Trees Of Hope

Planting trees to heal the earth

One of the articles in The Foundations Of Peace (IC#4)
Originally published in Autumn 1983 on page 46
Copyright (c)1983, 1997 by Context Institute

"… they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall sit every man under his vine and fig tree, and none shall make
them afraid…"

THE FOURTH VERSE of Micah provides us with a vision – a blueprint – by which we might turn from war and recreate the garden paradise this earth could be. With our planet suffering so much from the ravages of its human occupants, it is increasingly apparent that warfare is a luxury we can no longer afford. What would it matter who won control of the earth if the earth itself were lifeless?

And we know the earth is dying, as the air and waters are increasingly polluted and the land loses its power to give and sustain life. Already nine billion of the planet’s thirty billion acres are desert, leading participants in a United Nations Conference held in Nairobi in 1977 to conclude that unless desertification is halted by the year 2000, it will be out of control. At present, according to the United Nations Environment Program, the world loses 2.5 billion metric tons of topsoil each year to the forces of erosion.

How can we stop this tide of destruction and take part in planetary renewal? Again, we can turn to the words of Micah above, which the International Tree Crops Institute has taken as their motto. Of course, we no longer do battle with swords and spears, but the symbolism of the words still applies. We are spending billions of dollars on modern weaponry; how much could we accomplish toward restoring the planet if we diverted that money to the planting of trees? Trees have the ability to grow in hostile environments, and, as they grow, become more and more effective in mitigating the adverse effects of wind, water, sun and man. Trees can raise the water table and cause moisture to condense out of the air. They can virtually halt the erosion of soils, whether on steep slopes or open plains. And in the process of making the earth more hospitable, trees offer their gifts of food, fodder, fuel and timber.

This country could initiate a worldwide program of tree- planting that might save the ecology of the Caribbean Islands, and reclaim the deserts of India, Africa, and the United States itself. Such projects would provide new hope for the impoverished millions who do not have water, food, fuel or shelter sufficient to sustain not only existence, but also a happy life. As Richard St. Barbe Baker, founder of the global reforestation movement, once wrote, "If the armies of the world could be deployed in planting the desert (with trees), in eight years a hundred million people could be rehabilitated and supplied with protein-rich food." If nations were united in a program of tree planting, we could create an atmosphere of cooperation and hope in which war and aggression would have no place.

St. Barbe Baker dedicated his life to just this vision. He implemented programs of reforestation in Kenya in the 1920s that united warring tribes in the common cause of healing their land. In the 1950s, he began organizing the monumental project of reclaiming the Sahara Desert and was able to enlist the cooperation and support of thirty-two countries in his effort. Whether in India, Austria, New Zealand, Africa or America, his counsel was always the same: plant trees to heal the earth.

Baker is gone now, but he left a legacy of several organizations to carry on his work. Among them is "Children of the Green Earth" which he founded with Rene Dubos and Dorothy Maclean, and through which a vision of the earth "made green again through the efforts of children planting trees" might be realized. Those who already know of this group are aware of another of the tree’s functions – as a symbol of hope. Because trees cannot be planted and harvested in one year, those who plant them must have faith in the future, confidence that the world will survive and be restored. For today’s children, born into a world nearly devoid of hope, what better way to affirm the future than to plant a tree and nurture it? Then the child who has known only scorching sun and dusty wind can believe in moisture and shade, and the child that has known hunger can know that there will be food. The young man who as a child went to bed cold can know that his children will have fire, and those who have seen their land turn to waste can know that it will be healed.

It is working already. Within a decade, South Korea has reforested 1.5 million acres of land according to an article in American Forests Magazine. In China, reforestation projects that include everyone from young to elderly have increased forested area nationwide from five to 12.7 percent (1949-1978) and the rate of planting has accelerated within the last five years. In southern India, 2000 acres of parched and near-desert land has been reclaimed through Auroville’s "Greenwork" project – a planting of over a million forest, hedge, fruit, nut and fuel- wood trees. This project has involved forty family settlements from various cultural backgrounds.

Through efforts such as these hope is generated, accompanied by enthusiasm for nurturing and husbanding the land. Consider what might be accomplished by way of healing the planet and fostering international cooperation and goodwill if even five percent of our military budget were diverted to global reforestation. We can no longer afford to reinforce fear and isolation by increasing arms supplies. How much better to affirm that the world is one and to plant trees of hope, so that our children might sit, everyone, "under his vine and fig tree, and none shall make him afraid."

For more information on reforestation projects:

Children of the Green Earth
Star Route Box 182
Umpqua, Oregon 97486

International Tree Crops Institute
Box 1272
Winters, California 95694

Friends of the Trees
Star Route Box 74
Oroville, Washington 98844

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