Imagine a world where human life is cheap. If someone is in the queue in front of you and you are in a hurry, you take them out. If someone else is going for the dream job you want, or is bidding higher on a house you are after, put a bullet through them. No, she’s not getting the last grapefruit on the market stall. Bang! I don’t like the way you look at me – Swish, thump, ugh. If an old person is getting a bit dotty and incontinent, there’s a nearby cliff you can push them down.
You clear up the mess and move on. Get over it. Come on, there’s new kids being born every day.
A world like that horrifies us. At different times in history or in different places it has surely existed. But today it’s gross, inhumane, uncivilised, primitive, immoral. It is unthinkable.
And that is how we treat trees today. If they are in the way of our plans – a supermarket, a road or a railway – bulldoze them away. If the leaves they drop are too much to clear away (yes, there are nutcases that want leaves cleared awayl), call for the tree “surgeon” to take it out. If there’s not quite enough room to part your car, it’s a job for the chainsaw. If industry commands, clear cut hundreds of square kilometres. If you want to squeeze a bit more out of the farming subsidies, grub up Freda the old oak, you can always plant some token leylandii to make up. If your view over the lake isn’t perfect or you’re allergic to shade, down they come.
That is our world.
Until that world horrifies us, there’s little chance of saving the Earth. It needs to be as repulsive to chop up a tree as to slice up a human; to take the life of the tree as to take the life of a human being.
Trees, lone or in their forest homes are fundamental protagonists of life on Earth as we know and need. They have to become sacrosanct.
Is it conceivable? How much is the sanctity of human life built into our genes or how much is a product of nurture. Probably to a great part the latter – you can nurture killers if you want. Today our society nurtures killers of trees, everyman who doesn’t hold their sanctity in his heart. So we could nurture the sanctity of trees in the hearts of our young, and over time it would take root in our society.
So what about the myriad of products made of wood? Create new forests for them, but don’t take from the wild. The new forests must be designed to be rich in biodiversity, and draw from them carefully and with reverence, use the material sparingly and create from it beautiful and enduring things. Reuse and recycle every last scrap. Don’t burn it, but return waste material with its carbon and nitrogen intact, to the soil.
We need a deal with trees; it needs to be spiritual and the practical compromises need to be crafted carefully, erring on the side of caution and reverence.