On Earth repair, suicide, and global warming

We have an army of despondent, unemployed persons. What if young people were given an opportunity, en masse, to change the fate of our planet?

WESTMINSTER — If humans are to have a future, we must stop the rape and pillage of our mother Earth and then move quickly to repair the damage.

The first action needs to be to stop cutting down forests. We all know by now that “forests are the lungs of the planet.” But how many know that forests regulate the water cycle of the planet?

Water passes through the body of trees, taken up by tree roots, moving up through trunk and branches and out through leaves and needles into the atmosphere in a process called “transpiration.”

Tiny particles of water vapor released from treetops cool the air, rising and coalescing into clouds. Clouds release that water in the form of rainfall, in predictable, manageable amounts like we used to have.

When trees are cut down en masse or burned in place by forest fires, the cycle of transpiration stops. The soil beneath the forest heats up, no longer shaded by the canopy. The result is drought and increasing temperatures of soil and air.

Voilà! Global warming.

* * *

Humans are now cutting down Earth's forests at an incredible rate using huge machinery to fell trees and strip them of their branches in literally five minutes.

Vermont's magnificent native forests have been twice clear-cut, first at the behest of the English king, to be used for ships' masts and to create empire, and then in mid-19th century, to supply the building boom going on on our own continent.

Both times our streams dried up, and it got hot.

Each time the trees grew back, it's true, but now the condition of heat and drought resulting from cutting down forests is global, increasing at a shocking rate. We all know that, but do we understand that our loss of a stable climate is caused in large part by loss of tree cover? (I think not.)

Oh, and did I mention that trees pull down carbon dioxide, depositing it in wood and roots? According to Walter Jehne, an internationally known Australian soil microbiologist and climate scientist, water vapor is the most important greenhouse gas, but because it is more difficult to measure than carbon dioxide, it is not often considered as important.

Jehne says: “Water is the largest greenhouse gas, and yet climate models have not fully included it because 1) it is considered too hard to model and 2) it is not considered possible for humans to influence.” He shows how we can work with hydrological cycles and the soil sponge to naturally, safely cool the climate, but only if we get started right away.

* * *

Reducing or eliminating clear-cuts is not so much a matter of preserving animal habitat, saving the lemurs and tropical birds, although that is important, too. It is about stopping our group suicide for the sake of corporate profits and chopstick manufacture.

The cry of “Jobs!” is disingenuous when so few humans are needed to cut down an entire forest.

How about “Jobs!” to repair the environment that we have decimated? How about an army of Earth Repairers?

I'll bet millions of people of all ages would sign up for that work! And there is so much of it to do.

But if the current carnage continues at the source, few will be inspired to put their fingers in that dike. Earth Repair needs to be a community effort that includes everyone.

* * *

I watched the film Thirteen Lives recently, chronicling the story of the young Thai soccer team and their coach who were caught in an underground cave that suddenly flooded with early monsoon rains in 2018.Yes, they were successfully rescued after nearly two weeks.

It is a heroic story of extraordinary human effort and ingenuity put toward accomplishing a very nearly impossible task, all for the sake of the boys. Five thousand volunteers from around the world pooled their labor, their expertise, their ingenuity, and their prayers against all odds to give the boys a chance at a future.

I see this story as an allegory of what must be accomplished in order for homo sapiens to continue to exist, to have a life for our children and their children.

Thousands of us, millions of us, must now pull together to save the future of all children.

Earth Rescue must commence.

* * *

An important insight in the film by a young Thai water engineer was that monsoon rain falling on the mountain was streaming into the cave, raising the water level. He located an old man who knew every inch of the mountain, asked him the location of the sink holes that allowed rainwater to enter the huge cave below.

A cadre of locals using first PVC pipe and then split bamboo were able to divert millions of gallons of rainwater onto the rice paddies below so that the rescue operation could continue.

Those millions of gallons flooded the fields, killing the villagers' annual crop of rice, their most important staple food. Before proceeding, permission was asked of the farmers who would lose their crops.

They agreed, for the sake of the boys.

For the sake of the children.

Children are the future.

* * *

There is a saying that if we do not change direction we will surely arrive at the destination we are headed for. In the U.S. at least, if not around the world, we have a generation of discouraged and despondent youth who are suiciding at unprecedented rates.

Vermont, our beautiful and brave little state, a green oasis, has the highest drug overdose rate of increase in the U.S., at or near 11 deaths per month since 2020. It is an epidemic, mostly affecting young people but thereby affecting us all.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death of people ages 10-24 in the U.S., and I do not know if drug overdose is even included in the suicide statistics. This alone is a horrible tragedy happening in our midst.

How certain are you that your own friends and relatives will not succumb to despair? An atmosphere of despair that is certainly caused by the millions of us who see no future for themselves, who see a dying planet, and who see their elders doing little or nothing to stop it?

We are hemorrhaging in every way: hemorrhaging our future and theirs.

Sometimes I feel glad that I am 72 and will not live to see the worst of it. So I do what I can to inspire those who will listen.

* * *

What if young people were given an opportunity, en masse, to change the fate of the Earth? To gather into Earth Healing Brigades armed with shovels and love?

What if a global effort was made to reforest our cities and suburbs, “using the Miyawaki Method to rapidly rewild the world”?

That is the subtitle of a new book, Mini-Forest Revolution (by Hannah Lewis, with a foreword by Paul Hawken), whose subject, Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, discovered that planting a small 12-foot circle of many types of native plants, including trees, shrubs, and ground covers, creates a synergistic effect that results in nearly exponential growth.

It is nearly the opposite of the type of tree planting done by logging companies: rows of widely spaced saplings of one species of commercially desirable trees.

Suzanne Simard, forest researcher and author of Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, says that up to 80 percent of the solo saplings die or grow poorly under the conditions of isolation and uniformity that logging companies think is the best way to regrow the forests. It's time to rethink.

In his new book Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation, Paul Hawken outlines and gives examples of a multitude of ways to reduce global warming and enrich our communities at the same time.

Our local environmental group in Westminster, the Living Earth Action Group, is studying and discussing Regeneration, one chapter a month, in order to learn what is possible and spread the word.

We have, in this country and around the world - I am certain - a critical mass of people who are concerned and want to make change. We have the will and the know-how but lack the organization and the focus that came together for the Thai soccer team.

Filmmaker John Liu, known for documenting the restoration of the desertified Loess Plateau in China, has created Ecosystem Restoration Camps to begin repairing the damage while simultaneously inspiring folks who wish to participate in the Great Work of re-creating wholeness and harmony on this, our only planet.

The camps are a non-governmental effort because governments have not yet gotten the message, and tend to move very slowly. If you are part of government, get the message and spread the message - and act now.

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We have an army of despondent, unemployed persons. In the memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who gave hope to the hopeless through the Civilian Conservation Corps, we can do this - together.

Together, it can be done - it must be done - “for the sake of the boys” - and the girls, of course, as well. For butterflies and elephants and grandkids - yours and mine.

Let's do this thing. We have messed it up, and we can clean it up - that's the good news!

But the whole family must be on board with the rescue of Earth's children, including the grandparents, uncles, and aunts who own, operate, and benefit from profit-making corporations that exploit nature and people.

All of us must pitch in in an all-out effort. If everyone is on board, we will succeed.

Cooperation and wealth-sharing, helping and caring, are the necessary medicines for our illness.

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