What is a tree worth?

Christine MacCabee

In this day and age, nothing can be taken for granted. The recent presidential election vividly illustrated for us all how important our votes can be in a close election. Similarly, if we are at all attuned to the various environmental challenges at hand, we know that what we do or do not do will definitely have an affect on the future well being of our planet and all its occupants. If every vote counts in the political world, then surely every tree must count in the world of ecology. The problem for us is getting beyond cumbersome politics in order to acknowledge the value of our trees and to protect them.

Far from using our Earth well, we are using it up. The most extreme example of a used-up ecosystem are the rainforests of Central and South America. Scientists are mostly in agreement that due to extreme deforestation, the rainfall in these areas will lessen, possibly to the detriment of the remaining tropical areas. About 4.5 million acres of tropical forest are heavily logged each year and it is generally agreed that they will never be able to restore or regenerate themselves. Our planet is getting hotter, and in many parts of the world, drier.

Helplessly we watch on. What can we really do about it, we ask? There is a little slogan which I have on an old Earth Day pin which says "Think Globally, Act Locally." No, we probably will not be able to convince loggers and oil companies to leave the rainforests alone, and refusing to eat burgers made from cattle raised in ruined rainforest regions will likely not keep it from happening. Our lives are here, and it is here where we are challenged to "cast a vote" that will make a difference. Personally, I cast my vote in favor of preserving as many good, old trees as possible, wherever possible. No, this does not make me a "tree hugger," thank you. In truth, it makes me a good scientist and a good citizen.

Anyone who is cognizant of the escalation of human population on this planet (about five billion people, to be doubled in ten years) knows that there is a simultaneous escalation of cars, trucks, planes, buses, and ships. All these transporters require huge quantities of fossil fuel, the use of which continues to heat up the atmosphere creating what is known as global warming. More trees will be needed to absorb the carbon dioxide and to cool down the environment, not less trees.

This problem is deemed so significant that a meeting on global warming was attended by representatives of 175 nations last year. These talks resulted, however, in temporary failure when they foundered over how much credit toward emissions countries should get for using forests and farmland to absorb C02, the main greenhouse gas. For the scientists at this meeting there is no question of what a tree is worth. If the issue of deforestation and global warming is serious enough to bring 175 countries together to discuss it (another meeting is slated for this May, so they havenít given up) then would it not seem logical that we should be discussing it as well, here, where we live?

So, the question remains, what will we/can we do here where we live? One thing that always occurs to me is the necessity to buy recycled paper products. However, only a small number of people go out of their way to support the recycled paper industry, and as long as the demand is small, so will be the production. But this type of industry needs our support and is one answer to the problem of deforestation.

What else can we do?

If we were truly brave we might climb up into a tree and stay there for two years as Julia "Butterfly" Hill did in California. Perhaps you know of her. She is being called a modern day "saint" by her admirers. Between 1998 and 2000 her feet did not touch the ground as she lived 180 feet up in a 1000-year-old redwood tree she named Luna. The tree grows near a clear cut at the origin of a massive mudslide which destroyed seven homes in 1997. Mud slides are common problems due to clear cutting. By force of sheer determination, endurance and above all love and conviction, Julia managed to strike a deal with the Pacific Lumber Company, protecting Luna and some acreage surrounding her from timbering. However, just last month an enemy purposely and ignorantly tore deep into Luna with a chainsaw in an attempt to mortally wound this ancient giant. Luna has been stabilized, but her health is questionable. I ask, what is this warfare, this battle of life and death, all about? Should we just give up, or should we sit in that tree with Julia and ride out the terrifying storms? I know what my answer is. Whatís yours?

What is a tree worth? It is up to you. You can cut it down, trash it, and consume it, or you can honor it. Native Americans innately understood this concept and they lived it. They were abiding by an ancient formula for preservation of the Earth...Reverence. Oh, were we all to abide by this highest of "laws," what a different world it would be!

Read other articles by Christine Maccabee