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Plant some

February 15, 2010

I remember driving around East Africa when I was little, with a windscreen sticker that said Kata mti moja, panda miti tatu – Swahili for If you cut one tree, plant three.  This was in the mid-eighties, and I can’t help but think that if enough people had displayed that same sticker- and observed its message -we, as a global community, wouldn’t have been in the precarious situation we are today, running out of trees.

Since the good scientists recently realized that a mind-boggling 20% of global carbon emissions are due to deforestation and forest degradation, it goes without saying that saving the world’s remaining native forests must now be an urgent priority.

Their role in the global carbon cycle works as follows: via photosynthesis, forests lock up large amounts of atmospheric carbon in their vegetation. The vegetation and soils of the world’s forests contain about 125% of the carbon found in the atmosphere. When forests are burned, degraded, or cleared, the opposite effect occurs: large amounts of carbon are released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide along with other greenhouse gases (nitrous oxide, methane, and other nitrogen oxides). The burning of forests releases almost one billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. Over the past 50 years, about half the world’s original forest cover has been lost, the most significant cause for that being humans beings’ unsystematic use of its resources. (Credit to Mongabay for the stats).

I have a very soft spot for trees, big ones especially, and on that topic I am going to quote the most encouraging and inspirational book I’ve read in a long time, by environmentalist and author Paul Hawken.

In a chapter called The Long Green he describes the early beginnings of environmental movements. In 1853, he says, a little-noted occurrence in a distant wild forest changed history, as one of the largest trees in the world was cut down and another destroyed, an incident that eventually inspired the creation of the National Park system and the American land conservation movement.

Etching of ‘The Original Big Tree’

Give it up for Paul, folks:

“In the spring of 1852 August T. Dowd, a contract hunter hired to supply fresh meat for laborers digging canals, discovered a grove of mammoth sequoias in Calaveras County, California, while chasing a wounded grizzly bear.

Early photos of the Calaveras Grove

The trees were so massive, Dowd thought he was dreaming, deluded by some quirk of light perception, their crowns towering over three hundred feet, their bases ninety feet in diameter. These were living organisms unlike anything anyone had imagined. The story was quickly picked up by newspapers in San Fransisco, London and Edinburgh, and the astonishing report soon brought curious journalists, adventurers and visitors to the site, as well as entrepreneurs, loggers and most notably George Gale and his business partners, who saw show business an the natural wonder that was the tallest of trees: a 300-foot creature that could be exhibited. Gale couldn’t display the whole tree, but was determined to get it onto the ground and remove part of it.

The quest to fell the sequoia did not go easily. After boring holes through its trunk with long augers, the loggers who had been hired laboriously sawed through the spaces in between. Concerned that a 300-foot-tall sequoia might fall without notice at any time, the men worked cautiously. After being cut all the way through, however, the tree remained upright. Wedges were pounded in from all sides, and the crew made a battering ram from nearby lumber to knock it over, but the tree stayed perfectly still.

More than three weeks of effort passed, and it finally took a gale to blow it down, which took place in the middle of the night. The noise of its felling woke people in mining camps fifteen miles away; mud and rock dislodged by the impact flew ten stories into the air, spattering the trunks of neighboring trees.

The Big Tree was estimated to be 2,500 years old and remained green for several years because its trunk contained so much water. The promoters removed some of the bark, cut a few cross sections, and left the bulk of the tree where it fell. The trunk was later made smooth and was used as a bowling alley, and the stump became an outdoor dance floor that comfortably accommodate sixteen couples.”

(Excerpt from Blessed Unrest, by Paul Hawken 2007, image credits and more on big trees on Cathedral Grove )

Now, run down to your local bookstore, ask them to order in three copies of the book (one for you and two for your friends – that’s how uplifting and important this book is). And as soon as you get home again, why don’t you plant a tree or three? (Or if you’re in Sweden, maybe try this). You can make a difference.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 19, 2010 6:41 pm

    I’m another Anna and at the risk of sounding totally nerdy, did you see this series on the ABC?
    I can’t believe I’ve just seen your blog, gone to the ABC site and this episode expires in 25 mins!
    So I hope you get this!

    • February 20, 2010 10:24 am

      Hey Anna,
      nooooo!!! I missed that! Thanks though, I’ll keep an eye out for a re-run. Love big trees.

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