A beautiful early morning slipped away in the garden, where I was engaged in the strenuous, addictive — I’m hot, I’m thirsty, but just a little bit more — and deeply satisfying act of digging a new garden bed. Last night, a mere month after sowing seeds, I enjoyed a salad tossed with the first tender leaves of arugula, daikon, kai choi and kale, and as I sat on the screen porch and ate, I looked around in excitement at all the places in my yard that can be transformed, through patience and toil, into productive pockets of sustenance.
As I dug, and Koko and Paele cleaned the last bits of meat from coconut husks, I thought about a New York Times article I’d read the day before on how the world’s forests are dying off at a remarkable rate due to climate change-related heat, drought, fires and insect invasions.
The article was especially interesting because it got into how forests play such a crucial role in absorbing the carbon dioxide that is released by burning fossil fuels. Indeed, according to the article:
It is an amount so large that trees are effectively absorbing the emissions from all the world’s cars and trucks.
The question before all of us, and most especially the scientists who study such things, is at what point we may succeed, through the climate change caused by our carbon emissions, in killing off the forests that are now so effectively absorbing them.
If forests were to die on a sufficient scale, they would not only stop absorbing carbon dioxide, they might also start to burn up or decay at such a rate that they would spew huge amounts of the gas back into the air — as is already happening in some regions. That, in turn, could speed the warming of the planet, unlocking yet more carbon stored in once-cold places like the Arctic.
Ironically, some forests are growing faster due to the increased availability of carbon dioxide, their primary food. But scientists aren’t sure if they ultimately will be able to withstand the heat and water stress associated with climate change, and generally agree emissions must be dramatically slowed.
“I think we have a situation where both the ‘forces of growth’ and the ‘forces of death’ are strengthening, and have been for some time,” said Oliver L. Phillips, a prominent tropical forest researcher with the University of Leeds in England. “The latter are more eye-catching, but the former have in fact been more important so far.”
And that comment made me wonder if the same might be true for humanity. Consider this:
On Friday, already deeply disturbed by the news that our government now openly conducts political assassinations of its own citizens, I agreed to meet a friend for a picnic dinner at Kealia.
As I was driving down Kawaihau Road, a young, male pit bull wandered into the road in front of me. I stopped, of course, and it looked around in confusion, prompting a motorist in the other lane to pause briefly before proceeding. As I waited for the dog to move, a jacked-up pickup truck pulled alongside me and a young man yelled down into my open window, “JUS BANG DA FUCKER!!”
Disgusted, and a bit shaken, I continued on to the beach. The picnic table was entirely covered with graffiti, which had begun spreading like a rash onto the ceiling of the pavilion. The ground was thick with cigarette butts and beer bottle caps, and across from me was a sign that read, “Respect the beach pack your trash,” because yes, some people still must be reminded of something that basic.
It’s depressing and discouraging to be continually confronted with the words and actions of people who exist at such a low level of consciousness, though they may in fact hold high positions in our society.
Yet that day I also had interviewed a woman who has spent a decade marshalling volunteers to help her successfully eradicate weeds in the forests of Kokee, and I had received emails from people who are involved in a wide range of activities aimed at not only raising their own consciousness, but in lifting up those mired in unconsciousness and its "forces of death" allies: violence, fear, apathy and greed.
So yes, even as the forces of death are strengthening, so, too, are the forces of growth, of life, and while the former get far more media coverage, the latter have been much important thus far.
But we're still waiting, like the forests, to see whether the forces of growth will triumph over the forces of death, or eventually succumb, overwhelmed.
In the meantime, all I can think to do is keep digging, sowing, tending, caring.