “renewable” energy, wildfires, politics and activism. What follows is a partial transcript, edited for clarity.
Kollibri: This term, “biomass.” I’d just like to start there. I think a lot of people hear that word and they’re like, “Oh it’s got ‘bio’ in it, this is something good that’s going on,” and they move on. But it’s a more complicated issue.
“On the topic of so-called ‘invasive’ plants, we don’t have an axe to grind, but there sure is one we would like to dull.”
“The Troubles of ‘Invasive’ Plants” is a 21,000+ word project by Nicole Patrice Hill & Kollibri terre Sonnenblume for Macska Moksha Press. Excerpts are posted online (see below), but the full version is available only as a zine that you can download here free-of-charge.
By Nicole Patrice Hill & Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Changing plant communities at the local scale are symptomatic of the changing climate globally. Patterns of temperature, precipitation and seasonal timing are shifting, and with them, the patterns of birth, growth, reproduction—and survival—of all living creatures.
One widely observed syndrome is “season creep,” in which Spring has been arriving progressively earlier in the calendar year. This does not mean that every Spring starts sooner than the year before, but that an overall trend has been observed. For example, a survey of leafing, flowering and fruiting records from 1971-2000 for 542 plant species in 21 European Union countries showed advanced timing for 78% of the plants. According to other sources, “Spring events, such as blooming, frog breeding and migrant bird arrivals, have advanced 2.3 days per decade.” Winter snow cover duration—as measured from Fall to Spring—has decreased throughout the Northern Hemisphere since 1978. The earlier the snow melts, the less water is available during the hot summer, which affects a wide range of plants, animals and other life.
Winters have been warming. For example, the average February maximum temperature in the US rose by 0.3 F per decade from 1895-2016. This general rise in the “floor” has been accompanied by an increase in “extreme” events, such as “false Springs” when temperatures warm up enough to trigger life cycle stages in a variety of species. When more “normal” weather arrives later—or another extreme event follows, but this time on the cold side—a plant can be injured or even killed. A common example is when a hot spell causes fruit trees to flower, and then a frost—even just a “normal” one—zaps the flowers, thereby taking out that year’s harvest.
When we were farmers, we experienced how extreme events affect crops. In the Spring of 2013, periods of warmer-than-average weather alternated with periods of colder-than-average weather a few times, and the transitions between them were quick, as in 36 hours. Spring greens thriving in “normal” cool temperatures would go to flower prematurely when the temperature rapidly heated up. Then, warm weather crops would stall out when the temps fell. Annual vegetable plants don’t do well with such erratic conditions and we watched helplessly as our failure rate climbed.
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This is part two of a three part series. Part one can be found here.By Nicole Patrice Hill & Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Popular ideas are not always factual ideas.
When the subject is a particular “invasive” plant species, common assumptions about its undesirable impacts are not always scientifically documented or even true. Add to this an inherent bias in the field of invasion biology for interpreting nearly all effects of non-native plants as detrimental without considering the possibility of positive outcomes and you’re sure to get villains nearly every time.
Let’s look at two well-known examples of so-called “invasive” plants that are under the gun: Tamarisk, aka Saltcedar (Tamarix spp.) and Russian Olive, aka Oleaster (Elaeagnus angustifolia). In the western United States, these two trees are now the third and fourth most frequently occurring woody riparian plants, and the second and fifth most abundant species along rivers. To eradicate them would entail destroying a significant amount of healthy vegetation (with no little amount of collateral damage to other flora) and would incur a hefty cost. Congress authorized $80 million for Saltcedar removal between 2005 and 2009, which included herbicide, but that is pennies compared to what would be needed for everything. So the case for removal needs to be strong.
But the case is not strong. The main claims made against both species are that they a) push out native flora, b) monopolize groundwater, and c) don’t provide for native fauna. Saltcedar is additionally accused of increasing the salinity of its immediate environment. Yet these claims have never been proven and plenty of evidence to the contrary has been produced.
This is part one of a three part series. In this part we discuss: a) the negative effects of invasive plant removal methods, b) the involvement of Monsanto in popularizing invasion biology, and c) the tragedy of Pinyon-Juniper forest eradication in the western U.S. under the rubric of “native invasive species management.”
Defining “invasive species” is a slippery proposition.
The U.S. federal government defines it as “an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.”
The National Wildlife Federation elevate s environmental considerations, describing it as “any kind of living organism… that is not native to an ecosystem and causes harm.”
The Connecticut Audubon society is less discriminating about the effects of introduction. For them, an invasive is any “non-native species that has been introduced, either intentionally or accidentally into a new habitat or has escaped cultivation.”
A plant species doesn’t have to venture far outside its native range to be considered invasive. Such is the case of the endangered Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa), which “ is a frequent target for the chain saws of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department—even though two small stands in Monterey, just fifty miles south, are cherished and protected as natives.” Meanwhile, a 500 mile drive north of its relict range , a large specimen planted by European settlers in the 1850’s is an officially designated “Oregon Heritage Tree,” which we assume grants it some safety.
Musically, 2018 marked a multitude of 50th anniversaries. Among the songs that hit big that year were “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” “Sunshine of Your Love,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “Hello, I Love You,” “Born to Be Wild,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” and “Say It Loud–I’m Black and I’m Proud.” The best-selling albums included Beggars Banquet, the White Album, Astral Weeks, Electric Ladyland, Music from Big Pink, We’re Only in It for the Money, and Lady Soul. The fact that you probably know most of the recording artists responsible for these works without me naming them says something about that year. At the very least, it says, “Wow!”
“I hate this fucking culture.”
–Derrick Jensen (on numerous occasions)
The big news in an individual’s life is rarely big news in the world. Yet, the microscopic and the macroscopic are present in each other; the characteristics of a culture at a given moment are played out in the lives of its citizens, in everyday events (and non-events) and vice versa. Our particular current cultural moment in the USA is marked by brutality, malice and insensitivity. So each of us will find ourselves face to face with these things every day (and sometimes in the mirror). Some days will stand out more than others, naturally, and I had one of those this past Monday, when a particular Ash tree was killed in Portland.
I knew they were cutting down the Ash tree a few days ahead of time, so I arranged my schedule so I would be around for the event.
First, because the tree stood in the middle of a garden that Clarabelle and I had planted and I wanted to monitor the crew to prevent too much collateral damage.
Secondly, I wanted “bear witness,” as they say. On this topic, a friend on social media said: “Bearing witness to the heart-wrenching experience(s) is, and will be, some muscle we’ll all be facing and needing.” That’s for sure. And that’s the experience I had.
The following is an excerpt from my new book, “The Failures of Farming and the Necessity of Wildtending,” available here.
The news here is that the lives of most of our progenitors were better than we think. We’re flattering ourselves by believing that their existence was so grim and that our modern, civilized one is, by comparison, so great. —John Lanchester
The “Agricultural Revolution” is lauded as one of the greatest achievements in the history of the human race, proof positive of “Progress” and of our own exalted status “a little lower than angels.” Doubtless, it is among the most momentous changes that our species has experienced, on par with the utilization of fire, the development of language and the splitting of the atom. However, a closer look, based on research and scholarship, reveals that the adoption of farming led to declines in human health, caused sharp social inequities, started a war on the environment, and put us on a road that’s headed towards extinction.
But wasn’t life before farming miserable? Notoriously “nasty, brutish and short?” Weren’t hunters and gatherers always on the edge of starvation, constantly focused on survival, and never able to enjoy free time? According to experts who study history: No.