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Is Montana in eco-collapse?

By Dennis T. Avery
web posted September 4, 2006

Eco-author Jared Diamond says humankind is committing "ecocide" –failing to recognize environmental degradation before it is too late and bringing on its own collapse. Diamond says such societies as the Mayans of Central America, and the Vikings on Greenland likewise brought about their own doom. He warns many modern societies are also headed for eco-doom -- including the State of Montana

The state of Montana? In collapse? Why?

Diamond claims key problems, including raging forest fires, unsustainable farming, and impending climate change.

Montana's first problem, Diamond says, is that its vast forests are threatened by huge forest fires. It costs the federal government too much to thin the trees and take out the dead wood, which lightning ignites into massive flames. The state's timber industry has already declined 80 percent -- which Diamond says is because Montana can no longer compete with tree-growers in warmer climates.

Debra Okonski, reporting for the Montana think-tank PERC, says the federal government has blocked Montana timber harvests -- responding to the tree-huggers like Diamond. She says the state's private forest owners keep their trees thinned, their forest fuel loads low, and profitably sell timber.

Montana certainly won't run out of trees in the middle of a global warming. Both warming and additional CO2 stimulate tree growth.

Diamond claims Montana's farming will collapse due to soil erosion, fertilizer pollution and spreading salt water seeps. Fortunately, technology, is already resolving those problems. No-till farming uses herbicides to control weeds rather than plowing, and cuts soil erosion by 65-95 percent. It similarly cuts fertilizer run-off from the fields.

No-till also doubles soil moisture. Montana's no-till farmers no longer fallow half their 9 million acres every year, leaving them bare to searing winds and explosive raindrops. Ending fallow also helps prevent the downhill seepage of salts from fallow fields -- which Diamond says caused the salinity problem.

Global warming will reduce the snowmelt for irrigation, says Diamond. Meanwhile, Egypt has bioengineered a new wheat variety that needs only one irrigation per season, instead of eight -- because of a gene borrowed from barley. The new drought-proof wheat, farmed with no-till, will help Montana to stay in the wheat business.

Diamond goes on to lament "rich people" buying land in Montana for second homes. However, he vacations there himself, noting that recreation is one of the booming industries of the 21st century. If Montana manages its forests and wildlands well, it ought to harvest more and more dollars from skiers, hunters, fisherman, and a wide variety of vacationers. This is collapse?

Diamond believes the Modern Warming is being caused by human-emitted CO2. The planet is certainly warming, but the microfossils in seabed sediments tell us the Earth has had 600 moderate, natural warmings in the last million years. Solar-created beryllium isotopes in the sediments link the warming to changes in the sun's irradiance.

The Modern Warming may favor some shifts in Montana's tree species. After the last Ice Age, the warming climate triggered a rapid spread of lodgepole pine in Montana and Douglas fir across the Pacific Northwest. But that's adaptation, not collapse.

Jared Diamond is overstating our environmental problems -- and ignoring strategies and technologies that make modern societies more sustainable. That's not information, it is alarmism. ESR

Dennis T. Avery was a senior policy analyst for the U.S. State Department, where he won the National Intelligence Medal of Achievement. He is the co-author, with atmospheric physicist Fred Singer, of the forthcoming book Unstoppable Global Warming -- Every 1500 Years, due in October from Rowman & Littlefield. Readers may write him at Center for Global Food Issues, Post Office Box 202, Churchville, VA 24421.

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