Pine and spruce beetles are rarely seen. They live most of their lives inside the host trees in which they find their only food; the softer inner bark of those trees. Strangely, it's not their appetite that kills their host, it's their breeding habits. Trees have natural defenses to prevent the growth of their eggs and pupae inside them, but beetles bypass this by introducing blue stain fungus to the tree which protects their brood but kills the tree by interrupting it's ability to transport water and nutrients from trunk to branches.
Around Telluride, and across the West from Alaska to New Mexico we can see the process take place from outside the tree as needles turn from green to red. In years to come, the tree produces no needles at all. The tree has died thanks to the breeding habits of small beetles most of us will never see. You can't help but see their handiwork as trees die all around us. You can't help but notice the fires that rage in broad swaths of blighted forest, or escape the smoke they produce in summers and autumns like those of 2020. But, then again, there has never been a summer or autumn quite like 2020 in our lifetime; not for blight, not for heat waves, not for drought, not for forest fires, not for epidemics, not for riots, not for political correctness, not for disorder and division.
Earlier this century, dystopian novels and movies were all the rage. I wonder if their popularity will survive through this period of multiple disasters? During the Great Depression they didn't make movies about grinding and persistent poverty and misery, they made musicals. They made happy movies, art deco classics highlighting life as we wished it could be. Not until 1940, when we were already clawing ourselves out of this decade of economic disaster, did we see the first movie that viewed its issues unflinchingly, “The Grapes of Wrath.”
I've read that global warming is responsible for the great die-off of our forests. The stress of rising temperatures is often not enough to kill the trees outright. It just weakens them to the point that they are susceptible to beetle infestation, and beetles proliferate when winters are sufficiently warm to reduce their own winter die-off.
I enjoy watching a YouTube channel hosted by a married couple, evolutionary biologists, Heather Heying and Brett Weinstein. In 2017 they were driven out of their tenured teaching positions at an ultra-progressive west coast college. That thrust them suddenly to the frontline of America's looming culture wars. They weren't driven out for being too conservative. They were lifelong Democrats and considered themselves liberal and progressive. They still call themselves political liberals, but they're reconsidering that “progressive” part now that progressivism has moved on from anything they once knew and wrapped itself up in identity politics and critical race theory, and has become obsessed with matters of race and gender. In 2018 Weinstein testified to Congress, predicting that what was happening at Evergreen (their former school ) would be coming to the rest of us. He turns out to be prescient. The only thing he got wrong, he says, is how quickly this would happen.
They often discuss matters of biology and evolution then move almost seamlessly to current events; reading excerpts from the New York Times or The Guardian, commenting on newly imposed lockdowns in Europe, or the implications of an inconclusive election in the U.S. It seems so appropriate, not just because everything about human affairs ultimately boils down to biology, but because the scientific, highly rational approach they bring to biology is useful for looking at the state of society in general.
I haven't heard them comparing America at this moment to a Colorado forest about to be devastated by beetles, but the comparison seems apt to me. Although I'm backing Trump in this election, I'm dong it reluctantly. He's not the cause of this blight but he is a symptom of dysfunction, and a further irritant.
Biden, Harris, Trump! If we were shareholders in a corporation would we want any of them for our CEO? That would be madness. In just a matter of years we could expect that business to fail. When a business fails, that's one thing, but a country is another. And what if that country is the world's leading superpower and bulwark to the worldwide economy? That raises the stakes a little, doesn't it?
These are bottom of the barrel candidates. Something is seriously wrong when that's all that's on offer. We've got Mr. “Dark Winter,” who wants a national mask mandate and doesn't think lockdowns go far enough, and Mr. “We're turning the corner on Covid.”
My head is in my hands.