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April 3, 2014

Climate change controversy might outlast the trees

No one knows for sure if the growing threat from ash and walnut tree pests is related to our changing climate. Some people believe the climate isn’t really changing at all. But most scientists will tell you something is going on, something that’s leading to droughts, floods, stronger storms, rising sea levels and perhaps invasive pests.

Like many homeowners, I have ash trees in my yard. And, like many homeowners, I’ve spent the last 18 months picking at the trees’ bark, looking for signs of the dreaded ash borer now plaguing urban forests across the country.

So far, so good. The clock is ticking, though.

So imagine my dismay when stories recently surfaced about an invasive, nearly invisible bug killing walnut trees. There’s no treatment, apparently, and no cure.

Argh! I’ve got walnut trees too.

Mature trees are the single most important feature in a neighborhood. Everything else — sidewalks, doors, roofs, fences — can be quickly repaired or replaced if damaged by ice or wind, albeit at some cost.

Only time can replace a dead tree.

No one knows for sure if the growing threat from ash and walnut tree pests is related to our changing climate. Some people, in fact, believe the climate isn’t really changing at all, at least in any long-term sense.

But most scientists will tell you

something

is going on, something that’s leading to droughts, floods, stronger storms, rising sea levels and perhaps invasive pests as well.

Not to mention lightning, which decided to rearrange some of the electrons in my house Wednesday.

More than 700 scientists said this week that the changing climate is likely to increase disease, hunger and conflict in the decades ahead. Other experts have reached similar conclusions.

Some think human activity is causing climate change. Others say the phenomenon reflects the planet’s normal cycles, oscillating between warm and cold eras. Still others say it’s a combination of the two.

But disagreement over the cause for climate change has made addressing the problem very difficult. There have been halfhearted attempts to reduce pollution in some countries, but climate change has been slowed only at the margins.

Congress once discussed financial incentives for reducing pollution, but that talk vanished years ago. Just this week Sen. Roy Blunt, who has said climate change is real, co-sponsored an amendment requiring 60 Senate votes to even consider a tax or fee on carbon emissions from any “direct or indirect source.”

Perhaps a global response isn’t possible. Some scientists think severe climate change may now be unavoidable — our children, and their children, may simply have to adjust to a warmer, stormier world.

For climate change, as for my walnut trees, there may now be no cure.

If you see any monarch butterflies this spring, grab your phone and take a picture. Your great-grandchildren will appreciate it.

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