We have a deep bond with mature trees, as with the entirety of the natural world. We have been led to believe that we are separate and different in fundamental ways and that we are alone as we are so superior. What a relief it is to understand that such a view of humanity could not be further from the truth. We share bonds of blood with numerous animal species, the number of which grows exponentially the further back one goes in evolutionary time. We share bonds of fellowship with forest and ocean habitats, in the lap of which we have grown, over hundreds of thousands of years, to be the humans we are today. We live in fact at home on this Earth in the excellent company of millions of other species as members of the sisterhood and brotherhood of Earth beings.
This is the perspective within which to view human appreciation of trees and certainly not by listing their utility to people. Like all other species, humans excluded, trees have long understood that collaboration and a give-and-take approach creates and maintains the Earth’s life supporting ecosystems. It is therefore not surprising that we find them helpful.
Trees in our streets, parks, playgrounds and town squares create a peaceful, relaxing environment. Bringing natural elements of wildlife habitats into the urban environment improves our quality of life. Many residential areas are also the home of very old trees that serve as historic landmarks and a great source of personal memories. Trees provide shade. In the summer months the difference in temperature between being in the shade of a tree or in direct sunlight can be as much as 15°C. Trees do much to alleviate the desert-like heat in our tarmac and concrete towns and cities.
Trees contribute to the environment by improving air quality. One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and emits four tons of oxygen per year. This alone provides breathable air for 18 people and absorbs the emissions of a car driven for 42,000 km, every year. Trees also filter air by removing dust and absorbing other pollutants like carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. After they intercept unhealthy particles, rain washes them to the ground. Trees act as wind breakers, conserve water, preserve soil and support wildlife. They release water vapour into the air through their leaves thereby increasing atmospheric moisture and creating a supportive micro-climate.
As forests and woodlands absorb carbon they act as carbon sinks reducing global warming and mitigating the extreme weather effects of climate change. Trees are part of an ecological equation that maintains the temperatures within a range that makes our life possible. Trees have a nervous system and react intelligently.
The far reaching roots of a tree hold soil in place avoiding erosion. They absorb and store rainwater which reduce runoff and soil loss. This helps the ground water supply to replenish and prevents flooding. Fallen leaves make excellent compost that enriches soil. Many animals, including elephants, birds, and insects eat the leaves, flowers and nectar from trees. Many more call trees their home. Trees reduce Ultra Violet rays exposure by around fifty per cent providing protection against skin cancer.
The felling of one mature tree is not compensated by the planting of many smaller ones. The tree size and the spread of its canopy matters. One hundred smaller trees do not provide the net carbon capture capacity, the biodiversity support and the benefit to human wellbeing that just one mature tree provides. We must protect mature trees if we are to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change.
When we stand in a natural environment in the presence of trees that are many decades old we experience peace of mind and a sense of belonging. The natural world accepts us as we are. This respite is critically important for our mental health.
Trees, that have seen generations of people come and go, teach us that human endeavour is not the do-all and end-all of life. Standing mindfully in a natural environment we can learn from trees and perchance perceive the sacredness of life. A sacredness that is unmediated and there for all to experience.
This article was published on the Senior Times of The Times of Malta on the 21st May 2021
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