by Joris Rosse
Trees have just become a far more important aspect of our lives than they had been before climate change. Trees, large and small, provide crops, firewood, fruit, lumber, wind breaks, and healings. Through photosynthesis, carbon from the atmosphere becomes a part of the carbohydrates that are food for trees and the trees’ symbiotic partner mycorrhizal fungi. These fungi have been proven to dramatically increase carbon sequestration. Understanding these relationships, services, abilities, and concepts is necessary for understanding the importance of trees in our current life.
Nobody planned it this way, but too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is like force-feeding trees with too much fertilizer. The increase in carbon dioxide is the result of the increased use of fossil fuels, of major importance in industrialization. Being a careful observer, I have personally seen that tree growth has gone from standard 1-inch diameter growth in 12 years to 1-inch diameter growth per year (2010-2015)! Which is about a 1000% increase in the rate of growth. Simultaneously, I have seen the height of tree growth go from an average canopy height of 60 feet to 100 feet, growing at about seven feet per year.
Have we asked ourselves insistently enough what may be the unintended consequences of this vast experiment with the fundamental reality of nature? Very doubtful indeed. We ask what may be the mostly unwelcome consequences of this rapid growth? For example, the top branches that form the canopy have grown about 20 feet taller over the last six or seven years. The result is that the tree canopy as it existed 7 years ago is now under a new substantially higher canopy, casting the original growth under 100% shade of the higher canopy. The likely result is a general die off of the lower branches now starved for sunlight. On a large scale, what may happen is that many species of trees will be in the state of shock which may cause complete death in some species and a forced branch-shedding in others.
Trees can die out. Chestnut trees are an exceedingly important example of tree extinction. “The loss of the chestnut was an ecological calamity with few equals”, wrote Tom Horton in the Winter 2010 issue of American Forests magazine. Indeed, when West Europeans settled in Northeast America, Chestnut trees were the dominant species of the forest. (Biologists claim to be close to bringing back Chestnut trees from Chestnut blight extinction by backcrossing surviving American Chestnuts with Chinese Chestnut trees.)
Trees, as they grow, take in carbon from the atmosphere, the carbon encourages rapid growth, and, as the trees grow, they take in more carbon. This appears to be in line with the perspective of Rodale Institute’s white paper, ‘Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change’. It says that sufficient carbon sequestration will take care of stopping global warming if only all agriculture is shifted to their deeply organic, regenerative methods (and which will require the cessation of industrial farming). These methods include such arts as frequent turnover, composting, no till, no spray farming, but with especial focus on the importance of mycorrhizal fungi in whose presence carbon seques-tration to roots, soil, and wood increases dramatically.
Did the politicos get our approval before they funded pumping carbon into the atmosphere and industrial agriculture’s assault on our soils’ ability to sequester carbon and this mad hatter’s race with fate? Did they approve any of this without realizing the long-term outcomes? Of course not! With 20/20 hindsight the scientists drawing up this monstrous experiment would have blown the whistle on the whole madness of chemical dogma farming.
Copernicus, who proved that the earth rotates around the sun rather than vice versa, was severely and ruthlessly castigated by Church and State for his impertinent truth. I have no fear because it is so much fun to watch the deniers cringe and cry Foul! Foul!
To find out more about mycorrhizal fungi, look up mycorrhizal fungi and read about how trees communicate their needs and have them fulfilled via a massive existing network of fungi tubelets to supply trees needed ingredients.
Do trees know what they are doing? Doubtful. But they seem to be aware … somehow. How do trees survive? Though trees lack the usual sensory organs, (ears, nose, eyes, tongue), they nevertheless seem to instinctively be able to assess their own needs. Living closely with trees for seventy years, I have experienced them to be often beautiful, friendly and supportive, exceedingly sensitive beings whose thriving is necessary for human survival.
by Joris Rosse
Joris is a founding member of the Alliance and
a steering committee member emeritus.
(Published in the 2015 edition of Sustainable Lehigh Valley)
(Essays express the ideas of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alliance.)