Friday, October 22, 2010

CancunCocoon#13: Where Have All The Forests Gone?

When we got married, my wife and I decided to have an alternative celebration. We gathered our closest friends and relatives for a tree-plantation ceremony. We requested people to dress on a white top (not everyone did, much to our dismay) so that pictures would have a nice contrast between faces, white outfit and green, natural scenery around. The pictures look beautiful!

Anyway, we decided to plant trees because we thought our relationship had to be like caring for a garden or a forest. It needed nurturing, attention, sensitivity. So far it has worked beautifully. And the trees are growing strong too!

When a tree is planted, it absorbs carbon from the air as long as it lives. Growth of trees is the accumulation of carbon for its trunk and branches. Not only does a tree absorb carbon from the atmosphere. It also releases oxygen as part of its respiration process, and releases water vapor, pure and pristine, that later becomes clouds and rain. Trees clean our air and our water.

It would sound like a good business, then, to grow many trees so that we ensure there is always abundant -at least sufficient- clean water and air for our consumption. Well, it's perhaps the two elements we can't live without, right? And still what is happening is completely the opposite: we are tearing down trees at a rate of 20 football fields per minute, all day, every day. At that rate, all the rainforest of my paradisiac Costa Rica would be chopped down in 15 weeks. A horrible thought. Somewhere in the world in the next 15 weeks a forest of 25,000 square kilometers will be converted into, well, whatever a forest becomes when it lacks trees: grassland, and eventually desert.

The big problem is in the long term. How many more trees can we cut without losing the planet's ability to recover itself and to clean our air and water? If we had to pay for the price of cleaning our air and water I am sure it would cost us dearly. In fact, The 11th Hour, a documentary produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, proposes that the value of the function that our natural environment serves us cleaning air and water could cost some $40 trillion dollars, a value far greater than the estimated $18 trillion worth of global economic output per year.

It's not about money. Without trees there would be very little life that could be supported around here. So the need to preserve it is existential as well. Ethical or moral. Principled or rooted on a very humanly inherent will to survive and to procreate into the future.

Perhaps that's what we have lost: a sense of ownership with a future that we won't live to see. The world of our grandchildren and their grandchildren's grandchildren. As a Native American leader said, we need to think about the seventh generation after this one to learn how to preserve nature so that they -whoever that is- will also enjoy it.

We have also lost sensitivity for everything that is not immediate and discardable. The instant fix of satisfaction that goes with the next breath of air and that is costing so much on our nonrenewable resources. Our forests are in a way nonrenewable. We could replant a forest that has been cut down, but it will take as long as it had been standing, if at all, to recover. That's the greatest wealth of primary forests. They have been standing since time immemorial. They carry our history, our genes, our wisdom. Chopping it down is an unintelligent thing to do as a species.

The way to change our culture is to start planting trees, as many as you want. Make an appointment with friends to go plant trees. Watch them grow. Learn about them. Teach our children to care for them. Plant trees on behalf of your faraway relatives. Of the ones that have passed. On the ones that will come. Plant a tree for each child that is born. A tree to celebrate a promotion and a tree when each tooth of our child falls. Make up lame excuses to plant trees and plant as many as you possibly can. We will need to make a coordinated effort, those of us who care, to make a significant impact on our destructive tendency as a species.

Change culture and make it cool so we can have fun in the process. Change has never been boring anyway!

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