A Fiery Skipper on an inflorescence of Lantana in downtown Fresno, some springs ago.

Pollen TSUNAMI!!!! Happy #PollinatorWeek!

A Fiery Skipper on an inflorescence of Lantana in downtown Fresno, some springs ago.

A Fiery Skipper on an inflorescence of Lantana in downtown Fresno, some springs ago.

It’s National Pollinator Week, a time to enjoy the deviant inter-species sexual dalliances of insects and flowering plants (also over 65 million years in the making, not unlike a certain monster movie currently sucking all the change out of your pockets at the box office). Also a time to curse the other plants which never bothered to enlist insects to be their highly targeted sexual couriers, but instead continued to merely spill their pollen into the air. To kill us all in what this year has become a POLLEN TSUNAMI!!

But, really, this IS the Worst Allergy Season ever:

Worst Allergy Season ever! (image via Comedy Central and Salon)

Worst Allergy Season ever! (image via Comedy Central and Salon)

How can that be, you ask, even as you stare at that rising graph? Watch the full Daily Show clip (below), which is a brilliant example of how to communicate science—in this case a statistically observed pattern—in a hilarious fashion that will nevertheless have you scratching your head and make you go “hmm…” (and perhaps sneeze).

As funny as Jon Stewart is in that report, he is also brilliantly accurate in demonstrating the statistically and biologically valid fact that each year of the past decade has, in fact, seen the WORST ALLERGY SEASON yet on record! That correlation showed by the spokesman for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America is a result of, you guessed it, Global Warming / Climate Change!

Well, more accurately, that correlation is a result of increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere, thanks to all the fossil fuel we’ve been burning up like there is no tomorrow. Experiments with plants grown in the controlled environments of greenhouses show that if you increase the amount or concentration of CO2 in the air, plants will increase the amount of pollen they produce, This is part of the broader growth response of plants to increased CO2 levels. More specifically, some plants (like the notorious ragweed which is one of the biggest allergen producers) make more (if smaller) flowers, and invest even more in producing pollen as CO2 levels increase. Now that we’ve turned the whole planet into a giant greenhouse with ever rising CO2 concentrations, this is what we can look forward to in terms of pollen production:

As CO2 rises, so does pollen production

As CO2 rises, so does pollen production. Full PDF of Ziska et al 2000 paper here.

This means, unless we start bringing CO2 levels in the atmosphere down (listen to the Pope, for god’s sake!) quickly, we will continue to face allergy seasons that get worse every year, along with the real danger that television news programs will run out of dire metaphors to describe the rising tide of pollen that will kill us all!!!

Meanwhile, let’s celebrate all the other plants which have enlisted the services of dedicated pollinators to carry out their mating rituals. Make the most of this high CO2: go plant some non-allergenic flowering plants which will attract some lovely pollinators to your yard and add a dash of beauty to your day.

Happy Pollinator Week!

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