Joshua trees
Mid-afternoon at Joshua Tree National Park, fires were burning near and the smoke drifted northerly. Taken on June 18, 2015. (Photo credit: bobglennan / Flickr)

Focusing on a particular town devastated by a hurricane, flooding, or wildfire can sharpen our attention and turn generalizations about climate change into concrete instances we can both understand and feel. So, too, focusing on particular kinds of trees can help us grasp some troubling climate change impacts already underway.

Redwoods, sequoias, Joshua trees

The New York Times has a particularly good recent story of this kind: “They’re among the World’s Oldest Living Things. The Climate Crisis Is Killing Them” looks at three iconic species, each with its own named national park, that burned in the 2020 California wildfires. This striking story (text by John Branch, photos by Max Whittaker) emphasizes the emotional importance of such trees (though Joshua trees are actually tree-sized yuccas). If a paywall proves an obstacle, this shorter newsletter version may be accessible.

Baobabs

Ed Yong, The Atlantic’s science writer now noted for his coronavirus coverage wrote a good story about threats to Africa’s iconic baobab trees: “Trees that Have Lived for Millenia Are Suddenly Dying. The oldest baobabs are collapsing, and there’s only one likely explanation”: climate change, of course, particularly its effects on rainfall amounts and timing.

The Cedars of Lebanon

Perhaps the trees with the longest cultural history, these cedars are still symbolically important, especially given all the troubles Lebanon has experienced in recent years. But they, too, are threatened, as Ruth Sherlock and Nada Homsi explain in “Climate Change Closes in on Lebanon’s Iconic Cedar Trees” (NPR). This piece is also an interesting restoration story. Ethnobotanist, writer, and Lebanese-American Gary Paul Nabhan has a “letter” on the same subject (on the Extinction Rebellion site for writers).

Whitebark Pines

These ecologically important high-elevation trees across big parts of the American and Canadian West illustrate how complex are both the climate-change-linked threats to their survival and the requirements for restoration. Perhaps fittingly, it takes several short articles to lay out the picture: “Warming Endangers a Crucial Yellowstone Tree” (Douglas Fischer, The Daily Climate); “An Uncertain Future: The Persistence of Whitebark Pine in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem” (Erin K. Shanahan, National Park Service); the December 2020 government document proposing that this species be listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act; and “A Bold Plan to Save the Last Whitebark Pines” (Jim Morrison, Wired)

Whole forests

Finally, for the (dire) big picture about forests generally, see these two strong pieces: “We Need to Hear These Poor Trees Scream: Unchecked Global Warming Means Big Trouble for Forests” (Bob Berwyn, Inside Climate News) and “‘Whole Thing Is Unraveling’: Climate Change Reshaping Australia’s Forests.” (Graham Readfearn, The Guardian)


This series is curated and written by retired Colorado State University English professor and close climate change watcher SueEllen Campbell of Colorado. To flag works you think warrant attention, send an e-mail to her any time. Let us hear from you.

Topics: Food & Agriculture