18 August 2013

Cutting Down and Burning Up Our Future

A fairly new neighbour (one I've never met) had a truckload of giant logs delivered this past week. They weren't that long (maybe 20 feet, max) but they were huge in diameter. When I went past on my bike, a small crane was lifting them off the truck into his side yard. I thought, "Oh, cool, he's going to bring in a portable sawmill and build himself a little place."

Fast forward a day or two. As I ride past again, I glance over and see ... a pile of firewood. He's taken enormous logs, which obviously came from enormous trees, and turned them into firewood. He's taken immense logs that would have made stunning lumber, and turned them into firewood. Besides being amazed at how quickly he was rendering the massive logs into small chunks, I was not impressed.

I know, I know, it's none of my business on a day-to-day, neighbourhood level. But it's representative of what we're doing in the world, to the world. We've reached a time when the only fossil fuels we should be burning are those that are creating the energy to usher us into the Age of Zero-Carbon Perpetual (non-burning renewable) Energy (the Burning Age is over). Instead we're hunting for ever-increasing sources of fossil energy (tar sands, shale gas ... fracking? possibly the stupidest thing any human being has ever thought up) and still increasing our burning of fossil fuels every year. 

So our culture is like my neighbour who has taken fabulous logs (have I mentioned how big they were?) and, instead of "sinking" their stored carbon by building a structure out of them, is going to burn them for a bit of warmth, releasing their carbon into the atmosphere just when we need less carbon in the atmosphere. I just don't get it.

Here's another example. A friend who's had a tragic death in her family circle wrote to say that she's doing okay (just okay), but that she woke up the morning after the funeral to city workers cutting down a "100% healthy, beautiful, spectacular black walnut" on her street. (I've been there, and the trees in her neighbourhood are truly magnificent.) Then they cut the tree next to it. She did all she could think of to stop them, but to no avail. "Life is hard," she said, "when so few respect life outside of human life." 

See what I mean? In this age of wacky weather that's delivering record heat waves and droughts, why would a city decide to cut down trees that provide shade, lowering the temperature and making city life more livable? When we should be planting trees like crazy, my friend's street is now more vulnerable to extreme heat. 

Alas. Are these simply signs that as a culture, we're still ecologically illiterate (with no understanding of the short- and long-term carbon cycles, and no memory of transpiration from our study of trees and the water cycle in school)? Or perhaps we're just unable to see how we're shooting ourselves in the foot because we've been convinced that our ignorance is not a gun in our hands.

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I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?