In August 2016, when with my backpack full of supplies I explored Dixie National Forest, in Southern Utah; I expected to be surrounded by a healthy ancient environment. However, while hiking deeper in that wild place, home for many wild animals and many forms of life, I saw thousands of dead trees. During the 32 miles of the Virgin River Rim Trail, I felt a continuous pain in my stomach. Lots of questions came in my head. I questioned myself about the reason behind that scenario. While there, I questioned if that devastation was happening as a result of human-hand, or if it was a consequence of the world’s naturalness. But, I didn’t get any answers. Although today I know, this was the first time I saw the consequences of the human global warming.
Two photos captured in the exact same place--front and back--by Navajo Lake,
show a big percentage of death trees in just a small portion of the
Dixie National Forest. © Tiago Costa, August 2016
Almost a year after, the topic about the death forests came in my head again while reading the news about the results of the Paris Climate Agreement. In today’s planet, almost everything that is negatively affecting the ecosystem is a consequence of human abuse. Despite this fact, our leaders are taking too long to accept this world needs help now, not tomorrow. The Paris Agreement seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel. It was signed by 195 countries, and its goals are clear: reduce the emissions of pollutants, in order to keep the current rise of the global temperature below the 2º Celsius (36ºF) until 2020. The necessity to find a mutual alliance was real, although the United States, led by Donald Trump, didn't accept the Paris pack. The States, Syria and Nicaragua, represent the three countries out of the climate agreement, and even being a minority, the American presence makes this minority looks much bigger. With this decision, the President Trump makes it clear something he said for many times in the past: global warming is a farce imposed by scientists.
During my backpacking trip, the more I wanted answers, the more confused I became. My questions started to be answered, when one of the few hikers I met told me about beetles. In a short conversation, he told me one important thing: beetles don’t have a natural predator to control their quantity. For me, it was clear that beetles were guilty for the situation in that forest, but if they always existed, why have they become a problem just recently? What is reason why there is a bigger number of beetles in American forests today?
As soon as I returned to the city, I researched intensively about this topic. I wanted to understand more about beetles and how they caused the devastation I had witnessed. What I found gave me a clearer understanding.
The Southern Pine Beetle, or Bark Beetle, is considered one of the most destructive pests living in the United States. I said there’s no natural predator for these pests, but there is, or there was... and it's not an animal. Despite using a natural anti-freeze to hibernate, it was normal in the past, during difficult and cold winters, for a lot of these beetles to be killed by rough and low temperatures. Although, this is part of the past. The climate is changing at a higher speed and the higher temperatures are creating better conditions for the mass groups of beetles to survive during the winter. When the spring season returns, beetles return to life with the same routine but more members to get to more trees. The process of attacking trees is simple to understand, but hard to accept. Like the journalist Hillary Rosner explains, in the article “The Bug that’s Eating the Woods”, a female beetle carefully chooses a stressed tree, chews into the bark and tastes it. If the tree meets the beetle’s requirements, she’ll continue to burrow. In a normal process, the tree’s resin (a natural defense) should push the beetle out, but science is showing that beetles are now capable to ingest resin. After ingesting, beetles convert the resin into a pheromone--a chemical that sends a signal to other beetles--informing them about the potential to converge on inside that particular tree. That’s when the mass invasion occurs. And the cycle continues, more beetles, more eggs, more death trees.
Inside the forest, it's impossible to be indifferent to the quantity of death trees. © Tiago Costa, August 2016
From the moment I talked with that hiker for the first time until the moment I started to research, beetles were in my head as the bad guys. However, I knew there was something more to be revealed. I found lots of answers in recent studies, like the one published by scientist John J. Wiens in the Public Library of Science (PLOS). He concludes that climate change is an “important threat” for global biodiversity. In Wiens' study, it is shown that in almost a thousand species observed during decades, 47% of those species were extinct by rapid changes of the ecosystem. Wiens also expects that extinctions will become much more frequent as the global temperature increases.
Technology is today shaping the surface of our planet, and it will be in the future. Technology like internet, that it gives the people the capacity to get knowledge everywhere and use it to influence positive decisions. Technology like green-energy that can be used to economize those important finite resources. By using the power of the sun, wind, or oceans, we are creating a unique intimacy with this planet. Recycle is important not for the business, but to give a second life to objects that are created by men, to serve men and should be decomposed by men and not by the earth. However, what I see is a continuous habit promoted by old costumes. The human being drive cars ran by gas, when it’s know that electric cars are a good option for the human and beneficial for the planet. It’s true that our leaders should promote a good example, but if they don’t, so I will do.
The "Weekly Journal" blog is updated every Sunday.