Sunday, July 18, 2010


Where are all the talk show hosts, conservative pundits, and global warming naysayers who were crowing incessantly this past winter when it was snowing like no tomorrow? Back in February, as we shoveled out from underneath one snow storm after another, there was a lot of talk about how climate change was a left-wing lie. Ron Smith, the WBAL talk show host, poked fun at the on-going weather crisis every day for months on end, ignoring the fact that when all was said and done, the winter of 2010 was one of the warmest on record.

Now that Snowpocalypse is but a fleeting memory, it’s time to turn on the AC, break out the sun screen, and consider the latest weather hit parade from the Department of Commerce’s National Climatic Data Center: “The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for June 2010 was the warmest on record at 61.1°F, which is 1.22°F above the 20th century average of 59.9°F. June 2010 was the fourth consecutive warmest month on record (March, April, and May 2010 were also the warmest on record). This was the 304th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average. The last month with below-average temperature was February 1985. The June worldwide averaged land surface temperature was 1.93°F above the 20th century average of 55.9°F—the warmest on record. It was the warmest April–June (three-month period) on record for the global land and ocean temperature and the land-only temperature. The three-month period was the second warmest for the world's oceans, behind 1998. It was the warmest June and April–June on record for the Northern Hemisphere as a whole and all land areas of the Northern Hemisphere. It was the warmest January–June on record for the global land and ocean temperature. The worldwide land on average had its second warmest January–June, behind 2007. The worldwide averaged ocean temperature was the second warmest January–June, behind 1998.”

Those are a lot of numbers, but the trends and the truth are undeniable, folks. It’s getting warmer every month and every year. And this summer is certainly no exception.

Europe is going insane from the heat that is bubbling up from Africa and baking their brains. They are experiencing the same ninety degree day-upon-day sauna show that has settled in over the Chesapeake and things are starting to unravel.

Vadim Seryogin, a department head at Russia's Emergencies Ministry, told reporters Wednesday that 49 people, including two children, had drowned in the last day. More than 1,200 total have drowned, 223 of them between July 5 and July 12.

"The majority of those drowned were drunk," Seryogin said. "The children died because adults simply did not look after them."

The major highway from Poland to Germany melted, along with numerous airport runways. People across Europe have been stranded in sweltering trains that have broken down in the extreme heat. Grains and other food crops are withering away after weeks without rain. Fires have burned thousands of acres. The elderly and the sick are huddling in churches that have been converted into cooling shelters. There have been riots in Finland after stores ran out of fans. And a state of emergency has been declared in many parts of Europe.

Meanwhile, back here in the Land of Pleasant Living, ten people in Maryland have dropped dead from the heat this summer and a wide range of other problems have arisen, including the MARC trains having trouble staying on the rails, Code Red days with dangerously high ozone readings, plummeting oxygen levels in the Bay and the Dead Zone dramatically expanding. Tempers are rising with the temperature. The grass and trees are fading fast. Water levels are getting dangerously low. And BGE keeps warning that the power grid is maxed-out.

Now, after the hottest June ever, it would be easy to play the conservative’s game and poke fun at George Will, Rush Limbaugh, and several of “Bay Weekly’s” climate change critics who took exception this past winter when I said we were facing a climate crisis. But I am going to take the high road. The rising temperature of the planet earth manifests itself in many ways, but a rise in temperature of one degree can not be noticed by us in any real sense. Perhaps that is why we continue to pretend it does not exist. The way it makes its presence known to us is through strange and extreme weather, like August in June, multiple blizzards, more hurricanes, droughts when it should be wet, rains when it should be dry, tornados in Wisconsin, and the ice caps melting at an alarming rate.

So, let’s pull our heads out of the proverbial sand and start doing our part to save the planet before it’s too late.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Alien that Ate America

I took a nice boat ride up the Severn River last week, exploring the smaller creeks on the north side of the river and swimming in some of the deeper holes. This is the best time to explore the upper Chesapeake, before the dreaded sea nettles take over.
Kudzu has already invaded large tracts along the river. In some places, like over by Rugby Hall, the shoreline resembles a giant Chia pet. Native trees and bushes have been smothered by the lush green leaves of doom that grow about a foot a day.
Kudzu is a sweet-smelling, climbing vine that comes from Japan and is described as the plant that ate the South because it loves the climate of the southeast and Mid-Atlantic, where it grows prolifically, smothering everything in its path.
Kudzu is not an uninvited guest, like the zebra mussel. it didn’t sneak into America inside a cargo tanker in the Great Lakes or accidentally end up in a shipment of Japanese maple trees. Kudzu was introduced to the United States with great fanfare at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876. It was touted as a beautiful ornamental plant that could also double as a beneficial forage crop. In the 1930s, Kudzu was heralded as the solution to all of our erosion problems, and the Civilian Conservation Corps planted it all over the South. Landscape architects and government planners had no idea what they were releasing into the native environment.
Once kudzu got a toehold in the United States, it was pretty much unstoppable. It’s currently spreading its green tentacles into the Midwest, New Jersey, Texas, Oregon and as far north as Canada. It is eating up land at wildfire pace, around 120,000 acres a year, and costing the United States almost a billion dollars annually because of lost crop and forest land and expensive eradication efforts.
For years, the Department of Agriculture and private landowners have tried to poison, cut, burn and devour kudzu, but with only marginal effect. Like phragmites on the shorelines of the Chesapeake, it is very hard and expensive to kill. The only thing that stops kudzu is cold weather. The first freeze knocks it dead in its tracks. But come next summer, the leaves turn from grey to green and it takes off from wherever it last stopped.

How does kudzu spread so fast?
It has three different growing strategies. It spreads along the ground like English ivy, another invasive plague on the land. It grows underground, sending out rhizomes in every direction, like dreaded bamboo. And it also produces bean-like seedpods that scatter in the wind and rain.

Kudzu is a favorite of grazing animals like cows and goats. But the Severn — and most of the Western Shore where kudzu is running amok — has little livestock, so its benefit as free forage is pretty much non-existent.
From a medical standpoint, Kudzu is a big winner. The Chinese consider it one of the top 50 fundamental herbs, and it has been used in Asia, Europe, and America for many years to battle chronic headaches, leukemia and joint disorders. Several universities are currently experimenting with it as a cure for alcoholism.
In Asia, it has long been used as a food additive and a summertime beverage. Across the Southern United States, it has been turned into soap, jam, compost and even fuel.

Kudzu is, in fact, a legume or bean, and it has been used around the world, especially in the rainforests of Brazil after forest clearing, to increase the fertility of the soil. It does this by increasing the nitrogen content, pretty much the last thing the Chesapeake Bay needs. Nitrogen from fertilizers, sewer treatment plants and funky air is already turning vast stretches of the Bay into dead zones.
But the news gets worse. The latest studies at the University of Virginia indicate that kudzu releases chemicals that combine in the air to make ozone, which is the main reason why the air around here is almost suffocatingly bad during the Code Orange days of summer.

“People worried about kudzu invasion previously were worried about its effect on biodiversity,” said Manuel Lerdau, an environmental studies and biology professor at the University of Virginia and one of the study’s authors. “We’re saying there are more worries about kudzu than biodiversity. It has an effect on air quality and human health.”
So the next time you hear someone complaining that the government won’t let the Asian oyster be introduced into the Chesapeake Bay, remember kudzu and what happens when the law of unintended consequences is unleashed upon unsuspecting natives.

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