Wednesday, September 1, 2021

This Fear of Carbon Stuff is Getting Insane

The effort of scientists nowadays seems to be to tie everything to climate change.  After all, it's the surest way to get funded and get your paper published.  At least it seems that way.  Consequently, we get a constant flow of stories about Things To Be Afraid Of or Worried About.  I think they just hit the absurdity limit; the most absurd stuff ever to be talked about, although I'm aware that "most absurd" is a pretty high bar to get over.  

The CBC, yes the Canadian Broadcasting Company, published an article that earthworms in the Canadian boreal forest are releasing too much carbon and they blame that on the fact that the worms are invasive species.   

Here's the gotcha.  They're invasive in the sense that the species they replaced went extinct in the last ice age, when the Canadian boreal forest was under a thousand feet of ice.  Take that metaphorically - I really don't know how deep the ice was.  Somehow, Canada survived with earthworms until the Europeans arrived around 300 years ago (or much longer, depending on whom you talk to).  When those Evil Europeans arrived, they carried eggs of the common earthworm, Lumbricus terrestris.  The worms quickly took advantage of an ecological niche with no competition and became (I almost hate to say it) the common earthworm. 

The common earthworm, photo credit Cristina Sevilleja Gonzalez on CBC.

Today there are more than 30 species of non-native earthworms in Canada, according to Michael McTavish, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Toronto specializing in the ecology of non-native earthworms. 

If you're familiar with earthworms, I'm no earthworm specialist but I'm sort of familiar, you'll know that they burrow into fallen leaves and other organic matter on the forest floor (or in your yard).  In doing that, they feed on the leaves or whatever, digesting it as it passes through them, and poop fertilizer behind them.  They aerate the soil, change the chemistry of the soil, adding organic matter that other plants can better use for growth.  They just kind of affect everything. 

So what's the problem? 

They don't like letting nature take its course.  

"When earthworms move in, you have a fundamentally different soil environment," said McTavish. 

"So you can get changes in pH, in the texture and density, and nutrient enrichment.  The problem is that the species that we have present in our forests are not used to those kinds of conditions."

According to McTavish, the soil environment becomes inhospitable to native plants, allowing non-native plants to thrive.


Now, to the great concern of climate scientists, invasive earthworms are expanding their range northwards, in boreal forests that have lacked native earthworms since the last ice age.

The extent of the Canadian Boreal Forest they're talking about.  Coast to coast, from the Atlantic to the Arctic ocean and the Pacific.  It's not just a small patch.  Credit Natural Resources Defense Council.

The dead and decaying stuff on the forest floor contains a vast amount of carbon.  What they're afraid of is that carbon might not stay on the forest floor.  It might get turned into (gasp!) carbon dioxide and end up in the atmosphere.  They don't mention how that might happen whether by digestion in other organisms, if they expect it to burn, or just how.  Carbon doesn't just transmogrify into CO2 on its own.

I've got to say, I've never seen earthworms mentioned as being bad in any context so this was a new one on me.  I find it hard to imagine a campaign to kill all the earthworms, but if the worms are truly a problem, isn't that an obvious solution?  Since the last native earthworm species went extinct 10,000 years ago and the "invasive" earthworms came over 300 years ago, it's hard to argue the forest falls apart and dies without any worms.  

Frankly, it comes across as almost a desperate cry by the researchers of, "pay attention to us, too!  We're important!"  Then they go on to pretty much say the forest isn't the way that they think it ought to be so we're all gonna die!  I find it hard to take. 



  1. Sometime after invention of an efficient method of disposing of earthworms, there will be hue and cry that a newly discovered bacteria is destroying the forests. As go the forests, so go humans. Fear! Panic! A PhD dissertation on the subject of earthworms provides the solution. Happiness! Joy!

    -- stay tuned for next Fear & Panic --

  2. Um... we're made of Carbon. Should we be afraid of ourselves?

  3. Some people are alive simply because it's illegal to kill them outright.

    All of those researchers fall into that category.

  4. So-if I wear a vial of charcoal around my neck will that keep the wokes away?

    1. It's worth trying. Anything to scare them off is worth trying.

      As long as they can't get you fired for doing it.

  5. Aren't all the "native plants" really just "non-native plants" from back when the ice cap finally disappeared? What gives them priority?

    Everyone seems to forget that what is "native" and what is not is merely a subjective label based upon what time period we're talking about.

    1. Bingo! Winner, winner! At least it's the same thought I had. What makes them think the way the world is now, or the way the world was then they were kids, is the "normal" world? What makes now so special?

      Just like the whole climate change nonsense. If you look at geological reconstructions, we're in a relatively cool period. Who says a little warming is (1) not to be expected or even (2) not the result of adjustments to measured data? Who says the weather in 1850 or 1900 was the way it's supposed to be?

    2. Or the weather during the 'Viking' Age, which was, as far as they can tell, about 4 to 5 degrees warmer than now.

      All that warm weather exposed lots of farm land which allowed lots of little Scandinavians to survive and thrive and grow into an excess population.

      Which ended starting around 1250, when the world started getting colder. Last contact with Greenland was around 1340ish, when the ice sheets around Greenland made it impossible to get near Greenland.

      Or the early medieval mines and villages that have been exposed by the drawback of glaciers in the Alps, showing that late Roman to early Medieval was much warmer, as there were no glaciers in a lot of said Alps.

      But that's all 'fake' science, and a lot of the actual research has been suppressed or 'lost accidentally.'

  6. Wait a minute. McTavish sounds like a non-native species. Can't we just send him back where he might find a native earthworm species?

  7. Maybe KFC will add “Kentucky Fried Worms” to the menu. Gravy and Mashed Potatoes with Coleslaw on the side.

  8. Need them earthworms, 'cause going to go fishing....

    Fish say they are yummy.