The war against trees

Sometimes it seems we are engaged in a war against trees. In our quest for ‘development’ at all costs, often it is trees that are sacrificed – for construction projects, logging, highways, property development, industrial development.

Jan 11, 2019

By Anil Netto
Sometimes it seems we are engaged in a war against trees. In our quest for ‘development’ at all costs, often it is trees that are sacrificed – for construction projects, logging, highways, property development, industrial development.

How do we look at trees? Do we pass by them without nary a thought? Or do we look at trees in utilitarian terms – when we want to park our cars, we search for the shade of a tree. Or do we see trees as just occupying space which could be used for ‘development’?

Do we look at trees as a nuisance? Falling leaves create a mess, branches a potential threat to passers-by during storms, when even entire trees along narrow grass verges may be uprooted and tumble down on the road, creating traffic chaos.

So we react aggressively by ‘pruning’, which often looks more like butchering the trees.

Or do we see the tree as a symbol of something deeper, something special?

Jesus told us the kingdom of God is like a tree, providing shade for the people below and a refuge for all kinds of creatures on its branches. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed bringing forth new hope for a fallen world.

Conversely, an uprooted tree was closely associated with the dying of the Light. It was the burden of a dead uprooted tree that weighed heavily on the back of Jesus as he struggled down the path to Calvary.
Whenever we see the crucifix, what do we see? Do we see Jesus, but overlook the dead tree on his back – a metaphor for all of creation, hung out to dry by the forces of greed and power?

The nails that pierced Jesus could be metaphors for the piercing, penetrating greed and power that spills blood and kills life-giving energy. They not only pierce the One on the cross but also the wood of the tree, once teeming with life but now brutally hacked down, dead and cold.

But in an ironical twist, the story does not end there. The victory of the Resurrection unleashes a renewing force throughout Creation. The dead tree - the cross – is now transformed into a symbol of life and hope and salvation for millions all over the world.

In many ways, the greed and predatory power in our world today is still at war with the tree, the metaphor for the kingdom from above, in Scripture.

The masters of capitalism are trying to give this rapacious economic system a makeover. With the threat of climate change, pollution and resource depletion looming, we hear buzz terms like sustainable development and green growth.

The key to the problem is economic growth. We are trained and brainwashed never to question this tenet – but can the Earth sustain relentless economic growth, green or otherwise? Such growth is framed within capitalistic notions of maximisation of shareholder wealth, which often ends up in fewer and fewer hands, while the masses struggle to earn a living.

Take, for instance, the current trajectory of producing fuel-efficient cars for the masses. Is this really sustainable? Sure, we might achieve cuts in fossil fuel consumption per vehicle or even a shift entirely to electric vehicles or vehicles powered by renewable energy.

But what if more and more people own cars. Not only would it result in more congestions, more and more raw materials will be required to be extracted and processed to build those vehicles and generate the energy, whether renewable or otherwise, to power those cars.

To make room for all those cars – whether electric cars, ride-hailing services, autonomous cars – roads will have to be widened, often resulting in the cutting down or ‘relocating’ of mature majestic road-side trees. Trees are seen as standing in the way of our misguided notion of development.

The only way we can move towards an ecological development would be not to focus on economic growth but look at ecological development through policies that encourage the use of more public transport, especially the bus and street level rail systems, which are less capital, energy and resource-intensive – both during construction and operations. This would require a community -oriented view of solidarity and sharing of transport.

To think that we can proceed down the path of unending, unlimited economic growth is a myth.

Most cycles of growth on earth start with birth, fast growth, slower growth, maturity, a tapering down, finally death. The period of growth requires nourishment, the feeding resources and nourishment. It is not an unending process.

When something keeps growing and growing — like a tumour in our body — we should get concerned. The tumour feeds on the body or organism and grows larger and larger.

Similarly with economic growth: if it keeps on sucking out raw materials from the ecological system, the system itself will be thrown off balance or end up depleted. Not only that, the waste emitted creates other problems – air and water pollution and mountains of waste.

As a final thought, spare a thought for the tree, silent and humble yet a metaphor for something so life-giving that we can scarcely comprehend its majesty and the life-giving energy behind it.

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