Lauren R. Stevens: Trees are our friends. So let's plant them


WILLIAMSTOWN — Carbon capture technology already exists. It's proven. It's called trees. A spate of recent journal articles report on research indicating that, together with reduction of carbon emissions, large-scale reforestation could be a significant factor in combating climate change.

Letter writer Anne Mihalick ("For planet's good, new consciousness needed," July 15) responded to an article in The Eagle reporting these findings with skepticism, noting that "planting trees does not a forest make." She observes that humans have deforested much of the earth and destroyed much of the soil necessary for healthy forests; and cautions that planting trees is not a get-out-of-jail-free card that could absolve us from taking other steps.

Of course she's right, yet planting trees seems so natural, compared to, say, injecting carbon into the earth or creating a sulfur cloud cover to shield the earth from the sun's heat — untested experiments with unpredictable downsides.Even leaving out carbon capture, planting trees could make deserts arable again, protect water, filter pollution, create habitat for diverse creatures and shade us from the noonday sun. Forests convey chemical, biological and spiritual benefits to humans. Trees are our friends.

Planting trees could be a low-tech, communal operation. In Berkshire County we have some insight into that, given that the Civilian Conservation Corps planted I suppose a million trees on former farmland in our state forests. Those plantations have served us well. And Peace Corps volunteers have attempted to curb desertification in Africa and other parched parts of the world by cooperating with local people to plant and maintain trees. Ethiopians came together a week ago to plant more than 350 million trees in one 12-hour period.

Right now the world is losing woodlands, in rain forests and elsewhere, at a disheartening rate. Wildfires have been putting carbon into the atmosphere in amounts that overwhelm our efforts at carbon reduction. While we want trees where possible, we nevertheless need to retain suitable agricultural land to feed a burgeoning world population. Dealing with these matters must be part of any solution.

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But the pathway has been tested. United Nations' agencies and many non-government agencies, like the Nature Conservancy, already devote their resources to planting trees. Let us imagine a worldwide mission to follow their lead.

Climate change is far higher in the consciousness of most people in the world than it is in the United States, which has an official policy of disbelief. Residents from Azerbaijan to Timbuktu, including those from Arizona to Texas, could be motivated to make a positive statement about the future and to define their citizenship in the world by planting and maintaining trees.

Mihalick writes we need to find a new level of consciousness. Mobilizing the people of the world on a united effort to plant trees strikes me as a new level.

A pretty dream? Maybe, but certainly worth a try.

At least, that's how it looks from the White Oaks.

A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.


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