“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.”
Speaking of speaking for the trees, I’d like to tell you about a place called Bialowieza Forest. It’s the last remaining part of an immense primeval forest, which once covered much of Europe. This enduring vestige survived largely intact for nearly 600 years because it was first a royal then a tsar hunting preserve (insert deep sigh here).
Bialowieza Forest is divided between Poland (40%) and Belarus (60%) and is home to an amazing display of biodiversity—including the wisent (European bison), the largest and the heaviest surviving mammal on the continent.
Fascinating stuff, for sure, but why would anyone except The Lorax care about a bunch of old trees with unpronounceable names?
For starters, as the folks at Greenpeace remind us, ancient forests maintain the balance of life on Earth: “They house around two-thirds of the world’s land-based species of plants and animals. The remaining tracts of forests influence day-to-day weather.”
If that’s not enough to induce a wave of global tree hugging, fear not, as I have ten more crucial reasons to start appreciating trees right now:
The equation is rather fundamental: During photosynthesis, a tree “inhales” CO2 from the air and then separates the carbon from the oxygen molecules. The carbon is absorbed by the tree, which then “exhales” pure oxygen back into the air for us to breathe. In the process just described, trees also serve as carbon sinks (absorbing carbon dioxide while releasing the oxygen back into the atmosphere) and thus offset carbon dioxide emissions and reduce climate change.
Almost as basic as #1, trees offer food like nuts and fruits for humans (and other creatures). Leaves are favored by animals like elephants, koalas, and giraffes while monkeys usually opt for flowers, and nectar is high on the menu of birds, bats, and many insects. Plus, when animals indulge in fruits, they end up as mobile distributors of seeds.
From nearly microscopic insects to camouflaged reptiles to feathered friends to wily primates and beyond, each tree is a vast, thriving eco-system in and of itself. The destruction of even a single small tree not only disrupts natural cycles, it also sentences countless creatures to death.
For 5.1 billion people—85% of the world’s population—herbs are the primary source for medicines.
Due to ozone depletion, we earthlings now have to endure increased amounts of potentially dangerous ultraviolet radiation. Thanks to our tree friends, we get some shade and protection and thus (we hope) less skin cancer.
“As you whiz down the interstate on your way to more interesting places, you’ll see that all the farmhouses are surrounded by trees,” writes eco-journalist, Josh Peterson. “You see, the farmers know that planting trees in the right places is good for their houses and it’s good for the land. The trees act as windbreaks and keep the snow from drifting up against the house. It also keeps that valuable topsoil in place. And in the summer time, there is no better place to beat that ridiculous Midwestern heat than in the shade of a tree. You can use the same principals to make your house more energy efficient with proper tree placement.”
Trees absorb pollutants like sulfur dioxide, ozone, and nitrogen oxides through the stomates in the surface of their leaves. Up to a 60% reduction in street level particulates has been found on tree-lined streets and roadways. Trees also muffle urban noise pollution.
Deforestation negatively impacts the amount of water in the soil and groundwater and the moisture in the atmosphere. Without tree roots to hold soil in place and fight erosion, we are seeing more runoff and less sediment deposit after storms. This result in higher levels of chemicals in our water along with far more flooding. On a related note, mangrove trees protect coastal areas from ocean waves and work in smooth symbiosis with coral reefs.
Fallen leaves make excellent compost that enriches soil. Here’s how the USDA Forest Service explains it: “Needles and leaves that fall are not wasted. They decompose and restock the soil with nutrients and make up part of the spongy humus layer of the forest floor that absorbs and holds rainfall. Fallen leaves also become food for numerous soil organisms vital to the forest ecosystem.”
Some people look at trees and see only lumber and profits as the sound of chainsaws echo in their clouded heads. Sane people, on the other hand, look at trees and see kindred spirits, fellow travelers, and eons of wisdom from which we have so much more to learn.
Despite all this, we humans have seen fit to destroy 18 million acres of trees—4500 acres per hour—each year. Today, in what National Geographic calls a “forest holocaust,” 80% of the world’s forests are already gone.
Are you ready to start some serious tree hugging?
Sure, you could take this literally, but I’m talking about a wide range of stuff like:
- Planting trees
- Simple lifestyle changes like using tree-free paper
- Switching to a diet that doesn’t require deforestation and livestock grazing
- Tree-sitting and other forms of direct action
- Dismantling industrial civilization
We’re linked. Like it or not, everything is linked. The future of life on Earth depends infinitely more on things like forest conservation than, say, profit margins. The sooner we realize this—and act accordingly and decisively—the better chance we have of creating a softer place to land.
Quite simply, the choice is ours…but time, my fellow earthlings, is not on our side.