Rooted in Society

2021-12-03

 |  Biodiversity/Conservation

Trees, drzewa, des arbres, árboles…small to tall woody oxygen-producing structures. Pleasant to look at, profitable, being cut down, cultivated, turned into paper. A habitat for wildlife, a staple of human shelter for millennia. In crisis, and yet, being saved.

Take a moment to look around you. Can you count how many products are the product of that tall plant you see out your window? Your desk, drawer, doors, paper, table, chairs, shelves, bed, books, boxes, walls, finishings, flooring, frames, packaging…and that’s only one room, in one house, of millions. It’s incredible how completely dependent so much of our lives are on trees, and how different everything around us would be, and look, if it were not for the gift of this renewable resource.

Stepping outside, you see the tree in its most natural form—untouched, unstained by the factory’s production processes, growing freely, and yet, not so free. Surrounded by traffic lanes and bustling streets, this tree now serves as more than a piece of furniture, as more than the walls keeping you safe from the elements. Being on the front lines of toxic gasses and particulates, it is tirelessly working hard, night and day, to purify the air you breathe and protect your lungs from the products of industrialization, spewing out of the traffic in your community. Every part of it that your eye can see plays a role in cleaning the air around you, from the bark that traps airborne particulates on its rough surfaces, all the way up to the leaves of the canopy. You gaze up to the crown of the tree, this is where the real work happens, thousands of leaves intercepting pollutant particles on their surfaces, thanks to a sticky layer of entrapping wax. Diving deeper into the intercellular spaces of a leaf, transpiration processes are removing harmful gases such as ozone from the air around you. Suddenly, the tree is beginning to have a value beyond that of a commodity, beyond that of a “resource” to be extracted. 

You begin walking down the street, and as you pass by one of these towering structures, you notice that it is cooler. The shade of the canopy and evaporative cooling of the leaves are actively helping to fight the effects of climate change on your body, making you feel more comfortable. Maybe you don’t realize it at the moment, but the interior of this tree is also fighting the good fight, storing carbon dioxide as it grows, sequestering it from a young age and holding onto it for decades.

Without giving it much thought, you pass by dozens of broadleaved and coniferous species each day. Hundreds of trees, dotting the urban landscape, a background feature to many, but not to you—now you’re beginning to realize their importance to your everyday life.

Returning home, you open your wooden door, and entering through your wooden doorway you happen to stumble on the doorstep. Wood you look at that, it’s also wooden. You step into your bedroom and realize that it is cooler in this room, and glancing out your window, you see that tree again. Maybe you won’t need that AC after all! As you turn in for the day and lay down on your very local store of carbon, you begin to think: Can trees be used to fight climate change in yet another way? Perhaps by reducing the energy needs of your home and of those in your community, saving you money and decreasing carbon emissions from power plants? As you fall asleep, your thoughts become more and more inspired by that tall, woody, oxygen-producing structure, its branches knocking against your window… knock knock, it’s time for action.