Earth Day ruminations of a tree hugger

Saving the world’s most precious resource should be a top priority this global holiday — for all people

By David G. Allan

Image for post
Image for post

Editor’s note: This story was originally published on April 17, 1995 in The Diamondback, the daily newspaper of the University of Maryland, College Park. The opinions, dated science and poor grammar expressed here do not necessarily reflect the writer’s current opinions, knowledge and journalistic skill.

Trees are the kindest things I know.
They do no harm, they simply grow
And shed a shade for sleepy cows
And gather birds among their boughs.
— a children’s poem

Earth Day is this Saturday, and despite its yearly growth of commercialism, I’m excited to do something in the true spirit of this wonderful holiday. I have decided to plant a tree here on campus — a fitting gesture considering it was 25 years ago that the original Earth Day was started as a grassroots movement by our nation’s college campuses.

This weekend, we celebrate our planet and reflect on the vital importance and increasing destruction of the environment. Birthday is a holiday transcending International borders and the world’s religions without honoring violent heroes from history or commemorating senseless nationalism, as most holidays do. It is a day that calls us to reflect on our place in the world and the responsibility we have to it.

Trees, which embody the true meaning of Earth Day, are most remarkable. So here, I would share my remarks about them and Saturday morning, I’ll be digging the hole on the lead building to plant a honey locust sapling. Feel free to come out and visit or help — It’ll be a great way to kick off the big day.

My love and respect for trees stems from a childhood spent climbing them. From the four-story Pines who sticky limbs I would scale to dangerous and swaying tips to apple trees I could negotiate with one hand while using the other pick or shake loose sweet and delicious snacks on lazy afternoons. I never met a tree I didn’t like our couldn’t climb.

Then there was Shel Silverstein’s beautiful book, The Giving Tree, about a man’s lifelong relationship with a tree that gives him everything. The man uses the tree as a swing when he is a boy, build his home from the trees would and uses the stump to rest as an old man. It is a wonderful allegory about the vital yet on appreciated rolled trees play in our lives.

Trees also have a significant religious importance. Budda found enlightenment while sitting under a tree. Adam and Eve ate from the “Tree of Life.” And Carl Jung wrote that the tree symbolizes quote wholeness of the personality.” In fact, the Indo-European root of the word “temple” means “sacred grove.”

On a practical level, we would all suffocate without trees because they convert the carbon dioxide we exhale into the oxygen we breeze. You want a glimpse of life without trees, take a paper bag and breathe inside. As the oxygen Wings in the CO2 increases, it will become difficult to respire and hopefully you will get the point before you pass out. 1 acre of trees can absorb 2.6 tons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of what is produced by a car that has driven 26,000 miles.

Although trees are perhaps our most valuable resource, we destroy and abuse them in the most careless and inconsiderable ways. We fail to recycle or purchase recycled products. We buy fast food hamburgers that come from cattle grazed on cut rainforests. We indirectly destroy animal habitat, complete the ozone layer and contaminate the water supply.

Every minute on this planet, 50 acres of rainforest are destroyed. That’s 27,000,000 acres (or the size of Pennsylvania) a year. At this rate, the world’s forests will be gone by 2057. To quote contemporary curmudgeon A. Whitney Brown, “Rainforests are falling faster than a fundamentalist preacher’s pants in a cheap motel room.”

The global effects are immense. Every year, 1 billion tons of the greenhouse gas carbon are released in the air from deforestation. When the trees are cleared, they release the carbon they contain. This release is rapid if the wood is burned, slow if the trees decay naturally.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, as many as 750 species of trees can be found in a typical 4 square mile area of rainforest, not to mention hundreds of animal species. At the current rate of depletion, at least one species of animal becomes extinct each day. Also, hundreds of native Indian tribes are being pushed to the brink of survival.

One fourth of the drugs prescribed in the United States today are derived from natural compounds only found in tropical rainforests. For example, the chemical from the rosy periwinkle is used to treat both Hodgkin’s disease and childhood leukemia. Curare, made from a plant that only grows in the Amazon, is used to relax muscles in heart operations. As we continue to destroy rainforest, we also lose the plants that may hold the cures to many forms of cancer and possibly even AIDS.

Americans are largely responsible. Not only are we a leading industrial producer of acid rain, but we are directly contributing to force depletion in other countries as well. Forty percent of the Central American rainforest has already been torn down and converted to grazing pastures for cows, and 90 percent of the beef from those cows is exported to the United States, primarily for fast food consumption and dog food. According to Diane MacEachern’s book, Save Our Planet, ”It takes 55 square feet of tropical rainforest to produce a enough hamburger to make a quarter pounder.”

While trees are a renewable resource, the soil is not. Once you clear-cut a forest and use the land for cattle grazing, all the nutrients will be depleted as well, creating scrub and desert conditions. This causes soil erosion and water contamination because a dead Forest can no longer hold rainwater runoff.

What is the US government doing to solve these critical and vast crises? Nothing. Actually, less than nothing since the republican-LED Congress is currently pushing provisions to the Clean Air, Clean Water, Endangered Species and National Forest acts that would render them ineffective and powerless. The legislation likely to pass both houses includes bills that will relaxed timber cutting restrictions in the north west, reduce vehicle emissions standards and cut the government endangered species budget of $28 million by $20 million.

What can you do as an individual to Steve off our impending “ecocide”? Everything. There are many ways to help the environment. Some suggestions:

Start A recycling program at your work. For every ton of paper your office recycles you will be saving 17 trees and keeping 60 pounds of air pollution out of the sky.

Stopping fast-food burgers. Each year, 120,000,000 pounds of fresh and frozen beef are imported from Central American countries to United States. If you government would only pass a beef-labeling law, you would know that every burger comes directly from countries selling out their rainforest to the nefarious meat industry.

If you have a baby, use cloth diapers. It takes 20 trees to keep one baby in disposable diapers for two years.

Plant a tree. For general information call the American Forestry Association’s campaign called Global ReLeaf at (202) 667–3300. I got my tree for only $15 through Tree-Mendous Maryland, a state agency that provides trees to plant in public areas. Tree-Mendous Maryland can be reached at (410) 974–3776. For permission to plant on campus, call Kevin Brown, head of the grounds crew.

On the door of MaryPIRG’s Office is a bumper sticker that reads, “Every day is Earth Day.” Truly, every day we have the opportunity to do small things that have great impact. This Earth Day, consider ways to save our tall green friends.

David Allan is a senior journalism major. His column appears on alternate Mondays.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store