Big Old Wise

//Big Old Wise

Big Old Wise

“There is a magic machine,” says environmental activist George Monbiot, “that sucks carbon out of the air, costs very little and builds itself. It’s called . . . a tree.”

A couple of weeks hiking in California’s magnificent “magic machine”s – the coast redwoods – left me feeling pretty exhilarated, but returning home was jarring. Jetlag had me: BOING! Wide awake at bedtime and deep in REM sleep when it was time to get up.

Of greater concern? Earth’s health prognosis as discussed at the recent UN Climate Action summit and in that impassioned (and frightening) speech by small, young, wise Greta Thunberg, Sweden’s 16-year-old climate activist. “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction,” she said, referring to reports like this recent one from National Geographic: “Thanks to human pressures, up to a million species are at risk of extinction in the next few years . . . ”

She continued, “And all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!” Oh man. She’s tough, huh?

(Actually right now? All we can talk about is the launch of an impeachment inquiry into Trump based on a “credible” whistleblower complaint. A different kind of jarring, but not surprising if you’ve been paying attention. Suffice it to say that if looks could kill? That stare Thunberg delivered Trump – a non-believer in climate change – at the summit would have made an impeachment inquiry unnecessary.)

“Eternal economic growth.” I wonder about this too, alas at the reverse age of 61. I mean, once you have a Starbucks on every corner, do you then go about putting a bunch of Starbucks in between the corners? How do you sustain eternal economic growth, and do you even want to? Why does it all have to be about money?!

Of course, for economists, it is all about money. Don Pittis, writing for CBC News, noted, “money and endless economic growth are no fairy tales, they are essential to how the world works, how lives are improved, how people earn their living.”

But climate change has some economists, like Peter Victor, author of Managing Without Growth: Slower by Design, Not Disaster, altering their viewpoint to adapt. He’s quoted in Pittis’s article pointing out, “Even in an economy that is not growing, you can have a lot of dynamic change. We need some sectors to grow if we’re going to switch from fossil fuels to renewables, for instance.”

Certainly observant youngsters, like Thunberg, aren’t impressed with a preference for consumerism, which threatens their very futures. Hence Thunberg’s harsh and powerful stance, prompting the expectation of hundreds of thousands marching for climate change in Montreal, as well as other cities, on September 27 – and closures of environmentally-minded companies like MEC, Patagonia and Lush – in support of a second wave of global protests.

If we don’t act fast? Change the way we do things? Time’s up.

For humans anyway. I’m convinced Earth will get along just fine without us. I mean, it was fine for over 4 billion years before we came along. And we humans are virtual youngsters on Earth anyway, at just 200,000 years. Perhaps we could look to the trees, at 370 million years old, for some advice?

Teamwork– I think everyone agrees that all humans on the planet – “There is no Planet B,” read one student activist’s sign – must work together on solutions to climate change. In my mind, denial of the science on climate and the current divisiveness from leaders like Trump, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and embattled UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, are not helpful.

How do redwood trees survive, living up to 2,000 years, growing over 300 feet tall, with a root system that only extends about 6 to 12 feet into the ground? Well, they extend that root system up to 100 feet around their trunk, intertwining and fusing their roots with others so together they can withstand high winds and raging floods.

Waste Not/Want Not– Okay, it used to be Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, but how well has that worked out? “Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental issues,” says National Geographic, “as rapidly increasing production of disposable plastic products overwhelms the world’s ability to deal with them.” Whose idea was it to wrap everything in plastic? And how/when can we stop? Thunberg’s new motto is Protect, Restore, Fund (projects that help nature).

Ever seen a tree be greedy? Take more than it needs? Well, sure, I did notice some of the redwoods – the look-at-me types – in the forest sucking up more sunlight than others, but when that one falls, dies off, or is cut down? Whatever remains of that tree will produce sprouts, creating a new generation of trees from the nutrients and root system of the mature tree.

Remember Resilience– Nature is resilient, if we give it a chance, help it out. This is the “Restore” part of Thunberg’s motto. Which means no clear cutting! And what’s with these raging forest fires in the Amazon and Indonesia?

Redwoods are so resilient. They can handle small fires; my husband B and I saw numerous redwoods that were charred, had openings in their trunks – pioneers called them “goose pens” because that’s how they used them – and yet were still thriving. Writes Jaymi Heimbuch in “5 fascinating facts about redwood trees”, “Redwoods that are forced to lean because of shifting slopes, floods, or even other trees falling against them are able to accelerate their growth on their downhill sides, effectively buttressing themselves against further lean.”

Remember Kindness– We share the planet, redwoods share the forest. “Redwoods are so huge,” writes Heimbuch, “a single tree itself can be habitat for an incredible number of species.” Numerous varieties of plants, insects, birds and animals call the redwood forest home and hiking on those trails I was reminded of how far we’ve come – modern humans – from our natural habitat. I don’t think anyone wants to give up their big warm bed with the zillion-thread count sheets – I sure don’t – but we really need to think about how we arrange our communities to allow a significant portion of the natural world to survive and prosper.

A final note: the California redwoods reminded me of the benefits of being still, quiet. Observing.

Here’s a great short message on the topic of climate change, just over three minutes, from Greta Thunberg. I encourage you to watch:

Website picture: looking upwards from inside a redwood fairy ring, or family circle, growing around a redwood stump.


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