Chapter 5: The beetle
The only place that anyone has ever discouraged me from visiting is Alberta, Canada. The state of Alberta is one of the western world’s largest oil producers and its main claim to fame is probably being home to the tar sands. The tar sands are an area bigger than the whole of England where oil companies have spent the last 60 years extracting oil straight from the soil. A process with a enormous ecological footprint.
Alberta has a very powerful and highly criticized oil lobby that is well known for its harsh methods to silence anyone they consider a threat to their industry. And I’m definitely considered a threat to them. On several occasions I need to call for police protection when the level of threats and the sheer harassments become too serious.
On the morning of Oct.21 I’m traveling through the spectacular Canadian landscapes with a film crew from the BBC, heading for the Jasper National Park. Magnificent pine forests stretching out as far as the eye can see. It reminds me of home. Except for the fact that many trees here aren’t green, their needles are either brown or have been lost entirely. It looks very strange. I assume they must be American larch trees, since those trees lose their needles in the autumn.
“No, unfortunately those aren’t Larch trees,” says the biologist Brenda Shepherd as she walks me round the national park. She shakes her head as she approaches one of the brown, pine trees and points to a hole through the bark. Though the hole seeps something that looks like solidified resin.
“Here you can see how the tree has tried to defend itself,” she says.
“But it’s useless, it will soon be dead.”
How many trees in this area would you say are affected? I ask.
I can’t seem to get my head around what she just said. “50%?”
“Somewhere around there,” she says.
The term ”tipping point” can be hard to understand but this the most clear and obvious example that I that I have come across myself. The mountain pine beetle exists across the North American continent. Every winter the temperature here drops to very low levels. Much colder than in Sweden, for instance. And since only a very small percentage of this species survives in that temperature for a certain number of days, this has never been a problem in the past. But in the last few decades this area has seen a significant level of heating. Canada – as well as other countries close to the poles – has seen a rate of warming about twice as fast as the rest of the world.
So, the temperature rises and all of a sudden we find ourselves on the other side of an invisible border. Suddenly almost the entire population of this beetle survives the winter. And we have passed a tipping point. A point of no return which releases several so-called feedback loops: self-reinforcing, often irreversible, chain reactions. And since the local ecosystem completely lacks the ability to adjust to the new reality, the consequences become extremely visible.
Tree after tree is attacked by the mountain pine beetle and dies shortly thereafter.
Needless to say, the effects on the local environment are disastrous.
But, unfortunately, what happens in the Canadian Rockies doesn’t stay in the Canadian Rockies. These mechanisms are global.
This is the transcript of Chapter 5 of the Sverige Radio program aired on June 20, 2020 with the title Greta Thunberg: Humanity has not yet failed.
The full transcript was published by Time magazine on July 10, 2020. Here it is offered in chapters to make it easier to read.