At Duke’s Nicholas School of Environmental Science, researchers blow CO2 through stands of trees to determine the positive effect—if any—of global warming. Thus far, it isn’t conclusive that there is a benefit from any increase in carbon dioxide—a theoretical boon for trees. Some experts speculated that tree health would be the only silver lining of the greenhouse gas cloud. However, the effects of health derive from systemic change—holistic, to be more exact. Changes in soil fertility, water and temperature must interact with the spike in CO2 that Gore predicts will occur over the next century.
If we start now to plant a lot of 3-5 year old oak and beech trees, and later the new, disease-resistant elms and chestnuts, we shall provide future generations with one of the best reliefs from the blazing heat and choking humidity of an “earth out of balance”. Back in Illinois, I lived in a 3,000 square foot, tarpaper covered ranch house. Midwestern summers are brutally hot. Yet, because the architect placed the main end of the L shape under a large elm and butted the corner against a maple, I needed no AC. Visitors were always surprised by how cool and quiet my house was.
Everything about trees is good, as their role in folklore and religion attests. More than any other form of life, they bless mankind. Where they grow, our species flourishes. As Bill LeFevre of Bartram Gardens pointed out to me, planting majestically tall and splendidly branched shade trees will result in not only a reduction of electricity required to pump cold air through homes, but also a paradise of backyards and parks. If our nation plants a billion oaks now, they will be ready by about 2040, and will provide several hundred years of deep shade.
The eminently gifted tree biologist Nina Bassuk discussed this at length in her speeches back in the early 1990s. The enlightened nations of France, Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia have practiced fine tree care and preservation for centuries, resulting in heavenly forests. However, Dr. Bassuk tipped me to Budapest, Hungary, with its Illinois summers, as the greatest model for the United States. Indeed, she inspired me to visit there. I’ve never seen such healthy chestnuts and oaks. In the park on Margaret Island in the Danube, there was a chestnut so enormous that it cast several acres of shade. I thought I was in a grove of trees until I saw the huge trunk. Someone three hundred years ago was thinking about that impressive, otherworldly effect.
Recently, there have been several “urban forest” initiatives, as well as many started in developing countries to redress the deforestations that occurred during industrialization. These efforts merit our attention and vigorous support.