A Culture is no better than its woods. W. H. Auden.
What do the following have in common: a brilliant but ridiculed Austrian scientist by the name of Viktor Schauberger, a man living on the streets of LA, a couple of Kiwis and a sun-baked biker (me) riding through Central America? The answer: a vision. What is it? That if we all get together in our various communities, be it with colleagues at work, neighbours or otherwise, and plant indigenous trees in degraded areas, we will solve all the troubles of the world, right down to the deep-rooted restlessness we all feel. We will also replenish dwindling water supplies and cool the world down in more ways than one. Within a few generations balance can be restored. This is not only possible, but simply has to be done. We need to plant hundreds of billions of trees as though our lives depended upon it – because they do.
The key is doing this together, rebuilding authentic community and all that comes with it: responsibility, sustainable local economy, population awareness, reduced emphasis on money and combustion, increased emphasis on sharing and health, fascination rather than ADHD, friendship and laughter outside rather than depression, trust rather than fear, an end to homelessness, reconnecting children with elders, initiation especially for teens, and storytelling reminding us that life is mythical and full of meaning. In a single word – peace. It really is this simple.
The World’s Rainforests Disappearing at a Rate of 6,000 acres Per Hour
Following Donald’s decision that climate is unimportant, The Economist has reminded us that logging for products such as furniture and flooring worldwide, cattle ranching for beef, soya production and related activities have caused 15% of the Amazon to be cut down in the past few decades and are carving away a further ½% of the forest each year, not to mention the demise of all the species that rely on it. Palm oil, which sneaks its way into around 50% of consumer goods, has caused similar devastation in Malaysia and Indonesia, while 70% of South-East Asia’s rubber production goes to the tyre industry. In Central America, coffee for export and corn are the culprits, along with cutting down trees to fuel the cooking stoves of locals.
It’s estimated that deforestation in the tropics accounted for 10-20% of carbon released into the atmosphere by human activity during the 1990s. But the most chilling statistic of all is that rainforest worldwide is currently disappearing at a rate of 6,000 acres per hour, an area equivalent to 4,000 football fields. Assuming deforestation is 24/7, on an annual basis that’s 52.5 million acres, an area almost as large as Britain.
Clever-sounding ideas are being discussed at environmental summits on how to address this. The top down solutions, however, will almost always favour continued economic growth when everything needs to be downsized – population, consumption and wastage. We don’t need economic growth. It’s destroying everything. For example, if population continues its current growth trend, computational scientist Stephen Emmott estimates that by 2050 an area larger than the US will need to be cleared just to feed it, let alone house it, clothe it and provide energy for it. When you consider that it takes around 3,000 of litres of water to produce a burger, 9,000 to produce a chicken, 27,000 for 1 kg of chocolate and an incredible 72,000 to create a single electronic chip for a phone (source: Guardian review of ‘Ten Billion’, Stephen Emmott), I wonder if a population of ten billion is even possible, when we’re already consuming water at a rate far beyond what is sustainable, while at the same time destroying forests. Without trees, most rainfall floods back to the sea unabsorbed by the land and reserves underground sink beyond reach.
The forests in the tropics are just the remainder of a long-forgotten forest. In the US, Europe and many other places, we cut down most of our forests centuries ago, for agriculture, housing and warships, while every year more countryside is swallowed up by dreary uniform housing, more cars choke up roads and stress levels soar.
Instead of economic growth we need sharing, recycling and the creation of quality products which can be easily repaired. Besides, we will die waiting for any of the grand-sounding top down policies to be agreed upon, let alone implemented. Real change comes from the bottom up. If we lead by example with permaculture / agro-forestry and restoring woodland, the rest of the world will follow. The key is us. They key is togetherness. When we embrace it, miracles happen.
Common Sense and Authentic Love
If we really love our children, let alone Mother Nature or ourselves, there isn’t a moment to lose. If we’re worried about water supply and rising temperatures, and we should be, forests are the most efficient and most beautiful solution. Perfected over millions, perhaps billions of years, trees not only increase the quality of water, but also increase the quantity of available water, gifting 50-75% of our drinking supply. When a forest is cut down, it’s quickly replaced by a desert. When it’s allowed to thrive, airways created by tree roots permit rain to recharge the underground water reserves – reserves which are now virtually depleted worldwide. Forests also have a dramatic cooling effect on temperature. They do this not only by creating micro-climates of shade from their branches: they create sun-deflecting rain clouds through transpiration, allowing coastal rain to travel further inland.
And they do so much more. The epitome of compassion, trees literally hold our world together – preventing soil erosion, enhancing fertility, blessing us with fruit, purifying the air, home to the birds whose songs lift our spirits. Trees bring us immense peace when we stroll by them. They are fundamentally part of us and our soul misses them when they’re not around. Is it any wonder that many, perhaps all myths of the ancient world had a Tree of Life at their centre?
A Four Day Work and School Week and Sacred Groves
Imagine uniting from the bottom up to reduce the work and school week to four days, freeing up one day a week for re-beautifying this gorgeous planet. Imagine this on a global scale. Work days off can be organised on a rotating basis so that, initially, a business can continue to operate five days per week. Ironically, productivity will likely rise, because employees will be full of life. Children, who learn by example, will get more from these days in nature than ten years in school. We will learn how to live again.
Imagine the company you work for buying a plot of degraded land and gifting it as common land as a small repayment to nature, because together we agree that this needs to be done. Imagine working with your children and neighbours, transforming it into a sacred grove, one per neighbourhood – a woodland, a nursery for tree cuttings, a meeting hall, a natural temple where all ages can meet without labels, a held space for laughter, for tears, for storytelling. If children want to become like Harry Potter this is where it will happen. If we slow down, celebrate our local area and love nature then nature will answer. Why charge off to a sunny beach thousands of miles away, polluting the world as you go, when you can set forth for the primary worlds inside of you and discover who you really are?
Transform your garden into a forest garden like an inspiring Kiwi couple did (see the below link to a 20 minute film). A man living in the streets of LA has done something similar, growing vegetables in vacant lots of land and along verges. How brilliant it would be for each neighbourhood to have a market day once a week where everyone exchanges their surplus produce, learning how to bake bread, make jams, chutneys and many other things as we go along. This is real security. Overtime, cities can evolve into something more elvish rather than the graveyard cities of post-apocalyptic films.
Long Term Plans
Every business can and must serve transition to sustainability or disappear. If I still worked in a bank I would draw up a business plan – short term, medium term and long term (1-3, 4-10, 11-30+ years and a 100 year vision). There would be two scenarios – status quo and transition. Under both scenarios, a bank as we currently understand it doesn’t exist in the long term. One collapsed years before, along with a system obsessed with impossible growth. The other naturally dissolved into community life, having served through its medium term by shifting its focus from creating markets for economic growth to those serving quality and sustainability. That’s all it takes – a shift in perception, viewing the world through the heart. I would take this business plan to the CEO and ask for permission to set up a low cost team of three to investigate the idea. I’m willing to bet that in less than ten years it will have become the bank’s core operation, because outside forces will demand it. Why bother? Because most humans live in cities doing such jobs (i.e. selling something we probably don’t need) and a smoother transition is preferable to anarchy. And because true change can only take place if everyone is included.
If I’ve learnt one thing, it’s that everything comes at the right time. As I’ve ridden through Central America, I have finally emerged from my writer’s cave, desperate to get my hands in the soil. I’ve visited schools that place ecology at the centre of all subjects, cloud forests grown by children, organisations such as Trees, Water, People – wonderful humans who have been quietly getting on with restoring balance for decades. Finally I have opened a book that I have carried around with me for years – Living Energies by Callum Coats. Here he explains the brilliant theories of Viktor Schauberger (1885-1958). Born to a lineage of Austrian foresters, he was a true scientist, a great observer of nature, a genius, whose understanding of energy was too advanced for the science of his day. He understood that the outer world is a reflection of unseen forces which work indirectly, that nature is not served by rigid laws, but rhythmical and reciprocal processes whose aim is ever-increasing diversity, ever-increasing energy for constant change and upward transformation. Life is created out of difference, not uniformity. Science thinks an octave too low, he remarked. It has lost sight of the integrated whole.
It was Viktor who all those years ago warned us that we must plant hundreds of billions of indigenous trees and let them grow into ancient forests in order to avoid catastrophe. He advised us to treat water as though a goddess existed in every drop. In its natural state water is alive. He understood that a single drop of spring water contains more energy than an average-sized power station, if only we knew how to unlock it in a creative way.
Now is the Time
There’s no doubt that it’s late in the day. But it’s also perfect. We’ve been asleep for so long that circumstances have needed to reach this critical point in order to jolt us awake. Things like Donald and Brexit, while clearly not the solution, are the first chaotic-feeling steps towards real change. They have trickster energy and mythical tricksters shock us awake. We are the key generation. To take responsibility in this magnificent and courageous moment is the real reason we were born here. We are seven billion people with five hundred billion trees to plant. Greater forces permitting, I’m sure I can plant 100 trees in my life, though I intend to plant a lot more.
Nothing is more important than this. When the taps run dry, no amount of money will solve the problem. No one will care about money – it can’t be drunk.
I leave you with a song that auspiciously wafted into my ears the other day. Good tree planting music.
Author of fantasy novel The House of Tusk
P.S. Regarding the number 500 billion for the number of trees to be planted – it could be 300 billion, it could 700 billion or much more. The point is that wise foresters agree that hundreds of billions of indigenous trees need to be planted and left to grow vast and ancient, never to be cut down. I chose 500 billion because it felt well-rounded. Whatever the number, it’s a lot and we need to get shifting.
P.P.S. A book I’ve just bought that I’m about to read – How to Thrive in the Next Economy: Designing Tomorrow’s World Today, by John Thackara.
Inspirations and References:
Cloud Forest School, Monteverde, Costa Rica.
Friends School, Monteverde, Costa Rica.
Children’s Eternal Forest, Monteverde, Costa Rica, partnered www.engageglobally.org
Trees, Water & People (www.treeswaterpeople.org), Nicaragua, including partners CEASO in Honduras and Utz Che in Guatamala. Head office in Colorado, USA.
The Tea & Chocolate Place, Botanical Research Station, Copan Ruinas, Honduras.
Escuela Caracol, a Waldorf school, San Marcos, Lake Atitlan, Guatamala.
Universidad de la Tierra, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico.
Living Energies, Callum Coats (Viktor Schauberger’s brilliant work explained).
Life in Syntropy, Agenda Gotsch – a 15 minute massively inspiring film about land restoration in Brazil using agro-forestry: https://vimeo.com/146953911
The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben.
A Branch from the Lightning Tree, Martin Shaw.
Plant Spirit Medicine, Eliot Cowan.
The Economist – various articles, including a global water survey a few years back.
The Guardian – Humans: the real threat to life on Earth: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/jun/30/stephen-emmott-ten-billion