My Turn: Time to realize the significance of trees

  • mactrunk

Published: 1/10/2022 12:04:02 PM
Modified: 1/10/2022 12:03:14 PM

Perhaps it is the influence of Kim Stanley Robinson. I highly recommend his new novel, “The Ministry for the Future” — a real page-turner, chock-full of intrigue and insight into the next decade or two.

Perhaps it’s all the reports from COP 26, the international climate conference, highlighting the progress towards recognizing the need to keep warming to 1.5 degrees C, yet acknowledging the inadequacy of all the pledges — just words? — made by governments. I am definitely influenced by the three weeks I spent last summer, backpacking in the Sierra Nevadas, where my son is a wilderness ranger for the Forest Service. Majestic Jeffrey pines, western white pines, western junipers and cedars blanketed the slopes and encircled the lakes. Out West, I also witnessed blackened mountainsides of charred trees — the continuing news of wildfires in the west, as well as in Australia and Greece bring a sharpened awareness of these miraculous centuries — old anchors of our existence.

Trees are the best “technology” we have to draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Scientists such as Bill Moomaw, who contributes to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and ecologists like Suzanne Simard, author of “Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest” are clear — preserving older forests are our best bet to slow devastating impacts of a warming planet. The benefits of these long-lived creatures are numerous. In addition to growing wood, nuts, and fruits out of carbon dioxide and water, trees build rich soil that is filled with fungi and other microbes that are also sequestering carbon.

Trees are the backbone of many ecosystems, creating many layers of habitat for a diminishing number of species with whom we share this planet. Trees are the conduits that draw water from deep underground, through the xylem tubes, and then releases the vapor through the millions of stomata on each leaf — the vapor cools the surrounding area. Without trees to connect earth and sky, landscapes turn to desert.

If you have seen aerial photos of the Amazon rainforests being cleared to plant palm oil plantations — a suddenly necessary ingredient in junk food — you know that it is high time that we re-think our actions with a view to the next hundred years, not the next business cycle. Planting new trees is great, but not as a solution to curb fossil fuel emissions or slow average global temperature. The mature forests that currently exist have a far greater impact than the most diverse imitation we can attempt to recreate.

So as we tuck away the ornaments and put the dried evergreen on the sidewalk — or perhaps bring it to a goat farm — pay reverence. Smell the needles, and give thanks. Consider that perhaps these briefly enjoyed branches on which we lay decorations would better serve us if kept alive. Consider a new, reusable sculpture on which to hang ornaments — twisted vines from out back, or a cone-shaped frame laced with cords. ... Maybe this year’s shortage of imported firs is an opportunity to send a message to the boreal forests of the North — let the forests live!

Consider doing what my heart instructed, and pay a local tree farmer to keep one tree growing. Next year when I receive my Christmas card reminder, I will go back and again pay this tree farmer not to destroy that vital organism. Can we extend this “adopt-a-tree” system to protect other vulnerable forests here in western Mass?

At the 2022, Convention on Biological Diversity, governments of the world will be asked to commit to preserve 30% of critical land and ocean by 2030, to slow spiraling extinction rates. If our planet is to protect 30% of existing natural areas by 2030, let’s start here in our own backyard.

Laurie Boosahda lives in South Deerfield.


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