Jul 27, 2007

Global Warming may change the feel of baseball bats [LINK]

Another in an endless series of bubble-headed global warming stories, originally from the New York Times. The devastation wrought by global warming may one day make baseball bats feel... slighly different. Maybe just a little softer. Good grief. Is this is what you can expect when you let TV meteorologists do actual news stories? Can you expect them to be as reliable? Is this another attempt to sell global warming to otherwise impenetrable sports fans?

What's especially maddening about the story is that there is a genuine, major threat to ash trees (used to make baseball bats) from the emerald ash borer, but it is by far the most speculative and inconsequential risk that gets the lede. There are basically no more ash trees left in Michigan. Everywhere you looked in suburban Detroit a few years ago, there were little spray-paint marks on doomed trees destined for cutting, desperately sending out shoots while getting choked by the newly introduced pest. Since ash trees are fast-growing, they were heavily favored when planting for subdivisions and other new developments, a dangerous practice that hastened the spread of the pest. Perhaps they could focus on how to counter such monocropping, or the potential effects of the Asian wasp federal authorities plan to introduce into the environment to halt the pest's progress towards the woods of Pennsylvania. No, we have to make it seem that global warming is a threat to our beloved Red Sox.

Then there's the insinuation that the pest "may do more damage in warmer weather." They quote a local botanist: "Climate change can introduce a lot of environmental stresses, which prevent a plant from combating the normal suite of insect pests or pathogens." But this is not "the normal suite of insect pests"; it is an unusually destructive pest unknown in North America before 2002. The story does relay the skepticism of the Ohio State entomologist quoted in the Times piece: that the emerald ash borer thrives in all sorts of weather in its native Asian habitat.

What's most troublesome about the story is that it's an explicit appeal to superstition. Yes, baseball players can be a bit weird in the head when it comes to their bats. I understand the tendency to view the environment in static terms, but is there any reason to believe, even if North American ash forests are decimated, that these overpaid humans can't adapt to slight changes? As the Times story relates, many younger players now favor maple bats, if for no other reason that Barry Bonds uses them. Must we all bow to such superstition?

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